Applying for a Thai driving licence
Surprisingly it's not that difficult.
I've been saying I'd get a Thai car/motorcycle driving license for about four years now, but just had never gotten around to it. After years of experiences with US Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices, I wasn't exactly in a hurry to deal with what I expected would be an even worse experience. Luckily for me, I was wrong!
Take a Thai
I went to the "main" Bangkok office just next to Mo Chit BTS. I was especially surprised that the majority of stuff I needed to do/watch was available in English (or almost-English) soundtrack (for how-to videos) and/or subtitles (for the required hour-long safety video, consisting primarily of some hot Thai movie star named Manow... I've seen worse).
That said, almost none of the paperwork was in English, and few of the staff I encountered spoke enough English to ask any real questions, so I'd highly (highly) recommend taking someone Thai with you to avoid frustration.
I won't go into huge details about what to do to get the license, but will suggest you check out this webpage for a fairly detailed and up-to-date (as of July 2016) process of what you need, and here for a link containing *literally* 85% of the current motorcycle license "exam" questions, which are surprisingly available in English (but only just). You'll also want to make sure you have 2 copies of everything important from your passport AND work permit (it seems to be a no-go without a work permit), and your current foreign license; just take those to the copy lady just inside the building and she'll know exactly what you need.
Note that the work permit serves as your required "residency certificate," and you do NOT have to get one of those from your embassy or Thai immigration.
If you have a US license (and I assume most European countries, but don't know for sure), you can bypass the "written" driving exam and practical driving test, which I understand requires you make an appointment at the time of application (in person, not over the phone), and return a month or so later due to backlog. You'll only have to do the color/reflexes tests (for car and motorcycle licenses), which are a piece of pie and/or joke; just copy what the Thais do and you'll be fine.
In Thailand, though, you get a separate motorcycle/car license with different numbers, so I opted to kill two birds with one stone and get both the same day. My US license didn't cover motorcycles, so I had to do the 50-question computerized exam and practical driving test; for the exam, I *highly* recommend reviewing the questions (link above), as, with this being Thailand, you can't simply "logic" your way through the exam, and you must get 45/50 to pass; they're looking for specific (often random) answers, and when you see the questions above you'll understand what I mean. I never would have passed without reviewing the questions/answers just before the exam. (Apparently, it IS legal to drive a tank through Bangkok...)
On two wheels
For the motorcycle driving test, there really wasn't much to it; the hardest part was driving across a narrow raised platform for 10 seconds without falling off, but ironically enough, of the four of us taking the test, I, the foreigner, was the only one to pass the first time; all of the Thais apparently missed the last stop sign. Just pay attention, heed the stop signs, and you'll be golden. I will note that the motorcycle you can rent there (50 baht, automatic) is OLD and doesn't exactly handle nicely.
All in all, though, I arrived just after 8:00, and was out of there by about 12:30, which considering my experiences with the Georgia DMV in the US, is a walk in the park. The majority of the staff there were nothing but smiles, and aside from having to go through the usual bureaucratic BS, it was surprisingly painless. I now have two licenses for 510 baht total, shiny and all, that are valid for two years; apparently I can renew them both for five years just after they expire with just another eye/color/reflex test and payment.
If nothing else, they'll make nice good luck medallions to hang in the secondhand car I'm about to buy.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.
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Great write up and as of 2018 looks like not much has changed
By Kevin Pumachanh, Babgkok (24th August 2018)
I had a licence many years ago and let it expire. I tried again but found putting the answers into a computer that would obviously kill me if I did them on the road was just to much. I walked out. I know I am a visitor and I should just do it for the sake of it.
Since doing the computer test and continuing to drive on an Australian licence i now understand the difference and why the accidents are happening.
So my answer is to to get an International licence renewed every year when i go back see my mum. I have been stopped at road blocks a few times and have had no problems.
In Petchabun I actually had a policeman say in his best attempt at English. Oei, Licence Australia, harder than Thai. OK Good Good.
By Paul, Over there (18th August 2016)
When I go to my local office for my car licence, I get invited to the bosses desk before I even sit down. They take great care of you, Ive never had to watch the videos (did the 1 year provisional and the full 5 year licence), and longest Ive been there is about 90 minutes.
By Rob, Bk (28th July 2016)
@Mark, thanks for the additional info! Good to know. It's odd that I got a 2-year for both of mine though; I was also expecting 1-year for each, and oddly enough, my lady specifically asked them and they said I HAD to wait until AFTER the licenses expired to get them renewed; they said there was no way to renew mine even on the day they expired, which I sense is a case of "how many letters are in the month," aka BS. haha
I'm glad you noted the medical certificate; I forgot about that. I literally paid some clinic guy 100 baht to sign the paper the day before in my neighborhood (again, helps to have a Thai in the know), and they accepted a copy of it for the motorcycle license application too. How 'bout them apples.
By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (28th July 2016)
If you have a business visa (One-Year Multiple Entry Non-Immigrant B Visa) you won't need the work permit but you will need your original Residence Certificate, though and it has to be less than a month old.
(If you live in a rural area then a letter from your local police station can do the trick.)
If it's in your name, the yellow 'House Book' will exclude you from the residency requirement.
A doctor's certificate is also required. (Easy and cheap.)
Your first license is for one year only. The second license is for a minimum of five years. (If you time it right you can get close to six years!)
You'll have to renew your license BEFORE it expires. (60 days.)
Your experiences will vary and the 'rules' can change depending on the person, mood of the person and how many letters there are in the month!
Also: If your 'home' driver's license is not in English get it clearly translated. .. unless you want to be there the whole day doing the entire test!
If you can't read Thai take someone with you that can.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (27th July 2016)