Jan 30 2013

Getting your motorbike licence in Vietnam

Published by at 3:01 am under Practicalities

Map – check, pimped up Honda Cub – check, Hello Kitty helmet with ponytail hole – check, drivers license… So you’re going to cruise the coast from Saigon to Hanoi, hoof it up the Ho Chi Minh Trail or challenge your road skills on the city streets. You’ve splashed out on the right insurance, but will you be covered without the appropriate papers? Computer says no.

For some, its best just to take the back seat.

For some, it’s best just to take the back seat.

Getting your international drivers license converted to a Vietnamese one is not that difficult (though it can be tedious), especially if you are starting your escapade in one of the big cities. The first thing you need to do is take your home country drivers license down to your embassy and get it translated into English (it appears that you need only a provisional or full drivers license to get a motorbike license).

Then, or if it already is, get yourself down to the People’s Committee building with your license (and embassy translation if needed), passport, visa and six passport photos for translation and notarisation (red stamping). You’ll need to leave these with them, so take copies as a back up. When you pick them up you’ll need to take the notarised and translated documents to another office; ask them to write down the address for you.

In Vietnam you drive on the RIGHT.

In Vietnam you drive on the RIGHT.. . Although sometimes it’s not exactly clear which right.

Head straight to the counter at the next office, where you will be advised whether you can apply for your license directly or you will need to take a drivers test for both. You will (you guessed it) have to go to another office, your final hurdle before you get your shiny new license which takes – and this is an excuse for a little side trip — up to 10 days.

If you have to do your test you will be given a date on which you will need to arrive at the same office at 08:00 to be put through a short figure of eight and obstacle course usually involving a few speed bumps and a corner, without stalling or putting your feet down. As for the written test, most foreigners are not expected to complete this as it is in Vietnamese; if you do, then you’ll usually be provided with a translator who will tell you which boxes to tick for a pass. You pick your license up approximately 10 days afterwards. The cost of all the above varies but in January 2013 in Da Nang the cost was $10. The validity should be the same as your original license.

A good legal option for fun off road beach cruising.

A good legal option for fun off-road beach cruising.

The above is how it should work, however we are in Vietnam and rules are subject to change and vary from city to city. [Editor’s note: Our Hanoi correspondent found the process more time consuming and was also asked to undergo a health check; Saigon may also be more complicated.]

If you don’t have 10 days spare to hang around and collect your license and you are in either Hanoi or Saigon, ask at your guesthouse for someone to take you to the Department of Traffic (So Giao Thong) to find out about the procedure, and whether there may be any ways to speed up the process. Sometimes it is possible to pay a ‘tourist price’, a few dollars more, to speed things up considerably.

Be wary of unlicensed road users.

Be wary of unlicensed road users.

In smaller provinces it’s quite unlikely that there will be an official procedure for obtaining a Vietnamese drivers license, so do stick to the big cities where this has been done before. When dealing with officials and procedures in Vietnam always approach each stage with a smile and patience (even if your patience has been tried to the point of grabbing one of those red rubber stamps and throwing it at something). Try to look at least a little bit smart and be respectful – if you are pleasant to deal with, people are more inclined to go out of their way to help you.

Remember that to drive a motorbike or car legally in Vietnam you need a Vietnamese license — international licenses are not valid here. Many people have driven through the entire country without ever being asked to provide one, but laws change and sometimes there are government clampdowns.

Everybody loves a Cub.

Everybody loves a Cub.

Finally, if you really want to drive legally in Vietnam but don’t want to go through the application process, it’s legal to drive a motorbike that is under 50cc’s without a license. Although you may baulk at the idea of such little power, my most reliable and fun bike is a 50cc Honda Super Cub, with two gears and a top speed of 75kph. It may struggle with steep mountainous climbs but if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere, there is always someone nearby who knows how to fix it.

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Getting your motorbike licence in Vietnam”

  1. Cotion 30 Jan 2013 at 5:17 am

    I love this post. I’ve seen the insane traffic in Saigon and can’t imagine driving in it. Nice to know there are options! :)

  2. Peteon 31 Jan 2013 at 2:12 am

    Great post Caroline. Just love the thought of hopping on one of those honda cubs! One question- in the second para u say get your existing license translated into english. Is that right? Not viet?

  3. Miss Con 31 Jan 2013 at 2:55 am

    Why – Thank you! That’s right, English is accepted, but licenses in other languages need to be translated. It seems odd not to translate in to Vietnamese, but on the plus side it saves a step if your license is already in English.

  4. Matton 31 Jan 2013 at 3:24 am

    My U.S. license is no longer valid. What do you know about the process if I need to start from scratch? I’ve heard it can be done but the written test will be in Viet and you don’t get a translator…

  5. Miss Con 31 Jan 2013 at 3:31 am

    Where in VN are you going to apply? Usually for foreigners they bypass the written test or they supply someone to show you which boxes to tick. If you can get someone that speaks VN to go with you it would be worth a trip to the Transport department to find out more information on your particular needs.

  6. chrison 04 Feb 2013 at 5:11 am

    They don’t allow a translator, and all I had to do was fill out my address/name etc, ( many times ) , definitely avoid going for your licence in the smaller cities, although I already had a VN car licence, it still cost me about $20 for my VN Motorbike licence, and it is only held once a month, I had a 5 hr wait, you could imagine the usual VN disarray, when about 300 people are all going for their licences at the same time.

  7. Miss Con 05 Feb 2013 at 3:26 am

    Different cities different rules! Where did you apply for your licence?

  8. dave gregoryon 09 Feb 2013 at 9:18 am


    Is it not possible to obtain a VN license via their embassy in the UK ?

  9. Miss Con 09 Feb 2013 at 9:43 am

    Sadly not yet. On the plus side however I have spoken to two people that recently applied for their licenses in Saigon and they were able to go through the whole process in a day, which is the same as here in Da Nang. Vietnam is a minefield of red stamps and changing rules, and sometimes its a surprisingly easy transaction. Well worth the trip to the office to find out.

  10. Georgieon 02 Sep 2013 at 2:24 pm


    Do you know if I need my counterpart driving license or will my photocard ID do? I do not have the counter part with me in Vietnam. Thanks!


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