Riding LEGALLY in Thailand: What You Need To Know
Surprisingly there is a fair bit of confusion, presumptions and false information about what is and isn’t legal to do as a rider in Thailand. Whether a new rider or experienced, I’m going to clear up some of the mist on this topic (and aiming to keep it simple and concise).
IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A VALID MOTORCYCLE LICENSE FROM OUTSIDE OF THAILAND, SKIP STRAIGHT TO PART 2
My personal experience of obtaining a license is in Chiang Mai. So although this information is relevant throughout the country, some provinces may differ (such as accepting Tourist Visa’s for residency certificates). If you have any issues, Chiang Mai is pretty reliable for obtaining a Thai motorbike license.
Google map links and relevant numbers for Chiang Mai at the bottom of the page.
*If you have zero experience on any bike, then I suggest getting lessons initially. Or having someone you trust teach you. Dress for a fall and wear a decent helmet. In Chiang Mai area I recommend Honda Safety Riding Park. They speak English. Details HERE.*
IMPORTANT INITIAL INFO:
A car license does NOT cover you for riding a motorbike (unless 50cc or below).
Rental places will often rent you a bike based on a car license, but it is NOT LEGAL.
If you ride using only a car license (or no license) and are involved in any kind of accident, your insurance will NOT cover you and you are liable for any expenses.
Medical fees and legal costs involved can be immense, plus the repercussions of riding illegally could mean a great deal of trouble.
Best to get legal!
Many people come to Thailand having never ridden a bike (whether scooter or big bike) before. Many falsely assume that their car license will cover them for riding a bike, often feeling a false sense of security when a rental company accepts a car license for renting one out. However, if caught without a correct license you will be fined. That is the least of your worries though. The worst case scenario is if you are involved in any kind of accident. Your insurance will be void and you will be liable. If you are riding without the correct class of license, you are riding illegally. Follow the steps below on HOW TO OBTAIN A THAI MOTORCYCLE LICENSE.
Documents you will need
- Medical Certificate (approx 50-100 Baht)
- Residency Certificate (Free or 500 Baht for express service)
- Copy of Passport and Visa page
- Application for Driving License
A medical certificate is easily obtained from any local doctor or hospital. Usually no appointment required. The test is very basic and includes taking your blood pressure, checking weight and height. Very straight-forward, simple and cheap. Walk in, pay and go.
Around 50-100 baht (depending on where you go).
The simplest / cheapest place to obtain a Residency Certificate is from the local immigration office of the town or city you are staying in. Certificates can also be issued by your Embassy, but the cost is usually much higher.
*Note* Officially the certificate should be issued for free. However, most will ask for a 500 Baht ”donation” fee, which insures you will get the certificate processed by the following day (unless you want to wait 30 days for your certificate). Simpler just to pay the 500 Baht in my opinion, but you can choose to wait and have the certificate for free.
You will need the following:
- 2x Colour Photos (2x2inch – if you do not have any, they usually can be done at photo copy shops at immigration)
- Copy of Passport info (Photo/Info page, Visa page, TM6 arrival/departure card)
Take along your original passport also.
- Proof of address (rental contract or blue/yellow book or letter from landlord)
- Photocopy of TM30 form signed by your landlord. (Info on the form HERE)
- Completed application form (forms are available at Immigration, or you can print out one directly from HERE)
*Tip* If you struggle with obtaining any of these documents (such as a letter from your landlord and TM30 form). There are agencies around which can help the process. Fees vary, but expect to pay around 2000 baht.
*NOTE* The form is only good for 30 days, and expires thereafter.
*Tip 2*. Dress respectfully, be polite, do not shout, Smile. Good manners matter a LOT here.
Immigration times for processing certificates:
Drop off: between 9am and 12pm, along with the fee.
Pick up: between 1pm and 4:30pm, (usually) next day. They will inform you.
