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Driving in Vietnam

Expats with experience in driving in Vietnam all paint a similar picture: It is a rather risky and nerve-wracking experience. However, if you have no other alternative than driving, better go prepared. Our expat guide offers comprehensive info on driving styles, traffic rules, and roadways.
  • A person driving a car in Vietnam until recently was a rare sight to see.

  • Reforms are ameliorating the situation on the roads.

  • It is advised to take out full comprehensive insurance from an international broker.


Vietnam is a breathtaking country with loads to offer its visitors and inhabitants. It will probably not take you long to adjust to the balanced life of a Vietnamese resident. However, if you are planning on driving in Vietnam, you should be aware of several local driving habits, which may perhaps seem a bit erratic.

Road Safety in Vietnam: Slowly Getting Better

Motorcycles and bicycles are the preferred means of transportation in Vietnam, accounting for about 95% of all registered vehicles. Some expatriates might be a bit surprised or even intimidated by the seeming lack of rules in using them. Those who drive cars tend to adapt their motorcycle driving skills and interpretation of traffic rules and apply them to their car. This means that driving in Vietnam is often an incredibly chaotic affair, and accidents happen quite frequently. So frequently in fact, that Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest car accident death rates in the world, and, according to the WHO report using 2013 data, it is only behind Thailand for the death rates in East Asia.

However, the situation is getting better. In fact, the Vietnamese government is enforcing the rules in a more efficient way than before. In addition to this, 2016 was named “Traffic Safety Year” by the government, in order to highlight the efforts made, and continue to educate the population on the dangers provoked by reckless driving. These policies have had a positive effect: in 2015, the number of traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths dropped by 51%, 60%, and 24%, respectively, compared with 2010. However, there is still a long way to go. Most accidents are caused by car drivers and often result in lethal head injuries for cyclists or motorcyclists.

Although, in this case, it may seem that using a car in Vietnam is safer than being on the receiving end of an accident, it can also be quite frustrating. It can take vehicles ages to get through the traffic congestion in cities, which can take the speed of driving in Vietnam down to the level of wading through molasses.

Alternatives to Driving in Vietnam: If You Don’t Feel Courageous Enough

Driving has seen a sharp increase in popularity in Vietnam. In fact, growing income and rapid urbanization mean that more and more Vietnamese can afford to drive a car. This has made Vietnam the fastest-growing auto market in Southeast Asia. This has, of course, further exacerbated the high rate of mortality among those driving in Vietnam. However, in January 2016, a tax was implemented that pushes up prices of imported cars by as much as 12%.

There are quite a few reasons why it may be more intelligent to scrap the idea of driving a car in Vietnam completely and learn how to rely on the bus schedule. Alternatively, you could learn to ride a motorbike so as to be able to maneuver around the heavily clogged streets. Either way, it cannot be stressed enough that you need to take extreme caution when driving in Vietnam, no matter the vehicle. Many expats even advise hiring a driver along with a car in order to avoid operating in the dangerous traffic yourself.

Road Conditions Are Quite Poor

The country has over 210,000 kilometers of roadways, most of which are in rather poor shape. This makes driving here even more risky than it is already made through the driving style prevalent among the locals. The state of the roads varies by region: in the north many roads are inaccessible during the rainy season, as they usually collapse or overflow. Highways are especially prevalent in southern Vietnam and traffic moves relatively swiftly. You should not have a problem getting to your destination.

The highway system has only recently begun to be used more frequently and on a regular basis. Several toll booths have been installed over the past few years, on roads such as the Ho Chi Minh City-Trung Luong Expressway. Locals tend to avoid these roads if possible. The revenue from the toll roads is used to improve the generally poor condition of Vietnamese roads.

When driving through Vietnam’s rural countryside, you should be aware that sharing the road with bicycles, farm animals, and machinery is not uncommon.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Alain Nguyen

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