Moving Abroad with a Toddler: 50 Things we Packed or Shipped to Vietnam
This list is directed toward expats moving to Vietnam with toddlers, however you may find it a useful starting point for other destinations.
In July 2012, my husband and I moved from the US to Vietnam with our 18-month-old son. Here are some of the things we’re glad we packed OR we wish that we had packed! The feature photo is our son in his Kitchen Helper, one of the bigger items we shipped.
Some of these may seem odd (toothbrushes?), but we are very conscientious about toxins in plastics, personal care products and food. Also, I went back in and added a few things, so you’ll see there are now more than 50 items on the list.
Stroller with Weather Cover
Before moving to Vietnam I spent a good amount of time reading reviews of travel strollers, and I finally decided on the Combi Cosmo. Due to the smaller wheels it is not pleasant to push on an unpaved surface, but the wheels have held up fine even after being pushed on bumpy roads. The storage space in the bottom is limited, but we’ve solved the problem by putting a large bag over the handlebars. The sun-canopy is sufficient and the stroller folds up quickly and easily. It’s small enough to fit in the front seat of the car or the trunk of a taxi.
I also like the carrying strap for quick carries in the airport. It’s light enough to pick up and carry up stairs by two adults. Overall, I’ve been really happy with it.
The only thing I wish that I had done is buy the weather cover immediately, because Vietnam has a long rainy season and we weren’t prepared for it.
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We try to buy all plastic that our toddler will use BPA-free and PVC-free. Here’s what we’ve got in our kitchen that we’re very happy we packed. The Re-Play stuff my mom mailed to me when Gabriel’s other plates and bowls got too small.
We have two of these and I wish I’d bought more. They are my favorite sippy cup so far, and we have tried about a dozen different ones.
10. Foogo Sippy Cup
Good for keeping milk cold on plane trips.
12. Lunch Sack
Many lunch bags are also coated with PVC plastic. I wasn’t sure if I could find non-PVC lunch bags abroad so I bought two SugarBooger lunch sacks – one for my son and one for me!
13. Snack Catchers
I love having these on planes and long car trips. They’re also great for going out or even just snacking around the house.
We haven’t used this too much here because the school our son goes to provides a hot lunch, but if he changes schools we’ll he happy to start using it again.
15. Vitamin D-Drops
Kids probably get enough Vitamin D during the sunny months, but since we often slather our son in sunscreen we give him a Vitamin D supplement. Carlson D is one of the only ones that does not have artificial colors, flavors or other additives.
15a. Sleeve Bibs
Great for eating and for arts and crafts.
15b. High Chair
We had a wooden high chair made here, but we couldn’t get Gabriel to stay in it like in his plastic one from the US. Now he has a terrible habit of running around while it’s time to eat. You can buy this type of high chair here, but expect to spend at least $100 unless you can get a used one from another family.
16. PVC-Free Crib Mattress
The one big item we shipped for our toddler was a Naturpedic “No Compromise” Organic Cotton crib mattress. We had been using it in his crib, and since it was quite an investment at $220 (compared the $30 we spent for his baby crib mattress) we wanted to continue using it once he transitioned to a toddler bed (which are also hard to come by at a decent price!).
You can find good quality, sturdy crib mattresses for toddlers in Saigon, but I haven’t seen any include specific information from the manufacturer about how the mattresses are made. Standard mattresses almost always have PVC plastic in the waterproof coating which off-gases into the bedroom.
Where to Buy: Amazon – Naturpedic Crib Mattress
17. Fitted Crib Sheets
You can find crib sheets in Saigon, but the Naturpedic mattress is very sturdy and standard fitted crib sheets are often too tight for it. I’ve broken more than one fingernail trying to put on new sheets! The only fitted sheet I’ve found that fits it well is the organic fitted crib sheet from Babies R’ Us. We brought one of these and I wish I’d brought 3 or 4.
17a. Toddler Bed
You can buy new ones at exorbitant prices or used ones from expat families who don’t need them anymore, but if you need one right away you should ship it. Gabriel started using his around 22 months. We bought one for $30 on Craigslist which is wooden. If you want something that will hold up even better in the humidity, go for the thick plastic ones.
17b. Bed Rail
Same story as above. We shipped one and actually didn’t end up using it because our landlady had trundle beds in the kids’ rooms, but I liked to use a bed rail for co-sleeping whenever Gabriel was sick and didn’t want to be by himself.
17c. Crib or Pack n’ Play
You won’t be able to fit these in your suitcase, so try to get one from any family via AnPhu Neighbours Google Group. One thing I wish we’d shipped was our convertible crib / toddler bed, but it would have taken up a lot more space than the small wooden toddler bed.
17d. Baby Monitor
I haven’t seen these here. I bought one from the US and just took a Simran converter to go with it.
