Freelancers in Việt Nam face chances and challenges

February 02, 2019 - 09:00

More and more Vietnamese people are choosing to work freelance. The road, however, is not as smooth as it seems, according to insiders. 

Driving for ride-hailing services is a new kind of freelancing in Việt Nam. — VNS Photo Khoa Thư
Viet Nam News

More and more Vietnamese people are choosing to work freelance. The road, however, is not as smooth as it seems, according to insiders, Khoa Thư reports.

HÀ NỘI – As the wind started howling, Bùi Văn Dương pushed himself out into the thick curtain of pouring rain.

Having worked as a freelance driver for Grab for almost two years, the 30-year-old man knew for sure that he could not make any more cancellations that day.

The ride-sharing platform is now understood differently in Việt Nam.

Instead of offering lifts in your free-time for extra cash, many consider Grab driving a full-time job, creating a workforce of freelancers in the ride-hailing industry as other applications like Go-Việt, Vato or Be fight for market share.

“To me, freedom was this job’s selling point,” Dương recalled. The motivation pushed him to switch from a normal employee to a Grabbike driver.

“However, it turns out to be not as easy as it seemed,” he said.

“To make money, there are some codes of conduct you must follow. To not cancel and to ride as much as possible are always put first,” Dương added.

Although there has not been any official research on freelancers in Việt Nam, people usually consider the concept similar to manual labour, like Dương.

In fact, the freelancing force has grown in recent years and appeared in different industries.

By choice or by chance?

After graduating from the prestigious Foreign Trade University in Hà Nội, Vương Thanh Hà, 28, had worked for three different international NGOs before settling down as a freelance interpreter.

Flexibility and independence are two attractive features of this job.

“Sometimes, I find myself flooded with commissions. Sometimes, I allow myself to get more ‘me-time’. I have ultimate control over my life,” she said.

Although the unemployment rate in Việt Nam has risen, reaching 2.2 per cent by September last year, according to the General Statistics Office of Việt Nam, to Hà, freelancing is definitely a choice.

“Everyone can work freelance but not all can become a freelancer,” she said.

“You should embrace skills before joining the industry,” Hà added.

She stressed upon the two ‘pro’s’ – proactive and professional, as cornerstones for anyone deciding to pursue this path.

“You have to be eager to accept offers as if you refuse one time, opportunities may all slip away,” she said.

All commissions need to be done to the best of your ability, according to Hà, as she considers any job the last one.

“First, I do not want to make a mess and leave other people to clean it up,” she explained. “Second, poorly handling jobs means closing the door to further jobs.”

Sharing the same opinion, Dương Nguyễn, a freelance animator from Ha Noi now living in Hội An, emphasised the common fact that freelancers live day to day.

“I am overloaded with many commissions then find myself free as a bird later,” she explained.

“Therefore, keeping money for a rainy day is essential and I must master my spending,” Dương said.


January, 2019, marked a year since Nguyễn Đăng Nhật, 46, from the central province of Quảng Trị quit his job.

After working in senior positions for different international NGOs, Nhật shocked his friends when he chose to be a freelance consultant in development projects, an unstable job they thought.

“At the time, my priorities changed. I wanted to spend more time with my family. It was not an easy decision as all my spending and savings at the time depended on my salary. However, even in the worst scenarios, I could still survive with unemployment benefits in nine months so I made the move,” Nhật recalled.

The income of a freelance consultant is pretty high, according to Nhật, ranging from US$200 to 300 a day. However, as it is not a five-day-a-week job, a clear financial plan is a must.

“After finishing any consulting package, I have to save some VNĐ15 million (US$654 ) for basic expenditure and keep up to 10 per cent to invest in some other things,” Nhật said.

“Tax is paid by partners who hire me. Whenever working for agencies like the United Nations or the World Bank, I can also enjoy tax-free policies,” he added.

Hà, conversely, warns of the tricky situations a newbie might face when closing a deal.

“You may be paid less than the amount you were promised as the partner used a part of it to pay tax. Therefore, read and ask carefully until you are sure about your wage,” she said.

Insurance is another issue. While Hà has not bothered buying one package, Dương Nguyễn has invested in some different private insurance packages.

“Who knows what is going to happen,” she said.

Considered an independent contractor to Grab, drivers like Bùi Văn Dương have to be responsible for their own insurance.

“I am not sure about the company’s assistance policies when we are involved in an accident,” he admitted.

Nguyễn Thị Thu, deputy director of HCM City Social Security, told Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper that drivers for ride-hailing services as well as other freelancers could join voluntary social insurance which is supported up to 30 per cent by the Government.

However, at present, the voluntary social insurance fund pays just pension and death. In the near future, according to Thu, other packages like illness or maternity will be offered to attract more people.

No rain, no flow

"The door to freelancing is open wider than ever, thanks to technology," Nhật said.

He searches and applies for jobs online, which allows him to spend more time near his mother and son. He is able to learn new skills like cooking and making cocktails.

Dương Nguyễn moved to Hội An after three decades living in Hà Nội. While teleworking with her partners around the world, she can still immerse herself in the ancient town.

“It brings me fresh energy and inspiration. I will keep pursuing this career and, simultaneously, develop my own projects,” she said.

Bùi Văn Dương said being a Grabbike driver was the best of all possible choices he had.

“But I may not do this forever,” he said.

“There is no health insuarance, no unemployment benefit, no saving and no pension after all,” he added.

As it is not always sunshine and rainbows, the biggest motivation for Nhật, Hà and Dương comes from within.

“I am a master of my own life and responsible for my own choices, that gives me a reason to keep up,” Dương Nguyễn said.

And after finishing a late ride on that rainy night, Bùi Văn Dương threw himself for one last trip, he decided.

“One more trip and I will receive a bonus of VNĐ300,000 ($12.9),” he said. – VNS