*Tip 3* Make sure to check which immigration center processes certificates (ie: Chiang Mai has two immigration centers, with only one of them issuing residency certificates).
Read: Thai Traffic Laws document
With your medical and residency certificate in hand, you can now start the process of obtaining your Thai license. Take your documents to the nearest DVLA Land & Transport Office and hand them in at the counter, requesting to apply for the license. They will check your documents and issue you with a number. Wait in the waiting area until called. Don’t worry about being confused, just follow the others in front of you.
When called you will join other applicants in a series of tests. The tests are as follows:
Colour Blindness Test.
Standing in line you will eventually reach an official standing next to a large poster with a colour chart of circles (red (see daeng), green (see kheow), yellow (see luang) and blue (see fah)). The official will point to various circles and you must state the colour. You can usually read this out in English, but a good one for Thai learners to practice with. When you pass you will be asked to move to the next stage.
In this test you will take a seat in front of a LED screen. At your feet lies a gas and brake pedal. Press down on the accelarator until the green LED’s begin to light up, but hit the brake pedal before the LED’s hit the red zone. You will need to pass the test twice to enter the next stage. (Again, just keep back and watch the people in front for a short time to get a hang of it).
Depth Perception Test:
In this section you have to press forward and back buttons to align a moving pin with a fixed pin approximately at 10 meters distance, that is within a small box.
Road Safety Video:
A one hour long safety video.
Theory Test: (You can take this test in English. Sample questions below)
Theory Test sample questions 1
Theory Test Sample Questions 2
I found some of the theory questions a little odd to be honest. Some of the questions seemed obscure and some a little comical. (I recall one question being along the lines of: What should you do if you feel sleepy? 1: Pull over onto the nearest laybye and sleep. 2: Get off the road as soon as possible. 3: call a friend. 4: Take amphetamines. Haha. )
The test is a 30 question multiple-choice test that is normally available twice in the day (at 11am and 3pm). You can sit the exam twice at each sitting and requires a 75% pass rate. You will normally receive your results within 20 minutes and if you have passed you will be able to arrange a practical test (often on the same day).
This is the end of this section. Once completed and passed you will have your documents checked and a practical test will be set up. *Note*: You must have your own bike for this test. The center does not provide any.
The practical test takes place on the center compound outside. Take your forms to the officer and wait to be called. Prior to taking the test you will be given a short explanation before being sent off to do the really very simple course. The course involves using your turning signals, stopping completely at a stop sign and driving over a wooden plank (which is wide). It is honestly so simple that the mind boggles as to how this consitutes as being able to ride a bike in the country at all (and also covers you for riding higher cc bikes! Frightening really!).
Once you have completed the test and given a pass stamp return back to the main building and hand in your forms. You will be give yet another number and asked to wait.
Final Step: Obtaining the physical license.
When your number is called you you will be requested to pay the fee for the license (normally 155 Baht for a motorcycle license). Once paid you will receive yet another (and final) number and asked to wait again. When called you will find yourself in front of an officer at a desk. The officer will take a digital photo of you and your license will be printed onto a plastic card. Voila, you are now finally licensed and legal.
Your first license is for 1 year
after 1 year you can receive a 5 year license
Skip Part 2 and GO TO PART 3…
*NOTE* If you are staying longer than 3 months in Thailand, by law you are supposed to obtain a Thai license.
This section is for those who have a valid motorcycle license from outside of Thailand.
Just having a motorcycle license can still result in you being fined or having insurance issues, so better to have everything in order to ensure no issues.
There are two ways in which you can ensure you are 100% legal.
Obtain an International Driving Permit from your home country (or the country you obtained your motorcycle license from).
Contact your local DVLA to find out the criteria and cost for applying for a permit.
Usually it involves being over 18 years old, having a valid license and license class for the stamps you need in the permit, and providing colour photographs. Fees vary from country to country.
