Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We have a new forum

I'm trying to make this a good website for those who want to come here and for those who are already here.  There are many ways to get involved, like follow, subscribe to the RSS or post a comment.  But now we're ready to try out a living, breathing conversation.  You can see the SaigonAlive forum page up in the top menu and 3 sub-forums once you get in: getting here (documentation, visas, tickets and stuff), working here (schools and jobs), and living here (everything else.  I already have a good couple of restaurants I want to put up there).


It's good to have a community of like-minded people where you can say pretty much whatever you want (just be civil) and keep in touch as you get to and live in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  I invite you, brave compadre, to be among the first to join in. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

A letter from a reader coming to Vietnam from Korea

I got an email from a reader who spent time in Korea who's coming here soon from California.  With the author's permission, I'll post it and respond to it, as it poses some interesting questions.

Hello Mr. Campbell!

I finished reading your blog and now I'm just fishing for a little advice and reassurance to help give me that final push. 

I just finished my third year teaching English in Seoul and I'm ready to try something new.  I've had an eager eye on Vietnam ever since I vacationed there a few years ago.

I have a BS in Computer Science, 3 years teaching kindergarten and elementary students at a private institute, and a 120 hour TESOL from ITTT.  I'm planning on booking a one-way ticket for the end of October.  I'm currently in California.

I realize a lot depends on the type of person I am and the level of comfort I'm used to, but any general answers and advice would be greatly appreciated.

Here's a little more about myself that may help you more accurately answer my questions: 

I'm a 29-year-old reasonable looking and well mannered dude.  I'm not very outgoing, but no wallflower either.  I'm accustomed to living in small spaces after Korea, so I won't need a big place.  Outside of work I like exercising(martial arts, running), drinking good beers (I'm expecting Saigon to surpass Seoul in this department) and searching for my future wife (Korean women....don't get me started....amazing).  I don't have any bills to pay back home. 


As long as I follow the paperwork guidelines do you think I would have a fairly easy chance finding work once I hit the ground?
 
How much money would you suggest I need to get me comfortably set up and give me time to find a job?  I'm hoping $4000 will be enough?


Can I easily expect to find a full time job that pays around $2000 USD a month?

I have a 120 TESOL from ITTT but it was online...do you think this will be a problem?  I'm hoping my teaching experience can counterbalance that.

What can I expect to pay for a decent apartment in city?

Hope you can help answer any or all of these questions.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.

...........................................................

First, let me say I really appreciate this.

There are actually a lot of interesting points to this, so let me take them point by point:

I just finished my third year teaching English in Seoul and I'm ready to try something new.  I've had an eager eye on Vietnam ever since I vacationed there a few years ago.

It sounds like you won't be entirely shocked when you get here :-)

I have a BS in Computer Science, 3 years teaching kindergarten and elementary students at a private institute, and a 120 hour TESOL from ITTT.  I'm planning on booking a one-way ticket for the end of October.  I'm currently in California.

Good.  You're in the States, so you can ensure you get your paperwork together.

I realize a lot depends on the type of person I am and the level of comfort I'm used to, but any general answers and advice would be greatly appreciated.

Here's a little more about myself that may help you more accurately answer my questions:

I'm a 29-year-old reasonable looking and well mannered dude.  I'm not very outgoing, but no wallflower either.  I'm accustomed to living in small spaces after Korea, so I won't need a big place.  Outside of work I like exercising(martial arts, running), drinking good beers (I'm expecting Saigon to surpass Seoul in this department) and searching for my future wife (Korean women....don't get me started....amazing).  I don't have any bills to pay back home. 

As long as I follow the paperwork guidelines do you think I would have a fairly easy chance finding work once I hit the ground?

Absolutely.
 
How much money would you suggest I need to get me comfortably set up and give me time to find a job?  I'm hoping $4000 will be enough?

