Make driving legally in Vietnam your New Year’s resolution

Many of our friends and acquaintances have shared their worries about driving a motorbike in Vietnam without a proper license. So, we thought it would be a good idea to remind all foreigners about the basic legal requirements in Vietnam in this field.

Most foreigners wonder if obtaining a driving license in Vietnam is at all necessary. After overcoming the initial fears of the chaotic tide of motorbikes, many of us want to enjoy the thrill of snaking our way through the maze of traffic in the city. And the most ambitious will probably motorbike from north to south, or vice versa, across the country.

However, a lot of these budding bikers arrive without a proper Vietnam driving license, which is required. So, here’s an important question: how do I drive legally in Vietnam?

First, you should know that even if you do have a foreign driving license, it is not valid in Vietnam. You have three options to obtain the right to drive in Vietnam:

  1. Obtain an international driving license.
  2. Carry out the “replacement” of your home country license into the Vietnamese equivalent (the Vietnamese Road Traffic Law calls this option the “replacement” of a foreign driver’s license, but don’t worry: you can keep your original one).
  3. Take the Vietnamese driving license practical test (warning: the practical driving license test is only available in Vietnamese, so if you are thinking of applying for this license you had better learn Vietnamese first!)

Regarding international driving licenses, Vietnam is a party to the Convention on Road Traffic, signed in Vienna on November 8, 1968 and ratified in 2014 (also called the “Vienna Convention”) and so recognizes international driving licenses issued by other States, which are parties to the Vienna Convention. In order to obtain such a license, you only have to apply to the authority in charge of the issuance of this license in your home country before leaving. Most European countries are party to the Vienna Convention, as well as some countries in South America (Brazil, Chile, Mexico, etc.), Africa (South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco) and Asia (Thailand, South Korea, etc.)

Regarding the so-called “replacement,” this procedure is conducted by the competent Vietnamese authorities and allows you to convert your foreign driving license into a Vietnamese one (this procedure was detailed in Oi Vietnam’s June 2015 legal column). It is important to keep in mind that you will not be eligible to replace your foreign driving license if you are in Vietnam with a tourist visa. The only option for a tourist who wishes to drive in Vietnam for a shortterm period is to have been issued with an international driving license.

To complete the “replacement” procedure (and the same conditions apply to the third option of the practical test), you have to reside, work or study in Vietnam for at least three months and to be at least 16 to drive a motorbike of less than 50 cc or at least 18 for other motorbikes and cars. If you meet these conditions, you can ask for the replacement of your home country license, or apply to take the Vietnamese driving test.

To apply for the Vietnamese practical test, you must submit an application to a licensed training institution. The application includes: application form for learning, tests and issuance of driving licenses; copy of unexpired passport; and health certificates issued by a competent medical facility. However, remember that this test is only available in Vietnamese.

Please, note that the validity period of Vietnamese driving licenses issued to foreigners would be in compliance with the validity period specified in their entry visa, temporary residence card or foreign driving license.

All this may seem a little bit complicated considering the ease of renting and driving a motorbike in Vietnam. However, the consequences might prove to be very tough, especially in the worst-case scenario of an accident and you find that your insurance company is reluctant to cover your medical expenses, or your liability toward injured persons, if you drive without a valid driving license in Vietnam.

So, let’s think about making some good resolutions for 2017!

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

BIO: A member of the Paris Bar, Antoine Logeay has been practicing law first in France, mainly in litigation and arbitration, then in Vietnam for three years as an associate of Audier & Partners based at its Hanoi office. Also a member of the Paris Bar, Caroline de Bellescize has been practicing mainly business law and real-estate law for three years in a French law firm and is currently an associate at the HCMC office of Audier & Partners. 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.