Getting a Thai Driver’s Licence
Written by Dan L, 10 September 2010. (updated in September 2020).
If you’ve already conquered visa applications and renewals, work permit requests, insurance processing, or any other massive mounds of paperwork here in Thailand and you still haven’t satisfied your craving for confusing bureaucracy, you just might want to try getting your Thai driver’s licence (bai anooyat kap kii).Your own country’s licence is only recognized in Thailand for 3 months from your arrival date, and even though international licences are legal in Thailand, you may not be able to become fully insured with some companies without a Thai licence.It’s also a great deterrent (along with a helmet, up-to-date registration, and following traffic laws) to friendly police intervention.
I’m proud to say that I, as of 1 minute before noon today, am now the proud bearer of not only a motorcycle licence but also a permit to drive a car.Here’s how I did it:
The Fun Begins
I’m lucky enough to live near the Department of Motor Vehicles office (sam nak ngan kon song), part of the Ministry of Transportation here in Korat, so today’s mission started out with a quick tuk-tuk ride jut down the street.Naturally, when the driver missed the U-turn that would bring us right to the office and instead kept barrelling on down the road, I was a bit apprehensive but gave him the benefit of the doubt anyway since I know it’s a busy place and he may have some sort of short-cut in mind. After another couple of kilometres without any sign of turning around, I had to call him out.Even a foreigner like me knows the office is right next to Tesco Lotus, so where are you taking me? Turns out that if you just say kon song in Thai, the average driver is going to take you to the satthani kon song or bus terminal, rather than the transport office.OK, lesson learned, and for an extra 30 Baht we’re back on track.
Get There Early
Arriving at the office bright and early is a great idea. Even though most Thai people seem to get up before sunrise, the office is still a ghost town at 10 minutes to 9.Call me a glutton for punishment, but I do like to test my Thai skills by going on these little missions alone.However, this strategy can often mean being left standing in front of desks for abnormally long periods of time with no explanation, until finally a staff person is found who speaks a little English, usually a lot less than my Thai, who quickly gets in over her head and we turn back to Thai anyway.So it was at the motor vehicles office, but we finally got things sorted and the staff understood that I was there to request a Thai licence.I had all that I was told by a friend that I needed: proof of address (my work permit), ID (my passport), money, and mugshots, plus my licence from Canada.But where was my bai rap rong phet?This turned out to be a doctor’s certificate of good health, needed for pretty much every official transaction in Thailand.I didn’t have one.
So go back out into the street, take a motorcycle taxi to the nearest clinic or hospital and pop in for a quick check-up. Sounds easy.I ended up at the Bankok Hospital where I had actually gone a year or two earlier for the same document, but of course they had no record of that ever happening and so it was more paperwork but then a very smooth check-up from a nurse then a doctor.I even convinced the nurse to bump me up to 180cm from 179, to boost me official stature.With the certificate in hand, and 200 Baht lighter of wallet, it was back to the motor vehicles office.
Ask ALL Your Questions at Once
Upon arrival at the office, things were starting to get busy, so that meant a 10-minute wait just to get to the desk where my documents were looked over.They were of course found to be in order, and I had absolutely everything I needed to request the licence.All I had to do next was go to the Motor Vehicles Office #2, in Jaw Haw more than 10 kilometres away.Surely there’s a great amount of fun to be had in holding back crucial bits of information from people who really need it, though officials rarely seem to actually do this on purpose.I simply hadn’t asked last time if I was in the right place, so why tell me?
Again, outside, tuk-tuk to the other office on the other side of town.
Do I Really Have Everything?
Of course I don’t!After having my paperwork checked twice and travelling to a whole different office, somehow I still wasn’t quite ready to make my application.In addition to what I had prepared (I’ll make a list at the end of this story), I still needed copies of 1 more page from my work permit, plus copies of the front and back of my Canadian licence.Luckily I mentioned that I was applying for both motorcycle and car licences, so I was saved the trouble of being sent back to the copier for a whole second set of documents.This only after the long and confusing task of convincing the official that I was permitted to drive both a car and a motorcycle in Canada, but I blame the odd wording for vehicle classes on the back of my licence for this annoyance.
