Vietnam Motorbike License & Driving Legally in Vietnam

Windy road through a canyon

By: Justin Del Boulter | Updated on 18/1/2020

A common question people ask is “Should I get a Vietnam motorbike license or International Driving Permit for my Vietnam trip? Well, there is no quick answer.

In this posts a breakdown all the nitty gritty details about why you should become a legal motorbike/motorcycle operator in Vietnam. Furthermore, I lay out the 2 simplest methods to become a legal motorbike/motorcycle operator as defined by the Vietnamese Division of Transport.

Should you get a Vietnam Motorbike license or the International Driving Permit?

A common question I get is “should I get a proper license to legally drive in Vietnam?”

The simple answer, yes. Not only is it the moral thing to do, more importantly it is the smart and safe thing to do. Why you may ask?

Top reasons to get a proper license to drive legally in Vietnam:

      1. Insurance coverage.
      2. Some renters require you to have a motorbike licence to rent anything over 150cc.
      3. The occasional police traps. 

1: Insurance Coverage

Generally speaking, insurance policies won’t cover you in the event of an accident if you were driving illegally when the accident occured. Having an IDP does not necessarily mean you are legal to operate a motorbike in Vietnam. An IDP essentially acts as a translation of your government issued driver’s license. Meaning, if you don’t have the motorcycle endorsement on your government issued driver’s License, neither will your International Driving Permit. If you lie during the IDP application and get the motorbike endorsement listed on your IDP you may be able to get out of trouble with non english speaking Vietnamese police. However, in reality this does not mean you have the legal ability to operate a motorbike in Vietnam (or most countries). If you faucely have the motorcycle endorsement listed on your IDP and you get into an accident, you’re insurance will very likely not cover it.  At least once a month someone drops a “Go Fund Me” post in one of the backpacker facebook groups saying that their insurance won’t cover their motorbike accident. I really hope that none of my readers become one of these individuals.    Here is the official Vietnamese government policy (In Vietnamese) discussing the laws surrounding the IDP. It clearly states that you must have a motorcycle endorsement on your government issued driver’s license AND the 1968 Vienna Convention IDP (more on that below) to legally drive in Vietnam. Additionally, not only do you have to have a motorcycle endorsement from home, you also have to have the proper motorbike size endorsement. Meaning, if your home license only permits you to ride a motorbike up to 150cc, you are legally not allowed to drive a 151cc+ motorbike in Vietnam. Furthermore, many travel insurance policies won’t cover passengers that are riding with someone who is operating the bike illegally.  Each insurance provider is different, and I am not an expert on the topic. It is your responsibility to read and understand the terms of your insurance policy. This is not legal advice.

2: Renting above 150cc

Some renters require you to have a proper motorbike license (Vietnam motorbike license, or home +1968 IDP) to rent anything above 150cc. So, don’t drop a reservation deposit for the CRF 250cc then get upset when you get turned down for not having your license. Flamingo Travel that doesn’t check for a Vietnam Motorbike License, but, having one options up your options for places such as Tigit motorbikes. 

3: The Police and Police traps

Vietnamese Police standing on the side of the road

Sadly, many of Vietnam’s government officials are corrupt. Often times it only takes a bribe to persuade officers to let you continue on your merry way. Bribe amounts vary from officer to officer, and day to day. Typically, the “fines” start around 2 million VND ($86 USD) and are negotiated down, sometimes even to as low as 200,000 VND. Yet, on occasion honest officers cannot be bribed and they may confiscate your bike, possibly for 7-10 days. Not fun. If this happens it can be a lengthy process, with additional expenses to retrieve the bike. Police traps are becoming more common, especially in popular motorbike locations like Ha Giang and Mui Ne. Aside from police traps, the only time I have heard of officers taking someone’s bike is because the rider was, driving reckless, being uncooperative, or driving while intoxicated. Don’t be an as*hole. 

The reality is, that you will likely be totally fine when it comes to the police. If you aren’t an as*hole, and don’t cause problems, the police are likely to leave you alone. The truth is that many of them don’t know how to speak english, and trying to communicate with you isn’t worth their time. However, you can expect to be stopped at the police trap in Mui Ne, and possibly Ha Giang. 

