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Packing Guidance for Viet Nam

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Viet Nam’s climate is subtropical in the north and tropical in the center and south, and it's influenced by the monsoons. The monsoon occurs from May to September in northern Viet Nam, May to October in southern Viet Nam, and September to December in the center.

In Northern Viet Nam, there are four basic seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter:

  • The winter season is from November to April. During January, the coldest month of the year, Hanoi has a temperature of 63°F (17°C), while the annual average temperature is 74°F (23 °C). Temperatures can feel cold and biting due to humidity.
  • From early February to the end of March, there is a persistent drizzle of spring, and March and April are a transitional period. The sun does not often shine in this period.
  • The summer lasts from April or May to October, and is characterized by heat, heavy rainfall, and occasional monsoons. Average temperatures range from the mid to highest 99°F s (37 °C). The weather can feel significantly warmer than the actual temperature due to humidity; for example, a 95°F (35°C) day may feel like 105°F (40°C).
  • Autumn is from October or November to December, and is characterized by cool, clear, and sunny skies. Average temperatures range from the low 85°F (30°C) moving down to the low 70°F (21°C).

Southern Viet Nam is warm all year round. There are only two seasons: dry season and rainy season with average daytime temperatures of about 30 degrees.

  • The rainy season extends from May to October. The temperature ranges from 77°F (25 °C) to 95°F (35 °C). When it rains in southern Viet Nam, large amount of rain falls, typically for one to two hours. August is the peak rainy season.
  • The dry season extends from mid-November to April, and temperatures range from 73°F (23 °C) to 100°F (38 °C). There is limited rainfall and thus several days and weeks without rain. December is the coolest month.

Peace Corps Viet Nam provides the following items:

  • Medical kit, including mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and carbon monoxide detector
  • Mosquito net and mosquito net stands
  • Pillow and sleeping bag
  • Water filter
  • Funds for female hygiene products, if applicable
  • One hotplate (single induction stove)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Flashlight
  • Bicycle and bicycle helmet (upon request/justification)
  • SIM card: Peace Corps Viet Nam recommends you bring your own mobile phone from the US, and trainees will purchase SIM cards shortly after arrival in Viet Nam and will be provided a monthly amount for phone credit.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

You do not need to pack a lot of clothes. It is advisable to pack minimal and versatile items, and then supplement your wardrobe in-country after receiving your site assignment. Viet Nam has plenty of shops, local markets, and used clothing stores where you may purchase clothes throughout service, and you may also have clothes made fairly inexpensively by tailors in your community. Some name brands you may know have stores in urban centers like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city. Prices at these shops are comparable to prices in the US. Local boutiques and chains will often be less expensive.

Bear in mind that Volunteers will need to participate in some formal events, teach at school with professional dress, and live in the community with more casual yet conservative dress.

You can consider:

General clothing

  • Long sleeved cotton shirts (for protection from sun but also for cool nights).
  • Pants with elastic waists, wrap tops or skirts, or anything with forgiving styles to accommodate possible fluctuations in weight; some Volunteers lose and/or gain weight.
  • Comfortable, breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen are more comfortable than synthetic fabrics like polyester.
  • Loose-fitting pants are generally cooler than jeans, though jeans without holes are acceptable.
  • Underwear, socks, and bras can be found easily in country.
  • Hoodie, sweater, jacket for chilly nights. If your site is in the Northern region, consider bringing a professional-looking sweater and/or jacket for teaching on cold days, as classrooms are not heated.
  • Light waterproof jacket and pants for rainy season in Viet Nam.
  • Hats or baseball caps, sunglasses (for sun protection).
  • Lounging around the house clothes (leggings, sweatpants, long shorts, and t-shirts).
  • A lightweight scarf (available locally).

Work clothing

  • Teachers should look professional in the classroom. Business casual clothes, including slacks, khaki pants, dresses, skirts, button-up shirts, and blouses. Note: professional wear should cover the shoulders and knees. Skirts/pants falling just below the knees and ¼ length sleeves are adequate. Light undershirts for under button-ups are also recommended.
  • At least one dressy outfit for ceremonial occasions. Consider bringing a suit and tie or a professional looking dress that covers shoulders and knees. In country, you can buy a complete and very nice set of Viet Nam traditional formal wear (shirt, formal jacket, ao dai (long dress) and underclothes).

