Disclaimer: All listed costs, requirements, locations, and procedures are subject to change at any time pursuant with Vietnamese laws with little or no advance notice.
You are encouraged to verify with the Department of Transportation in the city where you are located for the most up to date information.
Table of Contents
1. Foreign Driver Licenses Are Not Valid in Vietnam
2. International Driver Permits: A Grey Area
3. Requirements for a Vietnam Driver’s License
4. Getting Your Vietnam Driver’s License at the Department of Transportation
5. Department of Transportation Locations in Cities of Interest
6. Duration of Your Vietnam Driver’s License Limited to Your Visa or Work Permit
7. Renewing Your Vietnam Driver’s License
8. Using Agents to Process Your Paperwork
9. Recent Developments in Vietnamese Traffic Laws
10. Additional Tips for traveling by Car or Motorcycle in Vietnam
If you’re staying for longer than 3 months, it is advisable to arrange your own transportation rather than using taxis or Grab for the duration of your stay, as many short-term tourists do.
The time and cost investment involved in the process of acquiring a driver’s license in Vietnam tilts in favor of getting one the longer you plan to live in Vietnam.
If you do want to drive a vehicle in Vietnam, be it a motorbike or a car, you are obligated by law to get a driver’s license in Vietnam.
Not only is it illegal to drive without a valid driver’s license issued in Vietnam, but it also is safer for you and everyone else.
One important thing to remember is that, without a valid driver’s license, your health insurance may not cover you in case of an accident.
Think twice before you drive without the appropriate paperwork!
It should also be noted that driving a motorbike in Vietnam naturally carries more physical risks to yourself than driving a car.
However, driving a car has risks of its own. For example, if you get in an accident where the other party was driving a motorbike, they could be seriously injured or worse.
Even if you were not at fault, you may still get the blame for the accident no matter how much you might plead your case with the local police.
If you plan to operate a motorbike larger than 50cc or drive a car, you are required to obtain a valid driver’s license. This guide explains how to do so.
Can’t we just use our driver’s license from our own home country and call it a day? The answer is generally no.
We are aware of two exceptions which both are temporary and limited in nature.
These two exceptions are ASEAN Driving Licenses and International Driving Permits governed by 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
A driver’s license from any of the other ASEAN member nations has a limited validity in Vietnam.
Of course, even if ASEAN driver’s licenses may be recognized in certain circumstances as valid in Vietnam, it is still best to obtain a local Vietnamese driver’s license as soon as you can.
Fortunately, the solution to this is quite easy. You can “convert” your home country’s license to a local Vietnamese driver’s license.
How long this takes depends on whether your driver’s license already allows you to operate a car or a motorcycle in your home country.
If your home country’s license already allows you to drive a car or a motorcycle, you can convert it to a Vietnamese driver’s license without needing to take a driving test.
However, if that isn’t the case, you will need to pass a practical driving test.
Vietnam is a member of the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. This means that if your IDP is governed by that 1968 convention, it has a (limited) validity in Vietnam.
However, throughout recent years, we have heard of cases of traffic police telling foreigners that their IDPs governed by the 1968 convention are not valid.
The argument for using an IDP is that it can be a decent short-term solution until you get your papers in order for a local driver’s license.
A valid 1968 IDP coupled with local insurance may be helpful in getting coverage in case of an accident.
IDP is never valid in your country of residence. Therefore an IDP is at most a temporary solution and you need to get a local DL as early as possible.
However, an IDP is convertible to a local Vietnamese driver license and therefore a practical tool to make the process of acquiring a local Driving license easier.
The requirements you need to apply for a Vietnam driver’s license are as follows:
- One copy of your passport with the photo page and the visa page (both visa and passport must be valid).
- One copy of your home country’s driver license, with a translated and notarized version (you would need to take it to a public notary first).
- Three passport size photos (approximately 4 cm x 3 cm).
- Completed application formapplication form (verify that this form is up to date before filling it out).
- 135,000 VND (about $6 USD for processing fee).
Source: Vietnam Visa Immigration
*Check with the local Department of Transportation since the rules are different in each major city or province.
The total cost will be up to but rarely more than 500,000 VND (about $22 USD), which includes notarization, translation, photos, and licence fees.
New law as of 2020:
Minimum visa duration required in order to get a Vietnamese driver’s license is 3 months.
In other words, if you only have a 1-month tourist visa, you will not be able to obtain a driver’s license (in which case, it probably would not be worth the time investment anyway).
When you have all the required documents, visit the nearest Department of Transportation in your location.
Once you hand in your documents, they will request to take a head photo of you for the driver’s license.
After getting your photo taken, they will make copies of all your documents and return the originals to you.
This will be about a 15-20 minute wait if it’s not a busy day at the office.
You will also pay a 30,000 VND processing fee.
They may ask you to come back at a later date (about 5 to 10 business days) to pick up your new license, or give you the option to have it shipped to your address.