If you have already arrived in Thailand without an International Permit (but a valid motorcycle license) or if you staying long term, you can apply to have a Thai license. Follow the steps above in Part 1. Follow Step 1, Step 2 and the first and last section of Step 3 (missing out the test section) and watch an hour long road safety video in order to apply for the license.
To the DVLA take 2 photocopies of the following documents + the original:
1. Residency certificate (500 baht or free)
2. Medical certificate (50 – 100 baht)
3. Passport photo page and last entry stamp.
4. Driving licence & international permit
5. Application form.
Hand in documents. Take 20-second colour blindness test and watch an hour-long road-safety video. Next pay for your licence(s) and collected a number to have a photo taken. The cards are normally printed and issued there and then.
You will need approximately 2 hours (with waiting in between stages). The licence(s) will last two years.
I need to find out the current cost of license(s), however it is not high – a few hundred baht.
ON TO PART 3…
Stay legal and you are unlikely to find yourself having any kind of issue with the police (or BIB- Boys in Brown, which they are dubbed). Complaining about being fined on the roadside by the police when you are not riding with the correct license class is futile and quite ridiculous. Anywhere else in the world this offence would land you in bigger hot water than a mere small fine.
Be respectful and courteous to the police. It is in your best interests to do so.
When renting a bike from any rental shop, ALWAYS check damage on the bike and ALWAYS take photos of the bike and the damage. Also check the condition of the tires to see if they have decent tread and haven’t gone overly hard from being left out in the sun. Make sure to point any issues out to the rental company and ensure they see you take photos. This will help prevent any problems when you return the bike. If the bike comes with a chain and padlock, I recommend using your own padlock rather than the rental companies. (If it doesn’t come with anything, i recommend buying one and using it). Some unscrupulous rental companies may use a spare key and steal the bike back, then attempt to charge you for it.
If you damage a bike in any way, get a quote from a local mechanic or dealer and then talk to the rental company to negotiate a repair price. Having gained knowledge on what the repairs will cost gives you an advantage when negotiating with the rental company. In all the times I have rented bikes I have personally never had any fuss or issues (aside from some poorly maintained vehicles). So really it’s not the norm to have issues, but better safe than sorry.
Right after renting make sure to check tire pressures and breaks (and gears if manual).
You want to ensure all is in order in case you need to make an emergency stop.
There is a saying in the biker world which goes “Dress for the slide, not the ride“.
You may think that rather far fetched if you are merely riding a small scooter. However, some serious accidents can and do happen even on a scooter.
I have two scooter accidents under my belt. Quite serious in fact. Which you can read about HERE and HERE.
Protect your body, especially your head and face.
It may seem like an unnecessary expense to rent or buy a decent helmet and gear, but can save you an absolute fortune in medical fees, as well as save your skin.
If you plan on riding in Thailand then budget for some protective gear. Buy a quality helmet (minimum/cheapest dot approved helmet brand in Thailand is “Real” brand) and at least get some kind of knee and elbow protectors. Oh..and wear some kind of proper shoes.
The choice is yours and I am all about riders choice, but really weigh up the pro’s and cons on this.
If I can think of anything else, I will update this article.
For now all I can say is Safe Travels & Happy Trails! 🙂
CHIANG MAI BASED MOTORCYCLE INFORMATION
If you are based or planning on coming to Chiang Mai, here is some useful links:
Medical Certificate Ram Hospital(google map link)
Residency Certificate Immigration – Promenada Mall. Building A, third floor. (google map link)
DVLA Land & Transport Office(google map link)
Big Bike Mechanic: Piston Shop
Bike Gear Shop: Helmet2Home
Tourist Police: Telephone 1155 (google map link)
Other Emergency Contact Numbers
Ambulance and Rescue: 1554
Emergency call: 191
Highway Police: 1193
Medical Emergency: 1669
Royal Thai Police: 1599
Telephone Directory Service: 1133
Traffic Police: 1197
Tourist Service Center: 1672