Readers' Submissions

Getting A Thai Driver’s Licence

  • Written by Jay
  • September 10th, 2003
  • 8 min read




It's been mentioned in conversation and I've often read on the web, that it's difficult for farangs to get a Thai driver's license. That is for the farang to get a license by going through the normal channels, by taking and passing both the written and driving tests. The only exception which I am aware of is if you have a valid International Driving license, then getting a Thai license is easy. Alas, I only have a driving license from my home country,
in the West.

The required steps are for the foreigner to initially get a letter of permission to apply for either or both of the separate moto and auto licenses from Immigration. They want to see your passport and driving license from your home country. Then you pay them 500 Bt for the letter. Next you must get a health clearance from a doctor for the licenses you seek. This often costs a mere 100 Bt and you never see the doctor; he just signs the paperwork.
Your health is irrelevant, but the 100 Bt is relevant to the doctor.

Being prepared, you get two photocopies of your passport, visa, the Immigration letter and the health document. You also need two passport sized photos for each type of licence you are seeking. And you must take your passport and valid driving license from your home country.

Next you journey to your areas Thai Driving License & Tax Bureau. Here you submit all of your paperwork to the correct window in the licensing department. There are no fees charged upon submitting your paperwork; you pay only after you have completed and successfully passed the driving tests. Often it is here that your fate of getting a license rests. It is also here that many farangs have discretely resort to the undocumented alternative to successfully getting a license: BRIBERY!! I wanted to obtain both the motorcycle and auto licenses, but having heard and read of others horror stories and failures, I didn't hesitate to use plan 'B'…bribery. Many have told me that they slipped 500 Bt within their submitted paperwork and never had to take any tests. They only had to wait until their new license was created. I have a friend who had just purchased a new truck and he said that he used a 1000 Bt note, and an hour later drove away with his new auto license. If spending an extra 500 Bt in encouragement money increased my chances, that was fine with me!

On a rented moto, I braved the highway traffic and cautiously drove the 25 km to the License Bureau. Upon locating the correct window for new licenses, I smiled and greeted the gal at the window, handing her all my paperwork which included a 1000 Bt note discretely peeking out of an envelope I'd placed under the first page of the documents. She reviewed my paperwork and told me I was missing one photocopy and could get it across the street and to return. She gave back all of my papers, including the 1000 Bt, which she had seen. I was getting concerned. With the needed copy in hand, I again gave her the papers and the money. She review them, then to my dismay again handed me back the envelope and 1000 Bt note. She motioned me to go to an adjacent room, where I was to be take the written tests for both auto and motorcycle. I just knew I was screwed!! I phoned a friend, who recently bribed his way to a license. He suggested again going to the window and blatantly saying "no test" and again hand her the money. I said there are about 10 Thai applicants around the window and this was not a good idea!

There were about 25 Thais and one farang in the room, awaiting to take the written test. Each was reading a pamphlet on the driving laws, in Thai, except the other farang and I, which were given a poorly translated version in English. I'd placed my envelope with the
1000 Bt note plainly visible on my desk, the instructor saw it but chose to ignore it. I thought for sure I'd be spending a wasted day. Soon the instructor began an hour long talk about the driving laws. He showed us replicas of the various road signs and discussed the other laws of the road. Of course, his talk was all in Thai. The other farang and I looked at each other with blank stares. The instructor then passed out the tests, and I received copies for both motorcycles and autos. The multiple choice tests are really not that difficult, but there are a few strange laws such as the one that allows motos to drive on the sidewalk when road traffic is too congested to be passable. I complete both written tests and was told to return in a hour, after lunchtime, for the driving tests. I'd evidently passed both of the written tests!

Behind the building, where the driving tests occur, is an large area that looks more like a narrow paved go-cart track, but it is complete with street signs at the intersections and a roundabout. The instructor who gave the written test was also the examiner for the driving tests. The motos were tested first, so I waited and closely watched while other applicants drove the course. I found it very strange that moto drivers were required to give hand signals for stopping and turning. This is bizarre as the driver must take their right hand off the throttle in order to make the hand signals. Further, the Thai hand signal for a left-hand turn requires you to raise your right arm and move your hand back and forth over your head in the direction you intend to turn. I doubt anyone has ever seen a motorcycle driver use any hand signals when driving on the street!! The instructor motioned for me to take the test. Well, it started poorly. Being from the States, I made the first turn to the left…and used my left hand to give the arm signal. I hoped that the crowd of other applicants had blocked the instructors view. All else seemed have gone well, as I'd used the appropriate right arm for the rest of the needed signals. When I finished the test and I was informed that I needn't have stopped at a white line before making a turn onto a signed one-way section of the test track. I had made both the hand signals to stop and then turn, but my error was to have stopped. Alas, it seemed I was doomed, until a few minutes later, when the instructor told me to try again. A second chance, and I was ready and confident. All went well until near the very end I had brain failure. I'd made a wrong turn. I immediate realized my error and dismayed, stopped the moto on the track and looked to the instructor and the crowd of other applicants. I outstretched my arms and shrugged my shoulders, then motioned with my hand as if cutting my throat, to show that I knew that I'd screwed up. The onlooking applicants and instructor burst out laughing. Oh well, at least I left them laughing and as it turned out it was not a bad thing to do.

Next I was to take the driving test for autos. I'd been told that you could rent a car, for a modest fee, at the test site. Such proved not the case, at least at the site I was at. I'd been observing others taking the test for autos and was not too surprised at poor ability of most of the Thai's. At least you weren't required to give hand signals in a vehicle, you only needed to use the turn signals. The final section of the test required you to back your vehicle up about 50 meters, between a straight and narrow row of pylons. One gal took a full 10 minutes of stopping and readjusting her course to complete that section; some of the others took 5 minutes to complete it. Incredibly, they all passed the test…which likely
accounts for the poor driving habits everyone see daily on Thai roads!

There were now only a few applicants left, and I asked a gal who spoke some English if I could rent and use her friends vehicle for my test. I'd offered her 100 Bt. Her friend was reluctantly waiting to take the test. To my good fortune the gal agreed. To my dismay, when they brought the vehicle from around back to the track and it was a new King-Cab truck with an extended bed. Not having driven a right-hand vehicle in 30 years, I quickly located the turn signals and left the manual shifter in first gear. I manoeuvred the massive truck through the narrow course, doing everything correctly and it took about 10 seconds for me to complete the backing-up section. I'd passed the test in flying colours! After the truck owner took and marginally passed the test, I offered the 100 Bt for using her truck and she graciously declined.

The instructor must have been impressed with my handling of the truck, as he gave me the test papers and indicated that he passed me for both moto and autos. I was elated and after paying a fee of 55 Bt for the moto license and 105 Bt for autos, I soon had my licenses. Upon leaving I saw the gal with her friends, who had loaned me the truck. I gave
her 200 Bt, my thanks, and said to take everyone to dinner. It was a long day, as I'd left my apartment at 9am and didn't get home until 4:30pm. Obviously, I was fortunate and no doubt YMMV!! The instructor was very forgiving and could have easily found something real or imagined as reason to have failed this farang for both licenses. Upon leaving the building, we met in the stairwell. He smiled and I shook his hand and thanked him. There was never any indication that he expected a 'tip'.

Stickman says:

They were a bunch of conniving folk at the testing centre where I got my local Thai licence.