There have been many reports recently of traffic police in Chiang Mai targeting foreign motorists for not having a Thai driver’s license. In the past, the traffic cops would usually only stop motorbike riders not wearing helmets in order to line their pockets with cash “fines” paid on the spot. But it seems they’ve now realized that foreigners are easy pickings when it comes to lacking the proper documents to be driving on Thai roads. Not wanting to find myself contributing to their whiskey fund, I decided it was about time to get myself an official Thai driving license.
There are a few steps you have to go through, but it’s not expensive, and when you see just how easy the testing procedure is you’ll realize why there are so many dangerous Thai drivers on the roads. The first license that you apply for is called a temporary license. It’s valid for one year. When you have less than a month before it expires, you can then apply for a regular license, which is valid for 5 years. However, if you’re here on a tourist visa you will only be able to get one year at a time.
What You Need to Take to the Department of Land Transportation (DLT)
- Certificate of Residence
- Certificate of Health from a doctor
- Home country driving license or international driving permit (if you have one)
- Photocopies* of the front and back of current license or all the pages of international driving permit, and of your passport: info page, current visa, latest entry stamp, & embarkment card.
*If applying for both auto and motorcycle licenses at the same time, prepare two sets of all documents using photocopies of the residence and health certificates for the second set.
Getting the Documents Needed for a Thai Driving License
Certificate of Residence
You can get a residence certificate from your local Immigration Office. In Chiang Mai, the Immigration Office is located right before the airport, you’re no doubt familiar with it if you’ve been living here for a while. A Certificate of Residence is now issued for free, although it takes a week to process. At Chiang Mai, they’ve recently opened a special room around the back side of the Immigration building just for processing these (as of January 2014). In the past, they were charging 500 baht to make them, even though it was supposed to be a free service. Someone in charge straightened out the situation, and they’re now going out of their way to let you know that it’s a free service. You even have to sign a slip of paper affirming that you did not pay anything when you pick up your certificate. You’ll need to bring the following:
- copy of your rental agreement or some other proof of address
- copy of all important pages in your passport: info page, current visa, latest entry stamp, embarkment card, 90-day reporting card
- 2 passport photos
Bring all the documents to Immigration before noon. You can pick up your certificate a week later in the afternoon between 1-4 pm. If you’re in the country on a tourist visa, and you find that Immigration won’t give you a Residence Certificate without a non-immigrant visa, you should be able to get one from your consulate, but it may cost a bit depending on which country you’re from.
As of June 2014 the Immigration Office is no longer issuing certificates of residence. The office for residence certificates has been moved to an inconvenient location on the far east side of town across the street from Promenada Mall. According to reports, they have also gone back to pressuring everyone to pay 500 baht for what is supposed to be a free service.
Certificate of Health
This doctor’s certificate is a big joke. The doctor will basically check that you still have a pulse and then sign off on the form. If you want it done cheaply, don’t go to a big fancy private hospital. I got mine at Changpuek Hospital for just 50 baht.
Home Country License or International Driving Permit
If you have an international driving permit or a valid English-language license from your home country, you won’t need to take the test for the class of vehicle listed on your current license. In my case, my driver’s license from Wisconsin is a Class D permit, which allows me to drive autos. So that meant I only had to take the test for motorcycles at the Thai DLT.
If you forget any photocopies don’t worry about it, as there’s a place to get cheap copies done inside the DLT.
In Chiang Mai, the Department of Land Transportation is located on Hang Dong Road. If you head south past Central Airport Plaza shopping center you’ll first pass Tesco Lotus, and then a little further on, the DLT is on your left just before Big C. It’s the place with the white and purple painted fence railings. You’ll want to try to get there around 8 in the morning. Be prepared for it to take all day, but in my case I was out before noon because they didn’t make me sit through the class.
Steps for Getting a Thai Driving License at the Department of Land Transport
1. Show all your documents to the information counter on the 2nd floor.
2. They’ll send you to counter 21, and your documents will be checked again.
3. Go to counter 28 and take color-blindness and reaction tests, receive a queue number, and report to the correct counter when your number is called.