If you splurge like it's your last week on earth, you can blow through that easily in a week here (or anywhere on the planet for that matter).  But Seoul this is not.  That $4k will go a lot longer way here than in Seoul.  Your first month here may go something like this:

Get a hotel on Bui Vien for $400-450/month.
$8/day for food (eating well, that is, all over Bui Vien). ($240/month)
Xe Om / Taxi  $50
$300 miscellaneous (socks, beer)
cell phone, sim card, and charge ($50 +++)

Let's call it an even $1100.  Tack on another $500 to $1000 for who knows what (trip to Bangkok? tailors? girls?)  You can get a comfortable 2 months out of that and even 4 months if you figure out what you're doing quick enough (though I'd say something 2.5 months is most realistic). I came pretty much on a wing and a prayer ($1900) during TET, which is the lowest teaching season.   I don't recommend that anyone does that unless he or she is really confident about options. You're coming in much more comfortably than I did.   

Can I easily expect to find a full time job that pays around $2000 USD a month?

Maybe.  See below.

I have a 120 TESOL from ITTT but it was online...do you think this will be a problem?  I'm hoping my teaching experience can counterbalance that.

You can start work immediately. You'll make about $15-$16/hr part-time at first, so you can do the math.  If you get a real "full time" job (meaning time for lesson planning, etc and, say, 24 hours/wk teaching), you'll get your $2000.  If you don't get that job, then you can do two part time jobs.  You'll be making $20 + hour soon enough if you know what you're doing, or you'll get that full-time job.  And even more later.  Some people are pulling in $3-4K here.

Your teaching experience will get your foot in the door.  Your wages, hours, and possibilities will go up quickly if you're good.  Just realize that your first few months are going to be spent learning the streets, so to speak.  I'm just brain-storming here, but especially with your CS degree, you might also want to pass your resume around the new technology park here.  I'm working at a software company and can recommend it as a good possibility; they want results, not just entertainment.  I like that.

Speaking directly to your online Tesol: an online cert. doesn't hold water here as far as schools are concerned.  But in your case you don't need it to get even a job.  You might run into some confusion, though regarding your work permit.  If I were you I'd be very assertive about hooking up with a school that has a track record for getting people work permits (i.e. Cleverlearn) and who may understand that the government of Vietnam doesn't require a CELTA and may not even bat an eyelash at your Tesol.  Put it through the Chain of Authentication just in case.

You will get a job immediately.  October is a good time to come here.  It'll still be raining some, but school is in session.

What can I expect to pay for a decent apartment in city?

Apartments run from $180 to $7000/month.  You'll get a decent apartment once you've gotten a lay of the land, for around $400 or $500 for sure.  And that's for something fairly roomy and comfortable.  I've known people in Korea that lived in these little, tiny places -- I really can't even call them a "room" much less an apartment.  Again, this isn't Seoul.

Here's what I mean: on craigslist you'll find tons of swanky-ish $1000 apartments, but you can also find a whole, furnished, rather nice-looking Vietnamese-style HOUSE for under $500. I'm going to post a dedicated page to this site for what I think are some of the better deals for rooms, apartments, and houses.  Just do yourself a favor and don't a least one one of the $700 apartments.  There are some really good deals out there. 

It depends on what you want and where you want to be.  You'll definitely want to limit your commute eventually.  And never, never, never get a place on a river here.  The smell sometimes will knock you out.

Hope you can help answer any or all of these questions.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.

You're very welcome.  I hope my responses were helpful.  I'm looking forward to hearing from you -- how your experience here compares to that in Korea, any good deals you come across, and all the stuff that matters (food, motorbikes, and girls).  :-)
 

Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Thrive in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

How to thrive here.

You noticed that things are getting less step-by-step.  Now we're totally into the realm of "milestones" rather than steps. Thriving here is your own deal.  I'll share some thoughts on this and will maintain the "steps" for reference.

Step 15. Get a really good girlfriend, perhaps a future wife.  This will happen only if a. you're ready, b. your heart is in the right place, and c. you're not scared to do so --  just like everywhere else.

Optional: you're one of the few lucky souls who can actually use this language with strangers at some practical depth.  You may proceed without a good girlfriend.

Step 15a. Extend your visa the cheap way.  Your girlfriend will do this for $10.  You will kick yourself for having spent all that money before, but, eh, that's life here.

Step 16.  Get a better job/room and get the WP, if you haven't yet.  By now you should be making some connections.  You may, however, be considering shelling out $700 for a swanky apartment.  You can do that or contact me directly for apartments and houses at non-expat prices.

