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Riding Legally in Vietnam

group photo by a poster - these are common throughout Vietnam

Motorcycle Licenses in Vietnam?

Vietnam requires motorcycle riders to hold a valid motorcycle license, just like any other country. Vietnamese nationals sit a written and practical test, which is also open to foreigners who reside long-term in Vietnam.

For short-term foreign tourists, there are two options: 

Option 1:

APPLY FOR A SHORT-TERM VIETNAMESE MOTORCYCLE LICENSE THAT IS VALID FOR THE TERM OF YOUR TOURIST VISA

This process requires you to apply, in person, five full working days before the said short-term Vietnamese license will be issued, at an office near the centre of Hanoi, and is only an option for people who hold tourist visas with at least three month’s validity on them. You also need to get your passport, and home motorcycle license officially translated and notarised into Vietnamese. After waiting in line, they process all the papers, take a photo of you, take the US$7 fee, and prepare a standard-looking plastic license that you will have to pick up in person after five full working days. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to hasten this process, and it is a great pity that the government does not have an express service. Trust us, we have tried and tried…

Option 2:

CARRY AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT (IDP) ISSUED IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY THAT CONFIRMS THAT YOU HOLD A HOME-COUNTRY DOMESTIC MOTORCYCLE DRIVING LICENSE

This process is even more frustrating (at least for some foreign nationals) because of a ridiculous administrative oversight. The short answer from the Vietnam Traffic Office is that technically Vietnam only recognises IDPs issued by countries that signed the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, which is the Convention that Vietnam signed in 2014. That’s great if you are from the UK, France, Germany, and Italy (who are all signatories to the 1968 Convention), but not good if you are from the USA, New Zealand, Canada, or Australia (who are only signatories to the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic).

IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO ARTICLE 48

So, what does this mean for an Australian, American, Canadian or New Zealander? Well, the simple truth is that the minor officials in the traffic department government have not correctly read the wording of the 1968 Convention. To quote Article 48 in full:

Upon its entry into force, this Convention shall terminate and replace, in relations between the Contracting Parties, the International Convention relative to Motor Traffic and the International Convention relative to Road Traffic, both signed at Paris on 24 April 1926, the Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Automotive Traffic, opened for signature at Washington on 15 December 1943, and the Convention on Road Traffic, opened for signature at Geneva on 19 September 1949.

Put simply, any signatory to the 1949 Convention is a defacto signatory to the 1968 Convention.

The Reality

Ok, enough of the legal horse-trading. Let’s talk about what really matters:

What happens if you get pulled over by the police? 

What happens if you have a severe accident that requires you to be evacuated?

What happens if you injure or kill a local person?

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel for these vexing questions.

Common, across the board, and undisputed by anyone who has ridden here for any length of time, is the fact that Vietnamese traffic police accept IDPs (even if they are issued in Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand etc.) and home-country domestic motorcycle licenses, as proof that you are legally allowed to ride in Vietnam. Add to this the fact that all our motorcycles have third-party personnel and property insurance, means that any issues regarding injured local people and/or damaged property are also taken care of.

In addition, most major travel insurance companies only require you to hold a valid home-country domestic motorcycle license to be fully covered while riding in Vietnam. They do not require you to hold an IDP issued solely by a country that is a signatory to the 1968 Convention. That said, different companies have different rules, so it is imperative that you have medical and evacuation insurance that will recognise your home-country domestic motorcycle license.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that if you travel with Explore Indochina, you must bring both your home-country domestic motorcycle license, an IDP, and a travel insurance policy that accepts and recognises a home-country domestic motorcycle license while riding in Vietnam.

You can then ride safely, knowing that your travel insurance will cover you in case of an accident. Meanwhile, Explore Indochina’s motorcycle third-party property/personnel insurance will cover all damages and/or injury to local people/property, and the police will not charge you for riding unlicensed in Vietnam. 

The following insurance companies will cover you while riding in Vietnam so long as you hold a valid home-country domestic motorcycle license.

Further Reading

  1. Click here to download the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic.
  2. Click here to download the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic and click here for a list of the countries which signed up to it.
1968 Convention on Road Traffic signatories
1949 Convention on Road Traffic
1949 Convention on Road Traffic

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