Conclusion:

I wholeheartedly believe you should get a proper license to drive legally in Vietnam. Not only will it help you in the small chance of dealing with the police, but it is likely necessary for you to meet the terms of your insurance policy. In the event of an accident you’ll be grateful to have insurance coverage.

I don’t recommend taking the risk, but many people visit and drive without insurance and a license without experiencing problems. 

Make sure that you read the terms of your insurance policy/s, and contact your provider’s to clarify any questions you may have.

How to become a legal motorbike operator in Vietnam

Gone are the days where a few extra bucks could grease some palms and get you an official Vietnam Motorbike License under the table. These days you have to do it the legitimate way. If someone is telling you that they can make it happen, it’s very likely a scam. They can make fakes that may convince the police, but it likely won’t pull one over on your insurance provider.

In terms of ease and waiting time these are the best 2 options to become a legal motorbike /motorcycle operator in Vietnam. Unfortunately, both of these methods require you to have a motorcycle license from home. Alternative methods that don’t require a motorcycle license from home are available. Sadly, they take about a month to complete. Therefor, I don’t cover them here because they aren’t reasonable for most backpackers.

Please note, these following methods may or may not meet all of the terms of your travel insurance policy. It is your responsibility to understand your insurance policy. With that being said, according to Vietnamese government these two methods act as legal Vietnam drivers’ licenses.

Opt 1: Motorbike License + Vienna IDP

Assuming that you have a driver’s license from home with a motorcycle endorsement, you can get a 1968 Vienna Convention International Driving Permit. Unfortunately, not all countries have signed this treaty – USA, AUS, CAN are a few that have not – so you may have to refer to option 2. Click here to see if you’re country is part of the treaty. If you from a country that signed this treaty, simply carry the 1968 Vienna Convention International Driving Permit and your home Motorcycle driver’s license (with the proper engine size endorsement) while driving in Vietnam. Make sure to get your IDP before leaving your home country! 

Option 2: Convert Your Motorcycle License to a Vietnam Motorbike License

There are 2 requirements to get a Vietnam motorbike license: 

    1. You must have a 3 month visa or longer (or resident card). 
    2. You need to have a motorcycle endorsement on your government issued driver’s license from home. 

The process of converting your motorcycle driver’s license into a Vietnam motorbike license is pretty simple actually. Here’s how that works….

How to convert your driver’s license into a Vietnam Motorbike license:

a photo of a vietnamese drivers license

The beginning date is 23/12/2019, 4 days after I applied. The expiration date is the same as my visa.

Converting your home motorcycle driver’s license into a vietnam motorbike license may sound tricky, but, it’s super simple. Altogether the process costs about $25-$50usd, and takes a few hours of missioning around the city. 

One downside about this process is that it takes a bit of time for your application to enter the system. Then, it takes another week or so to receive the plastic card.

For example, I applied on December 19th, 2019. I received the plastic card on December 29th. But, as you can see in the photo above, I was in the legal system on December 23rd, 4 days after the application. With that being said, from my understanding I was legal to operate a motorbike in Vietnam (meeting my insurance policy terms) 4 days after my application. Although this isn’t ideal, it should be enough for most insurance policies. You should consult your insurance provider to get their take on it. 

Note: There are 2 Vietnamese motorbike classifications, A1 and A2. The A1 classification legally permits license holders to ride bikes up to 175cc. The A2 classification permits any size of bike. When converting your home license into a Vietnam drivers license, you will be given the classifications equal to your home license. 

Checklist of needed documents for the conversion process:

    • Home government issued driver’s license with Motorcycle endorsement
    • Passport 
    • 3 month or greater Visa or resident card. 
    • Translation of your home gov. Issued driver’s license
    • 2 notarized copies of your driver’s license translation
    • 2 copies of your Passport
    • 2 copies of your Visa, or Visa Sticker
    • 2 copies of your resident card if applicable 

Step 1: Translations

Get your home government issued driver’s license (with motorcycle endorsement) translated to vietnamese. Translation fees range from 100k – 500k, depending on your language, and the city you’ll be submitting the application in. You can ask your embassy or consulate where to get it translated, or you can email Dragon Motorbikes and ask them to do it for you. Translation fees vary from language to language, but are less than 500k (~$22usd). For example my english translation was 100k (~$4.3usd). Email Dragon Motorbikes photos of your home driver’s license and they can get the translation done before you arrive to Vietnam. They don’t have this listed on their website. In the email mention that Justin from 2 Wheels Vietnam sent you. Then ask if they can translate your driver’s license. They can walk you through the whole process if needed. More on that below.

