Driving in Vietnam

man driving
Updated 2023-11-19 12:33

Vietnam is known for four categories of lush and diverse landscapes, and one of the easiest ways to see firsthand is by driving a scooter. From the mountain ranges of the north to the vibrant Mekong Delta and the central beaches in between, driving can expedite your adventure. However, high reward comes with high risks that you cannot overlook. Read on and learn about the laws of driving in Vietnam, terminology to watch out for, and things to consider for your safety and make an informed decision on your upcoming trip.  

What licenses do you need to drive in Vietnam?

If you are planning to rent or buy a car or scooter in Vietnam, you must be in possession of a valid International Driving Permit (IDP). As long as you have this, driving in Vietnam as a tourist is relatively legal and accessible. You may only apply for a Vietnamese driver's license after you have held a Temporary Residence Card (TRC) for a minimum of three months, and the process is only available to foreigners in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Overall, if you wish to obtain a Vietnamese driver's license, you will need to have a valid Temporary Residence Card (TRC) and a valid driver's license from your home country. You will need to make a certified copy of your driver's license from your home country and have a translated version available, plus a certified photocopy of your passport (photo and visa page).

A foreigner applying for a driver's license will also have to write to the Department of Transportation of Ho Chi Minh City or the Centre for Automotive Training and Mechanism in Hanoi. This will be filed under a request for “change of license” and will need to be translated. It is not uncommon that you will be asked to produce your passport as well as two passport-size photos, an employment certificate, or a copy of your residence permit.

When you go to the Transportation Office of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, you will need to bring three 3x4 ID-size photographs and a cash payment of 135,000 VND. Please note that in Vietnam, operating a scooter (50cc to 175cc) falls under a Class A1 license. A two-wheel vehicle over 175 cc is classified as A2, and a car is classified as B1. You will only be granted a Vietnamese driver's license that matches the classification of your home country's license. The driver's license is generally delivered within one or two weeks.

The challenges of driving in Vietnam

With breathtaking scenery and chaotic traffic, driving in Vietnam can become a bucket item list for many travelers. There are pros and cons to driving in this bustling country, and making sure you have all the facts will help avoid expensive mistakes.

It's true that you could rent a scooter under 50cc while visiting Vietnam, but that doesn't mean you'll escape from uncomfortable police checkpoints. Regardless of what anyone says, driving in Vietnam without an international driver's license is illegal and may result in “coffee money” or small bribes to get out of tickets.

If you do drive without your international driver's license, insurance providers will not cover any accidents or injuries. While health care is affordable in Vietnam without insurance, there are a few scenarios where coverage and financial aid will come in handy.

Renting a scooter or motorcycle under 50cc will not come with blue or ownership papers, and you will be targeted by local traffic police, especially if you are traveling around Lunar New Year or any other holidays. While you can tell the traffic police you don't understand or try to play dumb, it is a roulette game if they will let you back on the bike or confiscate the bike until you pay the fine.

Road rules in Vietnam

It might appear that there are no road rules in Vietnam, but that's not true! Here are some helpful practices that will make driving easier:

  • Watch your speed limit. Scooters have a maximum of 40km/h in urban areas and 60km/h on highways and rural roads.
  • Buses or trucks always have the right of way. If you try to compete with them, you will lose.
  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Vietnam has zero alcohol tolerance for drivers. Penalties can include fines, vehicle impoundment, or criminal charges.
  • Using your cell phone or earbuds is prohibited by law. You may see otherwise while driving, but as a foreigner, this will make you an easy target for traffic police.
  • While you will see families of four or five on one scooter, the legal limit is two.
  • Remember to drive both defensively and offensively and use your horn generously.

Good to know:

Unlike many Western countries, when Vietnamese drivers flash their lights at night or honk their horns, it is not an invitation to go first but a warning to stay put!

Useful addresses:

License issuing office in Hanoi

Ministry of Transport of Vietnam
Address: 80 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 39422079

License issuing office in Ho Chi Minh

Office of Transportation
Address: 63 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: ( 08) 38223760

Useful link:

Ministry of Transport of Vietnam

Vietnam launches online international driving license

Driving in Vietnam

Can Tourists Drive in Vietnam?

Road Safety & Traffic Rules in Vietnam 2023

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