They will give you a receipt that you will need to present to the office when you pick it up, or to the courier if you chose to have it shipped.
If they inform you that you need to take a practical driving test, the motorbike driving test is only 15 minutes and quite easy.
In most cases, you would not need to take a written theory test if you already have a driver’s license from your home country.
If you do not know how to speak Vietnamese, taking a local friend with you to translate will definitely make the process smoother.
It should also be noted that a car driving test may be more complex and take more time, especially if you are used to driving automatics, as many cars in Vietnam are manual.
The following are addresses and locations in the four major cities of Vietnam where expats can apply for their driver’s licenses.
Hue – 10 Phan Boi Chau, Vinh Ninh, Hue
Da Nang – 24 Duong Tran Phu, Thach Thang, Hai Chau
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – 63 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Hanoi – 2 Duong Phung Hung, Van Quan, Ha Dong, Ha Noi
The process of getting a driver’s license in Vietnam is straightforward and usually takes about two weeks provided you have all the required documents.
However, one important thing to be aware of is that the expiration date on your driver’s license will be limited to the duration of your visa, residency permit, work permit, or the expiration date on your home country’s license, whichever is the shortest.
For example, suppose the driver’s license from your home country doesn’t expire in five years, and your work permit is valid for two years from today’s date.
However, your visa limits your stay to only one year. In this case, your Vietnam driver’s license will have an expiry date that matches the date your visa expires—in other words, it will only be valid for one year.
If you have a visa that is valid for 3 months, your driver’s license will only be valid up to the end of that 3-month visa.
This means that if you renew your visa, you will also have to renew your driver’s license.
There is a possible exception—though it is not clear whether it is still being put into practice: In some government offices or with some agents, you may be able to get a lifetime driver’s license as a foreigner, but you would have to pass the theory test in Vietnamese.
Rules likely differ from province to province.
Fortunately, renewing your driver’s license is very easy.
Each time you will only need to submit your old Vietnamese driver’s licence and your new visa, and pay for the new licence.
In some cases, they may request to see your driver’s license from your home country, in which case it’s straightforward to show them the original and a certified copy (provided it has not already expired).
You have the option to use an agent if you can’t read or speak Vietnamese.
For a little extra money (roughly $40-70 USD), you can have an agent process the paperwork on your behalf.
They will handle the certification and notarization on your copies of your driver’s license, and fill out the application on your behalf.
You would still need to arrive at the Department of Transportation office to get a photo taken, return roughly a week later to pick up your new license, and pay the 30,000 VND license processing fee (about $1.50 USD).
If you don’t want to use an agent or pay extra for their services, you can still take a trusted local with you to translate.
In the past several months, Vietnam has been passing many new laws effective this year and traffic rules are no exception.
1. Zero tolerance for drunk driving
Vietnam is taking drunk driving very seriously.
In light of a recent spate of road accidents throughout 2019, 40% of which alcohol was a factor according to WHO, Vietnam recently passed the Law on Preventing Alcohol Harmful Effects effective Jan 1, 2020.
Under the tough law, if caught driving with influence of alcohol, motorbike drivers and car drivers not only face fines of $258-345 USD and and $1,292-1,723 USD respectively, but may also have their driver’s licenses suspended for up to two years.
2. Using earphones while driving is prohibited
Another new traffic rule is the prohibition of earphones use while driving.
If caught using earphones while driving, you may face the following fines:
- 1 to 2 million VND (about $45-90 USD).
- Your driver’s license may be suspended from 1 to 3 months, or up to 4 months if there was a traffic accident involved.
Wear a helmet if you ride a motorbike
Follow the traffic laws in Vietnam to the best of your ability. Drive with a valid license, obey traffic lights, use turn signals, and use the proper lanes.
Most importantly, wear a helmet while riding a motorbike!
DOT certified full-face helmets provide the best protection. Be aware that most helmets sold in Vietnam don’t provide much, if any, protection in the event of a crash.
If you don’t have a DOT helmet, wear a similar one as locals do as it’s better than nothing. Besides, it is virtually guaranteed that the police will pull you over if you drive without a helmet.
Instead of driving a car, you have the option of hiring a full-time driver
If you aren’t confident in navigating the chaotic traffic on Vietnamese roads or communicating with the police if anything goes wrong, you have the option of hiring a local to drive for you on a full-time basis.
Vietnam has plenty of people offering a car and a full-time driver as a packaged service, and many expats take advantage of this.
This is a great way to shield yourselves from the financial, legal, and physical risks of driving yourselves in Vietnam. In addition, GRAB taxis are available and work very well in most cities.
Relax and enjoy!
Finally, when you’re on the road—relax, obey the laws, and enjoy! The traffic and roundabouts may get some getting used to, but soon enough you will enjoy what Vietnam has to offer outside of the tourist districts!
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