Barometer check: If you haven't been hanging out with embittered people, you should feel like you're thriving at this point. Thriving meaning, you have tons of money and are having a lot of fun.  If you don't feel happy at 10 months, regardless leave.  Do not become embittered, as this will follow you around for a long while.

You may be getting fat from beer and good food at this point.  Consider joining a gym.  Or just get fat -- it's a sign of wealth here and chicks dig it.

Optional steps:

Step 16. Get engaged. Buy a second motorbike*.  And a decent ring**.  You will now be thankful you can utter some Vietnamese words intelligibly, because you'll be uttering some very specialized words to your girlfriend's family at this point.

*That second motorbike should  probably be an Attilla (for medium/large girls  (and by Western standards, tis means small) or a Honda Click or Yamaha Mio Classico for more petite girls.

Get something classy for her and something she can wear a skirt while riding.  If you don't feel obliged to, go back to step 15. This is a Yamaha Mio Classico.  23.5 million VND plus 2 million for paperwork.  We chose the Mio over the Honda Click, which is superior to the Mio in every practical way, because the Mio is just freagin' swanky.  Consult your girlfriend and don't believe her when she says "anything you want, honey."

** Cruise around the area behind Ben Than market and knock yourself out.  Don't bargain with them as they're largely going by published weights and prices.  Go to Thailand if you want the extremely awesome deals on jewelry work.

Step 17. Rent a bigger apartment or a house.  Toy around with the idea of teaching in your house.  You may, however, be shelling out $700 + for a house.  You can do that or contact me directly for apartments and houses at non-expat prices.

Optional: get a dog. Yes, people eat dogs here and yes it's not easy to have a dog here, but  a lot of people do.  This topic is rich in opinion and great, if not touchy, conversation fodder here.

Your best friend.


Optional: save about $5,000 for a wedding party in HCMC; otherwise, $3,000 for one in your girlfriend's countryside.  If you find that you are not exercising this option, you may want to reconsider Step 15.  Otherwise, you've worked out something good, I hope.  (I have one buddy, for instance, who skipped all the Vietnam hub-bub and just took his girl back home to Australia and did everything there. If you're from the US you don't have this option: the odds of getting a tourist visa for your girlfriend/fiance or really, really low.)

Step 18. Get married.  Save for a trip back home, though that won't happen easily.  Good luck getting your wife a tourist visa if home is the US.  At this point you may be saying "screw it, we'll just move back."  That's fine, but know that if you declare any intention to go back to the US on a fiance/spouse visa, that your interviewers are legally obligated to say no to any application for a tourist visa.  Anyway, at this point, you will now spend less money and work more for Steps 19 and 20.  More about getting married here later: I'm in the middle of the whirlwind of it all now and can only say yippee ki yay.

Step 19. Have a baby or two.  This is inevitable if you marry a woman that's not a Starbuck's intellectual (see the opening to "Idiocracy" for reference).  But here ye shall have babies. 

Step 20.  Buy a house or rent and cruise around this crazy planet.*  You'll need about a billion VND or so for a starter house in saigon / ho chi minh city.  Maybe you have a good $50 or $100 grand in the bank or you've actually saved that much teaching and doing whatever other business here.  If you want to settle here, you can do so.  If you want it in your name, you'll need to get an apartment for about $700 million or swing some deals. 

*Optional:  Go somewhere else. Or go back to the US and get a job. Just remember, though, that Vietnam, and Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City offers some of the best bang for the buck on the planet.

How to Get Started Living and Working in Saigion Ho Chi Minh City

Well, you're here.  If you haven't yet, check out my video of my arrival in saigon / ho chi minh city.   You'll be able to figure out where I took those shots, as you're probably on Bui Vien still acclimating.  But it's probably time to get a job.

Good times.

How to live here.

Step 8. Get a job.  Okay, maybe one more week of freaking out.  But, seriously, you can get a job now.

 Go out and do some politkin' and MAKE SOME MONEY.

