How to Live in Hanoi Like A Local – Expat’s Guide to Hanoi
- November 11, 2019
- Expat Guide
If you’re going to live in Hanoi (or already are), you probably want to blend in with the locals and learn their…Read More
Living in Hanoi is a lot of fun, but housing can be quite difficult for so many reasons. Here’s a comprehensive rental guide to help you prevent headaches and enjoy Hanoi much more.
As a Vietnamese returnee (and a self-declared expat for a looooong time) who went through renting process myself, I can tell you upfront that one of the main challenges is that online information here (especially housing in Hanoi) can be disorganized and often misleading.
In addition to that, there’s the barrier of language since not all landlords (and often, agents) speak English fluently. So unless you speak the local tongue, you should equip yourself with some basic knowledge before any apartment hunting to avoid getting yourself into a bad deal.
There are quite a few housing options for you to choose from in Hanoi. Obviously, the price tag varies too. It can start at $300 if you’re willing to compromise some comfort and go as high as $5,000.
I believe this is the most common housing option for expats anywhere. Because the cost of building one is lower, the rent is lower, too.
A studio apartment in Hanoi is of the standard size, about 30-50m2 large, and starts from $300. If you’re finding one in the prime area with great view, it can range from $500 to $700.
Studio apartment is a very cost-effective option for you if you’re here alone. If you’re with a partner, you probably want to consider a one-bedder so that you have extra space. A living room is great, a study/reading corner is even better.
Also, real estate developers in Vietnam don’t build a lot of one-bedroom apartments and I don’t understand why. Some projects don’t even have any one-bedder at all. Because of this constraint of supply, you will pay much higher rent to live in a one-bedroom apartment in a condominium complex.
That brings us to the next housing option.
I’m referring to apartments with two bedrooms or more, located in an apartment building or a condominium project. Your monthly rent will range from $800 to $1500 for a two-bedder.
If you’re going with condo, you’re in luck! In the past few years Hanoi has been flooded with new condo projects, so you have plenty of options.
A word of advice, you may want to go with projects done by reputable developers (like Vinhomes) or you run the risk of living in a building with not-so-great management. I’m sure you want that noisy bathroom exhaust fan to get fixed right away.
Of course, like all other crowded cities, the further away from the center of the city, the more affordable the rent.
When traveling to Vietnam a few years back, my friend asked me why the houses in Vietnam are so narrow, with the width of typically 4-5m, some even thinner, like those at the older streets like Old Quarter.
Some call it “tube” houses.
Well, a long time ago, when land was not as precious and scarce as it is today, our ancestors only took enough land to live in and avoid paying extra taxes. Or at least that’s the tale I was told growing up.
Street-front houses are usually expensive to rent because well, they’re street-front, which gives lots of economic value in Vietnam. So, most working locals (and even some expats) rent houses in the alleyways to stay.
I understand this option isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
Because the houses are so narrow and typically don’t have elevators, many people can’t handle the many, many sets of stairs while others simply are afraid to walk in the alleyways at night. Also, there usually is only one kitchen on the first floor and you will have to share with others.
I guess that’s why some people call it “shared house”.
Still, price wise, this is probably the cheapest option. It’s not hard to rent a house with 3 bedrooms, usually one on each floor, for about $400-600, though you will have to compromise some comfort and convenience.
If you’re looking to live with a couple of friends, I think this is a great choice. I mean, who doesn’t want to live together with their close friends, right?
You can also live with locals in houses like this too. Plenty of friendly locals are willing to give you a tour of their house. Read on, I’ll show you how to find them below.
Ah, the ultimate choice of accommodation among many high-level executives, or whoever can afford it, anywhere. Hanoi is no exception.
Needless to say, it’s a status symbol to stay in a villa and for the most obvious reason, renting villas in Vietnam is not cheap. It’s rare to find one that cost less than $1500 a month.
If you intend to rent a villa during your stay in Hanoi, you will likely have to contact property agents for viewing because most of the time, you don’t find villa owners listing the properties themselves.
There are many great neighborhoods to live in in Hanoi. Each is unique too. It largely depends on your lifestyle, budget and preference.
West Lake is the most common area for expat-living in Hanoi. Not only that, it is most desired among the locals too. I mean, who doesn’t want to live close to a 53-hectare lake?
In summer, Hanoi can be extremely hot. It’s common for the temperature to get above 40°C (104°F) during the day, especially in July and August. Understandably, West Lake is the go-to place during the season because it’s much cooler here.
In addition, there are lots of entertainments here. You can find bars, all kinds of restaurants, cafés, etc. within walking distance from anywhere around the lake. I love spending the Saturday afternoon around this area.
