Thailand Drivers License
Having researched this topic on the internet, I find that a lot of information is outdated due to changes and can be misleading. Likewise, this article could become outdated and misleading in the future, so I want to try to take some precautions here and mainly guide you in ways which might save you time and effort, and cover some things which I haven't seen covered well elsewhere, especially the status in 2022.
I've had a Thai driver's license for many years, including renewal, and it had always been easy for me in the past before my 2022 renewal after 5 years, though sometimes a bit time consuming. Renewal in the year 2022 was more difficult.
When I started the process to renew my driver's license in August 2022, their phone app didn't work for me, and when I drove to a local Department of Land Transportation (DLT) office, I found that I had to book an appointment and it was fully booked until sometime in December! And my nearest DLT office was not the only one ... If this is what you're looking for, jump down the page to the renewal section.
First the basics:
You are required to either have an International Driver's License (IDL) or else get a Thai driver's license to drive in Thailand, rent a car, and/or purchase car insurance (depends on insurance company). International Driver's Licenses I got in the USA expired much quicker (mine were good for only a year), unlike my foreign driver's licenses (multi-year), so you may want to consider just getting and renewing a Thai driver's license rather than renewing your IDL overseas if you plan to stay in Thailand more than a year, though you may still need those IDLs for driving in other countries. The Thailand Department of Land Transportation issues IDLs for Thai drivers licenses so that Thai drivers can also drive overseas on their Thai license.
A driver's license from another country is not officially accepted for driving in Thailand if you do not also have an IDL to go with it. However, my experience has been that it has been good enough with some policemen. I don't recommend you take that chance. I'm just noting my own experiences, and your mileage may vary ... I started with a driver's license from Washington, D.C., when I first arrived, and the policemen who occasionally stopped me accepted it, but some have commented that I should get a Thai or International Driver's License. (My normal license is in English already, not German or Chinese, so that may be why they have accepted that to date. However, if they wanted, they could fine me ... or you.)
Exception: Driver's licenses from Singapore, Malaysia and Laos are accepted in Thailand.
Thailand Guru has received questions about IDLs, so let me explain: An "international driver's license" is just a piece of paper, not a standalone license card. It is a standard form for translating your driver's license into English and organizing this information into a standard format, so that any policeman in the world does not need to figure out how to read the many different kinds of drivers licenses -- they read the IDL instead of your national driver's license, only glancing at your national license, since the two go together. You usually get your IDL in our own country. There's no test, it's just a standard form you fill out, get visa-like pictures made, pay a fee, and it can all be done in around 15 minutes. You fold the IDL like a brochure. You carry your IDL with your driver's license. You present your IDL together with your foreign driver's license. You must present both. The policeman will usually read only the IDL because he is familiar with the IDL format and knows where to look for what information. Also, policemen are supposed to be able to read English, but not German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, etc., and an IDL is in English.
I got my IDLs from AAA (American Automobile Association) during trips to the U.S., usually in a state other than the one my license was issued, just wherever I happened to be (e.g., an IDL from a AAA in New Mexico for a Washington, D.C., driver's license). There is no AAA office in Thailand, or in any other country than the US and Canada, as far as I saw on their website at that time. Non-Americans will need to get their IDL by other ways.
You can get an IDL in Thailand if you have a Thai driver's license, but not for a foreign driver's license. There are various stories on this.
You must have your Thai driver's license for a year before you can get your IDL, both of which you get from the Ministry of Land Transport in the same place in the same building. However, some other people say it's do-able otherwise. The first Thai driver's license you get will be valid for only 1 year and will say "Temporary" on it. When you renew it a year later, you get a 5 year license, and you can get the IDL with that.
Local provincial offices in the past did not issue international driving licenses, only Thai driver's licenses. International driver's licenses are usually obtained in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
For an international driver's license, you must take documents to the Vehicle Registration Division of the Department of Land Transport. In Bangkok, the office is located opposite Chatuchak Park, by the Mo Chit bus station, at 1032 Phahonyothin Rd. Application can also be made at the Vehicle Registration Office in Chiang Mai located on Chiangmai-Hangdong Rd. as well as other registered centers. Allow one month for issuance & mail delivery from Bangkok. (Yes, the "international" driver's license bureaucracy is ridiculous in many countries...)
To get a Thai driver's license, there are many more offices where you can go.
You can usually get a Thai driver's license at any branch of the Department of Land Transport nationwide, regardless of where you live. In the past, it was required that you apply in the province that you live in, but that has apparently been relaxed (as it has for many other things over the years). Whether or not you can find English speaking staff is another issue, but you can bring a Thai interpreter.
You normally get your Thai driver's license immediately while you are there. The last time I tried, in 2022, it took me only about an hour on-site, though I was well prepared in advance.
Within the Bangkok region, there are at least 5 offices. A popular branch office for foreigners has been on Sukhumvit soi 99.
The main office is near the Mo Chit BTS station / Chatuchak MRT, on Phahonyothin Road between the Mochit and Saphan Kwai BTS stations. It's a long walk, so maybe take a motorcycle taxi. You will see the sign Ministry of Land Transport and probably some traffic going in and out. When you go in, there are several buildings so follow the road straight all the way to the back to the T intersection. It's the last building on the right.
Here I will list what is/was needed before, but the only authoritative source is the government's own website, by the link given at the bottom of this page (and hopefully it is up to date, complete and accurate).
