Ultimate Guide to Riding Motorcycles in Vietnam: Tips, Safety, and Adventure

Riding Motorcycles in Vietnam

Let's tak about riding motorcycles in Vietnam. This comprehensive resource provides valuable tips, safety guidelines, and thrilling adventure ideas for motorcycle enthusiasts. Whether you're a seasoned rider or a beginner, this guide will help you navigate the unique challenges and experiences of riding in Vietnam's stunning landscapes. Start planning your epic motorcycle journey today!

So you’re thinking about visiting or retiring in Vietnam. If you are thinking about renting or buying a motorcycle for transportation than this is needed information.

I have always said you really need to be careful if choosing a motorcycle for transportation in Thailand. It is even more necessary to not only stay safe but to be informed regarding many aspects of licensing and the laws and regulations in Vietnam as well.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions or comments leave them below. Remember even when it comes to motorbiking safely in Vietnam, there’s always an option!

Tips for Expats Driving in Vietnam

Expats with experience in driving in Vietnam all paint a similar picture: It is a rather risky and nerve-wracking experience. However, if you have no other alternative than driving, better go prepared. Vietnam is a breathtaking country with loads to offer its visitors and inhabitants. It will probably not take you long to adjust to the balanced life of a Vietnamese resident. However, if you are planning on driving in Vietnam, you should be aware of several local driving habits, which may perhaps seem a bit erratic.

Road Safety in Vietnam

Motorcycles and bicycles are the preferred means of transportation in Vietnam, accounting for about 95% of all registered vehicles. Some expatriates might be a bit surprised or even intimidated by the seeming lack of rules in using them. Those who drive cars tend to adapt their motorcycle driving skills and interpretation of traffic rules and apply them to their car. This means that driving in Vietnam is often an incredibly chaotic affair, and accidents happen quite frequently. So frequently in fact, that Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest car accident death rates in the world, close behind India and China. It is said that the local driving style in Vietnam claims at least 30 lives per day. Most accidents are caused by car drivers and often result in lethal head injuries for cyclists or motorcyclists. Although, in this case, it may seem that using a car in Vietnam is safer than being on the receiving end of an accident, it can also be quite frustrating. It can take vehicles ages to get through the traffic congestion in cities, which can take the speed of driving in Vietnam down to the level of wading through molasses.

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Alternatives to Driving in Vietnam

Driving has seen a sharp increase in popularity in Vietnam over the past few years, with an annual growth of 8-12% of cars and motorcycles on Vietnamese roads. This has, of course, further exacerbated the high rate of mortality among those driving in Vietnam. There are quite a few reasons why it may be more intelligent to scrap the idea of driving a car in Vietnam completely and learn how to rely on the bus schedule. Alternatively, you could learn to ride a motorbike so as to be able to maneuver around the heavily clogged streets. Either way, it cannot be stressed enough that you need to take extreme caution when driving in Vietnam, no matter the vehicle. Many expats even advise hiring a driver along with a car in order to avoid operating in the dangerous traffic yourself.

Road Infrastructure in Vietnam

The country has over 180,000 kilometers of roadways, most of which are in rather poor shape. This makes driving here even more risky than it is already made through the driving style prevalent among the locals. The state of the roads varies by region: in the north many roads are inaccessible during the rainy season, as they usually collapse or overflow. Highways are especially prevalent in southern Vietnam and traffic moves relatively swiftly. You should not have a problem getting to your destination. The highway system has only recently begun to be used more frequently and on a regular basis. Several toll booths have been installed over the past few years, on roads such as the Ho Chi Minh City-Trung Luong Expressway. Locals tend to avoid these roads if possible. The revenue from the toll roads is used to improve the generally poor condition of Vietnamese roads. When driving through Vietnam’s rural countryside, you should be aware that sharing the road with bicycles, farm animals, and machinery is not uncommon.

International Driving Permits Could be Used in Vietnam

(See our posting titled, Unlock the Road to Freedom: Your Guide to Obtaining a Vietnamese Driver's License)

Circular No. 48/2014/TT-BGTVT dated October 15, 2014 of the Ministry of Transport is to amend the validity duration of the category B1 driving license, and to allow foreigners, overseas Vietnamese to directly use international driving permits instead of transform their domestic driving licenses into the corresponding driving licenses of Vietnam.