I’d suggest buying a monitor with two parent units like this one from Graco, as many houses are quite vertical (3 or 4 floors) and it’s a pain to move the monitor and the converter every time you switch floors.
We are also conscientious about personal care products for the whole family. We like products that don’t contain artificial colors, harsh chemicals or parabens. I haven’t been able to find anything here that is made specifically for kids, however you can buy some natural bar soaps at Herbal Way on Xuan Thuy Street in District 2.
Most soaps and shampoos here have a very strong smell and include many chemicals, including carcinogens. Johnson and Johnson is available and widely used, however we don’t trust their ingredients since they are different in different countries and some mixes do contain carcinogens.
The best value for money that I’ve found is California Baby’s basic shampoo and body wash. If you get the larger bottle, it ends up being about 50% the cost of other natural baby body washes. It also makes decent bubbles.
1 tube lasts about 3 months when brushing twice a day.
We bought 5 for the year. The link above is for the toddler size. Buy the baby size ones here: Pure Baby BPA-Free toothbrush
We use this for the whole family and bought two bottles for the year. It’s fairly strong, but it doesn’t contain DEET. We put this on Gabriel’s feet and arms at night so he doesn’t get bitten.
22. Kitchen Helper
The Kitchen Helper is a safety stool so that toddlers can help out in the kitchen. I’ve really just started using it now Gabriel is two, although it’s good for 18 months and up. He just now started having the attention span to stand in there long enough to do something at the counter. I went with this model over other brands because it folds for storage and was less expensive.
Before ordering online, look around for a used one in your local area. You can buy regular step stools in Vietnam, however they aren’t really tall enough to reach the counter and most are flimsy plastic.
I couldn’t find one in Saigon so I had my mom ship me this inexpensive one from Amazon.
My husband and I had several arguments over the play kitchen, which I bought for $100 from Walmart and had shipped with our shipping allowance. I am so glad that I “won” the arguments and did end up shipping the kitchen, because it gets used quite a bit when Gabriel’s friends are over.
I went with the Step 2 Kitchen because it was BPA-free, came with 100 pieces of plastic play food, and was a lot less expensive than the wooden Melissa and Doug kitchen I was eyeing. I also had a look at second-hand kitchens selling via AnPhuNeighbours, the local Saigon Google Group, and saw that they were selling for equal to or more than new models available in the US. A few play kitchens went up for the sale on the Google Group this year, and they were sold within 24 hours!
Best value is to buy it with the kitchen from Walmart.
Any durable kids furniture is expensive in Vietnam due to the import tax. We shipped a Little Tikes toy box that was a hand-me-down from my brother. You could ship one and fill it up with stuff.
Our landlady left us an easel and we’re so glad she did. They aren’t cheap in Vietnam. A good value one is the Step 2 Easel linked above.
28. Toddler Tricycle
I wish I’d brought a tricycle. Here the prices for new ones are almost double what you’d pay in the US, and any used ones get bought up in a snap on AnPhuNeighbors. Link just goes to a search page on Amazon for Toddler Tricycles.
29. Little Tikes Car
Same story as the tricycles. I saw one in Babies R’ Us last year for $29.99. I am still kicking myself for not buying it and having it shipped, because the lowest prices I’ve seen here was over $100.
We brought a LeapFrog ride on school bus that Gabriel loves. It was at his grandma’s house and he liked it so much she let us take it. He uses it pretty much every day, and his friends always ride it too.
You can buy some things here at toy shops, you just end up paying two or three times as much as you would in the US.
32. Craft Supplies
You can get a lot of basic craft supplies in District 2. I brought Melissa and Doug non-toxic finger paints, non-toxic watercolors and safety scissors. I also bought an assortment of brushes in different sizes.
I wish I’d brought a collection of different sponges for sponge painting; I’ll pick some up at a craft shop this summer. The link above is for Amazon, but I bought most of Gabriel’s stuff on sale or with coupons at Babies ‘R Us so it was cheaper.
I ended up buying a “Cars 2” one at Vincom Center which is lower quality and cost slightly more than ones in the US. They fold up nicely so you can pack 1 or 2 of them with your shipping allowance.
A friend of ours recommended Micro Scooter as a good quality brand that will last through several children. The “mini kick scooter” is the cheapest model and comes in two colors: blue and pink. It was also on sale in different colors for the same price ($85) at the time of writing.
You can also buy cheaper, Chinese made scooters through the Disney Store or Amazon.
There is not much variety here and the only place I have found them is at “Toon Store” in Vincom Center (District 1). Before finding that one, I bought two that just didn’t fit correctly.
It is also difficult to find homeopathic medicine or anything without artificial colors or preservatives. We shipped a supply of our most-used medications. For most products, the cheapest option was to “subscribe” from Amazon for a couple months to get our desired number of each product. That way the shipping was free and we got an additional discount.
