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onsdag 1. mai 2013

How to Get a Thai Driving License

How to Get a Thai Driving License

Today I went to apply for my Thai driving license. I know a lot of expats in Thailand will be wanting to do this themselves, so here is exactly what I had to do to get a driving license.
1) Don’t panic! It is not as hard as you might imagine, even though you need to throw out all Western ideas and concepts of how it might work. Get a good night’s sleep, it might be a long day ahead!

2) Prepare the following documents:
- Passport with Visa (You need a valid Non-Immigrant Visa, Tourist Visa won’t do)
- Work Permit (Or a Certificate about your resident address in Thailand from your embassy)
- Original Medical Certificate (not older than 1 month)

You will need photocopies of Passport and Work Permit, but don’t worry, best you do it directly at the registration.

3) Bring a Thai friend, who can help you to fill out the forms and is great to shorten the waiting time.

4) Proceed to one of the following Departments of Land Transport

Head office
1032 Phaholyothin Road
Lardyao, Chatuchak district.
tel: 02-272-5322, 02-272-5493.

Covers the districts: Pomprarb Satruphai, Samphanthawong, Patumwan, Bangrak, Dusit, Phayathai, Bangsue, Huay kwang, Bangkhen, Bangkapi, Don muang, Chatuchak, Din daeng, Lardprao, Saimhai and Rachathevee.

For other areas, please follow that link: , a good site to get infos about Thai Driving license)

I decided to go to the Head Office of the Department of Land Transport, which is a huge area near Chatuchak Market. Ask for Building Number 4 and proceed to the second floor.
Friendly Ladies at the reception will hand you the application form and check your documents. This is what you have to fill out. Have your Thai friend ready!
Don’t think you can save time by printing out those forms. Even your printout might look identical, it is required that you fill out their original forms. Photocopies can be obtained just a few meters away. Just hand over your passport and work permit, the ladies know exactly what they need to have copied.

Usually it is recommended that you arrive in the early morning. Of course, I was too late. I had the bad luck that my international driving license (which I found out that moment would anyhow be only valid for 3 months in Thailand) had been stolen. 

Even if I had a copy of it and done a police report, I was informed that by Thai Law I had to go through the full process of obtaining a Thai Driving License, including theoretical and practical exam.
That was quite a setback and a surprise. 

But it opened a little door to a shortcut, which might or might not work for you. I asked politely if it would be possible to speak with a kind of supervisor, still hoping to find a way to work out things and was shown into cubicle 17 of a big office just beside the registration. There a very friendly man, who listened to my story of motorbike & license theft, took my documents, fed the data in the computer and told me that he can only help me by giving me permission to go directly to the 4th floor but first he needs to see my Medical Certificate.

Of course I was badly prepared, but willing to obtain one. I left building 4 again and found a motorbike taxi, who immediately understood what I needed. A few minutes later I arrived at a doctors practice and was shoved inside. I was asked for my passport and waived through to see the doctor.
Fortunately enough, I did not need a medical examination and the doctor did not bother to force one on me. He simply asked: “Sabai dee mai?” which I confirmed and left 2 minutes later with my Medical Certificate. (100 baht, probably farang price). The motorbike was waiting and dropped me off at the Department of Land Transport again.

Enter building 4 (again), up to the second floor (again), see the friendly man at cubicle 17 (again) and presented him with a big smile my brand new Medical Certificate.
He informed me that I can go directly to the 4th floor to start the exam. At the 4th floor I found a huge empty room where an energetic lady pushed me down on a stool, pointed at some dots at the wall and asked me what color it was.

I answered correctly in English.
Time needed: 10 seconds
She dragged me across the room in front of a strange looking machine, monitored me to rest my chin in front of it and look inside. Then she pressed a button and I had to signal if I saw the small light appearing in the periphery of my vision.
Time needed: 10 seconds
I was told to go to watch “The Video” which was also on the 4th floor. I handed over my work permit (they didn’t need my passport) at the reception and was given a small booklet in English with Driving Instructions.

I was shown into a tiny classroom where a TV was playing “The Video”. I was told that it will last 1 hour. It must have been playing already for quite a while as it finished after a mere 20 minutes. Don’t get discouraged when the reception lady pops in during the video, shakes her head and informs you that for Farang exam “yaak maaaaak!” It’s not so difficult!

When the video ended, I left the classroom. I strongly recommend you to watch the whole video and study the folder as they contain very important information that you will need for the theoretical exam. Even if the video finishes, you can ask to watch it again. If you fail the exam and have to come back to take it again, you will not be permitted to watch the video again!
Time needed: 1 to 2 hours

Next stop: Third Floor, where the exam takes place. Being a government’s office, everybody takes lunch break from 12 to 13.00 h. On this floor you will find a few computers for e-learning, in Thai and English, where you can train for the test questions. While the Thai language selection seem to have a lot of questions, the English version is rather slim. 

After 10 minutes you should know all the answers by heart. It is not difficult. The other options you can choose at the video terminal are rather useless, skip them.
Get mentally prepared for some of the most insane questions you have ever heard. Some won’t have rational answers, while others will make you laugh out loud. Here are some examples:
I felt like being in need of an amphetamine pill…but not time for it! Just beside the terminals is the registration for the theory test. Hand over an ID card (passport, work permit etc), put down your name on the list and wait for your turn. At around 13.30 h my name was called (“Farang!”) and I received an electronic card and was shown inside. I found myself in a huge room with hundreds of computer terminals. I sat down in front of one and inserted the card. One staff was so friendly to press the button for English language and told me that I had 1 hour time to answer 30 questions. I needed 23 correct answers to pass.

I worked through the first questions. A few were very simply to answer, showing traffic signs very similar to the ones in the west. Some were Thai, but usually the correct answer was simple to guess. Questions showing an animated crossing with tiny cars moving across it and the choice of 4 answers, of which none seem to fit. 

Then a few questions which I had learned on the e-learning terminal. Probably if I would have watched the video, I would have known more. In the worst case…just guess. I had questions in which I was asked if it is legal to drive a tank on the street in case of war. I was asked if I was allowed to drive with a broken tail-light. Then almost the same question. Driving without a windshield? The more the questions dragged on, the more I got confused. Best choice…the lucky guess. After a bit more than 10 minutes I have reached question number 30, the last one. I pressed the finished button and waited for the result.

Damn. Failed. 22 points, one less than necessary.
I went outside looking utterly confused, overwhelmed by questions for which I could not prepare. The woman at the reception must have guessed my state of mind. She grabbed the slip of paper from my hand,  gave me a slim English Driving Manual and told me to study it, then try again.

I read through it in 10 minutes, not much information was provided. I glanced over to my neighbor, who had suffered the same fate and worked through a rather thick Thai manual. I decided that it must have some reason why the English manual was so slim and leafed through it again. I memorized the pictures with parking positions over which YES or NO was written.
Don’t try to understand all of the booklet, some things were beyond my comprehension. I decided it is time to give it another try. If I fail, I was allowed to come back the next day and try again…and again…and again. Knowing from some Thai friends it is not unusual for some to come back 5 or 6 times to pass the test.
Again I found myself in front of the computer. This time the questions were completely different but the same mixture of weird, easy, not understandable or just strange questions. I worked through them quickly and was quite relaxed, knowing that if I fail, the worst thing which will happen is that I have to come again. No extra fee was required to pay.

I pressed the “Finish” button. Tataaaa! 25 out of 30! Yes! With a big smile which was reciprocated by the staff the “Farang” had passed the written exam. Even I had failed the practical test, I would not have to do the theoretical test again, provided I took it again within 90 days.

As I wanted to leave the room, I was held back by the staff. I didn’t understand and waived the slip with PASS on it in front of her eyes. She only said: PASS motorbike OK. Then she handed me another pink electronic card and told me: CAR EXAM, go! I must have looked like the last fool standing. No, it can’t be! I was gently pushed back to the computer terminal and had to endure another 30 insane questions. I looked around a bit in order to calm down and noticed that some of my Thai colleagues, were still trying to answer their first round of questions. Oh come on! I took a deep breath and prepared myself mentally for the challenge.

Computer said: PASS (24/30)
I was relieved. So was the staff.
With two pieces of paper in my hand I proceeded to the ground floor and asked my way through to the Driving Test, which was an area just beside building 4. We entered a small house and were greeted by the staff. Again, they were all very friendly and ready to help. I handed over my ID card and showed the slip proving having passed the theoretical test. I received a pink card with a number on it (#179) and was informed that this was an “odd” number, which I found utterly strange but did not question. I passed beside the reception desk to a small room and was shown into class room 1, where another instruction video was playing. I received a piece of paper with the exact instructions of how to pass the practical test on it. Now I was confused.

The 5 minutes instruction video of what to do at the practical test already went into it’s third round and even my Thai friend tried her best to translate me as accurate as possible the instructions, we both were not clear on all the points. An instructor entered and we asked him if he would have an English version. Sure he had and soon we enjoyed a very clear and actually simple instructional video of what to do.
After this video, the same for the motorbike test. We proceeded to the registration counter to rent a car (100 baht) and a motorbike (forget how much).

Outside the video class rooms we sat in line. Mostly young women were waiting to take their driving test. I knew it could take forever. When an instructor entered and asked something in Thai, my friend jumped up and shoved me with the pink paper (#179) in my hand to the exit onto the “test course”. Only later I found out that the instructor had asked if anybody wants to drive with a non-automatic car, using the traditional gear system. Non of the Thai wanted. I was happy with the choice. I found the car waiting right in front and jumped in. A young man checked my pink paper and said: Number, you 1-7-9. Now you go “A” course.
The riddle of the “odd” and “even” numbers was solved! All “odd” numbers will have to take course “A”, while “even” number B. Fasten your seatbelt! I drove into the right lane (A) with three cars waiting in front of me. Being the only Farang there, I received a lot of friendly smiles from the testers and other fellow applicants for a Thai Driving License. I observed the first two of the three step test program. It didn’t look too difficult. Even though I was used to sitting in a left-hand car car, I didn’t find it very difficult to sit in a car on the right.

First test was simply to drive into a very short dead end street and stop without touching any of the red cones placed at the end of it. Easy. Then drive out of in the reverse gear. Wait for the signal of the instructor so that you don’t crash into another car. Make sure that you go back in a straight line and don’t stall your engine.
Second test was to parallel park. I feared this step a bit as I was not used to cars with the stirring wheel on the “wrong” side. I ventured backwards into the parking space, carefully avoiding to touch any cones around it. I look at the instructor who shook his head. “No? Not good”. He shook his head again. I remembered from the instruction video that I could go back and forth 7 times. I tried again and this time I received “Thumbs up!” and a big smile! The instructor gave me back my card and showed me the way to do the last part of the test.

I had to take a right turn and already saw the traffic light in front of me. I stopped and grinned to the female instructor holding the light control button. She smiled back and gave me the go! Green. I cautiously proceeded forward trying to spot the yellow/orange line which I remembered from the instruction video. This line was on the left side beside the curb. I had to drive very close to the curb, not further away than 25 centimeters and stop not more than 1 meter before a stop line without going over it. When my car stopped, I looked at the instructor. She had a firm look at her face and said: “Mai dai!”. My mouth stood open! “What!?” Not possible! Then she broke out in laughter and told me: “PASS!”, handed me a slip of paper and told me to drive back to the start.
I had no time to recover from the shock when I was told to grab a crash helmet and do the motorbike test. “Reo, quick” they told me as the testing stops at 15.30 h. 

One instructor followed me to a small parking area with a long raised small speed bump on it. I knew I had to drive over it and not too fast. It was not allowed to put a foot down on the ground or stop the engine. It was more difficult than I had imagined. I forgot to drive slow over it, but the instructor nodded and pointed me in the direction of the motorbike course. I knew I had to bring my bike to a halt at the “STOP” signs, look left and right, not crash into anything…oh come on, I am driving a motorbike for years in Bangkok! I followed the motorbike course, took a left turn in front of some parked cars ….
and found myself on the busy main street in front of the Department of Land Transport. “That can’t be right”, shot through my mind, then another evil thought “…could just drive off with the bike….”. But as it was a very cheap and rather old motorbike I decided to turn around and drove back where I saw my instructor already running towards me. He told me to go back to the start and try again. So I did. I drove on and soon found myself again in front of three parked cars. 

The only option was to the left where I would end up again  at the main street. I stopped and turned around, searching for help. The instructor monitored me to drive straight on. I understood. I slowly made my way through the parked cars, carefully avoiding touching any of them. Later I found out that the cars were parked there as the testing area had already closed.

I drove along the motorbike course, stopping at the “STOP” signs, looking carefully left and right and of course took the wrong turns. My instructor tried to wave me directions, but I could not understand what he wanted, so I zig-zagged around the motorbike exam course for quite a while. After a few minutes I was waved over by my instructor. A small group of 5-6 female staff had formed who all laughed and smiled.

The instructor asked: “What girl you like?” This questions came entirely unexpected. I answered: “I just want to PASS!” They all laughed and said: PASS OK.
I was relieved! It can’t be! Tossing off the motorbike helmet and back to building number 4, second floor where we still found the friendly man in cubicle 17. I waived triumphantly my PASS slips and asked me if it had been difficult. I really could not answer that question!

Within 5 minutes, two pictures were taken by a digital camera mounted on the desk and I held 2 Driving Licenses, one for motorbike and one for car in my hands. Cost for Car License: 305 baht, Motorbike 255 baht, a bargain! Those were so called “Temporary Licences”, valid for one year. After one year I had to renew them for a 5 years license. Do not forget that, or you have to take the whole driving test again!
And you surely don’t want to do that!
It was a very interesting experience. You need a bit of luck and the ability not to take everything to serious. If you fail, then you fail, come back again another time and try it again. Looking back it was a beautiful experience, I received a lot of smiles and everyone was willing to help the “Farang”

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