As an expat perhaps you’ve already begun to explore beyond Chiang Mai’s ancient walls, but not yet obtained a local Thai driving licence. This article will explain if you need one, what’s involved, and how to to do it…
Do I need to get a Thai driving licence?
Firstly, like most Countries in the world it’s a legal requirement to obtain, and carry with you at all times documentation to prove you have a valid driving licence to drive legally in Thailand.
Your vehicle insurance will also be invalid if you do not have the correct driving licence.
An international driving licence is not a valid form of license for expats. It is only valid for tourists who have spent less than 90 months living in Thailand.
In-short – if you’re an expat living in Thailand then you need to obtain a Thai driving licence to drive legally here.
Can expats use an international driving license (IDP)?
No! The maximum period that you can drive a hire car or bike legally on an IDP is 60 days on a Tourist Visa, 90 days on a Non-Immigrant O visa.
Getting a Thai Driving License
The process for obtaining a Thai driving license is actually quite straightforward.
You’ll need to gather some basic documents like your passport, visa, proof of address, and a health certificate. Then head to your local Department of Land Transport office, fill out some paperwork, take a quick eye exam, and you’re all set. The whole process usually only takes a couple of hours and costs around $30 USD.
A Thai driving license is valid for 5 years, covers you for insurance, and allows you to drive in all ASEAN countries. The only additional step is that within 15 days of receiving your license, you must go to a vehicle registration center to register your fingerprints.
While the DLT website and application process are mostly in Thai, the staff at the offices can speak English and will guide you through everything. However, if you prefer, you can also bring a Thai friend to help translate. The most important thing is to dress respectfully by wearing sleeves and having skirts/shorts that go past your knees.
Completed application forms
Pick these up at your local Department of Land Transport office. Staff can assist you in filling them out, even if your Thai isn’t great.
Be aware that government offices maintain a conservative dress code. For men, shirts must have sleeves and no shorts. For women, skirts and dresses should fall below the knees.
You may bring a translator to help you through the process, though many staff do speak basic English. The DLT Smart Queue app for booking appointments is not currently available for expats.
With the proper documentation and attire, obtaining your Thai driving license in Chiang Mai should be a breeze. Soon you’ll be cruising around town, enjoying all the city has to offer! Follow the rules of the road, drive safely, and your new license will serve you well.
Converting an IDP
If you do enter Thailand with an IDP, you can convert it to a Thai driving license without taking the driving test.
You will still need the same documents to prove your identity, address, and health. The conversion process takes around 2-3 hours and also costs $30 USD.
In summary, as an expat living in Thailand long-term, obtaining a proper Thai driving license is your best option. While an IDP can work temporarily, a Thai license provides more benefits and stability. The process is straightforward as long as you go in prepared with the necessary paperwork. Happy driving and stay safe on the roads in Chiang Mai!
Types of driving license available to expats
As an expat in Chiang Mai, you have a few options when it comes to getting a Thai driver’s license. The main types are a temporary one-year license or a long-term five-year license.
One-Year Temporary License
If you plan to drive in Thailand for less than a year, a temporary one-year license is probably your best bet. To qualify, you need to be at least 18 years old, in good health, and hold a valid visa. You’ll need to provide documents like:
- An application form
- Your passport and visa
- A residence certificate or work permit
- A health certificate from a doctor
The one-year license allows you to drive legally but needs to be renewed annually. The benefit is the application process is typically faster than for a five-year license. However, the fees add up over time with renewals.
For long-term driving in Thailand, a five-year license is the way to go. The requirements are similar but also include an eye exam and driving test. The eye exam checks your visual acuity and color blindness. The driving test assesses your ability to properly and safely operate a vehicle.
If you hold a valid driver’s license from your home country, the driving test may be waived. You will still need to pass an eye exam and provide the necessary documents. The five-year license offers more convenience since it does not need to be renewed as frequently. It also may qualify you for an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in other countries.
The license type you choose ultimately comes down to how long you plan to drive in Thailand. Either a one-year temporary license or five-year license will allow you to legally get behind the wheel. Do your research on the requirements and fees for each to determine what makes the most sense for your needs. Following the proper steps to obtain a Thai driver’s license will help ensure a smooth experience on the road during your time as an expat in Chiang Mai.
