I have lived in Vietnam for just over two years, and the thought of going back home to Portland, Oregon petrifies me. One of the most challenging adjustments I would have to make is how expensive it is to function day to day in the US. Sky high rent, health insurance, car insurance, $50 in gas to fill your car, $30 bucks just to eat at a restaurant and have a drink, $40 cell phone bills, and on and on. And to boot, most fresh graduates face this high cost of living WITH student debt AND low paying jobs they are overqualified for. But what if you could live a higher quality life, save more money, travel, and gain professional work experience that matched or was even beyond your qualifications?
This is the life that I and many other young professionals have discovered in living abroad. Though it involves some guts and the willingness to hustle, the payoff can be tremendous. Myself and others like me have stepped outside the American grind, and instead opted for working internationally around the world where our dollar goes farther, our salaries are higher respective to the cost of living, and there is even more freedom. Though it is a contradiction in itself, there is an alternative American dream out there, and it involves living in places like Malaysia, Vietnam, India or South America.
If you take the leap and are willing to hustle, you are not only setting yourself up for the potential time of your life, you are also going to notice it helping your wallet. Here is a few ways how.
When I found this chart, I almost did a spit-take. Check out the rental prices of a 2-bedroom in different US cities below:
Those prices are astronomical. Granted, these are the most expensive cities, but even in my city of Portland, Oregon a two bedroom will cost you almost $1,800 USD per month. That is a huge percentage of your monthly salary in an entry level job going to your rent, even if you split the apartment with a roommate.
In Vietnam, this is not the case. I have a 2-bedroom apartment with no roommate here in Da Nang, Vietnam. My apartment is fully serviced, which means it gets cleaned twice a week with wi-fi and water included. It also has a car service. My apartment also happens to be a 5-minute walk from one of Vietnam’s premier beaches and located in the most livable city in Vietnam, with a ton of bars and restaurants all within walking distance.
And I don’t pay $2,500 USD a month. And I don’t pay $1,500 USD a month. Or $1,000 USD a month.
I pay $550 per month. For everything.
Don’t want two bedrooms? In my neighborhood, you can get a modern 1-bedroom or studio between $350-$450 per month, equally close to the beach. If you want to live in the city centre, prices can drop all the way down to $300 USD.
Not only are rental prices significantly lower than in the US, you also get so much more for the price you pay. In the US, $550 a month maybe gets you not-so-great apartment in an iffy location split between friends outside of the urban centers. Here, $550 affords fairly luxurious living in the best locations. That means better living, and more money in your pocket.
Going Out Doesn’t Break the Bank
Young people like to go out, whether for a night of bar hopping or dinner and wine with friends. The issue with doing this when living in the US early in your career is that going out adds up incredibly fast between Ubers, a few cocktails, and dinner. And most people are already on a tight budget as is.
This, thankfully, is not the case elsewhere in the world. Here in Vietnam, I rarely, even when going out and splurging, spend more than $10 USD for dinner, and my typical dinner on a weeknight is always less than $5. And after a night of beers, which cost usually between $.40 and $1.20 each, or cocktails, around $3.50 each, is never over $20 dollars. A full night out with dinner and drinks under $30 USD is easy.
This ability to enjoy oneself without feeling like you are blowing your budget every time you want to enjoy yourself is an incredible relief. The opportunity to enjoy fantastic food and drinks with friends without feeling like you are being financially irresponsible is one of the blessing of living in Vietnam, one I wouldn’t have ever considered before moving here. And being young, it is great to be able to have fun without it being tainted by guilt and introspective finger-wagging.
No Bills, No Credit Card = Easy Money Management
Insurance, electric, gas, medical, cell phone. Talking to friends back home, I am reminded of how almost every day someone is taking money out of your bank account in the US. And that doesn’t count all the other daily expenses of just living your daily life.
Here in Vietnam, I have three categories of expenses: rent, electric ($15 a month), and then miscellaneous necessary items like gas for my motorbike ($4 a week), toiletries, clothes etc. The rest of my money is mine for food, drink and fun.
Besides it being nice not seeing all my money going to people other than me, not having so many bills makes it much easier for me to manage my money. The process is just much more simple. I pay everything in cash, so I can budget my weekly expenses for food and drink and take that money out of the ATM at the beginning of every week. If I run out early, I know I have to tighten up to hit my personal finance target for the month.
If you are a control freak or stressed by your money going every which way except in your pocket, you may find life abroad to be a financial and emotional relief.
Life Without a Car is Amazing
I never realize how stressful and burdensome having a car was until I moved abroad, negating the need for one. Not owning a car has been one of the best unanticipated blessings of international life. No more traffic, dealing with parking, breakdowns, repairs, or crazy gas prices.
In major cities around the world public transportation is convenient and cheap, or, like in Southeast Asia, there is the option of having a motorbike that, too, is incredibly inexpensive to own and use. Using a metro, skytrain or motorcycle is not just environmentally friendly, it is an objectively better way of getting around, and a much more cost effective one. Once you move abroad and leave your car behind, I promise you will never look back.
A Chance to Live More Simply
Once you are abroad, life becomes infinitely more simple, less expensive, and you begin to look back at how you used to live and can’t imagine the stress and financial burden you used to place on yourself just by having so much extra stuff. Less bills, less expenses, less chores, and more time to yourself. That is the true benefit of living abroad. Stepping outside of the rat race to a slower, more simple, and financially advantageous way of life.
Aaron Horwath is a Project Integration Manager at an international technology company currently working in Da Nang, Vietnam. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he has spent the last two years working internationally. Through his site 12hourdifference.co, he is sharing his insights as well as the insights of other professional expats from around the world with millennials who are curious about taking an international career path. You can follow him on Twitter @12hrdifference and find him on Linkedin.