In Vietnam a vehicle’s registration certificate is called a blue card. It’s a small (3.3″ by 2.2″) document showing the details of the vehicle and its owner. It’s a fairly simplistic document, especially compared to its European counterparts.
These cards are easily to forge. Hence, lots of used bikes are sold with fake paperwork. When scouring the classifieds, you will often see motorcycles being sold with “non-transferable” blue cards, a fancy way to state the obvious…
When you’re in the market for a $200 Honda Win, you’ll probably don’t care about the paperwork. However, when you’re shopping for, say, a Honda CB400, you probably want something legitimate. Keep in mind that when a deal seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is…
It’s difficult to distinguish a fake blue card from a real one. You’d have to check the number in the police’s vehicle database to be 100% sure. Sometimes the information on the blue card gives away its true nature. For example, the blue card of my 1999 Honda FTR223 stated an engine capacity of 150cc (instead of 223cc). At that time, engine capacity was capped at 175cc by law, making the FTR223 illegal on Vietnamese roads. Hence, it was impossible to have a legitimate blue card for this particular bike.
Required Documents for Registration
The procedure to register a motorcycle in Vietnam is simple… for a Vietnamese citizen. However, for a foreigner, it gets a bit more complicated.
As procedures are generally followed to the letter in Vietnam, make sure you have all the paperwork ready. One missing document and the whole dossier will be rejected by the local police department.
Documents you’ll need:
- Temporary residence card*
- Work permit*
- Labour contract*
- Business registration certificate (BRC) of the company*
- Introduction letter from your company to the local authority
- Invoice of the bike (invoice in your name)
- Paperwork related to the import of the bike (invoice of the dealer, bike list, etc)
* notarized copy
Make a copy of the invoice, as the authorities will keep the original one. The paperwork related to the import of the bike (regular copies) is to be provided by the dealership.
The bike will be registered in your name, but on your employer’s address. It’s strange, but that’s the way it is.
Intricacies of “NN” Plates
There a several categories of license plates, among which “LD” plates for vehicles registered by foreign-invested companies, “NG” plates for diplomatic vehicles and “NN” plates for vehicles registered in the name of a foreign owner.
“NN” stands for “Nước Ngoài”, which means -you guessed it- foreign. “NN” plates use the following format: AA-BBB-NN-XXX, wherein “AA” for the province, “BBB” for the code of the owner’s country, “NN” for foreigner, and “XXX” for the numbering.
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In the past (pre-2015) “NN” plates were tax-free, just like “NG” are still today. However, today you have to pay registration taxes for an “NN” plates. The registration tax is 5% of the invoice value of the bike. The plate itself costs an additional 800,000 VND, except in Hanoi and HCM (4 million VND).
In theory, you should get the taxes back when you cancel the plates and export the bike to your home country. However, the likelihood of this happening is slim. This is Vietnam after all.
Advantages and Inconveniences of an NN plate
- You’re fully compliant with the law: the bike and the insurance is registered in your name
- Theft deterrent: locals aren’t allowed to ride bikes with “NN” plates. They’d be spotted easily by the police.
- Cop deterrent: probably not in Hanoi or HCM, but in more remote places where English isn’t widely spoken, police may be more likely to give you a pass…
- The registration is a long process (several weeks at a minimum) due to the vast amount of paperwork. Also, the number of an “NN” plate is not attributed on local level, but on Ministry level. Therefore, the local police needs to obtain the approval prior to issuing the plate.
- Selling a bike with an “NN” plate is a hassle because you’ll have to cancel the plate first. Then the buyer will need to apply for a new plate and pay additional registration taxes.
Lost My Bluecard Vietnam
Dealing with parking lot staff and the police will be problematic if you lose your Bluecard, but it can generally be fixed. If your name is not the one on the Bluecard and you lose the original Bluecard the only option is to acquire a fake replacement. These fakes are as cheap as a few hundred thousand Dong. This does not replace the original and you’ll need to understand your motorcycle is now illegal. If it’s a rental, often the rental company can help you out for a replacement fee.
