Riding in Vietnam: International drivers license info

This is still a grey area and no information on this page can be taken literally as factual advice – this is a guideline of the rules that we understand to be true about the International drivers license for renting in Vietnam.

We think we can now get temporary licences

16th Jun – Tigit will now take orders for temporary licences (this is not a guaranteed service and if it fails we will refund).
Price is $70 and available in HCM only.
Procedure – We will need a copy of the front and back of your valid motorbike licence at home (sent by email). You will need to have a 3 month or longer Vietnam Visa.
Upon arrival – Meet with our agent who will take you to an office. Here you will need to provide your passport (estimated one hour).
You will then be provided with a temporary licence that is valid in Vietnam.

International Drivers licenses are valid in Vietnam – UK source Gov website
UK government has now announced the international drivers permit is not recognised (24thish Dec 2017)

How to get an international drivers license – UK RAC

Motorbike insurance for Australians – Motorbike insurance for Australians

Motorbike insurance for UK citizens

International / All other countries motorbike insurance

Motorbike license for foreigners – Only useful to expats or people in Vietnam for longer than 3 months.

Register your IDP online at Vietnam Traffic Department (this page in vietnamese) – For those who have not registered the IDP in Vietnam

Please feel free to contact us and provide any other sources, advice or information.

It is fine to rent from Tigit Motorbikes without a licence

The article below will reveal the mess of confusion about licences in Vietnam. The only fact we can provide is that thousands of travelers drive across Vietnam every month without a licence of any sort. Police do not care and foreigners are given a free pass with minor coffee money donations.

Technically speaking, a traveler should have a valid licence back home and an international drivers permit. However, even with an international drivers permit the situation is still not understood or clear and remains a grey area.
Vietnam is a country where you do what you want, when you want and how you want. This is Vietnam and this is the way it is. Do what you want, but understand the consequences of the actions that you are taking!

You can travel Vietnam on a motorbike but you must choose to do so at your own risk. If you have no licence then you travel knowing that any insurance you have is automatically invalid. If you travel with a valid licence back home, and an international drivers permit then the chances are that you are driving legally (not 100% certain). Or at least legally enough to put up a battle in an insurance claim.
There are no guarantees and once again; you travel Vietnam knowing that there are no rules and no facts.

The IDP is no longer valid in Vietnam (We think it is valid)

Nothing has changed in the rules. The knowledge has recently surfaced that Vietnam signed a (useless) version of the international drivers permits. The 1968 version has a limited list of countries  including Chile, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Holy See, Indonesia, Ireland, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, and Venezuela. This is the version that Vietnam is a part of. (we think)

The international drivers permit that most people understand is the 1949 version, which Vietnam is not a part of.

Within Vietnam both the government and police still have no idea what is going on, and any IDP is likely to help with police negotiations. It is still worth having an IDP when travelling here, even if it is technically not valid.

Many insurance companies are also not aware of this recent development and so may still pay out. However, the up to date companies are likely to fail to pay out on terms of illegal driving without a valid licence.

Update: The UK is the country causing confusion with the British gov website stating that the international drivers permit is not recognized in Vietnam. However at Tigit we have reached out to insurance companies in the UK who still appear to be happy to cover British citizens in Vietnam providing they have a valid UK licence. Our personal opinion is that the UK website is incorrect.

Legality

To be legally driving a motorbike in Vietnam an International Driving Permit (IDP) together with the driver’s license from home country is required.

 

International driving permit

International driving permit

 

The IDP is provided in the form of an A6 size notebook, which looks similar to a passport. The IDP can only be obtained from your home country. The IDP only applies to vehicles that you are legally able to drive back home. A car license combined with an IDP is not sufficient to drive legally in Vietnam. A traveller must have a full motorbike licence, combined with the IDP to be legally driving in Vietnam.

Many travellers will not have a drivers license and are therefore driving illegally. This is fine within Vietnam as the police are a waste of time, they will not take a motorbike off a foreigner and without providing specifics; the process is usually quick and easy to deal with. Update since 2017 – the police in Mui Ne will take a motorbike off a foreigner!

Driving illegally invalidates any insurance a traveller may have from back home. Drive at your own risk!

Get insurance from home

Insurance does not exist in Vietnam for foreigners. Travellers should search insurance companies from home and check carefully that they are covered when riding a motorbike in Vietnam.

Other rental companies or sellers may mention a 3rd party yellow insurance paper. This paper does not do anything and is just another Vietnamese “guideline”.