4. Here I paid 205 baht for my auto license, went to another booth to take the digital photo and receive the license, then came back to the original counter. I needed to take written and driving tests for the motorcycle license.
5. At this point many people have said that they had to sit in through a long and very boring 3-4 hour series of lectures and videos about the rules of the road and driver safety—all in Thai. Luckily for me, the officer just told me to go to the testing room after it opened at 10 am. In the meantime I could study from a booklet that they keep behind the counter, which needs to be returned before you can enter the testing room. When you study from the book, try to remember the distances that you’re allowed to park from things such as fire hydrants, pedestrian crossings, and railroad tracks because you’ll probably have one or more of these questions on the test.
The written test is given on a computer. It’s 30 questions long, each question is multiple-choice with four possible answers, and you have up to an hour to complete it. The English translated version of the test is horrible. It’s full of spelling mistakes, mistranslated words, and a few questions that just don’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s really quite inexcusable that an official government exam was translated so poorly. You may also see several repeat questions or questions that are nearly identical.
You need a score of at least 23 correct to pass. However, if you fail you can take the test once more. But if you fail again then you’ll have to come back to retake it the next day. If you fail the first time (as I did) you’ll get to see the correct answers for the questions you missed. Based on my two turns taking the test, I think your chances of passing will be high if you can remember the following:
U-turns are not allowed on a bridge or at an intersection. Variations on the U-turn question accounted for about 20% of the test. (Maybe they’re trying to stress this in the test because Thai drivers like to U-turn absolutely anywhere?)
At a 4-way intersection, the car on the left has the right-of-way.
For any questions about what kind of vehicle is not allowed on the road, the answer is always the car with something broken or missing (brake light, headlight, windshield, invalid plates).
For any question about when you’re not supposed to drive, the answer is always the situation where you’re physically or mentally impaired (drinking alcohol, about to have a heart attack, etc.) Take a gander at this actual question from the test:
Q: If you’re driving and find yourself feeling drowsy, you should…
A. Slow down
B. Drink coffee
C. Take an amphetamine pill
D. Pull over and rest until you feel ready to continue driving
6. After passing the written test, head outside and drive your vehicle over to the test driving area. For motorcycles, I had to drive around a very short course, stopping and turning just a few times. Then I had to weave around half a dozen cones—easy. Then there is a thin beam, about 8 inches wide 30 feet long and raised up about 1 inch that you need to drive across. It was also quite easy to pass. I imagine it would only be difficult if you’ve never driven before.
7. After passing the driving test, then I went back to the second floor information counter and got another queue number. When called up to the booth, I paid another 155 baht for the motorbike license. Go to take another picture, and this time pay another 10 baht. And done!
Total damage was 420 baht, which includes the doctor certificate (not counting the price of making copies or the two photos for the residence certificate). All-in-all it was much easier than I’d anticipated.
The written driving test was extended to 50 questions in June 2014. You are also now required to get 90% correct (or no more than 5 wrong) to pass. Apparently, they have not bothered to fix the horrible translation and mistakes in the English version of the test. If you want to study the questions beforehand, you can find them here.
Benefits of Having a Thai Driving License
Driving legally in Thailand
The obvious benefit is that you’re now fully legal to drive in Thailand. If you get in an accident without having a proper license you could end up paying a lot more money. Plus now the traffic cops will have no reason to ask you for a bribe assuming that you’re wearing a helmet, have your bike properly registered, and have the yearly tax paid up.
Accepted in All ASEAN countries
The new Thailand driving license is valid for driving in not just Thailand, but also in the other 9 ASEAN member countries. So that means you don’t need a separate international driving permit to rent a motorbike in Bali or brave the streets of Saigon.
Get the Thai price
A Thai driving license is an accepted form of ID in Thailand, and it will usually allow you to pay the cheaper Thai price for entrance to national parks, museums, and other places that have a discriminatory dual-pricing system. If you visit just a couple national parks while you live here, the Thai license has already paid for itself with the hundreds of baht you’ll be saving.
If you’re living in a different part of Thailand, the basic procedure for getting a Thai driver’s license should be fairly similar. But if you have any different info based on your experience, please leave a comment.