Accordingly, if foreigners have valid international driving permits granted by competent agencies of the Contracting Parties in the 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, they are allowed to drive the vehicle written in such permits rather than having to obtain the driving licenses of Vietnam.
The international driving permit mentioned in the aforesaid provision must be a booklet in format A6 (148×105 mm) of which the cover shall be grey, the inside pages shall be white and fully has information as specified in Annex 32 issued together with this Circular
This Circular takes effect from December 1, 2014.

International Drivers Permit

Getting a Vietnamese Driving License

The following information is courtesy of the Australian embassy in Vietnam. However, it applies equally to all foreigners in Vietnam, not just Australians. There is also a link below the article that will lead you to more info on helping you get a license.
Vietnamese driving licences are mandatory for all drivers of motor vehicles as well as for riders of motorcycles with a capacity of over 50cc. Non-Vietnamese citizens are only permitted to drive in Vietnam if they hold a temporary Vietnamese driver’s licence. (This conflicts the previous information of the ability to use an International Driver Permit) To convert an Australian driving licence or an International Driving Permit into a temporary Vietnamese driver’s licence, the applicant must first hold a valid Vietnamese residence permit of at least three month’s validity and a current Australian driving licence or a valid International Driving Permit. In Hanoi, applications for temporary driver’s licences should be directed to the Office of Traffic & Public Works, 16 Cao Ba Quat Street . In Ho Chi Minh City, applications should be directed to the Office of Transportation, 63 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1 – Telephone 8223760 . In provincial areas, travelers should consult local police authorities to determine exactly what action is required to obtain a temporary driving licence in the province where the applicant resides. To apply for a Vietnamese driving licence (either to drive a motor vehicle or a motorbike) in Hanoi , the applicant should contact the Centre for Automotive Training and Mechanism, 83A Ly Thuong Kiet Street (no longer accurate, go to 16 Cao Ba Quat) – Telephone 9422715. . In Ho Chi Minh City , applications should be lodged with the Office of Transportation, 63 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1 – Telephone 8223760. It is strongly recommended that Australians consider carefully whether they should drive motor vehicles or motorcycles in Vietnam as unfamiliarity with local driving conditions may result in serious injury, or a heavy compensation payment(s) as a result of any accident. Serious accidents have occurred on motorbikes, with a high proportion of those involving head injuries. If you ride a motorbike, you should seriously consider wearing a protective helmet. It is law to wear a helmet on designated roads in Vietnam. The penalties for driving offences should be clearly understood. For example, driving without a proper license may involve severe penalties. Experience has shown that such penalties might be as much as a three year jail sentence for driving unlicensed, up to ten years imprisonment for driving unlicensed and causing an accident, and up to twenty years imprisonment for driving unlicensed and causing an accident resulting in death. Actual penalties are, of course, determined by the police and the courts.

HCMC Ministry of Transport  The official word (in Saigon)

Converting a Foreign Drivers License in Vietnam

Vietnamese driving licenses are mandatory for riders of motorcycles with a capacity of over 50cc. You need A1 license for under 175cc or A2 for over 175cc.
Most motorbike rental doesn’t require a local motorbike driving license but this information will help you understand the whole process and how to have a local Vietnam motorbike driving license.

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Exchanging a Foreign Driving License

The procedure for converting a foreign driving license in Vietnam is easier than it is to apply for a new license. There is no need to take either a written or a driving test. The Department of Transportation is in charge of granting Vietnamese driving licenses to foreigners who have valid driving licenses from their home countries. They are also in charge of replacing lost driving licenses and issuing license renewals.
To qualify for a Vietnamese temporary driving license, a foreigner must be at least 18 years old and have a visa or residence permit with no less than three, or in some provinces, no less than six month’s validity. Additionally, applicants will need to present their current valid driving license or a valid International Driving Permit.
If the driver is converting a foreign driving license or International Driving Permit to a temporary Vietnamese license, the license issued will be the same as the type and class of license that the applicant holds in their home country. For example, if the foreign license is only valid for an automobile, it cannot be converted into a Vietnamese motorcycle license. A person in this situation will need to take a driving test, but they will not have to take a written examination to get the added endorsement on their Vietnamese license. The driving test can be taken at any authorized test center in Vietnam and costs VND 50,000. For an automobile, if a test is required, the fee is VND 300,000. The local Department of Transportation will provide the locations of the nearest test center upon request.
How to apply
Foreigners in Hanoi may pick up an application form for a driving license from the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
Department of Transportation (Traffic) and Public Works
At: 16 Cao Ba Quat Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 39422715
At: 2 Phung Hung, Ha Dong District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 433824404
In Ho Chi Minh City, applications can be obtained from the Office of Transportation.
Office of Transportation
At: 63 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 38223760
At: 252 Ly Chinh Thang Street, Ward 9, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 89350551 / (08) 89350517
Elsewhere in Vietnam, the local police will tell the applicant where to apply for a driving license. Licenses can be granted from any provincial Department of Transportation office.
After the form is completed, but before it is signed, the applicant will need to take it to their embassy or consulate. Consular staff will need to verify the information on the application, as well as witness and notarize the applicant’s signature. Additionally, the applicant should be prepared to present the following to consular officials:

  • Passport
  • Vietnam visa or residency permit with no less than three months validity
  • Six or more current color passport photos. Check to verify the size and number of photos the local Department of Transportation office requires as this can vary significantly depending on the location
  • Translation and verification
    Although it is common for embassies and consulates to assist their citizens with verification and notary services, the United States Department of State writes in their Consular Information Sheet of 9 July, 2013: “The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City cannot assist you in obtaining Vietnamese driver’s permits or notarize U.S. drivers’ licences for use in Vietnam.” Citizens of the United States will need to seek the proper verification and certification of their documents through their place of employment or by other approved means.
    If translation and legalization of a passport is requested, it can be done at the following addresses:
    The Notary Office No. 1
    At: 310 Ba Trieu Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
    Tel: (04) 39760725
    Ho Chi Minh City:
    The Notary Office No. 1
    At: 97 Pasteur, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
    Tel: (08) 88230177 / (08) 88231644

Once the application is complete, the applicant must submit their application and supporting documents to the appropriate authorities. In Hanoi, the application should be taken to the Department of Transportation and Urban Works. In Ho Chi Minh City, applications need to be taken to the Office of Transportation. In other areas, the local or provincial police can direct applicants to the proper location.
The following items will need to be presented to the office:

  • Completed application, officially certified and notarized by the foreigner’s embassy, consulate, or other recognized and authorized certifying authority
  • Two or more officially certified and notarized copies of the original driving license
  • Two or more officially certified and notarized copies of the original driving license that has been translated by an officially authorized Vietnamese translation service into Vietnamese
  • Two or more officially certified and notarized copies of the applicant’s passport
    In some locations, or under certain circumstances, an officially authorized translation and legalization of the applicant’s passport into the Vietnamese language may be requested and must be done by a translation service approved by Vietnamese authorities
  • At least three color passport photos. Check to verify the size and number of photos the local Department of Transportation office requires as this can vary significantly depending on the location.

The applicant’s original passport and driving license must be shown for verification when the documents are submitted
Once the documents have been submitted, the cashier will collect VND 30,000 for the license fee. It takes from 3 to 14 days processing time for the new license to be issued. The new temporary Vietnamese license will have the same expiration date as the initial foreign license or International Driving Permit that was submitted for conversion.
The temporary driving license is valid for use anywhere in the country of Vietnam.

Parking Your Motorbike

The first and most important thing to say about parking is that in Vietnam motorbikes are extremely easy to steal. They can be gone in the blink of an eye. Follow the tips below to keep your bike secure – whether you’re at home or about town.

Parking Your Motorbike At Home

At home you should try to keep the bike away from prying eyes and behind securely locked gates and a fence that are tall and that hopefully have something sharp on the top. The lock should be of good quality and so should the part of the gate or fence that you are locking. It isn’t unheard of for thieves to leave a padlock intact and cut the gate around the lock. As is it not also unheard of for thieves to lift bikes over fences up to two meters or more high. I suggest keeping a bike inside the house, in a locked garage or behind the house out of sight rather than in a front courtyard where it can easily be seen and stolen when you are not at home.

