So, I went through this whole process and found there’s so much conflicting, inaccurate or incomplete information about this on the internet, I figured I’d write a blog post. Hopefully it will dispel some confusion and help someone else out, who wants to go through the same process.
The process is rather long and arduous, so know what you’re getting yourself into. If you aren’t in Thailand for more than 1 year and you have an International Driver’s License, you don’t really need a Thai license. Even if you don’t, giving the police a small token of appreciation (in the form of some 100 Baht notes) will usually be enough if you don’t have a proper license of any kind to show when they pull you over. Obviously this is illegal, but everyone does this and it’s not very expensive so it might be worth taking the risk over the effort of getting the license. However I wish I had a blog post like this before starting, it might have made things 100x easier.
Before I start, I went through this in June 2016 in Chiang Mai, so all information is based on the situation at that time. As this is Thailand, rules change, frequently and randomly, so be sure to check for any changes if you’re reading this several months (or even years) in the future. And if you live elsewhere in Thailand I cannot vouch for the same rules applying there.
First of all, let’s dispel some myths. Yes, you CAN get a Thai driver’s license on a Tourist Visa, despite what some websites will tell you. However, there are two different types of licenses: a temporary (2-year) license and a permanent (5-year) license. The first license you’ll get, regardless of your visa, will always be a temporary one. However, if you’re on a non-immigrant visa, you can get a permanent license after the first one expires. This is no possible on a tourist visa, you’ll have to stick with temporary ones and renew every 2 years.
As for the other requirements to get a license, they are: a medical certificate and a certificate of residence. If you have a license from your home country, make sure it’s in English or get it translated to English by your Embassy/Consulate, this will prevent you from having to do the theory exam and driving test.
I suggest you start by getting a certificate of residence. These can be obtained from your Embassy/Consulate (expensive, don’t do it) or from the Thai Immigration Office. In Chiang Mai the Immigration Office is located at Promenada Mall, south-east of the Old City. To get a Residence Certificate make sure you bring your passport and a lease agreement for your apartment (or utility bill, something that proves your address in Thailand).
The certificate is supposed to be free, however I couldn’t figure out where to apply for it. The other option is paying 500 Baht to the G4T office, located right next to the photocopy shop at the Immigration Office. This will ensure you can pick the certificate up the next day. The free option might take several weeks from what I’ve heard. As I couldn’t find the free option, I went with the G4T one and paid 500 Baht. My residence certificate was indeed waiting for me the next day.
For the medical certificate I think I definitely made a mistake by going to the public Maharaj hospital in Chiang Mai. I’ve read that this should cost about 100 Baht, but I paid 350! I’m not sure where to go for 100 Baht ones, probably a clinic as I can’t imagine private hospitals being cheaper than a public one. In any case, getting this is really easy. You just walk in and tell them you need a medical certificate for a driver’s license. A nurse will take your blood pressure, measure your weight and height and you’ll see a doctor, who’s probably going to be more interested in where you’re from, what you’re doing in Thailand and how much you like it there, than your actual health (at least he was in my case…). He’ll sign some form, you pay the hospital and they’ll give you what you need.
Then, make sure you make some copies of your passport’s photo page, TM6 departure card ,current visa and latest entry stamp. If you want both a car and motorbike license, make sure you to also make copies of the residence and medical certificates. I’ve heard they will accept copies if applying for both at the same time. Bring those, along with your certificates to the Land Transportation Office. In Chiang Mai, it’s located on highway 108, just before the entrance to Big C Hang Dong, when coming from Chiang Mai center. (see map) Preferable arrive here before 8 am, as this will most likely save you another trip to this office the next day. I arrived around 11 am and they gave me a queue number and told me to come back with it the next day at 8.30 am.
You will have to do a driving test, so make sure you show up in the vehicle (car/motorbike) you want to get the driver’s license for. I know this makes absolutely no sense: they expect you to drive there without a license to get a license. But hey, it’s Thailand.
