If you want to live in Thailand on longterm and you will be driving car or motorbike, then I strongly recommend to get a Thai driving licence. If you will be driving with your foreign driving licence and you will get stopped by police, then what will happen next will depends on each and every policeman. Some policeman will look at it and let you go without any problems. Another one will tell you that your driving licence is not valid in Thailand and that you need either Thai driving licence or international licence and you will be fined with penalty, usualy arround 200 Baht. However it is necessary to add to this, that there is also Thai law and it says, that if a foreigner stays in Thailand more then 3 months and is driving a motor vehicle, then he must have a Thai driving licence and that international licence is not enough. Thai law also says that if you do not hold a Thai driving licence and cause an accident, then you can be fined with penalty of 50,000 Baht. In case you will be part of an accident and you will not have Thai driving licence, it is very likely that you will end up as party at fault, even if you did not cause that accident and you will pay for everything including heavy fine.
Thai driving licence is good also in many other ways, because it has got a similar function as ID card for a foreigner in Thailand. It is not ID card itself, but it will enable you to open a bank account in Thai bank or you will get access to the same prices as Thai citizens at the places where a double pricing system is applied – different price for Thais and different for foreigners (usualy much higher) – so you can save lot of money. If you show your Thai driving licence, then you do not pay to enter big Buddhist temples, where foreigners must pay the entrence fee, etc. So because of these many reasons you better want to get your Thai driving Licence.
Thai driving licence is not difficult to get. Actualy you can get it against showing your foreign driving licence at the relevant transport office, which is located in every provincial city. Thais call this office “Grom Garn Khon Song Tharng Bok” in Thai and it has got also an english name as of “The Department of Land Transport”. There are 5 offices in different parts of Bangkok, and outside of Bangkok you will find this office in every provincial city as I mentioned already.
Before you will even depart to this government office, you have to obtain some documents first. As it is the way of life in Thailand, you better get ready for the fact that you will not “safe the forests” and that the bureaucratic hunger for paper is big. So you will need to do the following first:
1. Visit a local doctor and get the health certificate for driving licence (do not go to any of the hospitals, because it will be only unnecessarily too expensive there such as 500 baht). This certificate is called “Bai Rab Rong Phet” (ใบรับรองแพทย์) in Thai. Doctor would provide you with this health certificate within few minutes and you should pay something between 50 – 100 Baht.
2. Go to your landlord, appartment owner or your accomodation reception and ask for “Letter of residence” which is confirmation that you stay in their property. They will probably do not know what you want from them :-), so ask them to write on piece of paper short statement that you live on their particular address. It is important that this statement contains your full name and full address where you live.
3. With this certifying statement (Letter of residence) you must go to local immigration police office, which is in every provincial city. They even have a small branches in the smaller district towns. At the immigration office you ask for “Certificate of Residence”. They will ask you for what purpouses you need it, so you just tell them you need it for a driving licence. You will need copy of your passport (main page, page with visa, arrival card and page with stamp with date), 2 passport photos and the letter of resindence from your accommodation. They will provide you with the certificate of residence within few minutes, sometimes they ask a fee for that, but its not the rule. If you live in Chiang Mai, where is immigration office very busy, go there before 9:00 a.m., go to the reception desk without taking number, ask for Certificate of residence, fill the form and come to pick up the document next day with your passport.
There is a small chance that immigration officer will refuse to accept the Certificate of Residence from your landlord. In such case, you have to ask your landlord to go with you to immigration office with his ID card and Ta Bian Bahn (blue book – residency book for every property in Thailand). At immigration he will officialy make a statement that you live in his property, fill the form and then immigration officer must provide you with requested Certificate of residence according to the law.
4. Then make a copy of your passport (main page, page with visa, arrival card and page with stamp with date), copy of your foreign driving licence, all of the pages sign with your signature and name, take health certificate and certificate of residence and finaly go to “The Department of Land Transport” to apply for Thai driving licence.
There is separate driving licence for car and separate for motorbike in Thailand, so the best is to apply for both. At the land transport department you will have to fill out application form and because it is only in Thai, it will be very helpfull to take some Thai friend with you to help you with it. To this application form you will attach all the documents. Up to here the procedure is the same all over the Thailand. But then it can be different in every province. For example in Khon Kaen they do not require any written tests, or trainings, or tests of driving. They only test you if you recognise the colours. But in Chiang Mai, they also require to make a small course in english (2-4 hrs), written test in english and test of driving.
Once you do everything what they will ask you for – as I say it is different province by province – you will be called to one of the numbered desks, where you will sit front of the camera, they will take a photo of you and you will pay the fee – for photo 100 Baht, for car licence 105 Baht and motorbike licence 55). Then a special printer will print out your driving licence which you will get just in 2 minutes.
First Thai driving licence is only for 1 year and they call it TEMPORARY DRIVING LICENCE. After 1 year you have to extend it – change it for another one which is not called TEMPORARY anymore and have validity for 6 years.
For driving licence extention you will need following documents:
☆ copy of your passport – main page, page with visa, arrival card and page with stamp with date
☆ your “temporary driving licence” thai driving licence
☆ health certificate
☆ and if you want to change address on your driving licence, then Certificate or residence from immigration again of your new address
For driving licence extention you do not need to make any tests anymore, they will just take a new photo and collect a fee for new driving licence.
If you will be “unlucky” and you will make your driving licence in Chiang Mai, then do not be affraid of the tests. Writing test has got 30 questions and you must answer minimum 23 correctly. Also you can repeat the test twice, if you will not pass first time. Driving test is something, which can do even 10 years old child. You have to go arround 3 cones, so it is nothing more then 3 turns. You have got the limit of 7 gear shifts (forward and back), if the limit is not enough for you, then you will not pass 🙂
As far as time is concerned, I did my first driving licence in Khon Kaen and it took me about 1,5 hours to get it. In Chiang Mai it will take you whole day.
On the end a little bit of funny fact. There are no really driving schools as we know them in Thailand. When Thais want the driving licence, they just go with their ID card and health certificate to the same office, attend a small course, make written test and driving test and get the driving licence. No driving school is neccessary as it is in Europe. There are so called “driving instructors” who are licensed individuals which you can hire to teach you how to drive in the normal traffic. That is why driving in Thailand is something very close to a suecide. I am driving almost 3 years in Thailand now and even now I have got nearly a heart attack everytime I drive. Especially in Bangkok. Traffic rules and traffic signs is something what Thais do not know at all and the only rule they respect is the bigger vehicle goes first 🙂 So good luck with driving in Thailand!