Keep it legal when driving on Vietnam’s roads, advises Oi’s legal team…

Dear Hadrien and Marijn,
I am Jonas from Denmark and I have been working in Ho Chi Minh City as a software developer since last year. Like a local, I love to ride my motorcycle – an old Minsk. The adrenaline that I get from moving through the crazy traffic is great, but I am a bit concerned about not having a Vietnamese driver’s license. Every time I see those khaki-uniformed policemen my heart skips a beat, and what if I get into an accident? How can a foreigner, like me, obtain a Vietnamese driver’s license?

Welcome to Vietnam Jonas, the country of 40 million motorbikes. Your question is very relevant and we couldn’t agree more with your plans to obtain a valid driver’s license. We will give you a few options for you to consider.

The first option, which is most often practiced, is available to foreigners who reside, work or study in Vietnam for a period of three months or longer and who are already in possession of a valid, unexpired foreign driver’s license. The Vietnamese Road Traffic Law and the implementing Circular of the Ministry of Transport call this option the “replacement” of a foreign driver’s license, but don’t worry you can keep your original one. However, keep in mind that your new Vietnamese license will only allow you to drive the vehicles that are mentioned in your foreign license.

In order to replace your driver’s license as described above, you will need to submit an application file either directly to the Vietnamese Directorate for Roads or to the Department of Transport where you registered your residence. For the application, you will need to fill out a standard form and attach one color passport photo, a certified translation of your foreign license, and a photocopy of your passport and visa, your temporary residence card or any other official document proving your residency in Vietnam. Upon submitting the complete application and files to the authorities, fingers crossed, it should take around five working days to get your Vietnamese driver’s license.

This first option is fairly easy, but if you don’t have a foreign driver’s license and you still want to hit the road in Vietnam, you will need to put yourself through a test at a local driving center. Vietnamese law allows foreigners who reside, work or study in Vietnam to take the driving and written exams.

If you just want to continue riding your 125cc horse from Belarus, you will need to pass a theoretical computer-based exam (which you can study for at your local cafe or in a classroom) and a practical driving test.

To apply for lessons and the exam, you will need to fill out a standard form and attach four color passport photos, a photocopy of your passport with your visa and a health certificate issued by a competent medical facility. So far so good, but here comes the tricky part: how good is your Vietnamese? To the best of our knowledge, it is currently not possible to follow the lessons and take the exam in any other language than Vietnamese. Another good reason to pick up tieng Viet.

One of us (don’t even ask) has shamefully failed the computer-based exam twice. It is not that easy, probably because the everyday driving experience or simply witnessing traffic here tends to create growing confusion in one’s mind on the applicable rules for road traffic in Vietnam…

Those are the two options that are currently available to you. Unfortunately, Vietnamese law does not yet accept an international driving permit as a valid document for a foreigner to drive a vehicle here. However, this situation may change in the near future, as the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport is currently working on a regulation to facilitate this. This would mean that foreigners holding an international driving permit issued in any country that has ratified the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968 (including Denmark) will no longer be required to replace their driver’s license and can simply use their international driving permit in combination with their foreign license.

Sources within the government confirm that the new rules may enter into effect as early as August of this year, but you may want to take this prediction with a grain of salt and one of Phu Quoc pepper. In the meanwhile, best of luck and please stay safe while cruising the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Every month, Hadrien and Marijn answer legal questions from Oi readers. If you have any legal question you want answered, send them to legal@oivietnam.com.

*A member of the Paris Bar, Hadrien Wolff has been practicing law in Vietnam for more than seven years, currently as a partner of Audier & Partners based at its HCMC office. Having gained extensive legal experience in the Netherlands and cambodia, Marijn Sprokkereef is an associate at the Hanoi office of the same firm. Audier & Partners is an international law firm with presence in Vietnam, Myanmar and Mongolia, providing advice to foreign investors on a broad range of legal issues.

Hadrien & Marijin - Legal column