Crashes and motorbike damages are always affordably fixable. TigitMotorbikes offers a collision damage waiver which covers damages to our rental motorbikes.

Note: Insurance from home will not be valid without an international driver license.

Dealing with serious crashes

Minor crashes are frequent in Vietnam but road speeds rarely exceed 60km/h meaning that serious crashes (if driving like a sensible human) are rare.

Following recommended routes will keep a traveller off the highways and danger zones. Keep to the backstreet roads and the countryside pace of life also applies to the driving speeds!
City driving is chaotic but unbelievably slow!

In the case of a serious crash where either the traveller or a local is injured the village people will quickly surround the scene of the crash. The police will promptly show up and act as an on the spot investigator and judge who pays who what.
The police will confiscate the motorbikes from both parties and use them as ransom to force an agreement between all parties involved in the crash. The police do tend to aid in a reasonable negotiation balance between foreigners and Vietnamese. We recommend following police advice in regards to the cash needed to make the situation go away.
Holding on to your morals of who caused the crash will not help. This is Vietnam, and this is the way things are done, Coffee money is an efficient way to make any problem magically disappear.
Once all parties agree to quietly walk way, the police will release the motorbikes.

Please note that driving illegally is not recommended, and by default makes the foreigner in the wrong. The foreigner will lose any negotiations and have to pay damage compensation regardless of who caused the accident.

Note – The police have a reputation for being corrupt in Vietnam. On serious issues they are helpful and behave as professionals. In times of desperation the police are there to help you!

Driving safely in Vietnam

No training + no awareness + low powered motorbikes = low speeds + frequent but gentle crashes.

The foreigner or skilled driver comes along with ideologies, speeds and awareness from driving properly.
Go above and beyond the speeds of the local driving skill set.
No one is prepared or looking out for speeds like this.
Conclusion = big crash.

Amazing awareness is not needed when plodding along at 50km/h
This can be done with a cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. Which is exactly what the locals do!

When driving Vietnam, enjoy the scenery and the leisurely paced culture. If you do decide to go fast, have the attitude that anyone can do anything at any time. Expect no predictability and no common sense from other drivers or roadside walkers. Be alert at all times and respect and understand that the locals are not prepared for vehicles moving at speed.

Drive slowly, or drive with hyper awareness and everything should be ok! The cities look chaotic, but are unbelievably slow so don’t be intimidated by the crazy looking traffic.
Tigit Motobikes has an article by the local driver Link, for tips for driving safely in Vietnam. Tigit also highly recommends reading the comedy sketch, how to drive a motorbike in Saigon by Mathew Pike.

Email with Australian insurance provider 1cover

One Cover

Thank you for your email.

We cover people medically when riding a motorbike if they have their full Australian driver’s licence they can ride a bike up to 50CC – providing they are following the road saftey laws over there.

If someone has their full Australian motor bike licence and it is accepted in Vietnam (or if they also have their international licence) we cover them medically whilst riding there is no limit on the engine size.

We do not cover the bike at all or for personal liability for the rider just cover them medically if they have the valid licence and are following the road safety laws.

Email with Holiday Safe insurance

I can confirm that we cover our travellers to ride a motorbike as standard, providing that they have the appropriate UK license and they are wearing the appropriate safety gear.

holidaysafe

Confident response apart from the very obvious ambiguous “appropriate safety gear” ???? At least we tried at Tigit!

Email with World Travel Insurance

The Gold / Silver Motorcycling policy is only available to UK residents – We also offer an International policy that includes cover for motorcycling. In answer to your previous question we would not cover anyone without a licence for motorcycling.  Links below for UK Motorcycling policy and International policy – the clients would need to purchase the policy themselves.

UK residents cover:
https://www.worldwideinsure.com/motorcycle-travel-insurance.htm

International residents cover:
https://www.imgeurope.co.uk/purchase/quote/globehopper_platinum/pre-quote?imgac=393180

They would be covered medically under this policy scheme but this would exclude Personal Accident ( compensation for permanent disability or death ) and Personal Liability ( this should be covered under the vehicles insurance. They must be licenced to drive the size of motorbike and must wear a helmet and take all safety precautions necessary

Tigit’s Final thoughts

Hours of digging in both Vietnamese and English has failed to reveal any factual evidence on this topic. The police have a list of internationally accepted countries within the police stations. This list differs from the official Vietnamese government websites, which differs from various news sources.