Documents Needed to Apply for a License as an Expat
To apply for a Thai driving license as an expat living in Chiang Mai, you’ll need to gather several documents to bring with you to the Department of Land Transport.
Make sure you have everything in order before heading over, or you may face delays in getting your license.
- Certificate of Residence (TM30)
- Medical Checkup
- Passport and Visa
- International Driver’s License (Optional)
Certificate of Residence (TM30)
Your TM30, also called a residence certificate, proves you live in Thailand legally. Get this from the Immigration Bureau, and make sure it’s dated within the last 30 days. Some expats have used a work permit with an authorized copy instead.
A basic health checkup from a local clinic or hospital, also dated within the last month, is required. This just confirms you are in good enough health to drive.
Passport and Visa
Bring your valid passport along with your non-immigrant visa. While some expats have obtained a licence with just a tourist visa, the requirements state you need a long-term visa. Play it safe and make sure your visa is in order.
You’ll need two 2-inch photos of yourself, taken within the last six months. Standard passport-style photos will work.
Note: There are many different photograph size requirements for different types of applications. So if you get a photograph completed at a local professional place, explain that it’s for a Thai driving licence and they will likely be able to ensure it’s of the correct size.
International Driver’s License (Optional)
If you already have a valid driver’s license from your home country, bring it along. An international driver’s license can make the process quicker since you may be able to skip some required tests. However, it is not always required, so check with your local DLT office first.
With the proper documents in hand and possible help from a translator, you can successfully navigate the application process at your nearest Department of Land Transport office. While government offices are typically open on weekdays from 8 AM to 4 PM, arriving earlier in the day is recommended. Within a day, if all goes smoothly, you’ll have your official Thai driver’s license and be ready to hit the road!
Where in Chiang Mai to Apply: Department of Land Transport vs. Driving Schools
You basically have two options: going through the Department of Land Transport (DLT) or enrolling in a driving school. Each has its pros and cons, so weigh them carefully based on your needs and budget.
Department of Land Transport
The DLT is a government agency responsible for issuing driver’s licenses. Applying here will typically be cheaper, around 1,000 to 2,000 baht. However, the process can often feel disorganized and time-consuming. You’ll need to provide documents like your passport, visa, residence certificate and a health check. Then comes a written test, driving test, and vision screening. The exact requirements and steps may change, so double check with the DLT branch you plan to visit.
Chiang Mai Provincial Land Transport Office 1:
- Address: 192 Moo 7, Chiang Mai-Hangdong Road, Mae Hia, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50100
- Google Map Code: Q284+P9J
- Phone: 053-270410, 053-278570
- Opening Hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Driving schools, on the other hand, handle the entire licensing process for you, from teaching you rules of the road to administering the necessary tests. While more expensive, ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 baht, it can save you valuable time and headache. The schools are also able to provide instruction in English and guide you through any confusion. Once you pass their tests, they’ll give you approval to obtain your actual license from the DLT.
Changphuak Gate Driving School Chiang Mai
- Website: www.changphuakdriving.com
- Tel: 089 262 2009
- Notes: Website is in Thai
Chiangmai driving school
- Web: cmdrive.sombunyota.com
- Tel: 061 685 3037
- Notes: Website in Thai
KW Driving School
- Web: https://www.facebook.com/chiangmaikw/
- Tel: 095 205 1697
- Notes: Website in Thai
โรงเรียนสอนขับรถยนต์ Chiang Mai Safe drive
- Web: www.cmsafedrive.com
- Tel: 091 850 5678
- Notes: Website in Thai
- Web: chiangmaidriving.com
- Tel: 089 854 9998
- Notes: Website in Thai
- Web: https://www.facebook.com/nakhonlannadriver
- Tel: 086 387 3376
- Notes: Website in Thai
K W. Mae Jo Driving school
- Web: https://www.kwdrivingschool.net
- Tel: 095 205 1696
- Notes: Website in Thai
In the end, you need to weigh the pros and cons of cost versus convenience for your own situation. If time is limited and you want an English-speaking support system, a driving school could be worth the investment. If cost is a concern and you’re comfortable navigating Thai government agencies, applying directly at the DLT may suit you better.