These may recruit you before you even get here and pay $13-$18/hr.
  • ILA -- CELTA.  You probably know about this one already.  Lots of rich kids.
  • Apollo -- offers a CELTA. Affilated with Universities; offers advanced training (DELTA) to teachers.
  • RMIT -- Australian University.  Only place I know that hires academic professors, in addition to regular ESL teachers. Some people knock RMIT, but I've hired RMIT graduates (both BA and MBA) and I'll say they're among the sharpest (perhaps because their families travel a lot, perhaps because of the training; I don't know).
  • VUS -- everywhere: Vietnamese manged, in consultation with the City University of New York.  They like American teachers; Vietnamese people here really, really like this school.
  • Cleverlearn -- everywhere: franchised, so experiences may vary.
    Special note to VK's:  you can find work here.  There may be a bias towards "western-looking" people with lighter skin, but you can not only find work here, you can thrive if you're a good teacher.  You may need to get more experience and become better known as a good teacher before you are accepted by Vietnamese people as a good English teacher.  After talking with some VKs, I've learned that some schools will more readily offer this experience than others. IES (International English School) will hire VKs.

    101 Nguyen Van Cu
    Dist.5 Ho Chi Minh City VIETNAM
    Phone: 3923-4390

    I've learned that (and this is great advice for anyone from anywhere (i.e., the Philippines), for that matter) if kids really like you and favor you, that their parents will do whatever they can so that you can teach their kids, regardless of where you are from.

    There are hundreds of other schools here.  Hundreds.  Check out http://saigonesl.com/.  (That site should be a lot more popular than it is.  It may be getting out-dated by now but it's rich in info.)

    After a while, people will start asking you to teach.  They may be Vietnamese dudes trying to run a school or actual students who think you stand out from the crowd of bozos and want you to teach them.  That happens almost spontaneously.  You're on your own.

    If you want to purposefully get students you can, like some wise/charismatic men I've known here, hang out a shingle in Phu Mi Hung/Q7 and teach Korean rich-dudes' wives for $35/hr over tea.  In this latter case, it doesn't hurt to be confident, wise, and a bit flirtatious. 

    If you have a BEd or especially if you are State Certified to teach back home, check out the international schools.  Live long and prosper.  I was a school teacher back home and may very well be again, so I'll say this: coming here with your teaching credentials confirms that whatever insanity led you to be a teacher has payed off, compadre.

    Other avenues: get a corporate job.  That's what I did.  Though I don't get the Int'l School treatment, I get to practice my profession and hopefully better this world a bit before I go, which is what I'm here to do (in addition to living better than probably Alexander the Great himself did).  My students are all incredibly intelligent and attentive: their very future depends on my classes.  Classroom management = trying to get people to STOP taking notes and practicing so you can move on.  Occasionally they need to turn off cell phones because they're using their dictionaries or are texting their manager. 

    Step 9. Rent a motorbike.
     
    Old ladies and girls ride motorbikes here. Don't be a *****.   I'm working on "how to ride your motorbike in ho chi minh city" but I haven't solved some camera issues.  For now, I'll say that the basics are thus:
    • Ride a xe om for a little while.  Get used to the traffic even though you look like a dufus (though that's okay).  
    • Then rent/borrow a motorbike and go out and make a bunch of right turns in 3rd gear until you're ready to make a left turn.  Then make the left turn. 
    • Catch your Zen.  In the time it takes you to say to yourself  "what the HELL does he think he DOING?!" you'll crash.  Catch your Zen, compadres.  If you play First-Person Shooters, you'll know what I'm talking about.
    Xe Om (literally "vehicle hug").  Always ready to charge you 40K ($2) to take you to his cousin's shop so you can buy your first cell phone in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City for a special price.

    Costs to rent a motorbike:

    Most people would lead you to believe that $50/mo for a (cheap and dependable) newer Wave is a good deal.  Ha!  I can refer you to some good, honest, people for 800,000 VND/ ($41 and change) per month.  You can go up from there -- automatic or whatever, but the price goes up steeply from the Wave just because everything besides a Wave is a lot more expensive.

    Not a Wave, but it might as well be here.

    Optional: Try to learn Vietnamese. I said try. You'll occasionally -- rarely, actually -- meet a foreigner who can actually have a conversation in Vietnamese with someone other than his forgiving and adjusted-to-his-complete-lack-of-tonality girlfriend. God bless these people. Vietnamese will appreciate your just trying. They will laugh at and with you in a good way. Chicks dig it.