Step 2: Get Your Documents Notarized

Take your driver’s license translation, passport, and visa (or resident card if applicable) to a notary office, “Phong Cong Chung” in Google maps. Have them make 2 copies of each document, and have them notarized. This runs about 60k-100k (~$2.6 – $4.3usd). Most folks have a visa sticker in their passport, where each page of the passport will be copied, stapled together, then stamped. This works as a Passport+Visa copy. 

Step 3: Apply for the Vietnam Motorbike License

Take all notarized documents to the appropriate Department of Transport office:

Step 3A: Submit Documents & Pay The Fee

As soon as you arrive at the Department of Transportation (DOT) someone will point you in the right direction. They know what you’re there for. 

At the DOT go up to the counter and hand over your notarized documents, passport and home driver’s license. With the documents you’ll have to pay 135K (~$5.60usd). Don’t worry too much about the language barrier, they will know what to do. Just be patient and it will work out. 

Step 3B: Fill Out The Information Form

After paying the fee, the person at the counter will hand you a form to fill out. You can download and fill out the form beforehand. On the address line of this form list a local Vietnamese accommodation you wish to have the driver’s license sent to. Ideally, arrange to have it delivered to an accommodation that’s a few weeks down the road. More on this later. After filling out the form hand it back to the individual, then sit down and wait to be called up to have your photo taken. 

Step 3C: Get Your Photo Taken

After you have your photo taken they will return all of your belongings and hand you a piece of paper. This piece of paper is your receipt. Take a photo of it and try not to lose it. On the paper you will see the delivery address and estimated date of delivery. You’ll need to show this receipt to the postal courier to receive your card. Before leaving double check that they will ship the ID to you. I had to return to pick up my card 2 weeks later, though the document stated otherwise.       

And that’s all there is. Leave the DOT, knowing that you will likely be in the legal system within a few days, and that your card is on the way. 

During the waiting period you won’t have your driver’s license card.  Not having the card does cause issues for the rare event of dealing with the police. In spite of that, being in the system should be enough to satisfy this requirement of your insurance policy.
I am not an expert on your insurance policy. I am not responsible for anything that may occur to you during your trip in Vietnam. It’s your responsibility to understand your insurance policy. 

Dragon Motorbikes License Conversion Service

If you’d like assistance you can contact Dragon Motorbikes and ask them to translate (most languages) your license and walk you through the process. They charge 200k (~8.50usd) plus the cost of preparing the documents. This service isn’t listed on their website, so you’ll have to directly ask them. Copy and paste this “Hey! Justin from 2 Wheels Vietnam said you can help me get my Vietnamese motorbike license?” and they will know what’s up. They will get back to you quickly. I suggest reaching out to them well before your trip so they can have everything ready for you when you arrive.

Other Vietnam Motorbike license services:
You can also try a service like Motorbike license for foreigners in Viet Nam. I find the prices to be a bit steep. Nonetheless they have awesome reviews, and can help you with any driver’s license you’ll need while in Vietnam. However, I will point out that they gave me misleading information, presumably in hopes to make a sale. They told me that an IDP without a motorcycle endorsement from home was enough to drive a motorbike legally in Vietnam. Though, after reading the Vietnamese government policy on IDPs I found this not to be true. I pointed this out to them, and asked for a clarification. They never responded…

A final note for those buying a motorbike, rather than renting

If you are buying your own bike your legally required to have 3rd party motorbike insurance. Although there is little enforcement of this law, it is legally required. If you don’t have it, the police may fine up to 500k vnd (~$21usd). 

3rd party motorbike insurance can be purchased for very cheap, around 50 – 100k (~$2.15 – $4.3USD). You can try finding it at the local post office, the local Division of Transport, or various Petrolimex gas stations. You can also plug “Bảo Hiểm Xe Máy” into google maps and find a local provider.

Yellow 3rd person insurance card from vietnam

The local cheap motorbike insurance card will look something like this. Most are yellow, some are blue.

I hope this encourages some folks to get the license. I’ve seen so many go fund me pages that it blows my mind. 

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