Driving In Thailand For The First Time – What You Need To Know

Thailand is such an interesting, diverse country that it invites exploration. Opting to drive a vehicle while here offers tremendous flexibility and scope to visit areas that personally appeal.

Below are some key points that will help anyone who is considering driving in Thailand for the first time, but first let’s take a quick look at why those who enjoy driving are in a country that offers some fantastic road trip experiences.

Environments that will appeal:

The Kingdom of Thailand is the 50th largest in the world and covers just over 513,000 square kilometers.

It benefits from a wide and varied landscape that includes stunning, remote islands and idyllic beaches, beautiful mountainous areas that are home to serene National Parks containing rivers and waterfalls that will surely impress, bustling, vibrant cities mixing modern with ancient, market towns selling and abundance of fresh food, fruit and vegetables and seaside resorts offering all modern conveniences, an endless selection of local and international cuisine as well as a nightlife scene that offers something for every taste.

Based on the above it is easy to see why driving in Thailand is such a tempting option.

Documents required:

  • If you are a tourist or visitor to the country you must have either a valid Thai driving licence or a valid foreign driving licence with photograph. If your licence does not show a photograph you should carry one with your licence
  • The licence you hold must be in English. If it is in another language you need to have full details translated into English or Thai
  • The country your driving licence was issued in must have a treaty with the Thai government allowing mutual acceptance of driving licences. Most countries including USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and the UK have this treaty in place. Anyone in doubt should contact their embassy for confirmation
  • Anyone holding a valid International Drivers Licence/Permit (IDL/IDP) is also permitted to drive in Thailand
  • Any foreigner that holds a non-immigrant visa is classed as a resident and is required to hold a Thai drivers licence. Those holding a valid foreign or IDL/IDP licence should present this when applying for a Thai driving licence as this will excuse them from completing the practical portion of a Thai driving licence test

Things to bear in mind:

  • Thailand drives on the left-hand side of the road. If you are coming from a country that drives on the right-hand side take extra caution. This is particularly the case for those driving a vehicle in Thailand for the first time.
  • Any vehicle being driven must have a valid insurance policy. If hiring a car, it is important to check what the hire contract covers in terms of insurance.
  • Most car hire companies will only hire vehicles to those who are 21 years and over. Some companies will accept those younger upon payment of an additional fee, others will levy an additional charge to anyone over 65 years old.
  • Make sure the driver and all other occupants wear seat-belts while driving.
  • Obey the speed limits. Major roads have speed cameras in operation and regular police or army checkpoints on major as well as minor roads are part and parcel of everyday driving. If stopped by the authorities for speeding or you are not wearing a seat-belt this will result in an on-the-spot fine.
  • In the vast majority of cases a vehicle turning left at red traffic lights is allowed to proceed.
  • The country’s major highways operate a toll system. Be alert to this, pick up a card upon entry and present it upon exit with the relevant fee. Do be aware that there will be stationary traffic on approach to entry and exit toll booths.
  • One-way systems are in operation in towns and cities throughout the Kingdom. These often extend to side roads that do not always indicate which way the traffic should flow. If in doubt you should exercise caution before proceeding.
  • Do not drink and drive Not only is it irresponsible, but if apprehended you will face severe penalties.
  • Keep a very sharp eye out for motorbikes on both sides of your vehicle as well as in front and at the rear. Many driving them have their own road rules, no license and no insurance.

Common sense goes a long way:

Thailand’s road network is extensive and the condition of most major and secondary roads is more than acceptable.

If you are about to embark on your first experience of driving in Thailand please take things steady, keep your wits about you and remain calm.

Don’t push yourself or the vehicle too hard and put your thinking-cap into common sense mode. By doing so there is a very high probability you will have an extremely enjoyable experience. One which you will be keen to repeat whenever possible.