Whether Work and Travel, Tourist or Expat
Everyone will eventually find the courage and want to quench the craving for individual mobility. And at the latest then you will ask yourself the question: How is it going here in Vietnam with a driving license?
Talking to people in Vietnam, many give the impression that there are no laws in the country, at least not on the road. But I have to disappoint you, they do exist.
In this post, I’ll let you know about the rules and duties that you should follow if you want to ride on the road by yourself..
No Wild Wild East
Rules do not exist. That’s the sentence that I’ve heard so often in the last few months and also believed it at the beginning. And finally when I was in Vietnam and saw the chaos on the streets, it strengthened my belief in it. But the more time I spent in Vietnam, the more I researched for this topic.
In fact, Vietnam has a road traffic act, as well as many other countries in the world too. However, how this the rules are implemented is a completely different story. If you want to know more in detail about the rules, you can read the entire document here.
In fact, many traffic policemen in Vietnam do not speak fluent English. And so you will not be checked as a “white man”, because they anyway can not communicate with you or perhaps does not want to give himself with his broken English the nakedness.
In fact, many motorbike hire stations do not ask for a valid driver’s license because they only see the fast money and will not let those customers go to their competitors.
But one thing must be aware of you. Driving without a valid driver’s license is still illegal. Just ask yourself the following questions. Would I behave the same way in my country? Would I behave in a foreign country like the USA as well? What do I do if I cause an accident … maybe even with personal injury? What do I do then?
Exactly those questions, and also the fact that I will spend more time in this beautiful country, has led me to acquire a legal driver’s license. And I recommend you do it the same way.
Overview of driving license classes
Of course, there are many different driving license classes in Vietnam. But for most of us who only travel to the country or only want to stay temporarily, the following classes are relevant.
- A1 – Driving license class for motorcycles with a displacement of 50 – 175 cc.
- A2 – driving license class for motorcycles with a displacement from 175 ccm and above (aka Big Bikes).
- B1 – Non-commercial driving license class for vehicles up to 9 seats and a gross vehicle weight of up to 3,500 kg.
All aforementioned three classes require a minimum age of 18 years. There are many more classes, e.g. for 3-wheeled motorcycles or for commercial passenger transport. But I doubt that even one reader of my blog will fall into this category.
A1 is exactly the category that is interesting for most people. Because almost all here in Vietnam offered scooter and also some motorcycles have a displacement of not more than 175 cc and fall into this class.
The following options are available
Basically, we always starting from three situations and I’ll describe what options are available.
I do not have a driver’s license
In this case, there is only the possibility of a Vietnamese driver’s license.
I have a driver’s license in my home country
If you have obtained a valid driving license for motorcycles in your home country, you have the opportunity to have it translated. There are numerous agencies on the Internet or on Facebook, which offer this service. The costs amount to around 2,000,000 VND (77 €). A major disadvantage of this method is that the translated document is bound to your visa. If the visa expires, then you must repeat the entire procedure.
I have an international driver’s license
The international driver’s license is not acknowledged in Vietnam, you have to have it translated anyway. You go through the same procedure as with a conventional driver’s license.
A short update regarding the regulation with the international driver’s license. Two sides of the story are circulating on the internet. The one is the authorities’ official statement that an International Driving License is accepted in Vietnam. And the other claims exactly the opposite, as I have so far.
Thanks to my reader Ralph. He has forced me with his question to investigate more about this topic. And I did that and will share my results with you. First of all, I found the following german article on the internet.
The fact is: In Vietnam, a foreign driving license in connection with an international driver’s license is valid and accepted. This is regulated in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 8 November 1968. This was signed by South Vietnam in 1968 and later implemented. However, after the end of the division of Vietnam, this has been forgotten and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam did not feel bound by it.expat-news.com
Almost 30 years after the opening of Vietnam’s foreign policy in 1986, this changed when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam joined the Vienna Convention on 20 August 2014 and now issues international driving licenses by themself.
But what about this International Driving License and why do the local driver license agencies tell me that it would not be suitable for a stay in Vietnam? I asked at the Embassy in Hanoi and received in their reply exactly what the official statement said. But the key point in the email is, that the international driving license is only valid for max. 3 months, because it is only intended for short stays abroad.
If you want to stay longer in Vietnam, there is only the possibility of a translation, which is nevertheless bound to your visa. Or to make a full and above all unlimited valid driving license in Vietnam.
Lifetime driving license class A1
Personally, the option of translation was out of my scope. Simply for the reason that the driver’s license is not unlimited and expires with my visa.
That’s why I opted for a true Vietnamese driver’s license. This is valid for a lifetime. There I will find my photo. And it will almost become one of my most personal and original memories, which I will take from this country.
But how do you get the coveted piece of plastic? Well, you can already guess the answer. Again, there are agencies on the Internet or on Facebook, which have specialized exactly on it. These help you with all your questions and even guide you through the exam. The costs for the A1 class amount to about 3.500.000 VND (134 €).
The procedure looks like this. You meet at an afternoon and practice driving on the training place of the local driving licence office. Here are the figure-8 and some other obstacle courses drawn on the ground. You practice these courses until you master them, otherwise you will not be registered for the exam by the agency.
If you gather some driving skills and feel comfortable on the motorbike, then you get an appointment from the agency and at the latest you meet again for the exam. The driver’s license exam itself is done in a few hours and consists of two parts, the theoretical and the practical part.
Fun Fact: It is nearly impossible to pass the theoretical part if you can not read and understand Vietnamese language. The test is only offered in Vietnamese. Money plays an important role here and so the high costs are justified.
If you’ve passed the theory and practice, you get an OK from the agency, sign some forms, and a few days later, you hold the object of desire in your hands.
Tips for the road
You’ve noticed that the driver’s license exam does not really prepare you for the Vietnamese traffic. And of course you are right. It does not matter if you are an Exapt or a Native. Everyone learn to drive on the streets. The exam itself serves only as a guideline.
Me too had to learn to drive on the streets first. Over the past few months, I’ve created myself a few rules of manners that will help me get through the traffic safely. Of course I would like to share them with you.
- There is no crumple zone on the bike, just your flesh and bones.
- Buses and trucks always have priority. Do not try to take advantage of the last gap when a bus or truck is driving next to you. The Dead Angle also exists in Vietnam.
- Draw attention to yourself. Horns as much as necessary, especially when crossing intersections or passing a stationary motorcyclist.
- Calculates always and everywhere with wrong-wayers. Always and everywhere!
- Blinker does not mean that someone want to turn. Many guys drive for hours with the turn signal on, or blink to the left and turn right. Thus, this signal is ignored by many. In addition, give a hand signal if you want to turn.
- Wear a mask and long-sleeved clothes on longer trips. Protect yourself from the sun, otherwise it will sunburn your skin quickly.
- And finally, patience pays off. Drive slowly and just stop if necessary and let the others pass.
I have not regretted my decision and now drive much more relaxed through the streets of Saigon. Suddenly appearing police checks do not unsettle me anymore. The head is no longer concerned with questions and skepticism, only focuses entirely on the traffic.