Because it’s such a desired location, housing here costs much more than most other areas in Hanoi. It’s quite a challenge (but not impossible) to find a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment or a studio with lots of natural light below $500.
Ciputra Hanoi International City, or Ciputra for short, is a prestigious neighborhood in Hanoi. Located at the west of West Lake, the neighborhood has always been popular among the high-profile renters.
What I love about Ciputra is that you can have the views of the West Lake as well as the Red River. Like most other prestigious areas of large cities, it comes with a golf course and reputable international schools.
Unlike other densely packed areas in Hanoi, there is a lot of common and green space here. Ciputra is generally quiet too, so it’s great to live.
The housing options available here are mostly villas/mansions and condominium units with two bedrooms or more. Three-bedder is most common in this area. Of course, you gotta pay a premium to live here.
If you’ve done some research or watched documentaries on Hanoi, this district must have come up a lot.
Ba Dinh District is the center of Hanoi with lots of historical landmarks like Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Ba Dinh Square, Thang Long Imperial Citadel, etc. Not only that, Lotte Tower and many embassies are located here too.
Despite being the center of the Hanoi, housing here costs lower than around West Lake due to the excessive supply. You can find an apartment in some alleyway for a decent price (around $300).
Many expats choose to live in Ba Dinh usually because it is close to the West Lake but not as expensive. Some opt to live here because it’s closer to their workplaces too.
If you prefer to live in an area more modern than Ba Dinh District, you can consider Cau Giay District, which is another popular option among expats for housing in Hanoi. Majority of the buildings here, especially high-rise, was constructed in the past 20 years.
Good news is there are countless condo projects here so you will have a lot of choices. It’s much more affordable to rent in this area compared to West Lake, though it’s only 10 minutes away by scooter or taxi.
There’s quite a few international schools and English learning centers in Cau Giay District, so some expats who teach English prefer to live here so that it’s much closer to their work.
One big (probably the biggest) downside of living in Cau Giay District is that the traffic can get terribly congested during peak hours. It’s because most office buildings are here and Hanoi isn’t known for public transport.
Unlike the above areas to stay, Dong Da is popular among expats for another reason.
This District houses most of the city’s top universities like FTU, Hanoi Law and Medical Schools. It’s been that way for thousands of years. The Temple of Literature is located here and it hosts the first national university of Vietnam, the Imperial Academy.
Therefore, expats who are exchange students stay in this district because it’s close to their schools and the student dormitories (public and private) are much more affordable.
You can easily find $200 apartments in Dong Da and experience the student life in Hanoi. But because the apartments are mainly catered to students, the quality is lower compared to those around West Lake.
Last, but certainly not least, is Nam Tu Liem District. Much of the development in this district has been in the past 10 years, so you can easily find a modern, newly built apartment here.
Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower, JW Marriott Hotel, up-and-coming F1 racetrack (and My Dinh Stadium) and are all located in this district. There are a few foreign communities (Korean, Japanese, etc) in the area too.
Condominiums in this district are probably the most affordable in Hanoi due to excessive supply. If you’re a big fan of living in new projects, try searching in this area.
I suppose one not-so-great factor about Nam Tu Liem District would be its location. If you live here and regularly hang out at West Lake, the expat area of Hanoi, it can take half an hour to get there.
You might have heard about other areas/districts in Hanoi like Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, etc. But because Hai Ba Trung and Hoan Kiem are just popular among tourists, I won’t go into it.
Those are all the popular location expats choose for housing in Hanoi. Which one do you like the most?
Now that we’ve covered the types of housing and living areas popular among expats in Hanoi, I hope you have a better idea of what you’re looking for, so it’s time to find out just how you can find that ideal place.
Yup, just like how you would find a rental apartment anywhere else, local listing sites can help. In Vietnam, however, majority of these websites are all in Vietnamese. Bat Dong San, the most popular real estate site in the country, has an English version.
You can always go to local listing sites and use Google Translate to find your apartment, but prepare yourself for some very confusing phrases (I tried and it was kinda funny). However, some properties are listed by local owners and they might not speak fluent English.
Even though English is a secondary language in Vietnam and it’s taught in school from first grade, there is still a language barrier here. According to a report by Navigos Group, expats find language barrier the no. 1 challenge working in Vietnam.
Here are some other sources you can consider:
One downside of this approach is you will have to either call or email the agent/owner. What if you’re overseas? Well, that brings us to the next option, also the most popular one.
If you haven’t known already, Facebook is the preferred social media in Vietnam. Yes, if you’re going to stay in Hanoi for awhile, it’s time to reactivate your Facebook account if you haven’t used it in 5 years.
It’s also the best (and most popular) way to find housing in Hanoi. Since Hanoi is one of the most popular cities for expats in Vietnam, there are many Facebook groups that can help you find apartment, like this, this, this or this one.
