Expat Packing List: Moving to Vietnam
I’m often contacted by people wondering what to pack for a move to Vietnam. Here is a list to get you started. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a printable, editable Excel sheet packing list you can use.
If you’re moving abroad with a toddler, check out my more extensive list of 50 Things we Packed or Shipped to Vietnam.
Personal Care Items
Taking a walk down the shampoo aisle at Metro in Ho Chi Minh City can leave you reeling from the strong fragrances. It is difficult to find soaps, shampoos and lotions that are affordable and don’t have a strong smell. Most local products also contain parabens and other toxins.
You can buy some natural soaps and other products at Herbal Way to Beauty on Xuan Thuy in District 2 Saigon, however it is probably cheaper to stock up on your favorite products from home. One of my colleagues looked all over for hand soap that didn’t have a strong smell; she ended up bringing some back from the U.S. Regular worldwide brands such as Pantene and Finesse can be found in local markets.
Curly Hair Supplies
Naturally curly hair is not common, so it is difficult to find hair products to keep down the frizz. I have found one type of mousse for curly hair at An Phu Market in District 2, and that’s it unless you want to buy expensive salon products.
Baking and cooking items not typically used in Vietnamese cooking can be very expensive and hard to find in Vietnam. If you like to cook and bake, you should ship or pack necessary items from home. If you are allotted a shipping allowance, remember it goes by volume and not weight, so you don’t need to worry about the extra cost of sending heavy items like a pizza stone and a Dutch oven.
*Note: You can buy non-toxic non-stick pans and skillets at Metro. We have two that have held up well over 8 months already.
Here are some of the things we packed that we haven’t been able to find here, or that have been double or triple the price:
1. Pizza peel
2. Pizza stone
3. Pizza cutter
4. Dough hook
5. Dough cutter
6. Measuring cups
7. Measuring spoons
8. Metal cooling racks
9. Metal cupcake trays
10. Mini cupcake tray
11. Pastry brushes
12. Round metal cake pan
13. Rolling pin
14. Glass pie pan
15. Assorted seeds (I buy in bulk from Atlantic Spice Company)
16. BPA-Free Kitchen containers
17. Large glass salad bowl ($2.99 at Ikea)
18. Kitchen scale
19. Coffee grinder
20. French press
21. Pyrex 8 x 8 with lids
22. Pryex bowls with lids (Shop World Kitchen has the best prices on Pyrex)
23. Mixing bowls
24. Cast iron griddle
25. Cast iron skillet
26. Cast iron Dutch Oven
27. Mortar and pestle
28. Kitchen timer
29. Butter bell
30. Bread knife
31. Western spices (I buy from Atlantic Spice)
32. Immersion blender
33. Cookie cutters
Printer, Scanner, and other Electronic Items
Printers and scanners are about twice the cost in Vietnam as in the US due to the import tax. Same goes for digital cameras and most other electronic items. You will also want to buy some voltage converters, because the ones found in Vietnam are large and bulky. I bought one Simran converter on Amazon for about $13, and I wish I’d bought 5 or 6 instead of buying the large ones here.
Motorcycle and Bicycle Helmets
Helmets available in Vietnam are mostly lower quality and used simply to meet the legal requirement that all motorbike drivers and passengers must wear them. You’re better off bringing a high-quality helmet with you than trusting the locally available ones.
Sports and Camping Gear
You can find sports shops here, but high-quality imported gear and clothing is not cheap. You can often buy knock-off versions of sports clothing in local markets, but if you want something with real UV protection or other features then you should bring it with you.
Soccer is popular in Vietnam, so you can find a good variety of soccer clothes and gear, but for other sports consider bringing your own gear.
Women’s Underwear and Bras
If you are bigger than B cup, don’t count on finding bras. Also, in the US I am usually a small for underwear, here I am XL. I am usually a size 4-6 in the US, just to give you an idea what an “XL” is in Vietnam. You can find some C and D cup-bras in Saigon Square, however the choice is limited.
If you need nursing bras or tops, you should pack those as well. Sometimes you can buy secondhand maternity clothes and nursing bras from other expat moms who don’t need them anymore, but if you need nursing clothes right away then bring them with you in your suitcase.
It’s tough to find comfortable women’s shoes made for walking all day. I’d suggest bringing good summer shoes from home. I thought Saigon would be like Bangkok with lots of inexpensive malls and a huge variety of affordable work shoes and sandals, but the malls here are almost exclusively high-end brands with high-end prices to match.
English cookbooks aren’t cheap here, so if you want to have something for your cook or yourself, bring a stash with you. I brought along two years’ worth of Cooking Light magazines which are packed with recipes and not as heavy as books.
Towels and Bedsheets
For some reason, towels and bedsheets are expensive here. In Pakistan, I was able to get custom-made bedding at a low price, however I spent two months looking around Saigon and I couldn’t find similar services. Most of the sheets are not 100% cotton and end up feeling itchy in the heat and humidity. The cotton ones available at Metro are good value, but there is not much variety and it is difficult to read the labels because they are only in Vietnamese. Translation = you don’t necessarily know what type of sheets or what size you’re getting.
We packed two sets of bath towels that I got on sale at Walmart, and I’m so glad we did because towels here cost two or three times the price.
Editable, Printable Packing List
Download this Excel sheet packing list to get started. You can add or delete items as you like to make your own packing list.
I’ll be adding to this list and I think of more items! Please add any suggestions in the comment section below.