And what’s that he’s holding? Why, it looks like some kind of identification… MY GOD, IT’S A DRIVER’S LICENSE. Honest-to-God official, state-issued proof that I can walk into an office, hand them money, and pick up a real license 10 days later… with no driving test.
Yes, my friends, after 20 months of living in Vietnam, and a full 17 months of driving a motorbike (with no police incidents and only one minor fall!), I’m finally street legal, and covered by any kind of insurance that might involve an accident on the road.
For the moment, that is. Because, of course, there’s a catch.
Read on to learn how easy it is (in Saigon, at least, although I hear that Da Nang and Hanoi are similarly conducive to foreigners)…
How to Get a Driver’s License in HCMC
1. Translate Your Driver’s License
2. Make Copies of Your Passport, License, and Visa
It’s good to have these copies in your bike at all times anyway, so just go ahead and make two copies of everything and keep a set.
Also, get yourself down to a passport photo place and get 6 photos of yourself. Don’t smile. Get a bunch extra, you’ll probably need them at some point for some godforsaken reason.
Note: it’s a good idea to keep a separate wallet with your copies, motorbike owners permit (if you purchased a bike, you will have received one of these. If you didn’t, NEVER EVER EVER LOSE YOUR PARKING STUB IN A PARKING LOT. I speak from experience!), and bribe money (I usually carry an extra 200k that I am careful not to spend. I’ve only had to use it once, when I forgot to turn my lights on at dusk).
3. People’s Committee Building
Take all your originals, copies, and 6 passport photos, including your license translation, if applicable, down to the local office to get them all rubber-stamped. This was the most obnoxious phase. Often you can trust your landlord or a tourist service to do it for you if you detest dealing with bureaucracy, but it’s not that terrible. Just be sure to bring your Patience Hat and plaster on a Zen Smile.
They will eventually give you back your stuff, freshly notarized. Take it all to the next office. (I never said it wasn’t tedious, you’ll note.)
4. Locate Your Local Foreign Driver’s Bureau
In Saigon, this is located centrally in District 3.
Go to the massive roundabout just south of the star on the map above, then turn off onto Ly Chinh Thang. Go about half the block, and then turn under the blue banner into the alley on the left hand of the road before you get to the next real street.
Go to the end of the little alley. Parking is either on the left under the overhang of the building, or across the street (cost: 5k). I’ve used both, they waved me to different places each time.
|Front entrance to the Bureau. Either park here or opposite the front door in the parking area. They’re expecting you.|
Here, go up to the second floor and turn into the door on the right.
5. Fill Out the Papers and Pay
Of course there are papers. Were you expecting this to be a single day process? ha. haha. hahahaha.
In Saigon, the expedited foreigners route includes a higher fee ($39 in my case, on this particular day), but didn’t require me to take a test or driving test. Sources say the driver’s test is very easy, but who has the time?
6. Put It All In the Basket
There’s a little red basket. Things are processed in (generally) the order they come in. Avoid going here on the last day of the month/year – there was a mad rush on December 31st when I came in.
7. Get a Picture Taken, Receive a Call Slip for 10 Days Hence
Then you can leave.
8. Return on the Day Indicated
Throw your Call Slip into the basket and wait for them to call your name. Before long they’ll ask you to sign your name in the registry and hand you your shiny new DRIVER’S LICENSE!
See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?
But Ben, What’s the Catch?
Well, the catch here is that this license will expire when your visa you got it with expires. Which is pretty annoying, but I suppose it can’t be helped. Will I get another one when this one expires? Oh hell no. Please. I’ve been scootin’ for so long with zero problems that I’m convinced that anything that might come up will be relatively easy to solve with my limited Vietnamese and friendliness. *fingers crossed*
(SIDE NOTE: Crossing your fingers in Vietnam is like giving someone a fist full of the Bird and telling them to go perform obscene acts on their mother. Don’t Do It, or learn the hard way. For further examples of this in pop culture, please see Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Of course, all this can be made roughly 10x easier by convincing some friendly bilingual Viet to help you… especially when you get to the People’s Committee buildings, as these places rarely have personnel that can speak English well enough to be of use to you.
Did you have a different experience? Being Vietnam, sometimes the procedures differ for reasons we baffled visitors might never realize. Please drop your personal hints in the comments!