Thailand Drivers License
Having researched this topic on the internet, I find that a lot of information is outdated due to changes and can be misleading. Likewise, this article could become outdated and misleading in the future. I have a Thai driver's license today and have been thru the process, so I can see what's right and wrong on the internet.
You are required to either have an International Driver's License (IDL) or else get a Thai driver's license to drive in Thailand, rent a car, and/or purchase car insurance (depends on insurance company). International Driver's Licenses expire much quicker (mine was good for only a year) than most foreign driver's licenses (multi-year), so you may want to consider just getting and renewing a Thai driver's license rather than renewing your IDL overseas.
A driver's license from another country is not officially recognized. However, my experience has been that it's good enough with some policemen. I have a driver's license from Washington, D.C., and the police have stopped me before and accepted it, but some have commented that I should get a Thai or International Driver's License. I explain to them that it seems pointless since I've been driving 30+ years already, and that my normal license is in English already, not German or Chinese, so what good is an IDL, and they have accepted that to date. However, if they wanted, they could fine me ... or you.
Exception: Driver's licenses from Singapore, Malaysia and Laos are accepted in Thailand.
Thailand Guru has received questions about IDLs, so let me explain: An "international driver's license" is just a piece of paper, not a standalong license card. It is a standard form for translating your driver's license into English and organizing this information into a standard format, so that any policeman in the world does not need to figure out how to read the many different kinds of drivers licenses -- they read the IDL instead of your national driver's license, only glancing at your national card. You usually get your IDL in our own country. There's no test, it's just a standard form you fill out, get visa-like pictures made, pay a fee, and it's all done in 15 minutes. You fold the IDL like a brochure. You carry your IDL with your driver's license. You present your IDL together with your foreign driver's license. You must present both. The policeman will usually read only the IDL because he is familiar with the IDL format and knows where to look for what information. Also, policemen are supposed to be able to read English, but not German, Italian, etc., and an IDL is in English.
I got my IDLs from AAA (American Automobile Association) during trips to the U.S., usually in a state other than the one my license was from, just wherever I happened to be (e.g., an IDL from a AAA in New Mexico for a Washington, D.C., driver's license). There is no AAA office in Thailand, or in any other country than the US and Canada, as far as I can tell from their website. Non-Americans will need to get their IDL by other ways.
You can get an IDL in Thailand if you have a Thai driver's license, but not for a foreign driver's license. There are various stories on this.
You must have your Thai driver's license for a year before you can get your IDL, both of which you get from the Ministry of Land Transport in the same place in the same building. However, some other people say it's do-able otherwise. The first Thai driver's license you get will be valid for only 1 year and will say "Temporary" on it. When you renew it a year later, you get a 5 year license, and you can get the IDL with that.
Local provincial offices normally cannot issue international driving licenses, only Thai driver's licenses. International driver's licenses are usually obtained in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
For an international driver's license, you must take documents to the Vehicle Registration Division of the Department of Land Transport. In Bangkok, the office is located opposite Chatuchak Park, by the Mo Chit bus station, at 1032 Poholyothin Rd, Tel: (02) 272-3615. Application can also be made at the Vehicle Registration Office in Chiang Mai located on Chiangmai-Hangdong Rd. tel (053) 270-411 as well as other registered Centres. Allow one month for issuance & mail delivery from Bangkok. (Yes, the "international" driver's license bureaucracy is ridiculous in many countries...)
To get a Thai driver's license, there are many more offices where you can go, and you are required to go to the branch office designated for your residential address. You can find out from the main office at 02-279-2959 which office you should go to.
To get your Thai driver's license, you must apply in the province that you live in. For example, if you live in Sukhothai province, do not apply in Bangkok or Chiangmai. Most registration offices have English speaking staff. You normally get your Thai driver's license immediately while you are there.
Within the Bangkok region, there are at least 5 offices. A popular one for foreigners is on Sukhumvit soi 99. You are supposed to go to the particular Department of Land Transport office authorized for your residential address, but this requirement seems to change. To be sure, you can call the Ministry of Transportation for this information at [phone numbers deleted at the request of the Ministry of Transport]. As of 2010, their website still gives a blank page for Driver's License, but keep checking at มือถือฟรี or try my guidelines below. For example, I went to the division in Pathum Thani province where I live, but they told me to go to the big main office near the Mochit BTS station.
The Mochit office is on Phahonyothin Road between the Mochit and Saphan Kwai stations. It's best to get out at Mochit and walk back whereby it's on the left side of the road. It's a long walk, so maybe take a motorcycle taxi. You will see the sign Ministry of Land Transport and probably some traffic going in and out. When you go in, there are several buildings so follow the road straight all the way to the back to the T intersection. It's the last building on the right.
Office working hours, last time we checked, were 8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday.
For a Thai driver's license, you officially need:
Some sites say you must bring 2 photos, size 1" x 1" (inches), filmed, not by digital camera and printer. I was never asked for any photo. If required by some office, then it would usually be available near the office.
At the Mochit office, there is a big photocopy operation right by the front door and people using it to photocopy passports, work permits, etc., for 1 baht per page. However, you need to tell them specifically which pages to copy.
The process was reasonably quick. Color blindness test, brake reaction test, peripheral vision test, then the last booth took my photo and gave me the driver's license card right there.
The Thai driver's licenses you get is valid for only one year, but the second year you can apply for a 5-year license. The second time around, you need to only bring your old license and get a Thai to fill in your forms. (And maybe bring photos, depending on which office?)
For the international driver's license, you need:
Applications must be made in person. Take originals & one set of copies. Applications made in Chiangmai require 2 sets of copies, a money order fee & a self addressed return envelope with 2 postage stamps for registered mail.
If you have no license and must take the written and driving tests, be advised that there is a free 2 hour training video twice per day which starts at 9am and 1:30pm -- and better get an update on the time. Unfortunately, it's in Thai, not English, but an interpreter may be able to keep up with it. Then you take the written test, which is in Thai and you'll need a translator (who might also tell you the answers?). I've heard of officials being more lenient to foreigners about passing the written test. Then you take a simple driving test. There is also a trio of tests in a room on equipment to check for your reflex (press pedals quickly after the color changes between green and red), color blindness, and depth perception.
There are plenty of stories of illegal "agents" who will get the driver's licenses for you, whereby you don't need to go to the official offices. Of course, they charge a fee. (Yes, which explains many of the bad Thai drivers on the road.) I don't approve of supporting this agent process, because I know about some Thai people who caused some bad accidents in which people were seriously hurt. Yeah, you're a farang who already knows how to drive well, but it's better not to support the agents and system that allows incompetent drivers. If you're too busy to get a driver's license properly, then just save your money and give it to the police -- if they ever hassle you about not having a Thai license -- because it's still better to pay a fine and support the police who do real work, than pay that kind of agent. However, your opinion may differ. My opinion is "Safety First". I'd rather support police than encourage agents.
Thus, first resort: get an international driver's license. Second resort: get a Thai driver's license. Third resort: drive with your foreign license. However, don't pay an agent to get the Thai license for you.
I've heard stories from colleagues who advertised job openings for which one of the requirements is that the Thai candidate has a driver's license. The company car's insurance policy requires that the driver is licensed. They've hired these staff, then had an occasion whereby they need the staff to drive somewhere, but the staff say they can't because they have never driven a car. They bought their driver's license from an agent who knew a corrupt official in the Dept. of Land Transport. So, if you advertise a job opening requiring driving skills, ask for both a driver's license and driving experience & skills. I still see advertisements requiring only the license. Some have even taken overseas jobs with the requirement of having a driver's license! (And I could write a lot more about Thais padding their CVs and going into jobs they can't do and are sure to fail at ... amazing.)
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