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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Getting a Thai Driver's License in Phuket

A few months ago I got pulled over at a Thai Road Check.   I don't even remember how often I have gone through them without a hassle.  My Canadian license has always been fine but just in case to avoid any hassles I got an International License.

If you are new to Thailand you have to be aware that you are held liable for any accidents (even when you are NOT at fault!) if you don't have an International Driver's License (IDL) and even your IDL may not hold up for insurance purposes if you have been in the country for longer than 3 months.

Things that make you go hmmm....

This time it was different.  The Thai cop wasn't sure about it and asked a Tourist Police Officer, a British Expat and funny enough the British Cop had an attitude and said it wasn't valid.  Of all the stories I hear about corrupt Thai Police, I have never ever experienced any corruption or harassment from Thai Police, they have been super friendly and just.  But not this British Tourist Police old grump...  

There wasn't much I could do but pay my 500B fine and keep going, shaking my head and cursing a fellow "Farang".

The analogy I would use is that when you're a trader you think your broker looks out for you, but some brokers (especially those with dealing desks) are actually trading against you.  So be sure to research your brokers and switch at the first sign of any shady business.

Getting your Thai Driver's License (in Phuket)

Your Thai Driver's License is more than just a license. It is also your ID as it has your Passport number on it (no need to carry copies of your passport around) and can be used to:
  • check into domestic flights
  • check into hotels
  • at the bank (even to change your address or request extra passbook pages you need ID)
  • at the cell phone stores (to apply or change services)
  • at National Parks, supposedly!   There are rumors that you should get Thai prices at National Parks but I have always been subject to the Farang tax.
Once I was asked for my passport when I wanted to pick up my Stereo at Power Buy which I had serviced under warranty...  Go figure...

When police see your Thai license they give you a big grin and wave you right on through while other Farangs queue up to have their papers inspected.

At hotels or airport the staff usually perk up and they make some conversation with you about it.

The process for a new driver's license (motorbike or car) is quite similar to the renewal process.  Note: There have been some reports that for new licenses citizens of the UK and US have not had to take a road test.

  • Document Check @ Information - Be sure to show up at 8am
    • Copy of Passport Information Page
    • Copy of Thai Visa and Entry Stamp (Visa Exempt Stamps are not valid)
    • House Certificate (you need to get this from Immigration and requires your rental contract, house owner id, and registration)
    • Doctor Medical Check - you need to see a doctor (100B) or stop at any Hospital (200 to 500B) to get a Medical Check for Drivers License
    • If renewing then your old drivers license
    • Photocopies can be done cheaply in the booth outside next to the food kiosk, but the lineup might be long.
  • Office #7 for Reflex and Color Blindness Test - You put your paperwork in the bin at the entrance, sign in and wait for the officer to call you, then you sit down and drive a simulator, you put your food on the gas and when the green light turns red then you slam the brakes.   You do this about 3 times and then you have to name of the colors that appear on the traffic light.  Which btw aren't coordinated with the position so  red might be where green is and yellow where red and so on.
  • Training Room - Before you used to watch a 1.5 hour video in English that looked like it was made in the 70s, it was quite informative.  Now there are 3 videos that are in Thai with English subtitles, they still looks old, circa 2000, and they are quite long. Also it is more interactive, you will find the Officer talking in Thai and asking questions, and then there will be a Farang round for questions.   Before you used to be done by noon but now it goes to lunch, you get a break, and then have to come back again at 1pm and watch the remaining video and have more questions asked.  Before you leave you get your paperwork back and it has a test chip card attached to it.
  • Exam Room - Someone greets you and sits you down infront of a kiosk, they take your chip card, enter it, and the test starts.  You get 50 random questions, which might repeat themselves, and pick 1, 2, 3, or 4.   Want to study?  Here are examples of the questions (with answers).
    When you are done, the system will tell you what questions are wrong and let you review the question and answers.  If you are doing two licenses, motorbike and car, you have to do the test twice.
  • Renewing License - If you passed and you are renewing then you're done!  See Payment (last step)
  • Road Test for New License* - If you are getting your license for the first time then you have to endure a Road Test.  Often you have to come back the next day for the road test and it's usually @ 1pm for Motorbike and around 3pm for cars.   In scolding hot temperatures, so bring water!  Or buy some at the food kiosk next to the entrance to information.

