Thai Driving Licence in Chiang Mai

The right of way is fiercely contested in Thailand
The right of way is fiercely contested in Thailand

It’s hard to believe that anyone in Chiang Mai actually has a driving licence, or at least has passed a test, but getting a valid Thai licence is possible for all nationalities. Either you can produce an existing foreign drivers licence or take the test.

Having taken the test you’ll soon discover why so many drivers in this town are so oblivious to the simplist of road safety rules. Provided you can remember your highway code enough to pass the theory test and prove you can operate a vehicle inside the Traffic Department’s compound you’ll be issued a nice shiny Thai Licence – voila! Oh, we forget to mention, there is a little red tape too.

For starters, you will need the following:
  • Residency certificate from the Immigration Office, or a copy of your work permit or yellow residency book (take the original too).
  • A copy of your Non-immigrant visa, Passport details, last entry stamp/extension stamp, OR your tourist visa (note, it may be possible to get a residency certificate from immigration by presenting a tourist visa or non imm. visa).
  • Two photos (1 inch x 1 inch), matt finish, not more than 6 months old.
  • A basic medical certificate – which you can obtain effortlessly from any doctor.
  • A valid drivers’ licence, or International drivers licence from your own country (if you have one), which should be translated into English from your embassy, if it is issued in any other language.
  • A fee of 205 Baht (for a car) or 105 Baht (for a motorbike).

With this in hand you can then present yourself at the small ‘help desk’ (basic English is spoken) on the second floor of the Traffic Department building which is located in the compound directly opposite the end of the airport runway, on the Hang Dong road.

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Issuing a Thai drivers’ licence to previous licence holders

With all of the above documentation in hand you should be able to obtain a licence within one hour, the process is straight forward, you should arrive at 09:00 or 13:00, in good time to watch the scheduled highway code revision video (an outdated one is shown privately in English on computers).

You will be tested for colour-blindness and perhaps peripheral vision, then photographed and presented with a shiny new Thai licence all within about 90 minutes.

Taking a driving test for a Thai licence

It’s equally easy to obtain a Thai drivers’ licence, either for car or motorbike. Since the same documentation is needed you should consider ‘killing two birds with one stone’, taking the motorbike test if your current licence is only valid for cars.

Note! All motorbike licences in Thailand have to be taken, foreign motorbike licences, ironically, are not acceptable. The test is an easy one, ensuring you can ride a bike through a set of cones.

First you will be given a brief vision test. The theory test is a simple 30 question multiple choice test that is offered twice a day. The results are issued within 20 minutes and if you have passed (75% and above) you can immediately arrange a test. Arrive at 9:30 or 13:00 if you want to wath the refresher theory video.

If you have forgotten your ‘highway code’ we recommend you download a copy of the UK Highway Code which is very similar. However you also have the benefit of attending a 30 minute video (in English). Since English viewers have the advantage of a private video on computers, they can show up late. Tip! Take along a notepad to note down some of the critical distances and limits mentioned in the video so you can quickly ‘cram’ them before the test.

Now for the astonishing part. To test your worthiness to drive among traffic, you will be asked to complete a simple ‘obstacle’ test in/on your own vehicle. This occurs in their compound and is more of a test to see if you can operate your vehicle, with a short test that’s usually over in a few minutes and tests your ability to reverse park, turn etc.

Having passed this you will then be sent back to the main building and receive your licence after a short wait. Usually the testing officers are quite fair.

By law you are expected to carry a Thai drivers’ licence when driving on public roads and foreigner drivers’ licence should, in theory, only be used for the first 60 days of your stay in Thailand. Drivers are seldom penalised for this, but having a Thai licence is handy and avoids ‘situations’ that might cost you a ‘spot fine’!


Further reading…