The building is pretty obvious and can’t be missed. Be sure to wear long pants and cover your shoulders in this building. I was wearing shorts and had to buy long pants at the Big C next door to proceed (no kidding). Luckily Big C was willing to take them back at the end of the day, as they were terrible.
Go to the second floor and present your documents to the lady at the information counter, she will tell you where to go next. It will probably be window 21, where they will check your papers and tell you to go to window 29 to get a queue number.
Now here’s the point where I had absolutely no information on what would happen next and it was horrible. I was put in a class with a few dozen Thai students to “learn traffic rules”. But obviously, the class was in Thai and for four hours I was sitting there, not having a clue what was being said or when the actual tests would take place.
So, I suggest the first thing you do is tell everyone you don’t speak Thai and do not need the training. Because believe me, you don’t. Here’s the only training you need: http://thaidriving.info/
In the far back of the second floor is the e-exam room. You will get 50 questions, many of which may be the same question asked in a slightly different way and with slightly different pictures. You need a score of 90% (45/50) to pass. Almost all the questions I got were on that online test. The pictures are super unclear and the English is terrible, so don’t feel like it’s cheating: just memorize them and move on.
Because I was forced to sit through the 4 hour training, my exam wasn’t over until 4.30 pm and by then the driving test area had closed. So again I had to come back the next day at 10 am. My suggestion if this happens: show up early, because there will be a queue. To do the actual driving test, drive your motorbike over to the area that says Driving Test Area (or something along those lines, it’s fairly obvious). A small building in the middle is where you register (there’s motorbike parking right next to it).
After that you will get an explanation on how to complete the course in Thai of course. But, you can just wing it by following some of the Thai people that will be doing the same test. One of the things to take into account is: make sure you wear your helmet and tighten the strap, leave it on till the very end when you get your papers back. The course itself is just a matter of making a few turns (use your indicators, duh!), stopping at stop signs (duh!), driving through some cones (very easy) and over a small board (just don’t slow down too much so you go in a straight line). Once you’re finished they’ll sign your papers again, marking you’ve passed. You will have to fill in your motorbike license plate number on the paper (just the 4 numbers) and the province (just write Chiangmai).
After that, go back to the office building and report to the information desk on the second floor again. They’ll give you a queue number. Wait until your number is called, you will have to pay 205 Baht (for a motorbike license, I think it’s 50 more for cars) and they’ll hand you back the paper, along with 100 Baht. You’ll be told to go into the photo area that’s in the middle of the windows. Take a new queue number for the photo area and wait till it’s called. Once the photo is taken, your license will be printed and handed to you. You can optionally pay an extra 10 Baht at this point for a plastic sleeve, but if you’re going to keep it in your wallet, skip it.
So that’s it, you are now the proud owner of a Thai driver’s license.
What’s funny is, a mere hour after I got the license I got pulled over by a cop for the very first time since coming to Thailand… “License please”, was all he said when I politely greeted him with a wai and “sawadee-kap”. I showed him the license (don’t hand it to them unless they specifically ask for it, just show it). “Your motorbike?” he asked me. “Yes”. “Where is tag?”. A few bags of fruit were in the way, so I moved them and showed the tax sticker, showing it was paid until next year. “Move on”, was all he said then, as if I was the one wasting his time (which in his eyes I probably was, as he was hoping for some money from an ignorant tourist). Sorry officer, for not breaking the law.
Here’s a quick TLDR version of the process to get the license (on a tourist visa):
- Get a certificate of residence at the Immigration Office
- Get a medical certificate from a doctor at a clinic or hospital.
- Make a copy of your passport’s photo page, visa page, TM6 departure card and latest entry stamp.
- Memorize the questions and the correct answers on http://thaidriving.info/
- Go to the Land Transportation Office, hand in your documents and tell them you don’t speak Thai and don’t want the training, just the exam and driving test.
- Do the exam, pass in one go.
- Do the driving test, just follow what the other Thai people are doing.
- Go back, pay and have your photo taken, receive your driver’s license.