If you’re too lazy to go through the many, many listings on these Facebook groups, you can always post to these groups what you’re looking for in an apartment (location, pricing, other requirements, etc). You’ll get a ton of responses if you’re reasonable with the budget and wants.
Here’s a helpful tip, you should always request for a ton of pictures, google map location and even videos before viewing to make sure it’s close to your expectation. Otherwise, you can waste a lot of your time.
In the expat-loved areas, landlords and agents often hang English for-rent signs/banners at their properties. You can always take a stroll in the area you like, call up the number on the banner and ask for the information you need.
I actually know an expat who takes this approach and got an awesome lake-front apartment at West Lake he so badly wanted.
The good thing with this approach is you know exactly where the apartments are, something you can’t possibly tell from the online listings and the agents wouldn’t tell you the location over the phone, either.
Because you drive along the main roads, you will only find the for-rent signs at street-front properties, which is considerably more expensive than those located in the alleys.
But again, if street-front properties are what you looking for (maybe you’re not comfortable living in the alleys), then this approach works great! Most of the time the agent/owner is nearby and more than happy to let you view the apartments.
Like I mentioned above, listing information is often false and misleading in Vietnam.
So, if you’re coming to Vietnam, I strongly recommend booking an Airbnb for the first week or two, while you look for a place to rent.
I know that the Airbnb rate is quite high, usually double the monthly rate you’re going to pay with a long-term lease, but it’s pretty worth it since you’re sure you’d have a decent accommodation.
You can get a long lease with Airbnb as well. In this case, the only downside will be the cost. However, if you have a corporate account and your company is paying for it, why not?
Yeah that’s pretty much all you need to know to start searching. But to avoid getting a bad deal, I’ll include some of the housing tips to make sure you find the accommodation you want and save lots of time too.
It might sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve met an expat who didn’t before. Can you imagine the trouble he went through?
No matter if you’re renting the apartment for a month or a year, you must view the apartment to make sure it match your requirements and avoid getting scammed.
If you can’t view it in person because you’re overseas, request for a video call so you can better visualize the place. Don’t worry, the good agents are always willing to go an extra mile to close the deal. Still, I would advise you to book an Airbnb for your first week in Hanoi, then view as many apartments as possible.
It all comes back to the fact that listing information can be misleading Vietnam. It can’t hurt to be wary, right?
You should always ask for pictures, videos of the property (interior, surrounding, view, etc) before viewing. Time is precious and I’m sure no one wants to waste it.
If you’re looking for an apartment, you probably have a preferred area in mind, right? Ask for the location, the owners are more than happy to give it to you. On the other hand, the agents might be hesitant to do so, in which case you can just ask him to circle the area on the map to make sure it’s in your desired neighborhood.
Renting houses/apartments there is much cheaper compared to the street-front alternative. But like I mentioned above, it’s not for everyone. Here are some problems with it:
If you’re willing to overlook these issues, you can try to live in the alley and experience how the local Vietnamese lives. Also, you can save some money in the process.
Traffic in Hanoi is many expats’ (and locals’) nightmare.
Because of the traffic, you probably want to consider living close to work/school.
I mean, there are more than 8 million people here and the public transport isn’t that great. There are only buses and you can’t find any English guide for them.
Whether you’re moving around with a scooter/motorbike or getting a cab, you still run a risk of being caught in a traffic jam, especially in the morning when everyone’s rushing to work. It can take an hour (or more) to get out of that horrible jam.
Because of the unpredictable traffic, I would strongly advise you to find a place near your workplace/school so that you’re not late all the time.
You will likely have to sign a contract, even for one-month rental. So, it’s good to know a little bit about the process.
Rental process in Vietnam is, frankly, quite unstructured. You don’t need to formally submit the offer through agents like in developed countries. You can even negotiate with the agent/owner, sign the contract, pay the agreed rent upfront and move in the next day. Pretty simple huh?
Usually, you’re required to pay the rent of 2-3 months upfront, plus the security deposit (typically a month of rent).
For example, if your rental rate is $500/month, you’re supposed to pay two-month’s rent upfront and a month’s security deposit, then you’re going to need to prepare $1,500 before you can move in.
Also, don’t be surprised if your landlords require you to pay for electricity. It’s common for tenants in Vietnam (both expats and locals) to be responsible for electricity bills here.
I believe that where you choose to stay should be based largely on your preference. And no matter what type of housing (affordable room or high-end condo) and area (modern city center or old, ancient town) you want, Hanoi has it all. I hope that this guide helps you find a great place to stay so that you can enjoy your time in Hanoi.
Happy apartment hunting!