    I'm linking to Sing 'n Learn, on your left, for a reason: the tones are paramount.  I can recommend books and software -- all of which are available once you get here -- but I wish I would have just learned a few children's melodies before I got here.  In fact, even after trying to learn the language for months now, I'd still like to do so. If anyone gets this book, please ping me once you get here: I'd like to get my hands and ears on it.  Again, the tones are everything.

    My favorite method for teaching English pronunciation, speaking, and listening, is focusing on the "music" of English.  Funny thing about teaching English here is that you get reacquainted with the language from a different perspective.  English is very much a tonal, melodic, language.  More on teaching English in other posts, but suffice it to say that learning the music of a language is by far the single-most important aspect of being able to use it to communicate.  Especially so with Vietnamese.

    Step 10. Get a serviced room near your job. $300 - $400 /month. I recommend Jon. He's a pretty cool guy; lived a long time in the States and may have a lot of choices for you in this range.  Or contact me directly for apartments and houses at decent prices.

    Step 10a. Get a better job. Get another serviced room near your better job. Or contact me directly for apartments and houses at non-expat prices.

    Step 11. Extend your visa the expensive way.  You may be a bit desperate to get this done, as your Visa is about to expire, so expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $150, depending on the connections you've made up.

    Step 11xyz (I can't make an infinity sign, so xyz). Get a work permit.  I've been here awhile and am still getting this done.  I did applied for my LOCAL police check (yes, here in HCMC today) and my docs are en route via FedEx from D.C. to San Francisco on there way back to HCMC are here!.  Believe me when I say follow step 3 exactly.  It is much, much easier.

    Step 12. Stop renting and now buy a motorbike.  Get a second-hand motorbike, as you can sort-of "buy" these.  Probably do not try to get a new motorbike until you have completed Step 15.  Motorbikes are a whole other wonderful issue.  You can get a Wave (which I love), a fancy Yamaha, or an old-timey Vespa.  Or a stylin' old cub.  Or a freagin' 18,000,000 cc VMAX if you have the cash.

    Step 13. Get a girlfriend.  This is extremely easy.  Too easy, actually.  I have interviewed good girls here and they say this.  There are gold-diggers and there are truly loving women.  Just like everywhere.  You'll have to adjust.  I can't say anything that will actually have an affect on your brain here.  I daren't give advice, as opinions and drunken anecdotal diatribes are a dime a dozen here, but I'll go ahead and say that I hope you find a college/university girl here from the countryside.  Best of all worlds.

    Step 14. Get a motorbike license.  If you didn't bring a motorcycle endorsement from the US, you can either a. get creative with the license translation process or b. shell out about $100*.  Or not.

    If you did get your motorcycle endorsement or if you are clever enough during the translation process, here are the steps to getting your motorbike license in saigon / ho chi minh city:
    • Get your US DL officially translated -- : 150k VND at Hanoi Translation on Pasteur or wherever else.
    • Get you signature and photo validated at the American consulate. $30, cash or US debit/credit card only.  
    • Then go to the DL bureau and finish: 30k VND dong. You'll also need  two 4x3cm photos.  Bring your passport, duh. 252 Ly Chinh Thang.  They'll see you wandering in there like a lost puppy and will most likely guide you through.  Just be nice.  If you're in a bad/confused mood, fake it.  (This is a good skill here in general, btw).
    • If you were smart, you got a 3-month Visa before.  If not, get one now.  You'll need a 3-month visa to get your motorbike license. 
    • Details: http://sgtvt.hochiminhcity.gov.vn/web/data/news/2008/3/4501/case1.htm
    *Or pay $100 to the right person.  In this case you'll most likely need to take the driving test, though your written test will be personally graded by said agent's cousin.

    Gear up and go on adventure (to Da Lat in this case) with your loved one on your Wave and motorbike license.  Don't worry: this machine can handle it, though your ass (and ability to negotiate all this with your girlfriend) may be challenged.
    Next steps (if you can call them that): thrive in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    7 Steps to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam (for those who want live here for awhile)

    Do you want to live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam? This is a fun city to live in -- if you really like motorbikes...