Parking in Motorbike Parking Areas (‘Trong Xe’)

In Vietnamese the words Trong Xe written on a scrap of card indicate that a certain area is being used as a bike park. You’ll have seen many of these around and in general I’d say they are safe and relatively hassle free places to store a bike for a few hours. I wouldn’t recommend storing a bike there overnight but also feel that if you are familiar with the guards or have a close connection to them in some way that it could be an option. There are one or two points to note: Get a ticket (card) and do not lose that ticket. Check that either the plate number is written on the ticket or the ticket number is chalked onto the bike If you lose the ticket there could be a fine and it will be difficult to get the bike without the registration documents, which you will not hold. There are times when leaving a copy of a passport and a letter to say you take full responsibility can persuade a guard to let you take the bike but these are rare instances. You will normally need to contact your bike rental business to get the bike for you and it can be troublesome. DON’T lose the ticket! Find out how long you can keep your bike in the bike park. Often these places will be forced by the police to shut at midnight. If you have not collected your bike by then it will be impounded by the police who will then possibly only release it to the staff at the bike park, even though it is your bike rental business’ bike, so that they can claim payment for inconvenience. This again makes it difficult to get the bike quickly and causes frustration for everyone. As a rough guide you can expect to pay between 2,000 to 5,000 VND for a short stay but this will differ depending on location, time of day, public holidays etc. I cannot advise on overnight charges as I won’t leave a bike overnight. It goes without saying that you should endeavor to find out how each different place works before leaving a bike there.

Parking in a Flat/Apartment

A mix of the above advice applies to parking in your apartment. There could be the additional procedure of registering the bike with the guards but this is usually simple and your landlord is the one to do this for you really. Again find out how things work first, then leave your bike there.

Parking on the Street

If you are going to leave the bike outside a shop, check that it is OK for you to do so. The owner / staff will often let you know very quickly if you have put your bike in the wrong place and tell you where to put it. Do take their advice as they spend a lot of time in that location and know exactly what is best for all concerned. If you leave the bike outside a bar or restaurant that you use, tell them so and they will usually show you where to park or have someone park your bike for you. Then if there is any problem the owner / manager should be responsible and take care of it. Leaving the bike on the street and not in a bike park is only really an option if you are going to be somewhere for a very short time. In that case it is best to use the steering lock and the front wheel lock whilst you are not with the bike. Check that you have the keys beforehand.

What to Do When the Police Impound Your Bike

If you park illegally it is likely that the police will impound the bike. This then means your bike rental business will need to find the local police station that has the bike. Show them the registration documents. Ask that they fine you. Pay the fine, which is in a different office as police do not accept payment of fines. Return to the police station and ask for the bike back. It is long winded and tiresome. I advise you to park in the correct place. Never cause a fuss or raise your voice at the police because it will cause a lot of difficulty and no one will appreciate it. Get angry on the way home.
DO NOT leave the bike with anyone other than a bike park attendant who gives you a ticket and with whom you see other (Vietnamese) people leaving their bikes with. If you leave the bike with a random stranger you could, at best, get the gasoline stolen. Parts could be exchanged and the bike could be left for the police to pick up or, at worst, be stolen and sold off as parts. It sounds obvious as does some of the other snippets here but these things do happen.

Helmet law and helmet quality in Vietnam

Since 2007, helmet wearing among motorcycle riders and passengers has been made mandatory in Vietnam. All drivers and passengers on motorcycles from the age of six must wear a helmet properly under penalty of a fine. Following the regulation, helmet use among motorcycle riders and passengers improved significantly, from around 40% before the regulation to approximately 90% in 2010. A helmet has been found to be as one of the most important measures to prevent head injury in motorcycle crashes. Evidence from many studies indicates that the death rate and incidence of lethal head injury have decreased among helmet riders compared with those non-helmeted motorcyclists. Besides, from four higher quality studies helmets were estimated to reduce the risk of death by 42% and from six higher quality studies helmets were estimated to reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.
In spite of the improvement in the helmet use, quality of the helmet appears to be another issue in controlling road traffic injuries in Vietnam. The Viet Nam Consumer Safety Association found that approximately 80% of the helmets on the market did not meet national standards. Motorbike riders tend to choose cheap, vanity helmets as a fashion statement while trying to cut costs. A state-certified helmet costs on average $10, while counterfeits and helmet-like headgear cost only a fraction of that which noted that the cheaper the helmets, the more likely they were to fail safety tests. Substandard helmets do little to protect the head in case of an impact in a crash. Yet, there is little the authorities can do since regulations on helmet standards are not yet included in the current helmet legislation.

