Advise the would-be expatriate

In January, I’ll be moving to Vietnam to stay at least a year or two. I’ve made this move before, but I think I could have done it better. I know there are many expatriates and ex-expatriates here, so I’m looking the TM for advice.

For example:

  1. How do I get my stuff there? The airlines allow two largish suitcases, and I’ll try not to bring much more than clothes, some books, and a few sundries. Last time I had a friend going back there at the same time, so I had use of most of a third suitcase. Still it’s not easy to pack your life into that space. I’ve heard about low-cost shipping that just takes a long time. What’s the deal there?

  2. What should I do about medical insurance? Last time, I just took my chances and went uninsured. That probably wasn’t smart. Should I get a health plan there, or get one here that would fly me back if something went horribly wrong?

  3. Hi O… , no wait. What should I do with my car? I archived it in my mom’s garage last time. Maybe selling it would be better?

… and any other advice you could shoot my way would be much appreciated!

  1. If it’s not for work, use a shipping company and a box in a box. Expect it to be opened at customs.

  2. Get the insurance, if for nothing else than the ability to get a ride home at a moment’s notice.

  3. Your car - year make model. If it’s old but with really low miles, why not keep it? Otherwise, it’s one less thing to tie you to the states, and you can ALWAYS use the extra money.

  1. Stuff in Vietnam is cheap. How much do you really need that can’t be put into two big suitcases? Clothes, favorite books, shoes… what else do you really need? List the stuff in addition to this that you can’t be without and let the dopers be your harshest critics.
  2. Get insured!
  3. In 2005 I “archived” my car too while travelling and picked it up when I came back. I am so glad I made the decision, as dealing with not having one while looking for a job would have been really irritating.

By your questions, I’d say you’re not moving to Nam as a full on company sponsored expat with all the bennies.

Shipping anything may hit you with customs duties, so you have to be careful about what is on the manifest and the import laws. How much stuff do you have? I mean you sound like a young single guy, so maybe going pretty light is easy? If it’s a couple of boxes, shipping by sea is probably the way to go although it can take 2 months.

If possible, I would make it a non negotiable condition of employment to get expatriate medical. That means emergency medical evac to somewhere like bangkok, singapore or hong kong. Full hospital coverage, and medical disability if it’s bad. What happens if you get in a bad car accident and crippled for life? No insurance ain’t a good idea. Ya, been there, done that, got hepatitis and paid the full medical, unemployment, etc out of my own pocket many moons ago when I wuz young and dumb.

  1. If you’re employer doesnt’ pay for shipping, don’t haul a lot of stuff with you. You can buy just about anything you need when you get there, if you bring a lot of stuff, you might find you brought a lot you do not need.
  2. Check out Medex for medical evacuation insurance. Also, CIGNA offers global health insurance with clinics throughout Asia.
  3. You might want to sell your car, I did. It’s one less thing to worry about back home and you won’t have to keep it insured.

Good advice, thanks! Last time I went was for a company, but since I solicited it, they didn’t give me the full package that some lucky expats get. This time I’m going to be a bum, and maybe teach English a bit and look for other opportunities, but mostly to be a bum. I’m not young, but I’m single, so I don’t have to bring a lot of stuff. Still, two suitcase? It doesn’t seem like much.

Shecky’s suggestion was “use a shipping company and a box in a box”. What’s that mean?

Greg - Companies like UPS and FedEx ship globally, and you can indicate you want it to go the slowest (and cheapest) method possible. But really, how much stuff are you going to need? My sister has travelled for a year at a time in many countries, and has basically been able to get by with one large carry-on and a backpack. They do have laundries in other countries (not really being sarcastic, but just realistic). You can buy necessities and have family and friends send care packages once you’ve arrived. A few books would be nice, but books are heavy. You need minimal clothing changes. Since I would guess you’re not planning to buy property, have a house and need furnishings, just through some essentials in a bag and go.


UPS starts to get pretty expensive when you ship overseas. I assume that FedEx is the same. You might want to check if the USPS ships there and what their rates are like. Also, if it’s enough or just heavy enough you might want to ship via ocean freight. I seem to recall that ocean containers are actually pretty cheap, the expensive part is getting it to a port.

Through /= throw. Stupid homophones.

Shibb - Yep, I know they can get expensive. My point was to try to minimize what you think you need.

Greg - There are ocean freight companies like Hyundai that ship from port to port. You’d have to clear it through customs once to take it out of the port. If you’re really curious, I could ask my sister for more names. She ended up working in international logistics.


Minor derailing: you pronounce ‘through’ the same as ‘throw’? I pronounce ‘through’ as ‘thru’, and my ‘throw’ rhymes with ‘snow’.

I do, however, pronounce ‘through’ the same as ‘threw’. :slight_smile:

On insurance:

  • You need some insurance there, for minor stuff where you’ll want local treatment.
  • You probably want some sort of evacuation insurance. There are a number of companies that offer this (I think there’s one called SOSAssist, but there are others.) Let’s face it – if something awful happens to you, you’re going to want to get home. And medical evac can be fuckin’ 'spensive, beyond belife. On the other hand, it’s rare, so the premiums are very, very cheap.
  • You need insurance in the US, because if you’re home visiting and get sick, you don’t want to be without insurance. Or, if something dreadful happens and you’re evacuated to the US, you don’t want to be without insurance here.

Unfortunately, that means you’ve probably got three insurance policies. Two of them (Vietnam local and evacuation) are cheap. But it’s wisest to be protected – insurance is one of those things that I’m happy to throw my money away on. The trauma of NOT having insurance in case of catastrophe is too awful to think of.

Sorry, to clarify, UPS overseas starts out about 3x versus domestic. I think they just air freight everything, plus act as a sort of customs broker/clearing official, both of which one pays for quite dearly. Your point is a good one and I didn’t mean to belittle it, just add another option.

UPS and Fedex only do air shipping internationally, except for Canada. Expect at least $100 a box (and more like 3-400) if you go that route. If you have faith in the Vietnamese postal service, sending it though the USPS is much cheaper. I don’t know anything about ocean freight carriers.