    ... a lot. (4 million and counting).

    It's easy to live here if you have some teaching credentials and are a native English speaker.  If you meet these criteria and are from the US, read on.  If you're from another English-speaking country, read on, too; just don't try to follow steps 1-7 exactly like this!

    I'm going to talk about how to get here and how to thrive here.  How am I qualified to do so?  Because I got here and am thriving.  You'll find more-experienced people who are here or who have been here, and you'll come across A LOT of opinions and advice.  This is mine.  By my nature, and after having been in graduate school for a very long time,  I try to put facts over opinion -- or at least qualify what I'm saying as best I can.

    Getting to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

    Step 1. Education. Finish your degree. You will need credentials to get your Work Permit (WP).  Any BA or BS will do.

    If you don't have a CELTA or TEFL and/or teaching experience, you can come here and find work, but it may be difficult to situate yourself easily for a Work Permit (WP).  If you have an English degree (the kind where you read and write about English Literature for a couple of years) or Communications, you may be able to pull this off, but bring authenticated transcripts to prove it's an English or Communications degree. A BEd is guaranteed gold.  An MA is okay; good if it's in Ed or Comm.  I have an English Degree, an MA in Communications and an Advanced Certificate in Education; no CELTA.  I do respect the CELTA program, though.  Good entry-level prep/weeding out tool.

    You may want to do a CELTA before coming here, though you can do one here.  More on that in the next series.

    You can come here with a degree in Shop and nothing else. You can always get a WP.  It may cost you a good $1,000 or more, but it's possible.  You may also come here and teach with no degree --it's a tougher route and you won't get a WP.

    Step 2. Get some experience teaching/traveling. This is not a "beginner-friendly" gig. Although some completely green newbies come here, it's better if you have some traveling experience. And by travel experience I don't mean that three-week graduation trip to Europe -- I mean at least teach in Mexico or whatever for a year. In any case, just understand the basics of living in crazy, developing-world, conditions. Btw, for guys, Southeast Asia beats Mexico. Just saying.

    Not Europe

    Optional: Get your motorcycle license. It's easier and cheaper to get a motorbike license here if you have a motorcycle license from the States. You may or may not ever need the motorbike license here: I haven't needed to produce mine for a cop yet, but I got one and feel better when I pass by the police because I did.  I'll cover how to do so in the next series.

    Step 3.  This step gets it's own page. Get your documents in order and stamped through the US Chain of Authentication. 

    Step 4. (may be done parallel to the above). Get your Vietnam visa from the Vietnam Embassy. or from the Consulate in SF. Do not get a 1-month. Get a 3-month. It's easier and cheaper to extend a 3-month here than to change out a 1-month.  The eventual costs outweigh the initial costs.  Call them for the latest prices.  Go ahead and call them -- they don't bite and they do speak English.  It's sometimes difficult to get through, though.  Yes, you can use a visa agency -- there are many online -- but you can get your visa from either place above for much cheaper.

    Step 5. Get a one-way ticket to Ho Chi Minh City. If you're thinking "I should get an open-ended round trip, just in case" then do not come here: go back to step 2.  If you're a chicken (like I was) or are just concerned, get some travel insurance. After doing a bunch of research, I recommend Travel Guard. I'd say just get a month's worth so your flight over and first month are covered.

    Because you never know.

    Step 6. Go to Bui Vien/ Pham Ngu Lao. (Pronounce Ngu like this: say "sing" but don't include the "si" and add an u, as in "blue.") You will pay $10 to take a taxi from the airport. Take Mai Linn Taxi or VinaSun Taxi (the rest may rip you off) and agree up front: $10. Tell them no otherwise. Do not close the door until they agree.  These two companies have good reputations, but you never know about the driver: maybe he just lost a world-cup bet and is a little short on cash. 

    Step 7. Get a $15/night hotel. I recommend Hoai Pho. As many before and after me have, I stayed there for months until I got my bearings enough to do step 10.