The situation is a such a mind blowing mess that no official in Vietnam, be it a government official or a policeman, has any idea what they are doing.

To avoid paying fines, have a motorbike licence + international drivers permit. The police (and the rest of the world), do not know which countries are accepted or not accepted so in our experience they assume any international drivers permit is valid.

To be insured, obtain insurance from home and carefully check with the relevant insurance company that they cover you in Vietnam.

There is no 3rd party liability insurance for foreigners, we have not found a solution to this yet. Stay tuned!

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  1. Richard says:

    Hi Jon
    Great reply saying it clear and as it is. I did a 12 day trip in the NW mountains of Vietnam last February ( before things started to hit the headlines ) and had the most incredible time. Would recommend it to anyone with a UK bike licence and an IDP. I hope things become clearer/more reassuring in the coming months as I want to revisit Vietnam for a bike tour in the Autumn.
    Richard

  2. Richard Sims says:

    Insurance is the name of the game – winks and bribes may get you back up and running but will not settle a claim for your own medical treatment and potentially bringing you home in a box ! After challenging the advice that I have researched I have now been told by the bike tour company with whom I have booked that a temporary licence can be obtained before arrival in Vietnam – extract below. Is what they are now suggesting true ?

    Hi Richard

    I have spoken to Holidaysafe via email and they confirm that if I have satisfied the legal requirement to ride, my insurance will be valid. There are other insurance companies, I personally have used Holidaysafe for some time and they have been reliable

    Our business partner is well aware of this issue and has offered advice and his full support should a claim be made by your insurance company. There are ways and means.

    We have done all we can to satisfy the local legal requirements and have been assured this process will do that.

    I personally, or GMT Ltd, cannot guarantee the information, as it is information provided to us by other parties. We sue the information based on trust and experience

    We have been riding in Vietnam for over 3 years and never had a single problem or injury due to our high standards of health and safety and guidance

    • Jon - TigitMotorbikes says:

      Getting a temp license before arrival? No I don’t think this is possible.

      I imagine the motorbike tour company believes much what I believe… which is that the British Gov website is wrong about licenses.
      We have had customers crash without licenses and the insurance companies have always paid out without question. These are not million dollar crashes though.
      Even in my emails displayed on this article, it can be seen the support agents appear to have no idea themselves.

      I personally think international drivers permits are valid in Vietnam, and most Vietnamese police / gov officials appear to be thinking down this line as well.
      The motorbike tour company you are using has nothing to lose by playing on the aggressive side with this advice,,, assuming they have no online website or review platform.

      At Tigit, we must advise on the safe side and say “no licenses are valid” due to our positioning online. This is not my personal opinion though, I think international licenses are valid ^

      You will never get to the bottom of the question, and you will never get the truth… because no one knows.

      Every traveler is forced into winks and bribes, doesn’t matter how hard you try to be by the book. This is Vietnam, and you choose to travel here knowing there are no rules.

  3. Lexie says:

    So if I am coming from US and have a US license and IDP but not a motorbike license, but know how to operate the motorbike, I should be fine? A motorcycle license is around $200 which is a lot to blow just to ride for ten days somewhere else. Thanks

    • Jon - TigitMotorbikes says:

      You can drive in Vietnam without a license. The police really don’t care, and if you do get stopped the standard coffee money price is 200,000vnd (10usd).
      The issue with driving with no license is that any insurance you may have is invalidated.

      Basically, drive at your own risk.

  4. Ian James says:

    Nightmare! I’ve been 3 years running and only now this latest problem with uk IDPs has arisen. VN gov haven’t got a clue about supporting tourism and adventure. Get it sorted VN or it’ll be Chiangmai for me next trip. Gutted.

    • Jon - Tigitmotorbikes says:

      Technically nothing has changed.
      Vietnam signed an international drivers permit document which got everyone excited. It has now been understood two years later that they signed an out of date/nearly pointless one which does not include many countries.
      On the positive side, the police still have no idea about this, so the IDP does still help within Vietnam, it just no longer helps towards insurance.
      Most insurance companies also do not know…. the UK government has been the first to understand the situation.

  5. Keith says:

    UK IDP not valid as of December 2017. A local licence will be required.

    Most riders go around 20k to 40k, only a few will dare reach 50k. Not recommended for people who have recently acquired their motorbike licence. A lot of things to take in. Situations changing all the time.

    25th Dec 2017