Overall, most drivers in Vietnam will be driving around on motorcycles worth less than $2000with only some of the correct paperwork. The people, police and parking lot attendants are used to this and life goes on without much concern about the documents. However, as the value of your motorcycle goes up the scrutiny of officials goes up too.
- Parking lot attendants. Security personal are obliged to make sure that whatever bikes come into their lot leave with the owner. The parking lot is assuming the risk when they let you go with a Bluecard that is not in your name. They are prepared to do this up to around $2000, but as the number gets bigger their processes get stronger. If you hold onto your parking ticket then you can pass freely. If you lose your ticket you’ll need to prove you are the owner of the motorcycle. Without the Bluecard or the parking ticket, you’re going to have problems.
- Police. Equally the Police are obligated to ensure that the owner of a motorcycle is the person who has possession of it. A cheap old bike, they probably won’t care. A newer motorcycle with unmatching documents, you may need to give them some “coffee money” to continue on your way. A brand new motorcycle with the wrong documents, the bike will likely be confiscated.
- Replacing the Bluecard.
- Rental. You’ll need to contact your rental company and they’ll usually provide you with a solution. Replacing the bluecard is a long laborious task, and the rental company is going to charge heavily for the time wasted.
- Owner. You’ll need to get a fake replacement made. In major cities, this is fairly easy and the service is even advertised on Facebook. Ask a local or long term expat to help you with this. You might want to have a copy made just incase.
Fake Blue card Motorbike in Vietnam
When you initially deal with motorbike registration Vietnam, a Bluecard is created with numbers matching both the VIN and chassis of the motorbike. This information is then added to the police database and can be referenced later for ownership transfer or to deal with illegitimate motorcycles. It seems like they have everything covered, however, it is easy to illegally change the bike’s information or the Bluecards information.
VIN/chassis numbers and engine numbers can be removed and changed, Bluecards forged, and there is no public access to registered motorcycle information. The reality is that it’s very difficult to know if a motorcycle is legitimate or not.
Fake Bluecards might exist for the following reasons;
- Stolen motorcycles. Motorcycles are often stolen without a Bluecard. A Bluecard is created, the bike is sold onto an unsuspecting buyer and the thief makes his money. If you are caught with a stolen bike it will be confiscated.
- Illegally imported motorcycles. Imported manual motorbikes are considered luxury goods in Vietnam and come with significant import taxes. To avoid this they are sometimes illegally imported then a fake Bluecard is created to legitimize the motorcycle and its value.
- Unresolvable problems. Old motorcycles, motorcycles who’s original owner can’t be contacted or has passed away, and motorcycles without an original Bluecard will all be forced to have a fake Bluecard.
- Custom motorcycles. Combining chassis and engines from different motorcycles to make a custom bike creates an unusable Bluecard. These bikes often have fake Bluecards made to compensate for the creation.
Motorbikes Insurance Vietnam
In Vietnam, you are required to have “Yellow Paper Insurance” and when buying a new motorcycle in Vietnam this insurance will come with the bike. This paper is supposed to represent coverage for your motorcycle in the event of an accident. In reality, this paper has no value and you aren’t likely to be able to cash in on any insurance money for any reason.
If you own a motorcycle you might consider carrying this piece of paper around with you, it can be purchased from any mechanic for around 60-80,000vnd a year. For rental motorbikes, the rental company usually retains the yellow paper. You aren’t likely to need it, but they should have a copy if you do for some reason.
What really happens in the event of an accident goes something like this; The police arrive and investigate the severity of the accident. They are generally helpful and try to be fair with both parties. They will check your documents, such as your Vietnam motorbike license and Bluecard. If the incident can’t be resolved on the spot, then the police confiscate the motorcycles of each person and hold them as ransom until fault is decided and any money owed is paid out.
If you own the bike then you will need to deal with this directly. If the motorcycle is a rental, the rental company will eventually get the motorcycle back but any money required to do so will come out of the rental deposit.