Anyone approaching retirement is faced with many decisions. One of them is where to live. While most Americans remain in the U.S. after they retire, some decide to live overseas. This could be to fulfill a sense of adventure, experience a new culture or find a lower cost of living. It could also be to go back to a country where your family has roots – the land your parents come from or where you were born. This guide takes a look at some of the important considerations when retiring abroad to Vietnam when you have a family connection there.
Your Social Security Benefits
As a U.S. citizen, you can continue to receive your Social Security for the duration of your stay in Vietnam as long as you are eligible for the benefits. If you are not a U.S. citizen, your ability to receive payments in Vietnam will depend on your military status, the date you became eligible for Social Security benefits, and whether or not you are entitled to benefits on the earnings of a worker who had railroad service treated as employment covered by the Social Security Act. Use the Social Security Administration’s Payments Abroad Screening Tool for details pertaining to your specific situation.
If you would like to receive your benefits in Vietnam, you must visit the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi or the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City once every three months to sign for them (prior to Jan. 1, 2015, you had to visit every month). Alternatively, your benefits can be deposited directly into your bank account or other financial institution in the U.S. or any country that participates in the Social Security Administration’s International Direct Deposit program (Vietnam is not a participant). You can then access your funds using an ATM card or wire transfer while abroad.
The U.S. Citizens Services offices of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City are closed on U.S. and Vietnamese holidays. All non-emergency consular services require an appointment, which can be scheduled through the Embassy’s website and the Consulate General’s website. If you are picking up federal benefits checks/correspondence, an appointment is not necessary.
One note: Medicare does not cover health services you receive outside the U.S. These benefits are available if you return to the States, but you will end up paying a 10% higher premium for each 12-month period you could have been enrolled but were not.
Land Ownership Laws
All land in Vietnam belongs to the state, according to the country’s constitution. Land-lease certificates valid for up to 50 years are granted in Vietnamese real estate purchases – so you buy the house and lease the land. Until recently, foreign property ownership was restricted to foreigners with Vietnamese spouses or those deemed to “make significant contributions to the nation’s development.” New laws have expanded foreign property ownership to boost the Vietnamese economy, and foreigners with valid visas are now allowed to buy houses and apartments. To protect your interests and ensure a smooth transaction, be sure to work with an experienced real estate agent, as well as a real estate attorney.
Dual Citizenship and Visas
Under United States law, you are generally granted U.S. citizenship if you are born in the U.S. If you have at least one parent who is a Vietnamese citizen, you are generally considered a Vietnamese citizen, regardless of where you were born. If you were born in Vietnam of non-Vietnamese parents, you are also eligible for Vietnamese citizenship (unless your parents chose otherwise). Since July 2009, Vietnam has permitted dual citizenship under certain circumstances; if you have questions about citizenship or your specific situation, it’s best to consult with a qualified immigration attorney.
There is currently no retirement visa scheme in Vietnam. If you are not a citizen of Vietnam, you can obtain a one- or three-month single- or multiple-entry visa to visit the country, and reapply and re-enter as the visa expires (you can apply for a visa extension within the country by visiting a local travel agent). A business visa is valid for three to six months.
It’s possible for foreigners to obtain a Permanent Residence Card (PRC); these must be renewed every three years. If you have family ties to Vietnam, you may be eligible: A spouse, child or parent of a Vietnamese citizen who resides permanently in Vietnam can apply for a PRC. If you or your parents were born in Vietnam – or if you are married to a Vietnamese citizen – you may be eligible for a five-year visa exemption (Certificate of Visa Exemption for Vietnamese and Family Members). This status allows you to leave and reenter the country over the course of five years without the need to reapply for a visa each visit.
Vietnam residents are taxed on their worldwide income; nonresidents are taxed only on their Vietnam-sourced income. If you live in Vietnam for 183 days or more during a 12-month period, you are considered a resident. In July 2015, the U.S. and Vietnam (the Socialist Republic of Vietnam) signed their first income tax treaty for the avoidance of double taxation. If you live in Vietnam and are a citizen of the U.S., you still have to file a tax return in both countries, but you can avoid double taxation by using certain tax credits and exclusions. Tax laws are complicated and change frequently, so it is recommended that you work with a qualified tax accountant to take advantage of available tax credits and ensure you receive the most favorable tax treatment possible.
The Bottom Line
Any move abroad requires lots of planning to make sure all of the logistics are handled. But it’s also important to consider the emotional impact of living overseas, and recognize that visiting a country and living there are two very different things.
In addition to language barriers if you didn't grow up speaking Vietnamese, living overseas may involve daily tests of your comfort zone as you adapt to your new surroundings, customs and way of life. While it’s certainly possible for adventurous retirees to jump in with both feet, embracing the new way of life, many may find a move overseas to bit overwhelming.
If you are not sure if living abroad will suit you, it’s a good idea to try it first on a part-time basis. If your situation permits, give careful consideration to your comfort level, friends, family and healthcare needs before making any final decision to retire abroad.
Note: U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family in case of an emergency.