Health & Medical

Do I need a bike license in southeast Asia?

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Sadly, Southeast Asia is not some magical land where no rules apply to holidaymakers. And yes, there are plenty of people who’ll insist you don’t need one because a small bribe will get you off any ticket.

But that’s dangerous advice and missing two critically important details.

  1. Legitimate license crackdowns are common throughout Southeast Asia.
  2. No license means no travel insurance – and medical evacuation to get you back home for the right surgery could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Strictly-speaking a licence (apart from raising revenue) is a certificate that says you have the training and skills to handle a motorcycle. If you have absolutely no training and no experience at handling a two-wheeled machine at home, what makes you think you’ll magically acquire those skills in the mayhem of Ho Chi Minh City?

Riding legally

What we require is that you be riding legally – according to the rules of the country you’re in. Some countries accept your motorcycle license from home, some want that license AND an International Drivers Permit, and some (Vietnam) require you to have a local license.

Riding legally may also mean you have a valid motorcycle license issued in the country where you’re riding, so ex-pat’s who are back home for a trip and using their old (valid) license are covered too.

You can get an IDP from your local motoring association such as the NRMA or RAC.

But if you DO have a valid motorcycle license from home, the International Driver’s Permit alone will be accepted in: Bali, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia but not in Vietnam.

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Motorcycle license in Vietnam

To ride anything over 50cc capacity legally in Vietnam you need a temporary Vietnamese driver’s license, which requires you to have a 3-month residency visa, not a tourist visa, or go through this very time consuming and frustrating process to get one. Allow at least 10 days, and be patient.

I was told I don’t need a motorcycle license.

Regardless of where you are, the fact that the shop rented you the bike without asking for your license doesn’t mean you don’t need one. They know you’re coming back (they have your passport), and it’s not their responsibility if you don’t check out local law.

Poorly paid police officers are always looking for ways to extort bribes, and the ‘license check’ is an easy one for them. (The going rate in Bali is 50,000rp – about $5). They don’t really care that your license is fake. But be aware genuine crackdowns on unlicensed riders are increasingly common. You won’t be able to bribe your way out of it and your bike could be confiscated (which will be expensive when you tell the people who rented it to you).

Am I covered?

As we stated above – we require you to be riding legally to extend cover to you.

Many travellers report bluffing their way out of police checks with fake licenses or by fudging their IDP. If the police officer believes you, you might get away not paying a fine, but it does not mean you are riding legally, so see above – no you are not covered.

Injury from a motorcycle accident is one of the most common claims received by TID. No valid license means you’re riding illegally and you’re very unlikely to be covered. Sorry, but you cannot insure against illegal activity.

That includes not wearing a helmet where it’s compulsory (Cambodia, Thailand, Bali), and not riding under the influence of drink or drugs (everywhere). Don’t be fooled, we will check if you have a valid license (forging that international permit isn’t looking so smart anymore).


Author

Travel Insurance Direct author Phil Sylvester offers insights and advice to keep our customers safe and informed when they travel. With 20 year’s experience, Phil has turned his journalist’s eye to the things that could take the fun out of your holiday, researching issues and destinations that keep you informed so you can travel with confidence.

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