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Driving Laws in Chiang Mai / Thailand

Driving Laws
Thinking about renting a car or motorbike whilst in Thailand?  Read on to learn all about the relevant laws and regulations.
Thailand drives on the left and the vast majority of cars are, therefore, right hand drives.  You will likely see some vehicles, especially scooters, sometimes driving on the wrong side towards incoming traffic.  Don’t try this yourself – it’s not only illegal but also very dangerous!
When you rent a car, the hire company will almost certainly want to see your driving license.  It’s a different ball game, however, with scooters – very often the company only wants to see (and often hold as security) your passport.   Remember though that not only does driving a vehicle without the proper license invalidate your insurance but it is also the individual, not the company, who gets into trouble should there be any problems on the road.
This is what the law says about driving in Thailand:
The legal age to drive a car is 18.  For motorbikes up to 110cc one must be 15; for those over 110cc the rider must be at least 18 years of age.
All vehicles must have valid tax and compulsory motor insurance.
Both rider and passenger on a motorbike must wear a helmet.  Although you will see many Thais riding without a helmet this is both very dangerous and also makes you more likely to be stopped by the police, especially as a foreigner.  Seatbelts should be worn by those in the front of a car.
Mobile phones should only be used when driving in conjunction with hands free sets,
Drink driving is illegal in Thailand.  The alcohol limit is 0.5mg.  For those who have been driving for fewer than five years though the limit is much lower – 0.2mg.
Check the colour of your registration / license plate.  Different colour plates have certain restrictions.  The background colour and the number / character colour can both vary.
Per S42 of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, anybody who wants to drive a motorised vehicle on public roads in Thailand MUST have a relevant license to do so.  The driver must keep the license with them at all times whilst driving.  A person who does not have an immigrant visa can drive a vehicle if they have a license issued by their own government where there are reciprocal agreements in place.  In such a case visitors do not need an International Driving Permit as long as their license is in English and shows their photo.  This applies for both cars and scooters.
Visitors can only drive rental cars under these provisions for up to 60 days.  People wishing to drive for longer will need a Thai Driving License.  (More below.)
People who are living in Thailand, as opposed to tourists, need to obtain a Thai Driving License.  As soon as you have a non-immigrant visa you must get a new license issued in Thailand.  Don’t worry though – this doesn’t usually mean that you need to take a test here!   As the forms are all in Thai, it helps to have a Thai speaker with you.  You need to show your passport with the relevant visa, proof of your address, driving license, and a certificate of good health.  You may also need to complete a short written exam as well as a vision test.
Have you obtained a Thai driving license?  How easy was the process?  And, how do you find driving on Thai roads?

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3 Comments

  1. Jimmy

    on said  

    I did my driving test a few years ago and I have to admit I had fun. I just treated it like another fun day in Thailand.

    Though I had to laugh when my friend turned up with out his helmet and he had to do the driving practical and they failed him! He managed to borrow a helmet and redo the test shortly after.

    Reply
  2. Driving in Thailand is a bit like going to a theme park at times! As long as you can handle road dogs, motorbikes coming at you from the wrong way, and lights often out (on vehicles as well as street lighting), you’ll be fine! Ha – all that aside, driving in Chiang Mai isn’t so bad once you’re out of the city. The one way streets can be a pain!

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