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A very common question asked on the Thai forums is:
"What do I need to hire and drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Thailand?"
The advice in this article is given in good faith by TripAdvisor Members to visitors to Thailand unfamiliar with how to hire and ride a motor vehicle or motorcycle both legally and safely and ensuring that they do not compromise any insurance arrangements either with the hire company or their travel insurance company. Reference is frequently made to the requirement for hirers to possess an International Driving Permit (IDP) obtained in the hirer's own country before they enter Thailand and enter into a hire agreement. In some Members' minds there is ambiguity about the interpretation of whether an IDP is an Internationally recognised legal requirement or merely is advisory. The balance of opinion currently (June 2013) and advice consistently given to visitors has been that an IDP is a legal requirement. In the light of different interpretations by unqualified TripAdvisor Members, either for or against the need for an IDP, it is recommended that Members reading this article do so in conjunction with advice from their own country's Royal Thai Consulates or Embassies or Motoring Associations or other accredited and authoritive sources.
This link clearly demonstrates the differences of opinion and conflicting views about the need for an International Driving Permit and sets out the governing legislation. An important distinction is drawn between visitors' home country Driving Licences that contain or do not contain a photograph of the driver. Readers' attention is drawn in particular to reply #19 added in June 2014. Obtaining an IDP removes any doubt.
A comprehensive explanation of Driving Licence requirements from the Royal Thai Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, can be read in reply #17 in this topic dated December 2015,
If you are involved in an accident, with property damage or personal injury to any party, be aware that if the Thai Police and/or Insurance Company discover that licencing and permit documents are not in order, you may feel the full force of the law, and may have any insurance cover invalidated. You may also be required by the Thai authorities, to post a LARGE cash bail amount to cover any liability you may incur.
This has no simple answers, but these general factors need to be understood:
CARS The hire company could ask for an IDP or you may just be asked for a Driving Licence. Remember it is the hirer's responsibility to ensure compliance with the legal driving licence requirements not the hire company. When you hire a car usually you will be invited to accompany the hire company representative to inspect the car and agree any existing damage to the vehicle which is marked on a diagram on the rental agreement. You may find it useful to take photos as well to avoid any disagreement when you return the vehicle. Payment is usually by credit card but cash may be accepted. Payment by credit card can prove useful in case a dispute arises over the provision of the hire service.
MOTORCYCLES - SCOOTERS - MOPEDS
The only documents a motorcycle rental company will uniformly insist on is CASH MONEY.
They will have little, or no interest in licences, international driving permits, or your current level of intoxication.
LICENCES and PERMITS
To ride a motorcycle in Thailand, and remain strictly within the law, you must possess and produce:
GENERAL INFORMATION and ADVICE
Motorcycles can be a fun way to move around the Kingdom independently, but remember road accidents are common.
The rate of accidents and fatalities on Thai roads is HORRENDOUS, in fact 40 people a day DIE in Thailand from motorcycle accidents alone. Many more visitors and locals are permanently disfigured or disabled, so it is not recommended for the novice.
If you hire a quad-bike, check first that your travel insurance allows its use.
Only hire from a reputable company. Be aware, it is against the law to register and/or ride these on the roads, consequently, there will never be any licence plates etc. Most reputable hire companies have a local arrangement with the Police, make sure you comply with any instructions given by your hire company, e.g. wearing helmets, staying in a certain area and on certain roads etc. You are unlikely to be allowed on a public road on your own.
Many standard travel insurance policy providers restrict the size of motorcycles which can be hired or ridden to less than 200cc.
Check your own policy closely before hiring LARGE motorcycles which exceed 200cc.
If you are stopped by the Thai Police for any reason, stay calm, and be respectful.
If you have been obeying the road rules, are not intoxicated, and hold the proper documentation, you will have NO problem and will be sent on your way.
INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT
According to the UN Traffic Act of 1949 and the Thai Traffic Act of 1979, an IDP is not required if you are a tourist/visitor in Thailand as long as your license is in English, has a photo, and your country is a contracting state of the 1949 treaty, which most are. (See motoring law below) If you are a resident, however, you require a Thai drivers license. As a tourist, rental car companies, insurance companies and police will all accept your home license. Still, it not a bad idea to obtain a legitimately issued INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT (IDP) before you leave your home country.
International Driving Permit's are easily obtained from your local Automobile Association (RAC, RACQ, NRMA, AAA etc) for a nominal fee .
This permit acts as a transcription of your national drivers licence credentials. It has your current photo affixed, and should be carried together with your national drivers licence.
*INTERNATIONAL LICENCES SOLD OVER THE INTERNET ARE A SCAM!
BE AWARE- All "International Driving Licences" offered by on-line vendors are a SCAM.
Remember - it is a "permit", it is not ever referred to as a "licence".
These scam licences take the form of a credit card in shape and design, they are worthless.
Less frequently a scam "licence" may take the same shape and form of the genuine grey cardboard International Driving Permit. The difference is that the SCAM licence may say "valid for 5 years". Whereas a genuine International Driving Permit is only ever valid for 12 months.
Only purchase the genuine International Driving Permit from your local Automobile Club.
Australia:Can be purchased through your state RAC or NRMA. Cost from AU$30 - $40
MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY ACT (Thai Law)
Once you obtain a non-immigrant visa or establish you are a resident (such as enrolling kids in school, buy a car etc,) and are no longer a toursit, you need a Thai drivers licence as your national license and international driving permit is only legally accepted if you are a tourist. Several insurance companies have fine print stating that the driver should hold a valid Thai driving licence to be fully covered after a certain amount of time in Thailand.
OBTAINING A THAI DRIVERS LICENSE
Once you become a resident it is possible to use your home license to obtain a Thai drivers license. In doing so, you are able to skip the written and practical portion of the testing process. If the class of vehicle you are licensed to drive isn't shown in pictures on the license, such as on a UK and EU license, you may need to submit an IDP or a copy of the webpage from your home DMV which describes the class(es) you are authorized for along with your home license. Check with your local land transport department for required documents.
TRAVEL and RENTAL INSURANCE CONSIDERATIONS
Check the fine print of your travel insurance and of your rental insurance to see what (if any) conditions they place on car and motorcycle rental.
Your insurance may be declared null and void if you: