Tourists from all over the world come to Phuket and rent a car or motorcycle during their stay. Some of them decide to move in and stay here longer as expats. But are they allowed to use their driver’s license from their home country to drive a rental vehicle on the island?
Like many other countries, a driver’s license is required before someone can drive on any road in Thailand. This rule applies to cars, motorcycles, and scooters—even those with a small capacity. To drive a car or motorcycle in Thailand as a tourist, you must have either a Thai driver’s license or a valid foreign driver’s license issued in your home country. You must either have a foreign license in English or have an official translation into English or Thai. But this rule applies only to people from countries that have a treaty with the Thai government that allows for the mutual acceptance of driver’s licenses. Many countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA have this agreement with Thailand under the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic or the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. However, the best way to learn how it works for your country is to contact your embassy or consulate for advice.
An international driver’s license or permit (IDL or IDP) is also valid in Thailand. You can get it from your government’s motor vehicle department or authorized auto club at a small expense. An IDL is more often recognized and accepted by police and civil service officials than other driver’s licenses. However, beware of the many websites and brokers offering IDs. Many are not legitimate and may be scammers.
Although IDPs are valid for up to one year after arrival in Thailand, many comprehensive insurance policies are made void after three months if you’re still driving with a foreign license. A Thai driver’s license is the only sure way you can drive a car or motorcycle legally if you’re staying in Thailand for longer than three months.
If you’re in a car or motorcycle accident without a legal driving permit, things may turn out unfavorably. In the worst case, you may violate the insurance agreement and will be forced to cover the costs of hospitalization and treatment from your own pocket.
Where to Apply for a Thai Driver’s License
To qualify for a Thai driver’s license, you must be at least 18 years old, in good physical and mental health, and must show that you are either living or working in the country.
The driver’s license can be issued at any Department of Land Transportation office in Thailand. In Phuket, it is located in Phuket Town, 42/1 Rattanakosin Song Roy Pee Road. You can apply for your motorcycle and driver’s licenses at the same time. If not, you’ll have to take the tests again if you decide to upgrade to either one later on.
Here is what you will need when applying for your Thai driver’s license:
- A valid Passport with a valid non-immigrant visa
- Signed photocopies of the passport’s first page (first page; visa page; departure card TM6)
- A work permit with the address entered (+ signed photocopy of the first page and address) or proof of residence obtained at the embassy or immigration office confirming the address of residence (these two documents cannot be older than 30 days; proof of residence is issued based on a rental contract)
- A health certificate issued at any clinic or hospital dated within 30 days of the application
- Two color 1×1-inch photos not older than six months (photo service is available on the premises)
- A valid driver’s license issued in your country and a photocopy (if you don’t have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you will have to pass the theory and practice exam)
One set of documents is required per license application. However, when applying for both a car and a motorcycle license, all you will need is an extra copy of the doctor’s certificate and the letter of address for the second application.
Because the required documents are subject to change from time to time, it is best to check with the Department of Land Transportation before going to apply for the license.
The Application Procedure
Hand in all above-listed documents to Phuket’s Department of Land Transport office and wait a couple of minutes. The office worker will give you a date when you have to appear to pass the exam. During the rainy season, it can take up to three weeks, while in the busy season, you may wait longer.
After submitting the required documents, you need to pass a simple two-step medical test: color blindness and reflexes.
Applicants who already hold a driver’s license for their own country or an international driver’s license do not need to take the theory and practical driving test to receive their Thai driver’s license.
On the agreed date, appear in the office at 8:00 a.m. to get the paperwork ready. At 10:00 a.m., you will watch a movie about traffic rules and regulations on Thai roads. The movie is entirely in Thai with English subtitles. If you do not know Thai and want to learn from the movie, sit in the first few rows so that you can read subtitles.
After the movie and a lunch break, you will be asked to start the theoretical exam. The theory test is simple and consists of 50 single-choice questions. The questions are in Thai or English, and to pass, you have to score 90%. Those who fail the theory test can make an appointment to retest again on the next day without having to rewatch the movie.
The exam questions are available online at http://thaidriving.info/ and you can practice on test computers at the Department of Land and Transportation office.
Practical Driving Test
After passing the theory exam, the practical part takes place in the maneuvering area outside of the Department of Land and Transportation office building. You need to bring your own vehicle or rent one from the Department of Land and Transportation.
The practical driving test is very easy, and anyone with basic driving skills should pass it on the first try. You have to slalom between posts, drive through a narrow passageway, stop at a stop sign, and cross a roundabout. That’s everything.
If you fail the practical driving test, you can retake it after three business days and redo only the part that you fail. You need to pass all the practical driving parts within 90 days. Otherwise, you will need to redo the whole process.
Although the process may seem complicated for non-Thais, the good news is that the cost of obtaining a Thai driver’s license is extremely low compared to the cost in European countries. Applicants who have passed all of the tests will have their documents signed and returned to them. The driver’s license is printed right away the same day.