Video from Youtube - Experience of a foreigner in Chiangmai
At least I had thought I was well on my way to victory when my name was called, but it turned out I was being summoned to a ‘test’.I had heard rumours that I may have to sit a written test on Thai traffic signs that is apparently available in English and felt pretty confident about my chances having driven “extra-legally” in Thailand for years, however, I was led down the hall to a different sort of testing room altogether.In it were a lot of strange contraptions designed to test colour vision, peripherals, depth perception and reflex responses, all in various states of disrepair. Despite being chastised and mocked for calling yellow peripheral dots green, I was still pushed through with a second chance and passed the test with a 100% clear score.
Right, back to the processing desk, and what relief I discovered having the application finally accepted and processing fee paid!
How it can be frustrating without translation and video that stops...Welcome to Thailand!
Shiny New Cards
The last step which involved waiting in the impossibly long queue system (23 people ahead of me!) actually took a lot less time than expected and was painless.And I was lucky too, because lucky number 97 was called at 11:59, just a minute before the witching hour.Rather than use the terrible photos I had brought with me, a staff member sat me down in front of a digital camera, took my picture (smiling is allowed, but no showing teeth), printed out my receipts, and in 2 minutes popped my 2 new cards out of the card-making machine.My suggestions at reducing global warming by issuing only one licence with both the words ‘car’ and ‘motorcycle’ on it were met with a penetrating “you some sorta communist?”-type look so I thought it best to count my blessings and bounce out the door as fast as I could while most of the staff in the office followed me leaving a skeleton crew to deal with the hundred people left waiting.
It would make great comedy to relate that I was immediately hit by a tiny old lady doing her driving test in the lot outside but no, this is a story of triumph! Only 3.5 hours to actually get something like this achieved is a feat that amazed even myself.
If I hadn’t had a valid driver’s licence from my home country or an international licence then I would have been in for a much longer affair.With all the other paperwork in place, it’s completely possible for foreigners to test for new licences in Thailand.You have to show up and register for the test before 09:30, watch a longish film largely showing the terrors of traffic accidents, then sit the written test on signs and traffic rules, which can be done in Thai or English. Finally, you get a chance to show your stuff behind the wheel of either your own car or an old beater from the office.Most people (yes, I recognize the irony) drive their own cars there to do the test.This driving test isn’t a road test, but instead is done in a small course on-site where you’re made to park, reverse, and navigate a short track.It looks like a cakewalk for any experienced driver, so it should take only a bit of time to impress your skills upon the tester and then be done with it.
Here’s what you need to get a Thai licence:
- Passport with valid Non-Immigrant visa within
- Copy of information page of passport and all pages with current visa and entry stamps, including your TM6 departure card
- Proof of address in Thailand.This can be a valid work permit OR an official letter from your embassy confirming residency.Check with your embassy (for example, the British Embassy requires that you fill out a request form and pay a 1,900 Baht processing fee for this letter).
- Copy of your proof of address.
- Medical check-up certificate, signed by a doctor (usually 120-200 Baht at any clinic or hospital)
- If you hold a valid driving licence from your country or an international licence for a motorcycle and/or car, you can bring this plus a copy of the front and back.If you don’t, show up before 9:30am and take a driving test.
- Fees.I paid 155THB for the motorcycle licence, and 205 for the car licence, both processed at the same time. (Do note that current fees in 2020 are a little more expensive, maybe 500 baht if you want both the motorcycle and the car driving license)
Since April 2015, it seems that you can get 2 years driving license for your first time. They also added more theoretical tests and questions. You must watch videos and answer questions if you don't have a valid driving license from abroad. And even for your renewal, right now, they do ask you to watch videos even if you do not have "exams" to do, but only tests about your eyes and reflexes.
The licence you get will be a temporary licence which will expire in exactly 1 year (2 years since April 2015). Up to 60 days before it expires, you can take your licence, passport, proof of address, and another medical check-up certificate to the motor vehicle office and go through a similar process to extend your licence for another 5 years, and do the same every subsequent 5 years. Since 2019 more or less, you will need to watch a video of about 1-2 hours for your driving license renewal, on top of checks for your eyes and reflexes.
- Go to the Department of Motor Vehicles office (sam nak ngan kon song), not the bus station.
- Be 18 years of age or older.
- Get to the office early to avoid line-ups.
- Sign all of your photocopies.
- Bring someone with you who can translate for you.
Enjoy the ride!
Other source of information:
- Official website of the Department of Land Transport
- How to get a Thai driver license
- How to renew your driving license from the official website of Thai government.
- This company seems to give an international driving license from abroad valid in Thailand but we can't guarantee it: https://internationaldriversassociation.com/