Do You Need a License to Ride a Motorbike in SE Asia?

Whether you're in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, or anywhere outside your home country... the simple answer is yes.

But what type of license? Get it wrong and you could find yourself in all sorts of bother from local authorities.

Sometimes your home country license will do, sometimes the local police will insist you need an International Driver‘s Permit too, and in some cases you‘ll need to sit and pass a local test for a local license.

Before we get stuck into the details here's one other important point to note for World Nomads policyholders from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Ireland: you must ALSO hold a valid motorcycle license from home.

Motorcycle Licencing in South East Asia

In the countries where an International Driver‘s Permit is accepted, it allows you to drive/ride the same class of vehicle covered by your home country license.

So, if you‘re licensed ONLY to drive a car at home, you are NOT covered to ride a motorcycle or scooter just because you have an international permit. Similarly if your motorcycle license restricts you to a certain engine size, you cannot jump on a pimped-up scooter with a throbbing engine. It's up to you to make sure you are licensed for the type of motorbike (or moped) you hire.

Some travellers openly admit to ticking the “motorcycle“ box on their permit even though they don‘t have a valid license at home. That might fool the traffic cop who pulls you over in Phnom Penh, but it won‘t cut it with your travel insurance company (more on that in a moment).

Plus, 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 a foreign country where the roads are shoddy, the vehicles dodgy, the congestion is mind-boggling and the road rules boil down to “might equals right“? Seriously, Ho Chi Minh City is NOT the place to learn to ride. Thailand and Vietnam have shocking road accident fatality statistics, among the highest per capita in the world. The other regional nations aren‘t far behind.

But if you DO have a valid motorcycle license from home, the International Driver‘s permit will be accepted in: Bali, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. But get the license before you leave home, the permits are not valid in the country of issue – so you can‘t apply from within Thailand for a permit to use in Thailand.

Motorcycle license in Vietnam

Vietnamese law clearly states that to ride a motorcycle of 50cc or greater you must have a local Vietnamese license. You can obtain one only if you have a visa that allows a stay of longer than 30 days. Tourist visas oallow stays of only 30 days - so, as a tourist, you cannot obtain a Vietnamese license. World Nomads insurance policies, regardless of your country of residnence, satte you must abide by local laws to be covered. Clearly, as a tourist, this is not possible in Vietnam.

Can I Ride a Motorcycle in South East Asia Without a Licence?

Don't have a valid license from home? Get one locally - take the local test. It won‘t be valid back home, but it will be right here, right now, when you need it. For example, in Bali, if you don‘t have a license from home, you can line up with everyone else at the Denpasar police station, do a little practical test, hand over $45 and you get a tourist license.

Just remember, these licenses are not valid outside the country where you obtained it. if you move to another country, you'll need another local license.

I Was Told That I Didn't Need a Motorcycle Licence To Ride in South East Asia

Tens of thousands of visitors each year rent a motorcycle/scooter and ride around Southeast Asia totally unlicensed. That doesn't mean it's legal.

What if you‘re stopped by police? In the poorer, less-developed countries, it‘s easier to bribe your way out of trouble. “Tea money“ of a few dollars and the problem disappears.

Many travellers report bluffing their way out of police checks with the official-looking International Driver‘s Permit (even though they don't have a valid license from home to back it up). Because the policeman lets you go on your merry way - after paying the "fine" - it does not mean you are riding legally; you‘ve just avoided the law by paying a bribe.

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.

It‘s also not true that you don‘t need a license for a scooter under 50cc in Southeast Asia. Apart from the fact no one should be seen on a scooter with a sewing machine engine for propulsion – it‘s only some European countries that have this law.

Travel Insurance Cover for Motorcycle Riding in South East Asia

You can keep on riding regardless, but what if you do have a crash, and you need to call on your travel insurance?

It‘s pretty straightforward; no valid license in the country where the accident happened, means you‘re riding illegally and you‘re not covered. Sorry, but you cannot insure against illegal activity. That also includes riding under the influence of drink or drugs (everywhere) and not wearing a helmet where it‘s compulsory (Cambodia, Thailand, Bali). Also check your WorldNomads.com policy wording, it most likely says your insurance is valid only if you're wearing a helmet.

