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.
Here’s an example of a blue card:
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 sequence.
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, just like anyone else. The registration tax is 5% of the invoice value of the bike. The plate itself costs an additional 800,000 VND in second-tier and smaller cities (Hai Phong, Da Nang, Can tho, …). If you live in Hanoi or HCMC, you’ll pay 4 million VND for the plate.
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 rather slim. I imagine the procedure to be unimaginably complicated… This is Vietnam after all.
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.
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.