If you are going to be living in Thailand for any great length of time you’ll naturally want to have your own vehicle to get around. It just makes life so much easier. When buying a new or used car or motorbike, you may be tempted to go the easy route and simply register the vehicle under the name of your wife, girlfriend, or partner. This is a huge mistake to make. Don’t do it.
A vehicle registration booklet is called ทะเบียนรถ tha-bian rot in Thai. It’s a little green colored booklet like you see in the picture above. And it is your friend. You don’t really own a vehicle unless your name is in that book. When you go to buy a new motorbike, the shop might try to tell you that it’s either impossible or a big hassle to register a vehicle in the name of a foreigner. This is total BS. It is true that Thai law does not allow foreigners to own land, but there is no reason you can’t own your own car or motorcycle.
The obvious reason for not registering your vehicle in another person’s name is that if the relationship falls apart they can claim ownership of your wheels. But there is also another reason that you may not have considered—The person who has their name in the vehicle registration booklet can take it to a lending company and take out a loan with that vehicle as collateral. If they decide to not repay the loan, the lending company can come and confiscate your bike!
So how do you go about registering a vehicle in your own name? There are a few steps, and it might take a couple days to finish, but it’s not difficult at all, and definitely worth your time. The place to go is called สำนักงานขนส่ง sam-nak-ngaan khon-song, or the “Department of Transportation” for the district that you live in. If your vehicle was previously owned, you’re going to need a set of documents from there to take and get the old owner’s signature on them in a few places. You’re also going to need a signed copy of the previous owner’s National ID card and a signed copy of their household registration.
Normally, the person buying the vehicle will also need to produce copies of the same two documents. As a foreigner, however, you don’t have a Thai ID card and probably are not listed in anyone’s official household registration booklet. Instead you’ll need copies of your passport’s information page and the page which shows how long you’re stamped in until. In place of the household registration booklet, you’ll need either a copy of your work permit or a certificate of residence from immigration or from your consulate. If anybody tells you you need to have a work permit to own a vehicle, they don’t know what they are talking about. There are plenty of retired people, for example, who own vehicles and obviously don’t have a work permit.
If you know beforehand that you’ll need to get a certificate of residence from immigration or from your consulate, it will make everything easier if you do that first. To get a residence certificate you’ll need:
- A copy of every important page in your passport. This includes the info page, page with your visa, page that shows when you last entered the country, page showing your current visa renewal (if applicable), and the page showing your last 90-day report.
- A copy of the rental contract from your house or apartment, or house registration booklet
- 2 visa photos
- 500 baht (even though the service is technically supposed to be free)
- Residence Certificate application form (available at the immigration office)
When you get to your local immigration office it may very well resemble a madhouse or a can of sardines. The current immigration laws require foreign residents to appear in person at immigration way too often, and this causes overcrowding of the facilities. But nonetheless, you are only there to get a certificate of residence, so you won’t have to take a number and wait in the super-long queue.
It is best to ask someone when you get there where to get the application form from. It is just one page, so you can fill it out in a couple minutes. Then you might need to wait in a short line to hand in your documents. At the Chiang Mai immigration office, there is a small room around to the back side of the building that is now dedicated to processing residence certificates. Edit: As of June 2013, Chiang Mai Immigration office is no longer issuing residence certificates. As it turns out, they were supposed to be giving these documents free of charge. It seems somebody was pocketing the 500 baht fee. Now they’ve decided it’s not worth their time if they can’t make money off it. To get a certificate of residence now, you will need to go to your country’s consulate or embassy. The fee can vary greatly from country to country, so please contact your nation’s consulate for details. Edit: As of November 22, 2013, the Immigration office is once again issuing residence certificates. The 500 baht fee seems to now be a suggested donation (to people who already have cushy government jobs?!), and it now takes a week to issue. Edit: As of January 2014, Chiang Mai Immigration is now processing Residence Certificates from a special room around at the rear of the building. They accept the applications in the morning only from 8:30-12:00. There is now a sign posted to confirm that the service is free. Expect it to take a week to issue.
Edit: Immigration Office has once again stopped issuing Residence Certificates. They are now being issued at an office across the road from Promenada Mall on the far east side of Chiang Mai. And once again they are expecting everyone to pay 500 baht for a supposedly free service.
Remember when visiting any government office in Thailand to dress politely and not lose your temper, or you might find it takes forever to get anything done.
Once you have everything you need, go to the Department of Transportation and give everything to the person at the information desk. You’ll have to then proceed to the Inspection area, where they may or may not actually inspect your vehicle. Then you need to hop over to the Insurance office or room, where you pay for some ridiculously cheap personal injury insurance.
When I went, it was a little more than 200 baht which will cover up to 50,000 baht per person involved in an accident. Finally you hand over everything to one of the people behind the counter at the Department of Transportation, and they’ll give you a numbered card. Then you can go home and come back the next day, show them your number, and they’ll fish out your vehicle registration book from a stack of completed ones. Inside you’ll find your name, and you need to also sign your name in the booklet. Ask the person behind the counter where you need to sign your name if you’re not sure.
There is a vehicle registration tax which needs to be paid yearly. It is not expensive. In my case, the old tax sticker had expired, and so the total for registration and tax was around 300 baht. Somewhat annoyingly, the tax sticker is not really a sticker. It’s just a square piece of paper, and you need to get a clear decal or use clear tape to attach it somewhere visible on your bike.
This was all based on my experience registering a motorbike in my name in Chiang Mai. If you are a resident of a different city in Thailand your mileage may vary.