Injury from a motorcycle accident is one of the most common claims received by World Nomads. If it‘s a bad one and you need medical evacuation, the cost could run to $100,000 or more. Don‘t be fooled, we will check if you have a valid license (forging that international permit isn‘t looking so smart anymore). Many, many claims are rejected simply because the rider didn‘t have a license (and in the case of Australia, NZ, UK and Ireland policyholders, no valid motorcycle license at home too). You might say “that‘s not fair. Everyone‘s doing it!“ to which your mum would say: “If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?“

Don‘t assume you‘re covered. All insurance policies are different, so make sure you check the whole policy wording carefully to understand how this works with the policy you buy.

How to Ride a Motorcycle Safely in South East Asia

If you‘re still tempted to roll the dice, (unlicensed and uninsured) do everything you can to make sure you don‘t get hurt in a crash.

  • Wear a helmet – preferably full-face.
  • Wear protective clothing – Flip-flops, a t-shirt and shorts don‘t count as “protective“.
  • Wear gloves - anyone who‘s falling puts their hands out to protect themselves - can't help themselves, it's a natural reaction - even on a hard bitumen road approaching at 50 km/h. Ouch!
  • Don‘t speed.
  • Don‘t drink or do drugs and ride.
  • Don‘t ride at night.
  • Do follow the locals and do as they do.

The protective clothing is the toughest one – it‘s stinking hot and humid, you‘re just zipping back from the beach to your room, you‘re on holiday, who wants to follow rules! - I get it. Just make sure you have cash in the bank to pay your medical bills.

32 Comments

  • David wilson said

    What are the license requirements for motorcycles in India?

  • Jim said

    International licences are acepted in Cambodia, read the líst òf countrys they cover on the licence.
    Allso some insurance companys ínsist you have a curent licence for the country concerned, however, Alliance requires that you have a current licence from your home country only, I can only speak for Australian residents but asume it would apply to all countrys
    Jim

  • PhilSylvester said

    Thanks Jim
    quite right. Appears the law was changed recently. I've updated the article to reflect that. Thanks again for your help. And thanks to Ben at www.cambodiamotorbiketours.com for his help too. They're one of the tour companies that have been lobbying the regions governments to clarify the rules around licensing. Sadly Vietnam is still a very grey area.

  • Andrew said

    I just returned from Thailand where I was pulled over by police while on my motorscooter. I showed them my valid Australian car licence. Not OK. it had to be a motorbike license. The official fine was 800 baht to pay at the police station (10km in the opposite direction) but he took 500baht cash and waved me on. I will get an Australian motorbike license before my next trip. I hear that if you live in Thailand for more than 2 months you have to get a Thai license but I would be interested if anyone can confirm this.

  • Anh Wu said

    Some of our customers were able to get an insurance policy from Word Nomads, CHI or Allianz...for around 100$US and rode with their home country driving licenses. Traffic police in Vietnam usually don't stop foreigners unless you ride too fast (speed limit here is 60km/h!). Get an insurance policy and bring your home country or driving driving licenses and you will be covered.

  • Kien Nguyen said

    Yes, that's true. I have many friends who did it as Anh Wu suggested above and make sure you have some sort of riding experience before you commence your motorbike tour in Vietnam.

  • Yvette said

    We leave for Thailand in a couple of months. If my Husband were to get his NSW Motorbike Licence before we go, as far as I'm aware, he'll be in Thailand with a NSW 'Learners' licence. Will this insurance cover him?

  • Anh Wu said

    Last month, one of my customers who got hit by a cow earlier in the year purchased a policy with WorldNomads. He was covered in Vietnam, luckily nothing happened. He wishes he had done it first time. So get a policy that cover you in the countries you are riding on your vacation.

    You do need to have a valod country driving license (motorbike). I think it's same if you purchase a policy and ride in Thailand. Good luck.

  • muniappa said

    possessing avalid indian motor license what more should i do to drive amotocycle in maldives, sri lanka

  • Nick said

    This needs clarification.

    Firstly, the statement "no valid license in the country where the accident happened, means you’re riding illegally and you’re not covered" appears incorrect in so far as the policy wording of this and a lot (all?) of other insurers says an equivalent valid licence must be held in the home country as well.

    It is an unusual situation, but I was resident in Vietnam and got a VN moto licence, although I don't have one in Australia. I do have a car licence, and this, plus a driving test (not easy) and a medical was enough, after the intense paperwork. So on the face of the above quoted sentence, I would be covered now I need independent travel insurance as my contract has finished, but I find this is probably not the case.

