Vietnam offers tourists various ways of getting around the country. You can use domestic flights or the extensive rail network, but also take the bus from city to city. For some, however, one way of travelling within Vietnam stands out above the rest: renting a car.
To rent a car or not to rent a car?
The main advantage of renting a car is that you can travel through the country at your own pace. Vietnam is a large, elongated country. The distance between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is about 1,600 kilometres, and on the way there are many beautiful places to visit. So it can be inconvenient to take the bus or train each time and wait at the station. With a car, you decide when you leave and where you go.
However, it is important that tourists properly prepare themselves before renting a car. There are several conditions that must be met. You should also not think that driving a car in Vietnam is the same as in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Read this article carefully and avoid causing an accident on your first drive.
How expensive is it?
Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia and Europe, renting a car in Vietnam is relatively expensive. On average, renting a car costs between US$25 and US$50 per day, depending on the type of car rented. It is often necessary to pay cash in advance. An advantage of renting a car in Vietnam is that you can drive as many kilometres as you want at no extra cost. The cars often come with a modern GPS system, so you can easily navigate through the country.
Useful tip: Beware of gas stations near the airport or near car rental companies. These often have higher prices. Fill up at cheaper stations in the country. Most car companies expect you to return the car with a full tank.
It is also strongly recommended taking out car insurance. This can be done for a small surcharge at the same car rental company as where you are renting the car. Before taking out insurance, check what exactly is covered. Some types of damages are not covered, although you would expect them to be.
Which documents do I need?
Renting a car in Vietnam can quickly become a complicated and time-consuming process. First, your own driving licence is not valid in Vietnam. Even international driving licences are usually not accepted in Vietnam. The only way to rent a car in Vietnam is with a Vietnamese driving licence. You can obtain a Vietnamese driving licence by converting your own driving licence to a Vietnamese one, or by applying for a new Vietnamese driving licence. Depending on where you are, this can be done at various locations. In Hanoi, you should go to the "Office of Traffic and Public Works", in Ho Chi Minh City to the "Office of Transportation". In smaller cities, you can ask the local police or authorities about the steps you need to take to obtain a valid driving licence. The following documents must be presented, regardless of location:
- A copy of the passport
- A copy of the current driving licence
- A valid visa. If you want to apply for a new Vietnamese driving licence, it must be a visa that allows you to stay in Vietnam for at least 3 months
- Three passport photographs
Applying for or converting a driving licence usually takes five to seven days. Depending on the car rental company you are renting from, additional requirements may apply, such as proof of health insurance in the home country.
Driving in Vietnam: self-driving or with a chauffeur?
Vietnam is notorious among tourists for its hectic traffic. To the inexperienced eye, it may appear as if official traffic regulations are hardly ever followed, and the roads are often of poor quality, especially in the countryside. The locals have long since got used to this, but for tourists the traffic in Vietnam can seem very chaotic. Car rental companies therefore almost always offer the option to hire a chauffeur in addition to a car. Most tourists make use of this option. In the north of Vietnam, the roads in many places are so bad that it is highly recommended renting a four-wheel-drive if you plan to drive here (or a motorbike with enough horsepower).
For those who still want to try it themselves, there are a few important things to bear in mind:
- The speed limit is 60 km/h inside built-up areas, and 80 km/h outside
- Driving under the influence of alcohol can lead to heavy fines and even imprisonment
- Some areas are not accessible to rental cars. Check with the rental company which areas are restricted in your region
Each traveller must decide for themselves whether the advantages of renting a car in Vietnam outweigh the downsides. One thing is for sure, though: travelling through Vietnam by car is an experience you won't easily forget.
Do not forget the Vietnam visa!
British and Irish travellers to Vietnam are required to apply for a Vietnam visa. This type of visa is already approved before departure. You therefore do not have to queue up after arrival, as is the case with the Visa on Arrival.
The visa is valid for 30 days and costs £49.95 per person. You can apply for the visa by filling in the online visa form. Be careful not to apply for the Visa on Arrival. Many visa agencies claim to offer the Vietnam visa, but what they actually offer is the old Visa on Arrival. This requires an additional payment after arrival in Vietnam, sometimes up to $50. The embassy therefore strongly advises against using this type of visa.