For a Thai driver's license, you officially need:
Some sites say you must bring 2 photos, size 1" x 1" (inches), filmed, not by digital camera and printer. I was never asked for any photo. They always took my photo there as part of the standard process they were doing for everybody, the final lady sitting next to a standard ID photo setup inside the office. I don't know why I still see on some websites that you should bring photos.
It is quickest if you bring your own copies of documents required. However, if you don't, then at the Mochit office, there is a big photocopy operation right by the front door and people using it to photocopy passports, work permits, etc., for 1 baht per page. However, you need to tell them specifically which pages to copy. At upcountry offices, your experience may vary. I didn't see any such outside service provider in my last renewal in 2022.
The process was reasonably quick. Brake reaction test (two pedals, green light switching to red), depth perception test, color blindness test, peripheral vision test, then at the last booth they took my photo and gave me the driver's license card right there.
The first Thai driver's licenses you get is valid for only one year, but the second year you can apply for a 5-year license. The second time around, you need to only bring your old license and go thru the process again.
For the international driver's license, you need:
Applications must be made in person. Take originals & one set of copies. Somebody said that applications made in Chiangmai require 2 sets of copies. Also, provide a self addressed return envelope with 2 postage stamps for registered mail.
If you have no license and must take the written and driving tests, be advised that there is a free 2 hour training video twice per day, and you should check the latest schedule. Unfortunately, it's in Thai, not English, but an interpreter may be able to keep up with it. Then you take the written test, which is in Thai and you'll need a translator (who might also tell you the answers?). I've heard of officials being more lenient to foreigners about passing the written test. Then you take a simple driving test. There is also a set of tests in a room on equipment to check for your reflex (press pedals quickly after the color changes between green and red), color blindness, peripheral vision, and depth perception.
Don't Support the Mafia
There are plenty of stories of illegal "agents" who will get the driver's licenses for you, whereby you don't need to go to the official offices. Of course, they charge a fee. Yes, this may explain many of the bad Thai drivers on the road. I don't approve of supporting this agent process, because I know about some Thai people who caused some bad accidents in which people were seriously hurt. Yeah, you're a farang who already knows how to drive well, but it's better not to support the agents and system that allows incompetent drivers, too. If you're too busy to get a driver's license properly, then just save your money and give it to the police -- if they ever hassle you about not having a Thai license -- because it's still better to pay a fine and support the police who do real work, than pay that kind of agent. However, your opinion may differ. My opinion is "Safety First". I'd rather support police than encourage agents.
Thus, maybe first resort: Get an international driver's license overseas in your home country before you depart for Thailand. Second resort: Get a Thai driver's license. Last resort: You could drive with your foreign license but be prepared for the possible consequences. However, don't pay an agent to get the Thai license for you.
I've heard stories from colleagues who advertised job openings for which one of the requirements is that the Thai candidate has a driver's license. The company car's insurance policy requires that the driver is licensed. They've hired these staff, then had an occasion whereby they need the staff to drive somewhere, but the staff say they can't because they have never driven a car. They bought their driver's license from an agent who knew a corrupt official in the Dept. of Land Transport. So, if you advertise a job opening requiring driving skills, ask for both a driver's license but also driving experience & skills. I still see advertisements requiring only the license. Some have even taken overseas jobs with the requirement of having a driver's license! (And I could write a lot more about Thais padding their CVs and going into jobs they can't do and are sure to fail at ... amazing.)
Renewal in 2022
You can no longer just walk into any branch office to get or renew your driver's license. You must book an appointment using the app (as I did), or as they have said, on the website. The main office at Chatuchak/Mochit is an exception, where you can still just walk in.
For renewal, most people must watch a 1 hour video about driving safely. It's mandatory for most people. You can watch this video from your smartphone before you visit the local office to get your driver's license.
On your smart phone, you can install the app from the Department of Land Transport, create an account, log in. From that point, you can watch the video there. It pauses from time to time to ask you a question. You can also use this app to make an appointment at any branch office.
I initially had problems with the app. When I downloaded it, I found:
We drove to a provincial office near Bangkok, and handed them my phone. They tried it, and saw it didn't work. They could get into my record on their computer, but not on my mobile on the app. They changed my password, and my wife was eventually able to get my account going on her phone and help me out.
Once at this provincial office, which didn't look very busy to me, they said we had to book an appointment for renewal and couldn't do it on this day in which we had walked in. It was late August 2022, but this branch's appointments were all full until December! Another branch office in my province was booked until March the next year!! They said we could book at any branch office, but every branch office required a booking, except we could just walk in at Chatuchak/Mo Chit, the main location. Chatuchak had a lot of people in the queue when I went there many years ago, but was not too bad back then. If the appointments system is backlogged so much at many branch offices, then it could result in many more people going to Chatuchak now than in the past before the time of online bookings, so I was not about to try my luck at Chatuchak in 2022, especially during COVID.
So, we started checking out offices in other provinces to drive to, trying to find any which had appointment openings within the next few weeks, with my Thai wife doing things on the app in Thai. We found one which had openings on Friday of the same week, just days away, and within an hour and a half drive from my home in a northern Bangkok suburb, Pathum Thani (and a little longer from central Bangkok). We found the location on Google Maps, and confirmed that everything looked good, so we booked it.
This place was on a rural highway, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by an agricultural area. When we arrived, we found it to be very nice, organized, and operated very well by good employees who were helpful with good attitudes. Everything went smoothly, step by step. It was a very nice ending. Hopefully, it will stay that way, but be sure to book an appointment via the app before you go.
Official Website and App for the Thailand Department of Land Transportation
The official website is the Department of Land Transport.
There is also an app for mobile phones, called "DLT Smart Queue".
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