pony-tail helmet Vietnam

Drunk Driving law in Vietnam

According to Vietnamese law, specifically the Law on Road Traffic, driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited.
Under Decree 171/2013 by the Government, a fine of 500,000-1 million VND (US$48) is applied to drunk drivers of motorbikes if they are found to have alcohol levels of 0.25 mg per liter of breath, or 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. In addition, violators will have their driver’s license revoked for a month and their vehicle impounded for a week. With alcohol levels of over 0.4 mg per liter of breath, or 80 mg per 100 ml of blood, the fines for motorbike drivers range from 2-3 million VND ($94-141).
Such a driver will also have their vehicle impounded for a week and their driver’s license revoked for two months.

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Traffic violations and fees for motorcycle drivers in Vietnam

Driving in Vietnam is a big part of everyday life for most living there. For some it is pure joy and for others, a means of getting to and from work, whatever the reason, motorbikes are used very often. Learning to drive in Vietnam is essential as the traffic is very different from the West. Get a valid driver’s license before you head out into the traffic and be sure that you are insured. Remember that insurance companies may not cover your medical costs if you do not have a valid driver’s license so that is another good reason to get one asap. I’ was wondering what are the fees (penalties, ticket, etc.) for traffic violations in Vietnam. These fees are officially published but as there is no available translation, most foreigners do not know what they amount to. Here is a translated full list of fines so that we can be better informed drivers.

traffic infraction fees

These fines are applicable across Vietnam, if you are in Hanoi or Saigon (HCMC), hey are the same.

Dealing with Vietnamese Police

It seems that the police are out in force implementing the laws due to the increase levels of traffic nowadays. I feel that foreigners are going to start to get stopped more and more often like they are now doing in Thailand.
The main reasons you may find yourself dealing with the police are:

  • You parked in the wrong place.
  • Your violated the traffic laws.
  • You lost the bike parking ticket.
  • The bike is lost / stolen

Most foreigners have reported that their dealings with the police have been very positive ones. From my limited police interactions I personally think that the police there are fair and generally try to do the right thing by foreigners.
As a general rule I tend to steer clear of the police (fly under the radar) and find that the presence of a foreigner tends to make things slower and more awkward. In most situations, therefore, I advise if you have a problem to call somebody for assistance even if it has to be somebody at your hotel or guesthouse.
The following are some general tips for dealing with police. Keep in mind that every encounter with police is different, so do not take these as hard and fast rules. Keep your cool, and use your judgment.

If the Police Impound Your Bike for a Parking or Traffic Violation

If the police impound your bike, keep your cool and deal respectfully with the situation. Don’t panic, and remain humble.
Call your motorbike rental business. Tell them where you were when the police impounded your bike, and they will know where your bike is. They will then arrange with you a time and a place to get the bike back. The process is usually:
Your your motorbike rental business will go to the police station and ask to be fined. Your motorbike rental business will then go to a different office to pay the fine. Then they will go back to the police station to collect the bike. Most times this is a little long winded but still a relatively painless process.
Nine times out of ten you are going to get away with minor traffic violations as do Vietnamese people. However, if you are pulled over by the police for something then you will probably have to pay a fine. The official way to do this is for you to receive a ticket and then go and pay the fine at another office and then return to collect your bike. In reality this may not happen and you may find yourself paying the fine directly to the police officer who I assume will pay the fine for you as you do not know where the payment office is.

If You Lose Your Parking Ticket (Stub or Card)

If you lose the ticket you will usually need to deal with the bike parking guards only. However, in come cases the bike will be passed on to the police. Your motorbike rental business will then have to take the registration documents to them, pay any fines and then take the bike. This, again is usually very simple.

If Your Bike Is Stolen

If the bike is stolen, it should be reported to the police as stolen. The chances of you finding the bike again are very slim but there is a small chance and I have heard of it happening. Hopefully your motorbike rental business will be happy to help you inform the police and will translate for you. In this case your motorbike rental business will ask you to pay the current value of the bike based on the bike’s age regardless of whether or not you report the bike stolen or are hopeful that it will be found. Once you have compensated your motorbike rental business for the loss they will give you all the registration documents as the bike is then yours.
The golden rule when dealing with the police is “Smile and be polite”. As soon as you stop being friendly walls will come down and things will start to get very difficult very quickly.

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