Either way, with some patience you’ll be cruising the streets of Chiang Mai in no time!
Procedure and Tests at the Chiang Mai DLT Office
Once you’ve gathered all the required documents, it’s time to head to the Chiang Mai DLT office to take their driving tests.
The whole process typically takes between 3 to 5 hours, so make sure you have enough time set aside in your day. When you arrive, go to the help desk in Building 4 and let them know you’re there to apply for a Thai driving license. They’ll check over your documents, have you fill out an application, and give you a queue number to wait for your tests.
The first test is a written exam, offered in both Thai and English. It covers basic road signs and rules. As long as you’ve studied the Thai traffic laws manual, you should have no problem passing.
Next, you’ll take an eye exam to ensure you meet the minimum vision standards to drive. They test visual acuity and color blindness. Glasses or contacts are allowed if needed.
Practical Driving Test
Finally, it’s time for the driving test. An examiner will sit in the passenger seat while you drive a predetermined course, demonstrating your ability to properly and safely operate the vehicle. Some tips:
- Check your mirrors and blind spots frequently.
- Obey the speed limit and traffic signs.
- Use your turn signals before changing lanes or turning.
- Come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights.
- If you pass all the tests, you’ll get your 5-year Thai driving license on the spot. Congratulations, you can now legally drive in Thailand and 10 other ASEAN countries! Be safe out there.
Getting a Motorcycle License Simultaneously
Getting a motorcycle license at the same time as your car license just makes sense.
Once you’ve gone through the effort of collecting the necessary documents, having a health check and passing the theory test, you might as well apply for both licenses. This will save you from repeating the entire process if you decide you want to ride a motorbike in Thailand down the track.
To obtain a motorcycle licence, you will need to pass both a theory test and a practical riding test. The theory test is a 20 multiple choice question test about road signs and rules. As long as you’ve studied the road rules manual, you should pass without issues.
For the riding test, you will need to demonstrate you can properly and safely operate a motorcycle. An examiner will assess things like:
- Starting, stopping and changing gears smoothly
- Making left and right turns
- Emergency braking
- Balance at low speeds
- Use of indicators and hand signals
- Awareness of road conditions and other vehicles
So make sure you are familiar and comfortable riding a motorcycle before attempting the test. If you’re not experienced, it’s a good idea to take some lessons at a driving school first.
Once you’ve passed both the theory and practical tests, your photograph and details will be taken for your motorcycle license. The initial license will be valid for two years, after which you can renew it for five years at a time. Having both a car and motorcycle license gives you the freedom to drive whatever vehicle suits your needs on any given day in Thailand. The minor additional effort is well worth it!
Renewing Your Thai Driving License
Renewing your Thai driving license is pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Timing is Everything
You can renew your license up to 3 months before it expires, or within a year after it expires. If it’s been over a year, you’ll have to retake the theory test. And if it’s been over 3 years, you’ll need to retake both the theory and practical driving tests. To save yourself the hassle, try to renew on time.
Gather Your Documents
You’ll need to bring the same documents as when you first applied for your license: your passport, a medical certificate issued within the last 30 days, and a residence certificate. Make sure everything is current and not expired.
Head to Your Local DLT Office
Visit your local Department of Land Transport office, take a queue number, and wait for your turn. When called, an officer will review your documents to make sure everything is in order.
Pay the Renewal Fee
Once approved, you’ll pay a renewal fee of 505 baht for a 5-year license. The officer will take your photo, collect the fee, and issue you a temporary 2-year license. Your new 5-year license should arrive in the mail within a week or two.
If you currently have a 2-year license, now is a good time to upgrade to a 5-year license. The process is very similar to renewing, you’ll just pay an additional fee. A 5-year license means fewer trips to the DLT office and less hassle overall.
Following these steps will ensure a quick and painless renewal of your Thai driving license. Remember, stay on top of the expiration date and have all required documents ready. Before you know it, you’ll have your new license in hand and be back on the road—legally!
Changing an International License to a Thai One
Once you have your Thai driving license, you may want to convert it to an international driving permit or IDP. An IDP will allow you to legally drive in over 150 countries that have signed the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.
