As an online generation comes of working age, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City is quickly becoming a destination for “tech nomads” – online entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses, and their laptops, anywhere.
An increasing number of startups are taking root online, and to help counter the extreme costs and financial risks of starting one’s own business, more and more entrepreneurs are moving out of the United States, Canada and western Europe to save on living and operation costs.
Among blogs, podcasts, and books that have surfaced advising young nomads where to relocate, Vietnam is becoming a popular destination.
“It’s quite safe there and Internet is pretty good, but the main reason is it’s cheap to live there … you can really bootstrap a business very cheaply,” Alex Fortin, coach and creator of “Your first $1,000 online” course, told VOA.
Fortin also cited the ease of getting a working visa in Vietnam. “It’s very easy to get a visa there … you can stay five years in a row. It’s very easy.”
A screen grab of Tropical MBA's website.
He was living and working in Calgary, Canada, when he realized he needed a change.
While selling T-shirts online and working 12-hour days, he began writing courses for people looking to sell things – anything – online. But he didn’t feel like he had the time to truly devote to this new project.
“I wanted to be somewhere where I could focus 100 percent on my online business,” Fortin said.
Inspired by an episode of the podcast “Tropical MBA,” he dove full time into building his online courses and moved to Ho Chi Minh City.
Opportunities for specifically tech nomad expatriates are booming in the economic center of Vietnam, where many small community workspaces have popped up.
One such place, Start Saigon, caters to foreigners in the heart of popular District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City.
The space attracts members from all around the world, staying open 24/7 for those working on American or European time, or long hours in general. It also boasts optical fiber Internet in every room, and an onsite pool for a quick (or not so quick) break during the workday.
Fortin, like many others, quickly found the benefits of living in Vietnam stretched beyond practical ease.
“You don’t need to wait 30 years to start your life and drink coconut water by the pool," he said.
Community centers and specific coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City attract a specific clientele, and because most expats are conducting business abroad, they are often slow to learn the language and assimilate, if they do at all.
FILE - Three young Vietnamese girls go online at a cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 14, 2013. The country’s potential for growth, young population and good Internet infrastructure have made it an attractive destination for regional and international investors
“Expats hang around with other expats. We have a different perception of the world and also the language barrier is big,” Fortin said. He also said he found that expats were treated very differently and were well-respected, while relations between citizens were often less friendly.
“They’re not that nice to each other but towards expats they’re very nice,” he said. He cited competition between the Vietnamese as a reason they were friendlier toward him than each other, saying that he thinks the lack of job opportunities in Vietnam leads to a more driven and aggressive youth.
Returned to US
After a successful two years in Ho Chi Minh City, Fortin has recently left the tech nomad paradise for greyer skies.
Ironically, having “met the woman of my dreams, who is my wife now” in Vietnam, he followed her to Seattle, where she has immigrated to accept a job.
The nomad life, however, is not far from his mind. Fortin has not yet subscribed to an American phone because he is sure that, soon enough, he will be taking his laptop abroad again.