Tourists from all over the world come to Phuket and rent a car or motorbike during their holiday. Some of them decide to move in and stay here longer as expats. But are they allowed to use their license from their home country to drive legally a rental vehicle on the island?
Like many other countries, a driver’s licence is required before someone can drive on any road in Thailand. This applies to cars, motorcycles and motorbikes even those with a small capacity. To drive a car or motorcycle in Thailand as a tourist it is necessary to have either a Thai driving license or a valid foreign driving license issued in your home country. The foreign license must either be in English or you need to have an official translation into English or Thai. It works only for those countries that have a treaty with the Thai government allowing the mutual acceptance of driving 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 be sure how it works for your country is to contact your embassy or consulate for advice.
An International Driver’s License/Permit (IDL/IDP) is also valid in Thailand. You can get it from your government department or authorized auto club at a small expense. IDL/IDP is more often recognized and accepted by police and civil service officials. Beware of the many websites and brokers offering (IDL/IDP) are not legitimate and may be scammers.
Note: Although International Driving Licences are valid for up to one year after arrival in Thailand, after three months many comprehensive insurance policies are made void if still driving on a foreign license.
Referring to the above note the Thai driving license is the only sure way to drive a car or motorcycle legally for people staying in Thailand for a longer period of time.
Note: During a car or motorcycle accident, without a legal driving permit, things may turn out unfavorably and in the worst case, you violate the insurance agreement and you will be forced to cover the costs of hospitalization and treatment from your own pocket.
Where to apply
In order to qualify for a Thai driving license, applicants must be at least 18 years old, in good physical and mental health and must show that they are either living or working in the country.
The driving license can be issued at any Department of Land Transport offices 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.
What you will need when applying for your Thai driver’s license:
- Valid Passport with Valid Non-immigrant Visa
- Signed photocopies of the passport’s first page, (1st Page; VISA Page; Departure Card TM6)
- Work Permit with the address entered (+ signed photocopy of 1 st page and address) or Proof of Residence obtained at the embassy or immigration office confirming the address of residence. The last two documents cannot be older than 30 days. Proof of Residence is issued on the basis of a rental contract.
- Health certificate, issued at any clinic or hospital, dated within thirty days of the application
- 2 color photos, 1 x 1 inch and not older than 6 months (photo service is available on the premises).
- A valid driving license issued in your country and its photocopy (if you don’t have a valid driver license from your home country, you will have to pass the theory and practice exam)
Note: 1 set of documents is required per 1 license applications. However, when applying for both a car and a motorcycle license, an extra copy of the doctor’s certificate and the letter of address will suffice for the second application.
Since the required documents are subject to change from time to time, it is best to check with the Land Transportation Office again before going to apply for the driving license.
The application procedure
Hand in all above-listed documents in Phuket’s 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 takes up to 2 or 3 weeks, while in high season you may wait longer. After submitting the required documents you need to pass simple 2 step psychophysical test: color blindness and reflex test.
Note: 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 in order to receive their Thai driving license.
On the agreed date appear in the office at 8 am, to get the paperwork ready. At 10 am 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 something from the movie, sit in the first rows to be able to read subtitles. After the movie and 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 should get 90% of the correct answers. Those who fail the theory test can make an appointment to retest again on the next day without having to retake a theoretical class.
Questions are available online at http://thaidriving.info/ and or you can practice on test computers at the Land and Transportation Office.
Practical Driving test
After passing the theory exam, the practical part takes place in the maneuvering area out of the Land Transport Office building. You need to bring your own vehicle or rent one from the Land Transport Office. The Practical Driving test is very easy and everyone with basic driving skills should pass it at the first time. You have to do slalom between the posts, drive over the narrowing, stop at stop sign and cross the roundabout. That’s everything. In case applicants fail the practical driving test, they can retake it again after three business days and redo only the test that they fail. Applicants need to pass all practical driving tests within 90 days. Otherwise, they need to redo the whole process again.
Although the process may seem complicated for non-Thai people, the good news is that the cost of obtaining a Thai driving license is extremely low comparing to European countries. Applicants who have passed all of the tests will have their documents signed and returned to them. Driving license is printed right away the same day.