A common misconception in Thailand is that you can drive using your foreign driver’s licence for an indefinite period in Thailand and you will not suffer any consequences and there is no need to apply for a Thai driving license. Sadly this is not the case. Below is some information regarding using a foreign driving licence, how long you can use it for and when and where you apply for a Thai driving license.
In order to drive in Thailand the law requires you to have a either a Thai driving licence or valid foreign licence that is complete with a photograph. If you are using a foreign license it should be in English or alternatively be accompanied by an official translation into Thai or English. Licences are only valid if they have been issued by a country that has a treaty with the Thai Government allowing the mutual acceptance of driving licences. These countries include the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
An International Driver’s Licence/Permit often referred to as IDL or IDP is also valid in Thailand. You qualify to apply for an IDL or IDP if your foreign driving licence is valid under the 1949 or 1968 Conventions and the benefits of these sort of licence primarily revolve around the fact that they are more frequently recognised and accepted by police and civil service officials. IDL and IDP can only be issued by Government Departments or authorised auto clubs.
NOTE. It should be noted that although IDL and IDP’s are valid for 1 year after arrival in Thailand, after 3 months most comprehensive insurance policies are made void if you are still driving on a foreign licence.
If you are in possession of a non-immigrant visa and by definition a resident of Thailand you must hold a valid Thai driving licence. Assuming that you hold either a foreign driver’s licence or a International Driving Licence you are exempt from doing the practical driving test when applying for your Thai driver’s licence.
Naturally, it goes without saying that you can only legally drive the type of vehicle that your licence permits.
How do I get a Thai Driving Licence?
You will need to go to the local driving centre, in Pattaya it is located next to Regents School just off the Highway 36. As things are always subject to change in Thailand it is well worth phoning in advance to establish exactly what paperwork is required before going. If is almost guaranteed that the following paperwork will be required:
- Passport with valid non-immigrant visa (a tourist visa is not accepted)
- Work Permit: if no work permit is held then a Certificate of Residence issued by the Thai Immigration Bureau or a Letter of Residence issued by the appropriate embassy will usually be sufficient, but telephone to confirm. The work permit must be valid and the letter or certificate no more than 30 days old
- Medical certificate from a hospital or health clinic which must be no more than 30 days old
- Two photographs, 1×1 inch, no more than six months old. In some offices photos are not required as they will be taken with DLT cameras as part of the process
- Valid international or foreign driving licence. A foreign driving licence must have a certified translation issued by the Embassy. Foreign driving licenses in the English language will sometimes be accepted with no translation necessary
Generally speaking the process will take a few hours to complete and the Pattaya office does get extremely busy. Some forms need to be completed in Thai so you will need to take a Thai speaker with you who will be able to offer some assistance. It is highly recommended that you get there before 8am as there will be large queues and there are only a limited number of available spaces each day.
What to do at the Department of Land Transport Office
When you arrive at the Department of Land Transport Office you will be required to do the following:
- Fill in the licence application form
- Hand in the application
- Participate in an eyesight test
- Participate in a reaction test
Once all the formalities have been completed a Thai driving licence, valid for one year, is issued. After this period the person will need to renew their licence and can apply for a licence that is valid for five years.
To exchange a motorbike licence the procedure is essentially the same. There is no limit to the size of engine that can be driven with the licence.