I keep on hearing negative things about foreigners trying to apply for a Vietnamese driving license. “It only lasts the length of your visa”. “The paperwork is a nightmare”. “You have to redo all the paperwork each time you renew your visa”.
So, after years of having other people do my Vietnam paperwork on my behalf, I decided to try it out for myself. Is the importance of having that laminated card counteracted by how difficult it is to actually obtain?
As a foreigner living in Vietnam, there are three routes to getting a driving license and they are based on whether or not you have a license back home. However, it was only after I actually went to the various centres involved in licensing that I got the true story. The information online is not entirely correct — one website that prides itself on having good information even has all the phone numbers wrong. Here is what you need to know.
FOR THOSE WITH NO LICENSE OVERSEAS: You will need to take both written and practical exams to get a two-wheel or four-wheel driving license in Vietnam. The written exam is in Vietnamese.
FOR THOSE WITH A CAR DRIVING LICENSE OVERSEAS: You can exchange your car driving license overseas for a temporary Vietnamese version. However, yes, it’s true — this only lasts for the length of your visa or resident permit. So, unless you’re genuinely going to drive a car in Vietnam, this is not worth doing. What the overseas license does allow you is the possibility of taking the test for a motorbike license without having to do the written test, which is in Vietnamese. A two-wheel license has no expiry date. It lasts for life.It is the four-wheel license that is restricted.
FOR THOSE WITH BOTH A CAR AND MOTORBIKE LICENSE OVERSEAS: Here you can simply exchange your license for a Vietnamese version. However, unless you’re genuinely going to drive a car in Vietnam, only exchange your motorbike license. As mentioned above, the two-wheel license has no expiry date. Add a fourwheel license to it, and you have to renew everything once your visa and resident card expires.
My first port of call was the photo shop — I got six 3x4cm passport photos taken. Then I had all my documents photocopied — passport, resident card, driving license. A separate, double-sided copy for each document. To make sure that nothing went wrong, I got two copies of each document. I then headed to the Department of Transport (63 Ly Tu Trong, Q1, HCMC / 16 Cao Ba Quat, Ba Dinh Hanoi). If you have to take a driving test, you do not make your application here. All you do is pick up an application form.
From here I went to get all my documents notarised, and my overseas driving license translated into Vietnamese. In Ho Chi Minh City go to the Notary Office (97 Pasteur, Q1), in Hanoi go to Cong ty Dich Thuat Van Vu (39/11 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem). It takes 24 hours and the cost in Ho Chi Minh City was VND140,000.
While you’re waiting for your overseas license, it’s a good idea to get your passport and (if you have it) resident card notarised. These don’t need to be translated. This is done at the People’s Committee Building in Saigon (47 Le Duan, Q1) or the Notary Office (310 Ba Trieu, Hai Ba Trung) in Hanoi. The cost? I paid VND4,000 per notarisation.
The next step in Ho Chi Minh City (if you are going to take the driving test) is to have a health check. For Hanoi we’ve received conflicting information — some say you need a health check at a hospital on Ly Thuong Kiet, others say you don’t. So best to ask when you make your application. In Saigon this means going to yet another Department of Transport office (252 Ly Chinh Thang, Q3, HCMC). It cost me VND40,000 and took five minutes. If you only need to change your overseas license for a temporary Vietnamese version, then this can be done at the same office. For the equivalent in Hanoi, go to the Cao Ba Quat office (see above).
Armed with all your notarised paperwork and health certificate, the final step in Ho Chi Minh City is to go to the Driving Test Centre (111 Tan Son Nhi, Tan Phu). This is where you make your test application. I have a UK driving license, so my test cost VND350,000 and was at another centre — 71/3/38 Che Lan Vien, Tan Phu, HCMC. In Hanoi, the application can be made at theCentre for Automotive Training and Mechanism (83A Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem). The test centre in downtown Hanoi is at 1 Quoc Tu Giam, Dong Da.
I took my test on one balmy Saturday morning at 8am, drove my beautiful figure-of-eight on a bike provided by the centre. Now I have to wait a month for my final, lifetime motorbike license. I’ll let you know when I receive it. — Nick Ross