The past few years have really been all about me doing things that I never thought I would. Getting married? Not sure that’s for me. Having kids? They are cute, but I’m not the “mom” type. Drive a car in Thailand? Oh heck no! But, here I am, so happily have done the first two, and now, surprisingly doing the last. The roads in Thailand are tame compared to many parts of the world, but are a ton crazier than those in Denver (which is where I’ve had most of my “big” city driving experience). Additionally, public transportation is AWESOME here and taxis are widely available, cheap and pretty reliable. So, I never thought we would consider getting a car. I’ve commuted by bicycle on our local roads ever since Miss C could sit up in a bike seat. After summer, we brought a bike trailer back from America to make her happier, more comfortable and keep her out of the sun a bit. For the most part I have loved taking our bike everywhere. Super eco-friendly, very low cost, and built in exercise every day. All things I love!
BUT, then came rainy season.
This was the worst rainy season I’ve experienced in 3 years in Thailand. It seemed that the streets were constantly flooded with dirty water from the canals and drains. Every afternoon would bring heavy rainfall so if I went somewhere in the morning on my bike I was often stuck taking a taxi back home and then not having the bike in the morning. And on top of that, I kept having bike problems – flat tires, thrown chain, a warped wheel from hitting a pothole… you name it.
So, finally, all of a sudden I HAD to have a car! I jumped headfirst into driving here and haven’t looked back. But, in order to drive, you have to have a driver’s license. Getting a license here seems a bit daunting at first but once you understand the process, it’s not bad at all.
The Thai “DMV”
Driver’s Licenses in Thailand are issued by the Department of Land Transport. They have several offices around the city. This is a great list of all of the offices in Thailand. We used the Bangchak office because it is the closest one to our house. It is located walking distance from the Bangchak BTS station. I’ve heard that the best English can be found at the main office by Jatujak but we found the level of English to be plenty good for our needs.
In order to get your license you need several documents:
1. Application form – You get this form when you arrive at the Department of Land Transport. You will need to fill out one form for each type of license you wish to apply for – motorcycle and car.
2. Passport and copies of your passport.
3. Current, valid Driver’s license from your home country or a current, valid international driver’s license. You will need to make copies of both the front and back of your license as well.
4. Current, valid non-resident visa and copies
5. Medical Certificate for Driving and copies – I got mine from a local clinic in my neighborhood for around 200 baht.
6. Work Permit or Affidavit of Residency from your embassy and copies.
*** Copies – you will need a copy of each of the above documents for each license you are applying for. So if you wish to get both a car and motorcycle license, you will need two copies. Copies can be made at the Land Transport Office for a minimal fee or you may bring them along to avoid that step.
Affidavit of Residency
**If you have a work permit you can skip this step.
Expats who do not have a work permit need to have an Affidavit of Residency form that is notarized. For U.S. citizens, you can have the form notarized at the U.S. Embassy. The fee is $50. Most other embassies offer notary services as well.
The process is fairly simple. For U.S. citizens, make an appointment and then head to US citizen services at the embassy on Thanon Wittayu. You will only need four things:
- Form that you want to have notarized (printable here)
- Appointment confirmation sheet
- $50 payable with cash USD, Thai baht or a credit card (there is a sign that says they don’t accept Thai debit cards.)
You will not be permitted to bring your cell phone or any large bags into the embassy so it’s best if you only bring what you absolutely need.
You will need to bring the above documents to the Department of Land Transport office of your choosing. The following information applies specifically to the Bang Chak Department of Land Transport (district 3). The experience may be slightly different especially the specific desk numbers. However, overall the process should be quite similar.
1. When you enter the building you will check in at a desk on your immediate left hand side. The person at the desk will give you the application form for car or motorcycle or both depending on what you came for. You write your name and phone number at the top of this form.
2. You then need to make copies of your documents if you didn’t bring them.
3. Then, visit window 9 where the worker will examine your documents and your application and give you a queue number. They will keep your documents while you sit and wait. After checking through your documents, they will call your name. You will pick up your documents at window 10.
4. You will then wait outside the rooms numbered 15-16. You must do several tests related to eyesight and reaction time. The testing groups are called in by color of the card. It is helpful if you know your thai colors but certainly not necessary. You will go in as a group and cycle through the 3 tests. The tests are pretty simple and involve naming colors in your peripheral vision, a depth perception test, and a timing test where you put your pedal on the gas and then hit the brake as soon as the light turns red.
5. After passing the three tests, you will go wait to watch a safety video. Your documents will remain with the test proctors. The video plays over and over throughout the day in room 14. It is an hour long and thankfully has English subtitles. You will be called in as a group by number. Don’t worry, you are almost done at this point! The staff member will ask you to sign in to watch the video by signing your queue number and name on a sheet of paper that is passed around the room.
6. After the video is finished, they will call you up by ticket number to take your documents. From there, you will go and get another queue number from desk number 8. Then you will listen as they announce the numbers.
7. Once your number is called, you will go to the appropriate desk and hand over your application and documents. The clerk will check over the documents one last time and then you will pay the license fee. The clerk will take your photo and then ask you to check over the information on the screen. Check it very carefully. I thought mine was correct but they were very unhappy with me when I had to go back and get new ones printed because there was an extra letter in my last name!
After verifying everything, you only have to wait for your license to print and you are finished!
The process is long and certainly gives you a sense of accomplishment once it is finished! Many people choose to pay agencies to help them through the process, but we found that to be completely unnecessary. The level of English was fine and if you know a bit of Thai it’s even better.
A couple of final pro tips
Dress appropriately for going to a government office in Thailand. If you wear shorts or a tank top, they are very likely to refuse to serve you until you go change. You may even be halfway through the process when they tell you to leave. #knowfromexperience
No need to bring passport photos – there seems to be a rumor that you need to bring your own photo. This isn’t the case, and your photo will be taken right before the license is printed.
Best of luck on your driving adventures in Thailand!