Riding in Vietnam: International drivers license info

Riding in Vietnam: International drivers license info
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To drive legally in Vietnam you need to have a motorbike license (from home) and an international driver’s permit. It is common and normal for people to drive without any license in Vietnam, and simple coffee money will deal with the police.
However, if you go above 150cc then having all your documents by the book becomes more important.

Understanding the international driver’s permit

An IDP/IDL, or international driver’s permit/international driver’s license is the same. The IDP is an agreement between countries to recognize each other’s drivers licenses. Unfortunately, there are different versions of the IDP, the 1968 convention and 1949 convention.
The wiki page for IDP has up-to-date information on which version each country belongs to. Vietnam belongs to the 1968 version. Australia and America belong to the 1949 version. Therefore it is not possible for Australians or Americans to drive legally in Vietnam.

The police will help you when they are not helping themselves.

Is it ok to drive in Vietnam illegally?

The short answer is yes. Both locals and tourists have spent years driving Vietnam without any licenses. For a routine and normal holiday without any incidents this is fine. However, problems arise if you are caught up in a major crash, both for yourself and for the 3rd party that may be involved.

If you are driving illegally in Vietnam, then any insurance you may have will be invalidated. Therefore you are on your own to negotiate or find a way out of whatever mess you find yourself in.
This is a risk that needs to be considered before choosing to ride a motorbike in Vietnam.

Australians and Americans / other countries not in the 1968 convention

Unfortunately for these countries, it is not possible to drive legally in Vietnam. However, the police do not know about these conventions. It is still worth getting the international driver’s permit for your holiday.

The issue arises if you are trying to claim on your insurance. If your insurance provider digs deep into the case, they may discover this loophole and your insurance could be invalidated. We have experience with the Australian insurance company 1cover paying out to Australians involved in crashes without asking any questions.

Our advice is to email the insurance company. Explain everything transparently and clearly, and get a written log of them confirming they are happy to insure you while driving a motorbike in Vietnam.

Where do I get an IDP?

International drivers permits can only be obtained from within your home country. The process is cheap and easy. If you are already traveling it is technically not possible to get an IDP. There are services online that promise you an IDP. These can be used, but they are not real IDP’s. Again, this is fine, providing your insurance company doesn’t go digging into the case.

Can I rent without a valid license or IDP from Tigit?

Through the Tigit booking platform, we make clients tick the box to confirm they have a license and an IDP. However, we don’t physically check the client’s documentation on-site. Our objective is to stop people renting our motorbikes that can not drive. We also feel we should display the rules transparently to people looking to drive a motorbike in Vietnam.

Crashing a Tigit Motorbike

Unrelated to licenses and IDP’s, but Tigit has an optional damage waiver that can be paid for in advance. This removes all responsibilities to the driver for crash expenses. It has zero excess and is aimed at creating a seamless motorbike rental experience where we don’t have to chase customers down for money at the end of the journey!

Key information on licenses in Vietnam

    • Not everyone has a driving license in Vietnam, but it will make life easier and safer if you do.
    • Accidents can usually be resolved on the spot with police negotiations.
    • You’re at-home insurance will be void without a proper driving permit. Calculate this risk carefully into your travel plans.
    • Tigit offers a damage waiver to remove you from paying for potential motorcycle damage.

Can’t I just bribe the police, why do I need an IDP?

In short, yes. For nearly all minor infractions, it is possible to pay the police.

Serious issues, though, is where the IDP comes in handy. For the police, presenting legal documentation will aid in keeping you out of trouble. From your insurance company’s perspective, you will not be covered if you are doing something illegal. Like driving a motorcycle in Vietnam without a proper permit. If you were to get into an accident that requires an insurance payout, you would want to have all your documents in order.

Insurance to motorbike in Vietnam

   As a foreigner traveling through Vietnam, you will not be able to purchase insurance locally that you can use. Local sellers or other rental agencies might offer to sell you a 3rd party yellow insurance paper. For you, this does nothing. To have the yellow insurance is merely a guideline in Vietnam, and you should not rely on it for anything.

   Before departing on your vacation, you will want to check with your local insurance agency about providing insurance for motorcycle rental within Vietnam. They will give you precise information on what they offer and how it might cover you in the event of a significant accident in Vietnam.

Our recommendation for obtaining insurance

1. Get an international drivers permit. This makes you fine by Vietnam’s police standards.

2. Email an insurance company. Explain the story in detail.

3. If they agree to cover, then great.

Email with Australian insurance provider 1cover

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!

What happens in a serious crash in Vietnam

With a crash where either the traveler or local is injured, people from the area will quickly surround the crash scene out of curiosity. The police will then promptly show up and act as an on-the-spot investigator and judge. After their small investigation, they will decide who pays who what amounts.

 The police will then confiscate the motorbikes from both parties and use them as a ransom to force an agreement between those involved in the crash. It is here that you will usually find the police quite helpful. They typically aid in a reasonable negotiation 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 you here. This is Vietnam, and this is the way things are done. Once all parties agree to walkway quietly, the police will then release the motorbikes. A little coffee money for minor problems is an efficient way to make any problem magically disappear.

For Tigit’s help and assistance, it is important clients explain the full story accurately. It is common for travelers to “bend the truth,” which often contributes to digging big holes for all parties involved. It is easiest for travelers to fix the situation themselves. Police, like to deal with the vehicle driver directly and attempts to pawn the situation onto someone else, can delay in motorbike retrieval. Once again, if you are driving by the book and have an international driver’s permit and valid license then this will help when accidents occur. 

Useful resources

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

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November 29, 2019

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6 Replies to “Riding in Vietnam: International drivers license info”

  1. Just starting to plan a trip for 2021, when hopefully travel will be ok again.
    My wife is only 5ft tall, are any of your Honda winners lowered? We’ll both have full licences with motorcycle entitlement (she has a low bike)

    1. During Corona Virus we have sold off all Honda Winners. For a low motorbike, I recommend the Royal Himalayan 400.

  2. Hi John,

    I have watched your training videos on Youtube.

    Is it legal to ride a 50cc [Sym Elite 50/Nioshima] automatic scooter in Vietnam without any license?

  3. Hi Guys
    I am just starting to plan my 2012 adventure. I wish to fly into Ho Chi Min City approx 7/1/2021 & depart approx 13.2.2021. I would like to hire a suitable motorcycle for this entire period, around to 150 to to 250cc. I intend to ride from Ho Chi Min City to Hanoi, via Cambodia & Laos then returning to Ho Chi Min City.
    Please advise an approximate hire cost for this period and advise on traveling into Cambodia, Laos and back into Vietnam.

    Regards
    Dave