35. Little Fevers
36. Little Colds
Gabriel has had difficulty getting over colds. I wish I’d shipped more than one bottle of this! We ran out and had to get some strange blue-colored prescription.
41. Flotation Device
You can buy PVC-plastic swimmies here, but they are not quality and they do off-gas toxic fumes when they are new. We bought a Stearns puddle jumper that I absolutely love. Several moms have asked me if you can buy them here in Vietnam, but I haven’t seen anything like the puddle jumper for sale in Saigon. With the puddle jumper, Gabriel can swim in the pool without any help; it’s a lot more stable than the arm bands most toddlers use. I also bought Schlori Swim Cushions on Amazon, although I haven’t used them yet.
42. Swim Diapers
For pools it’s nice to have re-usable swim diapers like these ones from iPlay. You can buy them here at Amazon, although I found the cheapest price to be on MySwimBaby.com. Get the ones that are on sale for the best deal.
43. Sand Toys
Most of the ones I’ve seen here are low-quality plastic and break easily. My mom mailed us some of my brother’s old toys that are a more durable plastic, and they are holding up much better. Since it’s warm weather year round and many playgrounds have sand, you’ll be using them a lot more than you would in a temperate climate. Melissa and Doug and Green Toys have high-quality BPA-free plastic beach toys.
In Vietnam you won’t find a huge variety of sunscreens. To get something with low toxicity, check up on Environmental Working Group’s latest sunscreen database. Some options for babies are toddlers:
45. Water shoes
I haven’t been able to find them in Vietnam. I picked up three pairs at PayLess for around $7 a pair. Many pool surfaces and terraces are slippery, so we use them all the time.
Tip: Buy one size bigger than your toddler is wearing for shoes. Gabriel is currently wearing size 5.5 to 6.5 shoes and size 7 water shoes are difficult to get on his feet.
46. Sun Hats
You can buy tons of hats here in Vietnam, but you can’t find the ones that cover the ears and neck. We have one from iPlay. Another brand to check out is Flap Happy. Gabriel has four hats, and we are constantly using them and putting them in the wash. I’ll probably buy a few more this summer, along with bigger size rash guards with UV protection.
Another expat mom warned me that kids’s shoes here are often too narrow for Western kids’ feet. I picked up sandals in different sizes at PayLess for between $5 and $10 a pair. You can buy toddler shoes at some stores in VinCom Center (PayLess included), but you will pay $30 or more per pair here in Vietnam. The best shoes for all weather, including rainy season, are Crocs. Gabriel has some faux-leather sandals and sneakers, and he almost never wears them! I’d only bring sneakers for small toddlers just learning to walk.
48. Cod Liver Oil
We give Gabriel cod liver oil every day as it’s great for brain development and has essential fatty acids not found in American or Vietnamese diets. We ordered four bottles of the strawberry flavor directly from Nordic Naturals as that was the cheapest option at the time. You can also order on Amazon here: Arctic Cod Liver Oil.
49. PVC-Free Raincoat
Most raincoats for kids I have seen here are made of toxic PVC plastic. For a waterproof coat that is PVC-free, bring one from your home country. Here is a list of options on Evergreen Mom.
Towels are expensive here, especially kids’ towels and beach towels. If you have room in your suitcase or shipping allowance, you can save money by buying your towels at home. I bought two sets of bath towels at Walmart and spent about one-fourth of what it would have cost me here. I wish I’d bought kids’ beach towels as well.
51. Safety Gates
We shipped two of these, an extra-tall one and an extra-wide one, however before they arrived with our shipment we had a local carpenter make a wooden one to match the stairs in our rented house. If Gabriel had been younger, we probably still would have used the extra gates, but at 18 months we really only needed the one stair gate. If you plan to live in District 2 I can give you the contact info for the carpenter.
52. Organizers for Toys
When we were living in Massachusetts I hit up Ikea for foldable toy organizers. The Ikea small storage items are AWESOME for toys, and they are so easy and light to ship. We were able to fold them up and take them in our luggage on the plane, so when we arrived we were able to organize Gabriel’s toys just like they had been organized in Massachusetts. It was really nice to give him to continuity with his toys and bedroom things.
53. Organizers for Clothes and Laundry
We also brought three of these Ikea laundry baskets which are great when carrying laundry up and down multiple flights of stairs. They fold up easily.
The Ikea SKUBB shoe organizers are the perfect size for baby clothes. Many rental houses have wardrobes, so you can hang these up in the wardrobe for clothes organization.
Printable, Editable Packing List
Download my packing list as an Excel file below. You can add and delete items as necessary. There are columns to note where to purchase the items and where you packed them.
Thanks to Emma and Joyce for answering all my questions when I was packing last spring!