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Source: Travelfish.org
Photo: Stuart McDonald

Riding motorbikes and scooters can be a great way of travelling around Southeast Asia. They’re affordable, fun and they give travellers a tremendous degree of flexibility.

It isn’t all good news though—motorcycles are unfortunately far from the safest mode of transport. If you are going to ride a bike, it is vital that you have travel insurance covering motorcycling in Southeast Asia..

Making sure you are covered boils down to two things. Firstly, you need to be properly licensed. Secondly, you need to be careful: wear a helmet, stay sober and obey local road laws. Without both of these things going on, your travel insurance most likely will not cover you. And can you blame the insurers?

Insurance requirements for motorcycling in Asia

Specific motorcycle riding coverage varies depending on a variety of factors, including the country you are riding in and the country you are from. You’ll need to read the policy relevant to you to get the exact details, but broadly speaking, travel insurers will insist on one (or a combination) of the following:

1) You must have a license to ride that is viewed as valid in the country you’re riding in;
2) You must have a license to ride that is valid in your home country;
3) You must have a license to ride that is valid for the type of bike you are riding.

Ask yourself: “Am I licensed to ride a scooter?”

Read the small print thoroughly and see which of the above applies to you. World Nomads has a very handy page titled “Am I covered by travel insurance if I’m riding a motorbike or scooter?” You can change the country to read the different policy qualifications. This is one of the easiest ways to see if a World Nomads policy is right for you.Top of page 

Licensing requirements

Most travel insurers will require that at a minimum you are licensed for the vehicle you are driving or riding. Just as a car license doesn’t cover you for driving a truck, it doesn’t cover you for riding a motorbike either. You don’t have a motorbike license? Then chances are you don’t have insurance cover for when you are riding a motorbike in Thailand (or at home for that matter!). So before you read any further, remember: If you have no license, you don’t have any insurance either.

Biking around bits of Sumbawa.
Biking around bits of Sumbawa. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The most straightforward approach to ensuring you are covered is to take two steps. First, get a motorbike license in your home country. Then, once you are licensed, get an International Driving Permit (IDP)endorsed for motorbike riding. With the exception of Vietnam (more on there below) having done these two things will have you riding legally in Southeast Asia.

A second approach is to get a license in the country you are travelling in. However, this approach isn’t all that convenient to do for short-term visitors. It varies, but you’ll probably need to sit a written test (in the local language) and supply supporting documentation with your local address. Essentially this will be a similar process to your home country, but it will all be in a language you most likely do not speak, for road rules you may not be familiar with, and it will eat into your precious holiday time. Get the license at home.

Would you drive a car in your home country unlicensed? No? So don’t consider riding a motorbike in Cambodia, or anywhere else, unlicensed either.

As Phil Sylvester at World Nomads says:

“Getting a license isn’t just about avoiding a fine. From an insurance perspective it tells us you have been properly trained to use a motorcycle, that you understand how to make them go, and stop, and that you’ve been made aware of how to ride to avoid injury. For undergoing that training and passing to a satisfactory level, authorities will ‘license’ you to ride. You do not magically acquire this knowledge and training because you have flown to Southeast Asia on a plane.”

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