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Getting a Thai driving license is not difficult. When you see how bad a lot of Thai drivers are, you may even wish they made it more difficult to get one. After moving to Thailand it’s very important that you do get one, though. Traffic police routinely set up roadblocks to stop motorists and check if they’ve got their license and vehicle tax in order. Having a Thai driving license in this situation will mean that you’re back on your way in under 30 seconds.
You can use an International Driving Permit as a tourist, but if you’ve been in the country for 60 days or more then you are supposed to get a Thai driving license. Having a valid driving license from your home country will make the process of getting a Thai driving license go faster. With a valid license you won’t be required to take the theory or practical (driving) exams.
If you wish to be able to drive both cars and motorcycles in Thailand, then you’ll have to apply for 2 separate driving permits, and you’ll be issued 2 different physical cards, but you can get both done during the same visit (or series of visits) to the Land Transportation Office. If your home country driving license is only valid for automobiles then you will still have to take the written and driving tests to get your Thai motorcycle driving license.
If it your first time getting a Thai driving license, you’ll be issued a temporary permit valid for 2 years. When the first 2 years are nearly up, you can make another trip to the Department of Land Transport and get a regular license which is valid for 5 years.
Requirements to Apply for a Thailand Driving License
- Medical Certificate
You can get this at just about any hospital or clinic. It will cost about 50-100 baht. It’s not a thorough examination. If you have a pulse, you pass.
- Residence Certificate or Work Permit
You can get a Residence Certificate proof of address either at your local Immigration office or from your Embassy. In Chiang Mai, Residence Certificates are now processed at the Immigration one-stop-shop located in Promenada shopping mall on the 2nd floor (not the main Immigration office on the ground floor). It will take 2 weeks, but is processed for free now. Bring 2 passport photos, a copy of your rental agreement or proof of address, passport, and a copy of the TM30 form with your landlord’s signature (a form all hotels and apartments need to submit when taking in foreigners). You’ll need to hand over signed photocopies of all the important pages in your passport too: info page, current visa, latest entry stamp, embarkment card, 90-day reporting card (if you have it). You might as well make 2 copies of all these pages because you’ll need them again at the Land Transportation Office. If you have a valid Thailand Work Permit already, the Land Transportation Office accepts this as a proof of address, so you can skip getting a Residence Certificate. This will save you a bit of time.
As stated above, you’ll need to hand over copies of all the important pages in your passport: info page, current visa, latest entry stamp, embarkment card. You should of course have a valid non-immigrant visa. There are conflicting reports online of people being able to get a Thai driving license on a tourist visa. If you’re here to work in Thailand as an Iglu employee, that of course wouldn’t apply to you. But if others happen to be reading this, don’t be surprised if you run into trouble trying to get one on a tourist visa.
- Valid Driving License or International Driving Permit
The whole process will be much easier if you have a valid driving license from your home country or International Driving Permit. If the license is not in English, then you’ll need to get a translation from your embassy. You’ll need photocopies of the front and back of your license or copies of all pages of an International Driving Permit.
- Thailand Driving License Application Form
The application form is available at the Land Transportation Office, but if you want to save time by filling it out ahead of time, you can download a copy to print out HERE. And because the form is in Thai, you can look at this page to see how to fill it out.
You will need 2 sets of all the documents if applying for both an automobile and motorcycle license at the same time. A photocopy of the Medical Certificate and Residence Certificate will be accepted for the second set of documents.
Getting Your Thai Driving License at the Land Transportation Office
You’ll want to arrive at the Land Transportation Office early in the morning because you might end up spending the better part of a day there depending on how things go. If you need to take the exams, there is also a very good chance you’ll be forced to spread them out over two days. In Chiang Mai, the Land Transportation Office is located on Hang Dong Road, just a little south of the airport. If coming from the center of town, it will be on your left as you drive south, and it’s located just a little bit before the 2nd ring road. As with any government office in Thailand, it is best to dress politely.
- Go to the information desk on the 2nd floor (of the Chiang Mai office), and present all your documents.
- You’ll be told to show all your documents again at counter #21.
