Renting a car in Phuket is a snap, but before you rent a car, you should know a few things about Thai law. Let’s start with the bad news: you can’t legally drive in Thailand with only a driver’s licence from your home country. The good news is that you can apply for an international licence or permit fairly easily.
In addition to getting an international licence, if you’ll be staying in Thailand for a month or more, you can convert your driver’s licence from your home country into an official Thai drivers licence with a few simple steps.
The International Driver’s Licence
An international driver’s licence, also known as an IDP or international driving permit, is an internationally recognized licence that allows you to drive in most countries. To obtain an international driver’s licence, you have to provide a current and valid driver’s licence from your home country, along with some additional information, photos, and a nominal fee.
In the United States, AAA offers international driver’s licences, and there are various websites that offer to expedite the papers and handle the process for you. It should be noted that it can take several weeks for the paperwork to be processed, so you may wish to expedite the process for a fee.
Getting a Thai Licence Is Easier Than You Think
If you have an existing licence from your home country, you can have it converted into a valid Thai driver’s licence; the process is rather straightforward. The first thing you’ll need is a medical certificate which can be obtained from any hospital or clinic. The doctor will perform a basic physical exam and ask about any medications or restrictions you have in regard to your ability to drive. Then, they’ll sign the document, and you’re good to go.
The next thing you’ll need is a residency certificate from the local immigration office. This typically requires a lease in hand, and the process can take weeks. Because of this, it’s recommended that you use a visa agent to help get your residency certificate. For a reasonable fee of around 1000b (£24 GBP/ $30 USD), they’ll get you a residency certificate the next day with almost no paperwork and no lease.
With your residency certificate, medical certificate, and driver’s licence from your home country in hand, head down to the local land transport office. For a fee of around 600b (£14 GBP/ $20 USD), they will convert your home driver’s licence into a Thai driver’s licence. You’ll simply have to watch a one-hour video on Thai road laws.
Your new Thai licence will be printed the same day, and you can walk out the door and use it anywhere in Thailand. A Thai driver’s licence also has other benefits: for instance, you can use it to board domestic airline flights within Thailand without having to show your passport. You can also attempt to use it as a way to show you’re a bit more than a tourist, and sometimes, you’ll get the local price when entering an attraction that has a higher price for foreigners.
Tips for Driving in Thailand
The internet will tell you that Thailand has the world’s most dangerous roads, but this is only true if you’re a young person riding a motorbike at high speeds without a helmet. For the vast majority of Thais, “sabai, sabai” (“relax, relax”) is the way to be.
The Steering Wheel Is on the Right
Traffic in Thailand drives on the left side of the road, so if you come from a country that drives on the right, be careful and take your time getting used to the change. This also means that you can turn left on red lights.
Watch Out for Motorbikes
While going out and finding all the things to see in Phuket, it’s not uncommon to see two, three, or even four people riding a single motorbike in Thailand. Motorbikes will typically drive on the far left side of the road and move slower than traffic. That said, more adventurous riders will keep up with traffic in the car lanes.
Be aware that in heavy traffic, motorbikes will frequently weave between cars to get to the front of the line. Be sure and make lane changes slowly and with plenty of signalling time to let motorbikes know your intentions.
Driving in Thailand isn’t as difficult as you may think, and getting a licence to drive there is quite easy. With a little planning, you’ll soon be on your way to enjoying the open road and seeing this beautiful country on your own terms.