One of the limitations of research on global educational mobility has been the primary classification of key participants – students and educational institutions – in national terms. This paper tests the challenges involved in such methodological nationalism by examining the provision of cross-border education in one city. As vietnam’s commercial centre, ho chi minh city (hcmc) has experienced rapid transformation over the past two decades as the country has moved steadily from a state-directed to a more market-driven and globally integrated economy. Since the late 1990s there has been a parallel growth in cross-border higher education in hcmc, through the outbound mobility of students and the provision of foreign programmes by international partnerships and branch campuses. Drawing on available data supplemented with insights gleaned from interviews and existing literature, this paper develops a methodology for identifying and quantifying the key features of each form of domestic, overseas and transnational provision. We estimate that around 6% of hcmc’s tertiary students are studying overseas and between 2% and 3% in foreign programmes delivered in the city. The rates of enrolment in overseas and transnational programmes by students in hcmc are thus far higher than for vietnam as a whole, but still considerably lower than in those well-established cross-border education hubs, hong kong and singapore. We argue that concerns about the growth of private education and inequalities in access may continue to limit the growth of transnational provision in hcmc. 2014 Victoria university of wellington and wiley publishing asia pty ltd.