    Further, riding a moto up to 50 cc needs no licence in VN, but again even if legal in the country, a travel insurer is likely to throw out a claim.

    I am wary as I was given verbal assurances at one big online insurance company (using Alliance) that I am covered, but I asked in writing and was told I wasn't. Be wary of blog posts, call centre statements etc.

    The irony is that it is encouraging people to ride bicycles, often with no helmet available for hire (voiding insurance), when a pushie in Sai Gon traffic,say, is more dangerous than a small scooter, with its lower centre of gravity, acceleration etc.

    We can let the encouragement for corruption pass (!), except that this can get people into a bit of trouble if they get in too deep offering bribes. The traffic cop on the corner expects it though (and asking for a proper written ticket likely gets the bike impounded).

  • Dave Elliott said

    Hi there, I have a NSW motorcycle leaners permit. I am planning to ride the route 66 in America. Do you know the licence requirements for motorcycle riders in the US? Dave

  • Richard said

    Hey Phil,
    time to update your article again. Refer attached link about Vietnam now joining the list of countries accepting International Driver Permits.

  • Michelle said

    I hold a current motorcycle licence in Australia. Will this be accepted in Malaysia?

  • paul sumsion said

    Ok here it is from world nomads.
    i have a licence in australia for bike and car, i also have a licence in vietnam for car and bike. If i have an accident in vietnam im covered.
    my wife has car licence in australia but only bike licence in vietnam.
    if she has accident in vietnam she is not covered.
    you need to actually write to company if you are in any wAy unsure check pds and contct company. Cheers

  • Tyrone said

    Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me if a Tourist can ride a Motorbike in Myanmar Legally.
    If so will we need to get a local license on arrival or can we get this from Australia Prior to leaving
    I will be traveling there in May 2015 with a friend & we want to hire Motorcycles & do our own thing, not in a paid Tour.
    We both have unrestricted Bike Licenses in Australia we also have International Licenses.
    Regards Tyrone

  • robert said

    In Indonesia? of course you have to have it. In Bali? maybe you could negotiate to have the apparatus that was there. but it seems wherever located, there is a rule that sometimes we can work around. and this is often the case in Indonesia. References to rental cars and motorcycles in Bali https://en.balijetaime.com/car-motorbike-rentals ... nice share.

  • Maurizio said

    Michelle,

    to ride in Malaysia you need an international driving licence. Of the two types, the right one should be that with three years validity.

    To everyone else, please check your information. As far as I know, Most countries require international driving licence and it's better to have one even where they seem to accept Australian licence - or any other for that matter. Do check what kind of international driving licence the specific country accepts.
    The one accepted in Thailand (validity one year) for instance is not the same as the one accepted in Malaysia or Singapore.

    In case of accident, these are details insurers will leverage not to pay you. Also, be mindful that any insurance bought at borders (between Thailand and Malaysia for instance and many local ones) does not cover driver and vehicle. Only third party. The limit insured is pretty low. If you hit someone you will be taken in custody by the police and there will be a court case to establish how much more you need to pay out of you own pocket.

    I know...what are the odds, right? A friend of mine had the misfortune to come across a drunk man who crossed the road at the last minute. The fact that the man was drunk made no difference. My friend had to fly back for the court case and pay about USD1000 in damages - plus trip and repairing his own bike. He lives in Malaysia so it wasn't that bad. If you live far, well.... you can picture that.

    happy riding!

  • Steve said

    So drivers from USA America do not need a motorcycle license/permit from home? All we need is a valid car drivers license and an International Drivers Permit? Is this correct?

  • Phil said

    OK.... let me try to make this as simple as I can (I know it's terribly complicated).
    Ask yourself these questions:
    Do I have a motorcycle rider's license?
    If my motorcycle rider's license is from home, do I have an IDP to accompany it?
    Is the IDP accepted in my destination country?
    3 "yes" answers and you appear to be A: legal and B: most likely covered.

    (If your motorcycle rider's license was obtained in your destination, i.e. you have a Vietnamese license, you are legally riding in Vietnam - don't need the license from home nor the IDP. But, the Vietnamese license is only valid for Vietnam - i.e. you are not now licensed to ride legally anywhere or everywhere else.)