    Practice your Kung-Fu in your Saigon Hotel

    Before I even came here, I used Hostelsworld and found a great place (Luan Vu) for my first 10 days, though.  You pay a booking fee, but if you want to know where you're staying and want a reviewed place, it's a great resource.  I put a widget on my page (to your right) for this.  Just type in Ho Chi Minh City and start researching. 

    Congratulations, you're here*. If you've followed all the previous steps, you will not need to get a job before coming.  I'll cover that and more in the next series of steps: How to Live in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Optional: upon arrival, freak out for 2 weeks. You may at this point drink yourself silly and fall for the bar girls/ho's. Try not to get robbed by a ho. Do not fight anyone. Do not go off on a motorbike in a riotous blaze of glory during this period: if you crash, it's your fault and you will pay.

    Knock yourself out at Go2.  Go ahead, get out of your system.
    Stay tuned for how to live here once you get here.

    Step 3: Documentation before you leave (for your Vietnamese Work Permit)

    Step 3.

    The Chain of Authentication

    Your documents should bear this woman's signature (and visit the Vietnamese Consulate/Embassy) before you leave.

    When you've decided to pull the trigger and come here, give yourself a good 2-3 months to get your paperwork together. Please do not skip this step or any of the sub-steps here. This is key to eventually thriving here with as few hassles as possible.
    1.  Get your degree notarized. You may get an official copy notarized. I'm not talking about xeroxing it. Ask your school to make an official copy.
    2. Do your police check and get it notarized there.  Go to your State Department of Public Safety or equivalent.  Not FBI, not local police, not Deputy Dog.  Your State Department of Public Safety or equivalent. 
    3. If you have a CELTA or similar, get it notarized.
    4. Authenticate (not apostille) all these at your state's Department of State.  Here is a list of all US States' Departments of States and Offices of Vital Statistics. They will authenticate the local  notarization you already got. Tell them it's for Vietnam and they will do the correct thing. Vietnam is not a Hague country and therefore the apostille thing is no good here (sorry Japan/Korea teachers; you'll need to get this done). Your University may be able to do this for your diploma. Note: your University may be able to do this (notarize and authenticate) for your diploma.  Mine did.  It saved me mailing and time to Illinois and back.
    5. Once all this is authenticated at the State level, send it all to Washington D.C. and the US Department of State Authentication Unit. They will authenticate the State's authentication of the notarization.$8/document.  Good news!  This is no longer necessary.  Paperwork goes straight from the State level to the Vietnam Embassy or Consulate (See step 6).
    6. When you get that back, send all of it for authentication and translation to either the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C. or the Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco. $50/per document plus optional $20 to expedite it (though the $20 isn't necessary if you can wait a few days).  I'm now seeing if you can do this in Houston as well.  
    7. Put all this in an envelop and guard it with your life. Remember to take it with you when you come here.
    Review: this is the correct terminology and procedure for the Chain of Authentication:
    1. Notarized at the local level. 
    2. Authenticated at the State level. 
    3. Authenticated at the National level. 
    4. Legalized at the Embassy/Consulate. 
    Do all of it and do it in that order, no matter what you hear, read, or imagine.  If you don't send your stuff to the Vietnamese Consulate/Embassy, for example, after you get them back from the US State Department, you'll have to FedEx them once you get here, spending more money and risking losing them in the process.  

    Addition: (12/7/10): a reader (in the comments below;  asks:

    Now what should you do if you've just graduated from university and your diploma won't be mailed to you until after you've already arrived in Vietnam? Could you essentially just have the official diploma mailed to you in Vietnam and get it notorized in the consulate? 

    You'll either have to a. use an agent for about $1000 or b. use DHL (or traveling friends) to do all the steps in the States.  I assume you're from the US. The agent, a, will essentially use your money to do b.  There is no more "consularization" of diplomas because a lot of bogus diplomas were getting through.  I know this because I had to do it. I tried all the tricks, after having talked to a lot of people, but the way things are (and shall remain, I strongly believe) you have to follow the chain of authentication, be it from home or abroad. Luckily, the management of the company I worked for made frequent trips to the US and I was able to save the DHL fees. 

    Treat the steps as unalterable law.

    Bookmark this post.  Love it long time -- until you get it all done.  

    Now, on to the 7 steps and  Get your Vietnam Visa.