It was a hot sunny morning in August 2013. I stepped off an AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur, through Immigration and out into the early morning sunshine of Ho Chi Minh City. With no return ticket, I had no idea what was ahead but somewhere deep inside, I just knew I had made the right decision to live in Vietnam. But why Vietnam?
Back ten years ago, the visa system was a very different process. I was largely unaware of my options and I arrived on a tourist visa, not knowing that there were other options and requirements; however, I soon learned the rules and I was able to make the changes that allowed me to stay in the country for a longer period.
After an extended period of transformation, Vietnam, again, has opened up-to-three-month tourist visas for travelers. This was the first visa I applied for when I arrived in the country a decade ago. As more and more Westerners again visit Vietnam, this has prompted me to reminisce about my motivations to move to Vietnam as my ten-year anniversary approaches.
I can confidently admit that for most expats, moving to Vietnam is not a simple or easy process. There are many rules and regulations around visas, banking, employment, and just about everything that we need to learn and work with, and we quickly realize that we take these things for granted in our own countries.
My story of 'Why' starts way back in 1965, some two years before I was born in Australia. When the U.S. became involved in the conflict here in the early 1960s, Australia was called in to support an 'Allied Force' of nations.
And for me, because of my family’s involvement here in the mid 60s, I arrived into the world with my family having this secret word that was rarely mentioned at home. The word was 'Vietnam.'
And as a young child I had no concept of where it was, what it was or why it was occasionally mentioned at home but I did know that some of my family had been there before my birth.
Well, this set up a personal story that covered the first 18 years of my life. Then I grew up and moved away to take on my own family and career. Around 25 years passed and in 2012, with little memory or thought of my childhood, fortune allowed me the opportunity to visit Vietnam on a holiday. It was this week that changed my life forever.
As the memories of my childhood returned, I found that I was not just taking a holiday but I was on a pilgrimage to join the dots and understand many of those 'secrets' of my childhood that always seemed to include the word 'Vietnam.'
This was to be more than a pilgrimage, however. In just over a week, I learned so much about the culture, spirit, and perfect imperfections of Vietnam. It was a learning experience that brought meaning and purpose to my life.
Returning to Australia, I found that my daily thoughts and my heart focused continuously on Vietnam, such was the impact of the friendliness and hospitality of the people. From a childhood memory, Vietnam became an amazing place, a friendly community, and an adventure that I was compelled to explore.
|A visitor has her photo taken in front of a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News
It didn’t take long before the emptiness of not being in Vietnam ate away at my spirit. My desire to be here grew stronger and stronger with each day that I was away. My daily conversations were with the group of friends that I was fortunate to meet on my travels and I even started to try to learn the language, albeit unsuccessfully at first.
It was just a year and a week after my first holiday when I walked out of Tan Son Nhat airport having made the ultimate decision to give up a career, most of my possessions and say goodbye to my friends and family. I took the risk to move to Vietnam to explore the country and give myself a new purpose that was to change me forever.
Rather than relaxing and taking it easy, I quickly got working and over the next ten years I would develop a new career that would include a wide range of study, freelancing, YouTubing, and more work than I can ever imagine. In fact, I think that after ten years in Vietnam I have never worked longer or harder in my life, but I enjoy what I do and I consider myself very lucky.
My fortune didn’t just focus on career and work. With some great friends in Ho Chi Minh City, I have had the privilege to be part of teaching blind children to swim, raising money for orphanages across southern Vietnam, and other charity work to help local communities.
I took up bicycle riding and have experienced backroads and locations of southern Vietnam that I could not have dreamed of ever seeing, and just two years ago I did something truly amazing: I got married to a beautiful Vietnamese woman that is now my wife.
It has been a decade of privileges. The greatest privilege is that of being accepted as part of the Vietnamese community and being able to make people's lives better. I will forever appreciate the smile of a stranger on the Ho Chi Minh City street. I will forever enjoy asking 'What’s your name?' and 'How old are you?' to every child that wants my attention for a moment. And I will be forever thankful for the opportunity to learn and find my purpose in life being part of one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the world, Ho Chi Minh City.
|A file photo shows busy traffic on Hai Ba Trung Street in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, October 4, 2021. Photo: Chau Tuan / Tuoi Tre
If you are choosing to move to Vietnam for work, marriage, or family reasons, there are a number of rules and regulations that need to be followed under the new visa laws. Make sure you understand what is needed before you book your flight. Visa agents and law firms in Vietnam can assist you with complying with the relevant laws. Also, people working in Vietnam must have a work permit, or exemption if you are married to a citizen, and this comes with the ability to apply for a two-or-three-year Temporary Resident Card. Get qualified advice before arriving in the country because it can save you a lot of time and money.
Living in Vietnam is not for everyone. At times there are challenges and not every day is easy. But if your heart and soul are here then you will have good days and bad days, but the life-changing moments, happy days, and experiences you will have are sure to be memorable.
As I celebrate ten years of living in Vietnam, I want to say thank you for the honor of being accepted and for allowing me to give my energy to make Vietnam just a little better. Vietnam, for me, really does have 'Timeless Charm.'
What I learned is to choose your home for the right reasons and your life is lived with purpose and meaning. With well over 100,000 expats here, every story is interesting and should be told. Take a moment to share your story with someone today because every story is unique and worth sharing.
|A photo taken in the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News