Sooner or later foreigners living in Vietnam come across the same need: a driving license for motorbike. Motorbike is a cheap and convenient method of getting around, but foreign, even international driving licenses, are not recognized in Vietnam. Not bothering to go through the hassle of getting a license, many foreigners end up driving without one.
While it is true that the local police probably won’t stop you to avoid the difficult situation of speaking foreign languages, in case of a traffic accident you are the underdog. The insurance companies won’t cover the costs if you crash driving without a license, and traffic accidents are all too common in Vietnam – every day more than 30 people die in traffic accidents in Vietnam. So it pays off to get a license.
There are agencies that will guide you through the process of getting a license, and sometimes you might even be offered the easy – and illegal – way of paying a few million dongs to get the license straight away. However, if you are willing to put some time and effort into it, you can easily get the license on your own – and much cheaper.
Most foreigners already have a driving license from their home country, and the good news is that basically you just need a Vietnamese translation of it, accompanied with photos, to get a local license. If your license allows you to drive only a car and not a motorbike, it’s not a big problem either – you’ll just have to pass a motorbike-driving test.
Here are the steps of getting a Vietnamese driving license for a car and a motorbike in Vung Tau, presuming you already have at least a car license from your home country (the prices mentioned are from the year 2011):
1. You’ll need face photos – 4 is enough. You can get them in any local camera shop for a few thousand dongs.
2. Visit the Department of Transportation with your passport and original driving license to get an application form for Vietnamese driving license. You must have a visa for at least 3 months in order to apply. Remember to mention you want to drive a motorbike, too.
3. Go to Foreign Affairs Department to get a Vietnamese translation of your original driving license. The cost of translation depends on how exotic country you come from. From English the translation costs 60 000 dong. It will take a few days, and on top of that they can fill out your application form as well.
4. With the translation, return to the Department of Transportation and hand over the filled application – you’ll need the photos, too. This would be enough to get a Vietnamese driving license similar to the one you already have, but if you need the motorbike license as well, they will next guide you to take the motorbike driving-test.
5. So it’s back to driving school. Go to their office with all the documents given to you to reserve a time for the driving test. The tests are held every other Saturday, and since they are quite booked, it’s likely you’ll have to wait a month or so. Booking a time will cost you 30,00 dong.
6. On your given Saturday go to the driving school facility.
It isn’t yet the time for your test drive, but a chance to practice. Simply put, it’s driving along an eight-figure painted on the ground, followed by an easy route driving between the lines. You must drive in the right direction and exit the eight-figure after a round and a half. You can see the correct performance in here:
7. Your actual test comes a week later. Go early, so you’ll have some time to warm up by driving some last minute practice rounds.
After a while you’ll be lined up with the others taking the test in front of the jury. When they shout your name, drive. The crucial things in the test are:
- The test has to be driven using a manual motorbike, not an automatic.
- The bike you use must have a mirror on the left side.
- You must not stop or touch the ground with your feet.
- You must stay within the lines.
- You’ll get only one shot.
If you fail, you can try again after two weeks without further notice, and so on, until you pass. Each failure will cost you additional 40,000 dong.
After you pass, you’ll go to classroom with others who succeeded, and pay 40,000 dong for the test (plus failures, if you had any). At this point you’ll have an option to pay an extra 20,000 dong for a laminated license. Considering the license’s low paper quality, I suggest you do this.
A week from here you can visit the Department of Transportation to pick up your Vietnamese driving license, and hit the road – legally.
Text and photos: Juhana Lumme