Leisure and recreational clothing

  • Outside of the workplace, casual clothes for informal and after-work occasions and sports are recommended. Note that shorts and skirts worn outside the house should be knee length, and cropped shirts are generally not considered appropriate. Inside their homes, Volunteers often wear T-shirts, tank-tops, shorts, jeans, or casual pants or dresses.
  • There are many opportunities for exercise with groups of students, teachers, and neighbors in the community. Volunteers who plan to participate in such activities may want to bring modest sports clothing. Covered shoulders and knee length exercise clothes are recommended. Skin-tight sportswear is not appropriate.

Notes for laundry

Most volunteers do laundry on a weekly basis. Clothes are washed by hand and line dried.

We encourage you to consider the durability of fabrics, ease of maintenance, and speed of drying (important in the high humidity and rainy season).

Shoes are available for purchasing in Viet Nam at local markets and shopping malls in a large variety of quality and sizes. You are recommended to use the below guidance to bring at least one pair of each type of shoe you think you will need to get you started. If your feet are larger than size 10 in either men or women, you may consider bringing more than one pair because it may be hard to find in Viet Nam.

  • One pair of comfortable dress shoes (usable at work and in formal events)
  • One pair of durable, comfortable walking shoes
  • One pair of running/athletic shoes
  • One pair of Flip-flops and slides/shower shoes can be easily found in-country (locally).

In workplace settings, professional, close-toed shoes are preferred, not sports shoes or sneakers. High-heeled or flat close-toed sandals are acceptable in summer.

In casual settings, sandals, sneakers, and other comfortable shoes are acceptable. Shoes are usually removed before entering a home or some office rooms, so consider shoes that you can slip on and off easily. Vietnamese people have barefoot or indoor sandals, slippers (like Flip-flops) inside the house.

Rainy season

During the rainy season, roads and paths become extremely muddy or sometimes flooded. Vietnamese sometimes wear rubber boots or sandals during the rainy season. They are available locally, but it may be difficult to find larger than men’s size 10 and the quality may not be the same as in the U.S.

Be aware that leather shoes may rot or grow moldy during times of high humidity. That said, many people use leather shoes in the workplace, and there are ways to protect shoes from rotting or molding.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Toiletries can easily be purchased in country, and urban centers like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have specialty stores for skincare and hair products.

Smart phones: We recommend that you bring your own mobile phone from the U.S. if it is unlocked. If you do not have an unlocked phone to bring, Peace Corps will provide you with an allowance to purchase a basic mobile phone after you arrive.

For cell phone communication in Viet Nam, SIM cards for your phones will be purchased upon arrival in country. Once you have a SIM card, be aware that international calling is extremely expensive. You will want to use mobile data/wi-fi calling for communicating with friends and family outside of Viet Nam.

Internet access: Wi-Fi is available at the Peace Corps office, training venue, in your PST houses, and on school campus. You can also register for 3G/4G internet packages with your phone. You can communicate easily with your family and friends through online calling apps (Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc.).

Computer/laptop/tablet: If possible, you are strongly encouraged to bring a personal laptop or a tablet to join virtual training sessions, complete self-directed e-learning activities, and complete reports in Peace Corps’ reporting system. We realize this may not be possible for everyone and will collaborate with you to meet these requirements if you do not have a personal computer.

Voltage, power surges: In Viet Nam, the standard voltage is 110 / 220 V, and the frequency is 50 Hz. Make sure in advance of bringing any electronics from the U.S. that they are compatible with 220v. Electronics that are only 120 V compatible may burn out, catch fire, or damage the battery if they are plugged into 220 V. Small travel voltage converters are available for purchase online. The electrical grid in Viet Nam is sometimes unreliable with frequent power outages, power surges, or mixed sources of electricity. You may want to use a surge protector when plugging in your electronics.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below are some items current Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Household goods

  • Compact mirror
  • Sewing kit
  • Quick-dry towels
  • Compact bathroom kit (tweezers, nail clippers, etc.)

Most kitchen supplies are available here. However, Volunteers recommend the following:

  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Small items that make you feel at home
  • Your favorite cooking spices.

Personal recreation

  • Playing cards, board games, or puzzles
  • Books (some Volunteers recommend an e-reader)
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Handheld gaming console

Other recommendations

  • Photos of family, friends, and your life at home for yourself and to share with your community
  • Small gifts to share with your community and school (something made in your state/hometown makes a great gift)
  • 2-dollar bills are a novelty item for some Vietnamese and could be given during holidays as lucky money or at certain ceremonial events
  • Earplugs / dependable headphones (at holidays and events music can be played very loud)
  • Stickers or any small token to share with children in your community
  • A briefcase, black laptop bag, professional-looking backpack, or professional-looking purse large enough to hold a textbook. These types of bags are common among teaching staff at schools. Can be purchased in country.