    Of course there will be variations for ex-pats etc, but this is the way it applies to the majority of short-term visitors.
    Hope that's cleared it up for everyone.
    If in doubt - and I'd do it anyway - check with World Nomads customer service call centre for official clarification.
    Phil

  • Nicole said

    Hi,i am about to go for my motorbike Learners permit next week, I am travelling to Vietnam in April, can I legally ride a motorbike in Vietnam on an Australian Learners permit and will I be covered by insurance ?

  • Lee Coates said

    Myanmar, can I use my Australian full bike licence or a IDL to ride a bike there?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Mario said

    Can I get a motorcycle endorsement in Palau by taking a hands on course and written test and then use this to get my stateside motorcycle endorsement?

  • John said

    No license is needed to drive a 50cc bike in Vietnam, I am told and have read, so that is the solution, just use one of those. Is that ok?

  • John Seccombe said

    My experiance riding scooters in Phuket, and Bali riding hundreds of klms.
    Im 67 had motorbike license since 15, and ride and race the worlds most powerful sport bike, and ride up to 10,000Klms per year in NZ.
    Huge difference riding in Thailand to Bali, and can only presume, because of the people in Thailand are Buddhists, not agressive, and very conciderate.
    Bali, huge population of Hindu, much more agressive in driving.
    This means when it comes to a uncontrolled intersection in Phuket, every one seems to practice defensive drive looking out for other driver, and if one steps out onto the street, or edges slowly out into the road, one finds you are let into the traffic no drama.
    Do that in Bali, and extreem care is needed, as they will be traveling at twice the speed, and less concideration to stop for you.
    But I have to say I was impressed in Bali with 90% more riders wearing hemets, and full faced helmets, not the stupid pudding bowl type as given to you in Phuket, Thailand.
    Yes its extreemly hot, but wear the lightweight motorcross motorbike gloves (buy back in Aus or NZ) and I wear the cheap version of Draggon motorcycle jeans, that cost $160 from NZ or Aus, made of Kevlar and padding protection in knees and on thighs. Also light weight shoes. The Jeans will pull over swimming suits, so no problem. Wear a pair motorbike sunglasses. A lightweight jacket is better than singlet. Just remember when you drop the scooter at 50kph, for every meter sliding on the road, of bare flesh you loose 3mm of flesh.
    I found the Thai cops where impressed at my protective gear at roadblocks, and always waved me through.
    I saw 20 times more cops on the road in Phuket, than I did in Bali, and was told many times, by locals, that the Bali cops stop westerns just for bribes on what license you have, so get a valid international license.
    Insurance I have a full, yearly business travel insurance from NZ, but none of them cover you for hiring a motorbike or scooter over 50cc, and as far as I know, that sort of scooter hardley exists today.
    Nomad is the only Insurance I found in Australsia to cover you, but note, no cover for passengers, they must have their own.
    I will endorse what others have said, do not learn to ride a scooter in Asia.
    Big difference to scooter riding, from motor bike, at slow speeds, keep your feet on board, even at low speed, or you will get a speed wobble.
    Ride with one finger over right brake handle, so rolling throttle off, as handbrake comes on.
    Lights always on.
    Regards John

  • Ben Dover said

    Hi, what's the current status (as of Oct 2016) with regard to getting a Vietnamese motorbike license based upon my holding a UK motorbike license ?
    Are UK motorbike licences legally accepted yet ?!
    If not, what is the current process ?
    Also, how on earth do I get myself a business visa or work visa if I'm really just going to be a tourist ?! Assuming this is still a requirement.

    I do find it really quite backward if the Vietnamese government have not put a simple procedure in place yet for awarding tourists a license (even if temporary) upon presentation of a UK (or other well regarded driving test nation). Its an easy money spinner for the government and means people can get insured too. Frankly a rider with a UK license (or many other countries) will be a FAR better technical rider and probably safer rider than a native local !!!!

  • Matt said

    Hi Ben Dover,

    This is a lot of mixed information regarding legally driving a motorbike in nam. When I called world nomads they simply told me if I'm licensed In aus I'm licensed in Vietnam, which I will hold them to that in the future. However for the sale of shits and giggles I decided to look into Vietnam's side of the deal.

    Apparently as of late 2015 and international drivers permit with the relevant class and home license is valid (However! I have only seen this once on the entire internet, from official source website in Vietnam dated back from 2014).