To change your Thai license to an IDP, head to your local Department of Land Transport office. Make sure to bring the following documents:
- Your passport with a valid non-immigrant visa
- Copies of the first page of your passport
- Copies of the page with your non-immigrant visa
- A letter of address from the Immigration Bureau or your embassy issued within the last 30 days, or a work permit with a signed copy
- Your 5-year Thai driving license with a signed copy
- Two 2-inch photos taken within the last 6 months
Though some staff at the DLT may speak limited English, it’s best to bring a Thai friend to help translate. The DLT’s appointment app is not available for expats, so you’ll have to go in person.
The IDP application process is fairly straightforward. You’ll fill out some paperwork, provide the necessary documents, have your photo taken, pay the required fee (around 225 baht), and wait while your IDP is issued. The entire process usually only takes around 30 minutes.
Once issued, your international driving permit will be valid for up to 1 year. Be sure to always carry both your Thai driver’s license and IDP with you when driving, as you may be asked to present either or both documents.
Obtaining an international driving permit in addition to your Thai license provides an extra level of flexibility and convenience for expats living in Chiang Mai. No matter where your adventures may take you, you’ll have the necessary credentials to get behind the wheel. Safe and legal driving!
Hiring an Agency to Help With the Process
Many expats find the requirements and various steps involved confusing and frustrating to navigate on their own, especially if you’re not fluent in Thai. So hiring an agency to help you through the process of getting a Thai driving license in Chiang Mai can save you a lot of hassle.
Agencies that specialize in helping foreigners obtain driving licenses and vehicle registrations know the ins and outs of the system and exactly what documentation you’ll need to provide. They can handle all the paperwork for you and act as translators to communicate with staff at the Department of Land Transport. Some agencies even offer additional services like arranging your required health checkup and eye exam.
Using an agency will cost you a bit more than going through the process yourself, typically around 3,000 to 5,000 baht for their services. However, the convenience and peace of mind in having professionals guide you through what can be a bureaucratic nightmare is well worth the investment for many. The agency will walk you through each step so you know exactly what to expect on the day of your appointment at the DLT to take your written exam and driving test.
Thai Driver Service Point
FatBoy’s Thai Driving Licence
- Web: https://www.facebook.com/Fatboyservices/
Tips for Expats Navigating the License System
Getting your Thai driver’s license as an expat can definitely be challenging, but going in with the right mindset and expectations can help make the process smoother. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Do your research
Read up on the requirements and documents needed so you can be prepared. The rules are always changing, so double check with the Department of Land Transport website for the latest details. Some key things you’ll need are a passport, visa, medical certificate, and proof of address.
Bring a Thai friend
If your Thai language skills are limited, having a friend who can translate and help navigate the bureaucratic system will save you a lot of headache. Government offices aren’t always the most foreigner-friendly, so a local can help make sure you have everything in order and assist with any questions.
Applying for licenses and permits in Thailand often involves long waits, multiple steps, and having to go back and forth between different offices. Stay patient and give yourself plenty of time. Rushing the process will likely only lead to more confusion and frustration.
Government buildings in Thailand have strict dress codes. Make sure you wear sleeves, pants or a knee-length skirt, and avoid anything too casual like shorts or tank tops. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed in these situations.
Check if an international permit will work
If you have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you may be able to convert it to an international driving permit to legally drive in Thailand. This can sometimes be an easier process than obtaining a Thai license from scratch. Double check if this is allowed for your particular nationality and license.
Following these tips will help ensure the smoothest experience possible in obtaining your Thai driver’s license. Stay positive, do your due diligence, and don’t get discouraged if there are any hiccups along the way. With some patience, you’ll be cruising the streets of Thailand in no time!
So there you have it, the step-by-step process for getting your Thai driving license as an expat living in Chiang Mai. While it may seem complicated, if you follow the instructions carefully and have the necessary documents ready, you’ll have your license in no time.
The key is not to get frustrated with the bureaucracy and just go with the flow. Once you have that magical Thai driver’s license in your hands, a whole new world of adventure will open up as you explore all the natural wonders Northern Thailand has to offer from behind the wheel of your own vehicle. Drive safely!