My Experience in Getting a Thai Driver’s Licence

As a foreigner, you need the following documents to obtain a full Driver’s Licence in Thailand.

A medical certificate. This can be obtained from any clinic or hospital authorised to issue a certificate for the purpose of obtaining a licence. As a non-Thai, you will be directed to the VIP suite of a private hospital. You’ll receive lots of smiles, there’ll be no queuing, you’ll be treated like a King, be given a complimentary coffee, and – most important of all – a bill for 200 baht for the three minute consultation. In my case, I was told that I did not need a medical certificate.

Thais use the state hospitals if they need to get a medical certificate for driver licence purposes.

You will need a Proof of Residence. If you have one, you can use a Work Permit as proof. It will take you the best part of a day to get one, but you can obtain a certificate from your local immigration office. Technically free. you will be “asked” for a small donation to officers’ funds. Some embassies will oblige for about 500 baht, but again it will take some time to obtain. The best option is to get a “yellow book”, the Tabian Bahn, for about 50 baht and available at your local government office. Takes just one hour and has no expiry date. An alternative is the pink Thai ID card. If you are under 60 years of age, it is valid for 10 years. If over 60, it has no expiry date. Costs about 60 baht and takes about one hour to process. You pick your printed card up the next day from the government office (Amphur or Tessabahn).

Take your Passport and copies of the photo and visa extention pages. If applying for a licence for the first time, bring your valid licence from your home country or an international driving permit. Your first licence will be for 2 years. After that, you can renew for 5 year periods, the licence expiring on the next anniversary of your birthday. Because of a quirk in the system, if you apply the day after your licence expires, it will be renewed for a period of 5 years and 364 days, effectively you get a further one year. This loophole has not been plugged yet!

My Experiences when I Applied to Renew a Driver Licence

I applied on my birthday, which was the expiry date of my licence, and it took under one hour. The officer was courteous, helpful, and seemed knowledgeable. I completed all the forms she required. She arranged an appointment for the next day so that I could attend the video that all foreigners are required to watch. I could, she then said, pick up my new licence after watching the video.

I arrived a few minutes before the video started and, together with about 10 other foreigners (farang in informal Thai, alien is the correct legal term), started to watch the “training” video. No Thais were present. The video presenters were English and were a tad patronising, as if they thought foreigners did not know how to drive in Thailand. Presumably, they were following a brief from the Thai bosses in the Department of Land Transport. Personally. I wish expats would not kowtow in this way.

You are given a numbered ticket when you enter the video room and, to ensure you stay to the end of the screening, you have to present it to the officer in charge when you proceed to the next stage of getting your licence. The presentation began with the audience being asked to choose the correct answer to a list of multiple choice questions. You don’t have to write the answer down. It is not a written test. After a few seconds, the correct answer is highlighted on the screen. To the question, what should you do when a traffic light is about to turn red, these are the multiple choices.

  1. Speed up, sound your horn, and get through quickly.
  2. Go though the red light so long as there’s no traffic in the opposite direction.
  3. Slow down and proceed only when the light turns to green.
  4. Make a left turn, then do a U-turn so that you can join the other carriageway and continue your journey.

I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you the correct answer. Another question was, “what is the penalty for not having a driver licence?” The choices included: a fine of 2000 baht, imprisonment of up to 3 months, a fine of 2000 baht plus imprisonment of up to 3 months. I don’t see that that question has anything to do with defensive driving or road safety. However, it didn’t stop the presenters asking it twice. Half way through the video, those present resorted to using their mobile phones. There was nothing to gain from listening to concepts of safe driving that we already knew and which we followed every day. Most Thai drivers think differently. They ignore regulations and do what they want to do, knowing the police will usually look the other and avoid any conflict – unless of course they have been tasked with collecting fines that day. Money is more important than enforcing safety regulations.

The Final Stage of Getting the Licence

Having sat through the video, you are shown a card some 5 metres away with various colours on it. The officer points to a colour and asks you to say whether it is red, amber, or green. In the corner there are machines that test reaction times, wide-angle perspective, and depth perspective. But the officer did not use these. In Thailand, individual government officers can decide whether or not to carry out the recommended tests required by the national government.

Thailand is very bureaucratic; lots of paper, lots of form-filling but with an almost anarchic attitude of letting people have the freedom to do what they want. We see it with bikers and cars doing illegal U-turns. We see it with government workers varying the rules according to their personal whim.

The colour test completed, I proceeded to the cashier’s counter to pay for my new licence so that a photo of me could be imprinted on it.

But there was a problem. I did not have the required medical certificate. The original officer had specifically told me I did not need one and had approved all my paperwork. You can’t argue with bureaucracy. I would have to rush to get a certificate before the Land Transport office closed for the day.

The examination is not intended to be thorough. If you have a pulse, you will get your certificate. The doctor I saw shone a torch into each of my eyes, and used a stethoscope to test my heart. Although I had a severe cold at the time, he did not examine my lungs or throat. He didn’t ask me to read from an eye chart. But, of course, his job was not to give me a full examination. That would have required blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans, perhaps even the use of Nuclear Medicine. However, he gave me my certificate. I paid the 200 baht fee for the 3 minute consultation and hurried back to the transport office

There are some really good doctors in Thailand, many have qualified from overseas where they will only receive their degree or practice certificate if they pass all the relevant exams. But even those doctors get trapped into the Thai system of having to maximise the fees they charge their patients because that is what the hospitals where they practise tell them to do.

I was only in the driver licensing section for the few minutes it took them to produce my new licence. Driving home, I reflected on how different Thai driving habits are so different from those shown in the training video.

If you want to see photos of the type of hospital I attended, check out the photos in the Gallery section of my website.

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