As an emerging market that has only opened up to foreign investment in the early 1990s, job opportunities for foreigners in Vietnam are far more plentiful than anywhere else in Southeast Asia (except perhaps in Singapore). As a headhunter who once worked in Vietnam, here is a quick rundown of the types of job opportunities available for foreigners and what foreigners should consider when seeking a job in Vietnam:
- Professional opportunities. Given the shortages of local professional talent in certain technical or creative fields, foreigners are often hired to fill in the gaps and there tends to be more opportunities for foreigners in certain niche fields. For example: There are many Filipinos, Indians and Westerners working in advertising and public relations in Vietnam while Malaysian-Chinese accountants and CPAs are making up for the shortage of local Vietnamese who have the appropriate qualifications and accreditations. In addition, foreigners will also tend to be in business development and sales orientated positions (especially in the furniture and certain service industries) where the customers or clients are other foreigners, are MNCs or are located overseas.
Foreigners searching for professional opportunities in Vietnam would be wise to consult the website of VietnamWorks, the number one job board in the country, as well as contact some of the leading executive search firms in the country such as Navigos (part of VietnamWorks), HR2B, TalentNet, Opus Asia and Manpower. On the other hand, job seekers should be aware that many mid to high level Vietnam related searches are actually handled by the offices of executive search firms based in Singapore or Bangkok while old fashion professional networking remains the best way to find a professional job in Vietnam.
However, the real key for finding a professional job in Vietnam, especially for Westerners, is to have realistic salary expectations and to be flexible. After all, Vietnam is still a small economy and there is a limit to what local companies and even MNCs in the market can afford to pay. Generally speaking though and unless you are rotated in on an expatriate package with a leading multinational, $5,000 to $6,000 net per month plus (reasonable) allowances for housing, transportation and health insurance will generally be doable for a mid to more senior level positions below the country manager level. For those seeking a salary above the $5,000 to $6,000 level though, there will be significantly fewer job opportunities.
Moreover, Westerners or Asian returning from the West need to remember to temper their salary expectations now that there are many well-qualified locals, Asian expatriates and professionals from countries such as the Philippines, India or Malaysia who command lower salaries and are willing to relocate to Vietnam for the right opportunity.
- Teaching English or offering professional training. Given that Vietnamese society was heavily influenced by Confucianism, the Vietnamese place a great emphasis on education and learning. Hence, there are plenty of teaching and training opportunities for Westerners especially native English speakers. In fact, someone with little teaching experience should have no problems finding English teaching and tutoring opportunities in Vietnam that pay up to $15 an hour. Moreover, someone with significant technical or business experience could easily earn $20 to $25 an hour conducting corporate type training sessions.
However, its important to remember that most teachers or trainers working in Vietnam will probably need to travel to various locations or sites around a city during the day to conduct classes, tutoring sessions or training sessions and this travel time will not be covered in the per hour rate. Nor will outside the classroom hours spent preparing course materials or correcting course assignments be covered.
Hence, the teachers or trainers in Vietnam I know who take a more business and sales like approach to their work (e.g. they find clients who they can recycle the same course material for as well as consider commuting times between classroom and tutoring sessions) can earn and potentially save a fairly decent amount of money.
- Visa considerations. Finally, foreigners seeking jobs in Vietnam need to be aware that obtaining a proper work permit can be difficult. For professional jobs, obtaining a proper work permit would likely be arranged by the employer either before an employee arrives or within six months after their arrival.
On the other hand, its also possible for those with citizenship from a major Western countries to stay and even work (not technically legal though) in Vietnam indefinitely just on short-term tourists or business visas alone. However, it should be noted that in recent years, Vietnamese immigration authorities have started to crack down on short-term visas issued to foreigners and a new stamp (that will take up an entire page in a passport and can quickly fill up an entire passport) is now required every three months. Moreover, I have been told that Vietnamese authorities are starting to frown on repeated renewals of tourist and business visas for foreigners who are obviously living and working in the country for long periods of time. Hence and more stricter visa enforcement, like in Thailand, may mean that visa runs to Cambodia or another country may become a fact of life for foreigners informally working in Vietnam.
Keeping the above considerations in mind will go a long way towards helping you decide whether its worth seeking job opportunities in Vietnam.