When I visited Thailand for the first time, I was unaware of such thing as an International Driving Permit. When I got stopped by the Thai police at a roadblock, it was already too late. I had to pay the fine. Read this article and take action to avoid the same mistake I made.
So, do you need an International Driving Permit in Thailand? If you are a tourist, the answer is yes. You do need to have an International Driving Permit to drive in Thailand legally. A foreign driver’s license is not accepted in Thailand. If you are a Thai resident, you should have a Thai Driver’s License.
If you plan to rent a scooter or a car and drive in Thailand on your own, then this article is for you. It will contain more detailed information about an International Driving Permit (some refer to it as international driver’s license, but there is no such thing) as well as how to avoid being pulled over by Thai police at the first place.For getting around Thailand by public transport I recommend using 12GO Asia services. It is a trustworthy website and the most convenient way of booking tickets for public transport in Thailand. Take a look at it here HERE.
Can I get an International Driving Permit in Thailand?
No. You need to apply for an International Driving Permit before visiting Thailand. You need to do it in a country that has issued your driver’s license.
To make it clear there is one exception. If you already own a Thai driver’s license, then you can apply for an International Driving Permit in Thailand. But this won’t be relevant for tourists who plan to visit and drive in Thailand.
Also be aware of one of the Thai scams. During your visit to Thailand, some people might want to convince you that there is a way to drive in Thailand legally without having an International Driving Permit. Or they might claim that they are the ones who will help you to get the document done. None of this is true. As I have experienced, in Thailand there is always a mysterious cousin who can make things happen like three times cheaper, better, faster, etc. Just ignore them.
What do I need for an International Driving Permit?
Each country has its own rules and differences. In the US you can obtain an International Driving Permit by mail meanwhile in the UK you can do it only in person. I researched this topic and below are listed the things that you have to prepare to get an International Driving Permit in the US, Canada, and the UK.
3 things you have to provide to obtain an International Driving Permit:
- Photocopied both sides of your driver’s license;
- Completed IDP (International Driving Permit) application form;
- Two original passport size pictures (2 x 2 inches or 51 x 51 mm in the US. 45-50 x 35-40 mm in the UK). Each of the pictures has to be signed by the IDP applicant on the back.
Please note that things you have to prepare to get an IDP may differ per country. Usually, the differences are the size of passport pictures and the way how to apply for an IDP.
Can I drive in Thailand with the US license?
No. The same applies to the driver’s licenses issued in Canada, the United Kingdom or any other country. A foreign driver’s license is not valid in Thailand. You also need to have an International Driving Permit with you. If stopped by police you will have to show both documents – your driver’s license and an IDP.
Where can I get an International Driving Permit in the United States?
Download it here (Automobile Association of America).
Once you are ready with the form, you can bring it to the nearest AAA office. You can locate it HERE.
You can also mail your application to this address:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
Where can I get an International Driving Permit in Canada?
Download it by clicking HERE (Canadian Automobile Association).
Once the IDP application form is filled, you can process your IDP at nearest CAA office or store in Canada. See their Contacts page here.
Where can I get an International Driving Permit in the United Kingdom?
In the United Kingdom it is possible to apply and process an IDP only in person.
Locate nearest IDP issuing Post Office office HERE.
Also photocopied driver’s license won’t work and you will have to show the original as well as a passport or any other acceptable signed proof of identity.
Please also bring one original passport sized picture (45-50 x 35-40 mm).
How much does an international driving permit cost?
International driving permit cost varies per country. Costs might also be impacted by postage and handling charges. Here are the costs for an IDP in previously mentioned countries:
- United States – USD 20
- Canada- CAD 25
- United Kingdom – GBP 5,50
How long is an International Driving Permit valid for?
An International Driving Permit lasts for 12 months. Your IDP will no longer be valid if your regular driver’s license will expire first. It means that an International Driving Permit is valid only together with your driver’s license.
These points below will help you to evaluate when is the right time to apply for an IDP if you would like to drive a car or a scooter in Thailand on your own:
- International Driving Permits in the US may not be issued more than six months in advance of your trip date. Meanwhile, in the UK you can apply for an IDP up to 3 months before your trip to Thailand;
- Depending on how you choose to obtain your IDP it may take up to 10 days to get it done. I assume in most cases the quickest way of getting it done will be to visit nearest IDP issuing office. As I’ve heard from friends, usually it takes no longer than 30-40 minutes if you do it in person.
Once you have your IDP, it is valid in 174 countries.
Can I rent a car in Thailand with the US or any other foreign license?
Yes, it is possible. In most cases, the car hire company will not ask for your International Driving Permit but it is definitely in your own interest to have one. Same applies to rent a scooter, motorbike, bicycle etc.
How to avoid being pulled over by the police in Thailand?
Some things might be obvious: don’t speed, don’t drive under red light, etc. although I’ve never seen a Thai policeman who would hide into bushes to catch low flying scooters.
During your visit to Thailand most likely you will see Thai police roadblocks or checkpoints. None of these tips guarantee that you won’t be stopped but anyway here is a couple:
1. Wear a helmet when driving a scooter. It applies to both driver and passenger. Driving without a helmet is by far the most popular reason why scooter drivers in Thailand are being pulled over.
I’ve never seen a roadblock in the busy streets of Bangkok, but I’ve seen Thai policeman at intersections where they stop those who don’t wear helmets.
Roadblocks are very common in Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. Sometimes they block only one side of the road. Sometimes both.
2. Avoid driving a scooter with more persons on it than it is allowed. It might seem a bit odd advice but believe me when I say that you tend to get sucked into Thai driving habits very quickly.
Thai families of four driving on a single scooter is a quite common sight in early mornings of working days. Thai workers are driving their sometimes strange and heavy items. All of this might work out for locals but not for the foreigners.
I do not mention driving by car because I haven’t done this in Thailand yet. And I have to admit that I haven’t driven a scooter in Bangkok as well. I guess I have started easily by driving in such cities and their surroundings as Phuket, Krabi and Chiang Mai.
3. Don’t talk on your phone while driving. It is not legal and it is not safe. You will definitely get stopped by police and fined about BHT 1000 (about 30 USD)
So, do you wonder how much I had to pay for riding a scooter without an IDP?
I was fined THB 500 (USD 15). I paid right away and in cash.
For your information, there was a police roadblock on a very touristy street of Chiang Mai (Huaykaew Road) just next to MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center. This street leads to Wat Doi Suthep Temple that is one of the main tourist attractions in Chiang Mai.
Anyway, the policemen were nice. When we took selfies, they proved to me that Thailand is the Land of Smiles.
What are traffic fines in Thailand for foreigners? In late 2018 the Land Transport Department in Thailand has proposed to raise fines for various traffic law infringements highlighting driving without a driver’s license or insurance. New penalties for driving without or with a suspended driver’s license might be three months of imprisonment and/or 50 000 baht (about USD 1 500) fine.
What is the best way to get around Thailand? I guess it depends where do you plan to spend your time during a visit to Thailand the most. Here are my quick top picks for getting around in each of the most the visited regions in Thailand:
- Metro and Taxi are my top picks for Bangkok;
- A scooter is by a mile the best choice for Phuket;
- When I am visiting Chiang Mai for the next time, I will rent a car.