- Take color-blindness and reaction time tests at counter #28.
After passing these, you’ll get a queue number and report to another counter when called.The reaction test simulates you switching from stepping on a gas pedal to brake pedal quickly. You step on the gas until some lights turn green, then you have to step on the brake before they go red.
- Pay license fee, take photo, and pick up license.
If you had a valid license from your home country then you’re already done. Just pay the fee, get your digital photo taken, and wait for them to print out your license. If you didn’t have a valid license—or you need a motorcycle license and your home country license was only for automobiles—then you’ll have to continue on to the next steps.
- Sit through a 5-hour long class on traffic rules in Thai.
Unfortunately, everyone who seeks a Thai driving license is now made to sit through a very long lecture and video presentation before taking the written examination. It is several hours long and entirely in Thai. You may be able to use this time to study the test questions and zone out the Thai language lecture. When I got my license several years ago, they let me skip the class, but it seems they are forcing everyone to take it now even though you may not understand a word of it.
- Take the written Thailand driver’s license test on a computer in the testing room.
Once you finally get free of the lecture room, you can move on to the computer testing room for the theoretical exam. The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions, and you’ll need to score 90% correct in order to pass. If you fail the first time, you will be able to take the test once more on the same day. If you fail again, then you’ll have to return the next day to try again. The written test is truly horrible. You can take the English version of the test, but be aware that the questions contain many grammatical errors. The pictures are very poorly drawn, and several of the questions are just plain illogical. It is a good idea to practice the questions beforehand so that you can breeze through it. You can practice the test HERE.
- Take the driving test outdoors
Once you pass the theoretical exam, you’ll have to return to the Land Transport Office the following day to take the practical exam. The driving test is conducted on a closed course. It is ridiculously easy, especially when compared to practical driving tests in other countries. For the motorcycle test, the most difficult things you’ll be asked to do is zig-zag through a series of cones and drive about 10 meters balanced on top of a 20cm wide board. One thing to mention is that you’ll need to provide your own vehicle for the driving test. Strangely, they don’t seem to mind if you drive yourself un-licensed to the Land Transportation Office.
- Pay license fee, take photo, and pick up license
Go back up to the 2nd floor of the Land Transportation Office. Pay the license fee, take a digital photo, and pick up your new license.
Renewing Your Thai Driving License
Renewing a Thai driving license is fairly simple. You basically just need to take all of the same documents that were required for your first application along with your temporary Thai driving license and present them at the Land Transportation Office. You will only need to take the vision and reaction tests this time. Then you’ll be given a regular license which is valid for 5 years.
You can renew your license up to 2 months before the expiration of your current one. Don’t allow your original 2-year temporary license to expire before renewing or you’ll have to get another temporary license and re-take any necessary examinations.
The regular 5-year license can be used to obtain an International Driving Permit, but you can’t do so with the temporary license..
A Thai driving license is theoretically valid in all 10 ASEAN member nations of Southeast Asia. It can also be used as a valid form of identification inside Thailand. For example, you can use a Thai driving license to board a domestic flight instead of using your passport.
Tips for when getting a license
Here’s a few extra tips for when planning your trip to the land Transportation Office to make everything go as smooth as possible.
- Go in the middle of the week. Government offices in Thailand tend to be busiest on Mondays and Fridays. Go on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to experience shorter wait times.
- Prepare all photocopies beforehand. Have photocopies of all the important pages in your passport and work permit (if you have one).
- Prepare 2 of everything if you are getting both a car and motorcycle license. Have 2 sets of all your photocopies and 2 medical certificates.
- If working in Thailand, wait until you have your work permit before getting your driving license. A work permit eliminates the need for a residence certificate and saves you a lot of time (and possibly money).
As a final word of caution—please be careful driving in Thailand. This country has the 2nd most deadly roads in the world. When driving in Thailand, you must expect the unexpected. Thai drivers are notorious for ignoring traffic rules, driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and other dangerous behaviors. The majority of fatal accidents involve motorcycles—so always wear a helmet, don’t be in a huge rush to get where you’re going, and stay alert. Enjoy the roads, but drive safely!