    Now as I was still skeptical on the whole IDP validity I decided to look into obtaining a local license. The required documents are as follows:
    1.A visa for a minimum of 3months.
    2.Translation and notorization of foriegn drivers license.
    3. Photocopy of passport name & visa pages and drivers license along with notorization.
    4. One passport sized photo
    5. Filled out application form (can obtain at office)

    NB. You will need to have your passport and foreign drivers license with you when applying to cross check against the documents.

    So. (I know right, seriously the amount of red tape) your first step is find a translation company and get the required documents prepared (this should only take a day).
    Go with all your documents to either the office in Hanoi or HCMC and submit, if all the I'a are dotted and T's crossed you'll get a receipt generally it will say come back in 5 business days, now don't be alarmed if you get your hostel to translate the receipt (it says you need to go back and fill out more paperwork). Once you go on the specified day have the receipt and 135,000 VND. Then BAM your licensed locally and you won't have to pay as many bribes as the other tourists.

    Be prepared, the offices have specific times that they are open. However in Hanoi we always got told to come back in the afternoon 13:30 they open (people start lining up at 12:45pm).

    Now the vietnamese know there system is crap when it comes to licensing, only 3.8% of the locals have licenses. They are in a transition of upgrading over the next 4 years (2016-2020). So bare with them and go looking at bikes while you wait those seven days (five business days).

    Few helpful hints:
    1. For a good quality bike look no farther than the Honda Win (sufat or espero).
    2. Don't skimp on the helmet
    3. jackets will literally kill you with heat exhaustion but will save some skin.
    4.But some tools to maintain the small hints on your bike.
    5. An most of all Enjoy the amazing places you'll see!

  • Ollie said

    Thanks for the thread.

    I have been looking into this whole moto license business for about a year now as we are moving to Cambodia from NZ in 2017, for a year of volunteering.

    To my knowledge, and I've enquired at all the main NZ insurance companies, World Nomads are the only insurers who require you to hold a motorbike license from your country of origin.

    Most every other company (SCTI, Tower, Nib) states only that you must hold a valid license as required in the country you are VISITING. In Cambodia, the king recently (April 2016) abolished all licensing requirements for motorbikes 125cc and below. A car license covers you to drive a car and a moto. Therefore even with no license we are technically covered to ride a motorbike of 125cc or less.

    The important point to note is that laws and requirements can change on a whim in these places. We are going to play it safe and take an international drivers license even though Cambo doesn't require it at present. We are also going to play it safe and buy a car if possible - it doesn't matter which way you cut it, riding a moto in these places is not a safe and risk free exercise.

    Nevertheless, I applaud WN for their extra requirement which would ensure a person has a measure of skill before hopping on a moto. effectively they are also drastically reducing the likelihood of having to pay out on a claim.

  • PhilSylvester said

    To all the people asking specific questions about destinations and various licenses, can I suggest you'll get better responses if you post these questions on our Q&A app Ask A Nomad - https://answers.worldnomads.com/
    Lots of travelers and ex-pats will be able to assist you.
    cheers. Phil

  • Jessica said

    This information is out of date and incorrect. In Cambodia, you do not need a licence for motorcycles under 125cc. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/no-licenses-needed-for-most-motorists-hun-sen-declares-104644/

  • Anson said

    Steve's question hasn't been answered, and I can't find it in the forums-

    So drivers from USA America do not need a motorcycle license/permit from home? All we need is a valid car drivers license and an International Drivers Permit? Is this correct?

    My friend's motorcycle license has expired, but he still has a valid car licence, and an IDP. Would he be covered under WorldNomad's policy riding a bike in Vietnam?

    Thanks

  • Brenton said

    As far as I am aware this information is incorrect. Australians aren't legally allowed to ride in VIetnam unless they have obtained a Vietnamese licence, which means if you had an open motorbike licence in Australia, obtained an international drivers licence, and then had an accident on a motorbike whilst in Vietnam, you would not be covered by insurance, because you were riding the the bike illegally, as you would be unlicenced in Vietnam.

  • Taco said

    It seems from more research that the only reason an Australian IDP along with Australian Licence is not valid in Vietnam is because it has no Viet translation.
    USA did not sign the latter IDP agreement same as AU CND and NZ but some US IDP,s now have Viet translation so are accepted by Vietnam.

    Looks like to me RAC and AAA dont want to scrap all their stocks of old IDP,s for new ones just to add Viet translation.

    An Australian licence and IDP along with an official notarised translation into Vietnamese of your licence should make you both legal and covered by home travel insurance.





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