    Note: There have been some reports that for new licenses citizens of the UK and US have not had to take a road test.
    The instructor here is your typical macho man that likes to make fun of Farangs and blurt out orders.  You have to wait until the instructor calls your name and at that time you get your bike/car, hand the second officer your papers, and take the road test.
    • Motorcycle Road Test - You have to show that you can balance your motorbike by driving on a 1.5 foot wide strip of elevated pavement that's about 15 feet long.  You wouldn't believe how many people can't do that.  You get two tries.

      Next up you have to drive around a traffic circle.  Remember to turn left into it... you wouldn't believe it but some people turn right...  and then go down a road, turn right, go through some pilons set up and demonstrate you can swerve your motorbike around them, then go up a hill, stop at the stop sign, (some people go straight thru 555) and then return back to collect your paperwork and verdict.  There is an officer in the booth watching you from a far and traffic cameras, so don't do anything foolish.
    • Car Road Test - Slightly more difficult because you have to demonstrate parallel parking, but the Thai way which is a super exaggerated turn at almost 90 Degrees opposed to the 45 or so Degree Farang way.  Best to google some videos on you tube and watch the people taking the test before you.  This is the only time you want to be a farang, in other words, you are queued at the end of the testers.  The instructor usually ignores you and speaks only Thai, makes fun of Farangs, and then finally talks very broken English and says watch this person take the test.  I have seen spouses guide their wife's from the nearby fence and it took them a painful 15 minutes and 20 tries with near hits of the fence...  Bring Popcorn!   When the officer is satisfied you drive around the traffic circle, swerve around some cones or poles, and then drive up a hill, stop at the stop sign, continue, park your vehicle outside and return back to get your paperwork and verdict.  There is an officer in the booth watching you from a far and traffic cameras, so don't do anything foolish.
  • Payment -  You go to information, get a queue number for payment at wait infront of Office #1/2.  When your number is called you pay up, 205B for car and 155B for motorbike.  Then you go to Office #4/5 to get your picture taken, another 220B in my case.   Wait again and off you go with a smiley face and shiny new Thai Driver's License! 
It is an ASEAN driver's license but some people say it won't be recognized by other ASEAN countries if you are a foreigner, so best to have an international license too.  I drove with my Thai Motorcycle license in Cambodia and Vietnam without a problem, but also never got pulled over by the police.  In fact there weren't any road checks like here in Thailand.

The first time you get a 2 year temporary license (used to be 1 year).  If you have a Tourist Visa or Education Visa you have to renew every 2 years. With a work permit, marriage, or retirement visa you can renew for 5 years.

Overall it's not too bad BUT if you are like me and old a Tourist or Education Visa then repeating the run around (a good couple days for all the paperwork, videos, tests etc) is a pain.  At least now it's every two years!     If you can then pick a cool period of the year or a cool day so you don't have to do this in 40C temperatures!!

If you're a trader like me, you really need to pay attention to the time you spend on paperwork and licenses, I tell you one thing, at 40C temperatures it really drained me and felt like the last two days were an entire week of running around.   But it's over and at least now I can drive through road blocks with a smile and I bet I won't even get asked for my drivers license, funny how that works.

When you're trading you also need to have your paperwork handy for any withdrawals, so be sure to open up a FREE 2GB Dropbox Account to store copies of all your IDs, including your new Thai Driver's License, and bank statement and utility statement copies to verify your trading account and initiate transfers.  More on Dropbox here.

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