Motorbike in Vietnam: Buying New Vs Used

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Whether you are going to travel or live in Vietnam, you will experience a motorbike. You have various choices of going on a motorbike, for example, a Grab Bike (basically an uber on a motorbike), a traditional ‘Xe Om’, or being your own boss. You have the option of renting or buying a motorbike.

It’s very common to be able to buy a motorbike from just about anyone. You can get a secondhand motorbike or you can buy brand new from the dealerships. However, before we get into whether you should buy a new or used motorbike, it’s important to feel ready for the Vietnam roads. You need to have the reflexes of an F1 driver to make it out alive.

Accidents are extremely common and you will see many. Hopefully, you will not be in many. Take it easy and drive defensively, which means slowly and with your ego very much left at home. Remember to make sure that your health insurance is valid.

Get on a bike with a friend or on a Grab bike and see what it takes to negotiate the road system here safely.

Hanoi Roads
Hanoi Roads

Buying Used or New?

Buying second hand comes with many problems and can even be dangerous if the motorbike is not properly serviced. I would suggest you take it to a local mechanic and see what work needs to be done. You can also ask how much you would get for such a bike. This will at least let you know if the asking price is within a realistic range. It will ALWAYS be lower than the asking price. However, buying something 6 months to a year old will save you some money and is likely to be a good bike.

What to look for, when buying second hand:

  1. Check the registration documents – make sure the engine and frame numbers correspond.
  2. NEVER believe the Odometer and base your offer on the age of the bike, not the mileage.
  3. Take a look at the spark plug to see if it is clean and not fouled.
  4. Check all of the plastic fairings and if any are broken, reduce your offer accordingly
  5. Check all the lights and electrics to make sure they work with the engine both on and off.
  6. Looks for signs to see if the engine has been opened, around the Head, then base your offer on this.

There are far too many little scams to go into on this blog. Needless to say: Buyer Beware!

Buying new means you get a mint vehicle and you will be the only rider. That’s nice. It is a little more difficult to buy a new bike and register it in your own name. Doing so will also result in you getting NN plates which then make the bike unattractive to sell on the local market. You can ask the dealership to register the bike for you, and they will for a small fee. They will then in turn ‘sell’ the bike to you in terms of paperwork. There is nothing to be concerned about.

Which bike is best for you?

As with anything, you will need to decide what works best for you and for your lifestyle. A young student will have a very different demand on a bike than a middle-aged mother. There is a huge range of bikes on offer to a huge range of people. Therefore, there will be something out there for you. Here are some thoughts on what to look for.

Automatic Scooters

Safer and easier to drive, these bikes are popular with newer riders or those who are not too confident. Keep in mind, we do argue in terms of safety as ‘whiskey throttle’ on one of these bikes will have you in serious trouble 100% of the time. A semi-auto or manual can be safer in this regard as it is less likely to continually accelerate.

An automatic is easier in terms of controls as there are no foot controls at all and the bike is effectively a bicycle with an engine. They are called ‘twist and go’ bikes because you literally twist the throttle and you will go. There are brakes on each handlebar to stop you and that is all you need to worry about. All of this does not get around the need to participate in traffic flow correctly but it makes you more able to focus on this as there is less for your limbs to worry about.

High-end examples of these would be the Honda SH, Honda Lead and the Piaggio Liberty. These are expensive and luxurious and often a target for theft.

Honda Lead
Honda Lead

More budget types of auto bikes would be the Honda Click and Vision as well as the Yamaha Janus.

Yamaha Janus
Yamaha Janus

Semi-automatic scooters

There is a wide range of these kinds of bikes available and they range from the budget student to the family person to the racer enthusiast. At the cheapest end of the market, you will find the fake Honda Cub or the Honda Wave or Blade as well as the Yamaha Sirius. These are all fine bikes (except the fake Cub) that offer a good balance between cost and performance.

You will then move up to the likes of the Honda Future that is larger and with a more powerful engine. This is more suited to the family man due to the storage under the seat and the slightly larger size that helps fit the kids.

Honda Future
Honda Future

At a more performance level, you will find bikes like the Yamaha Exciter which is a 135cc beast of a bike. It has both manual and semi-auto versions but really is meant for the young person that wishes to be fast and who has some spare cash to throw around.

Manual Bikes

There are more and more Vietnamese that are learning to ride manuals. This means the market for these bikes is growing quickly. You have the full range from the 125cc road bike or 150cc dirt bike to growling Harleys and Ducatis of 1000+ cc. The cost of these new can be from 50 million VND to 1 billion VND or more. These bikes are great for road trips and long distances but are more of a pain in Vietnam’s small towns. You can have trouble getting through traffic, carrying bought things and dealing with rain.

Buying a motorbike Vietnam


It is possible for foreigners from many countries to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to accompany their home license and then be legal to drive in Vietnam. However, you will need to check whether your home country signed the ’68 convention. For example, Australia did not and therefore citizens with a home license and IDP are still not legally allowed to drive in Vietnam.

In order to get a license in Vietnam. You can have your home country license converted and it will have the same validity in Vietnam. Alternatively, if you only have a car license, you can have this converted to a Vietnamese one and then take a very easy motorbike driving test to gain a Vietnamese motorbike license. It is possible to get an A1 license (up to 175cc) very easily and at a cost of between 50-100usd if you use an agent. Using an agent helps cut through the bureaucracy. An A2 license (unlimited cc) is more difficult and expensive to get. It could cost several hundred to a thousand dollars. If you are interested in taking this route, it is best to contact us for a clearer explanation depending on your situation. We will be happy to help you out.

Is it worth it? 

Most definitely, YES. Whether you are here for a short trip or living and working, you will find that the motorbike is the primary form of transport. As such, it makes sense to have one, however, it also makes a lot of sense to be legal and to have insurance that will payout.

All in all, there is a lot to think about when choosing to use a motorbike in Vietnam. It isn’t all about looking good and letting the wind ruffle your hair. Far from it. We also offer bike lessons for those that would like to learn from the professionals, contact us!

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