Even though an International Drivers Permit is valid for 12 months you are supposed to obtain a Thai drivers license if you have been living here for 3 months or longer, so I thought it was about time I did while my IDP was still valid.
It’s also a good idea as you can often get into National Parks for the ‘thai’ price ( instead of the ‘farang’ price which can be many times dearer) by showing that you live here and are not a tourist. And it can serve as ID instead of carrying your passport around everywhere, not that I have ever done that.
The advantage of getting a Thai license while your IDP is still valid is that you only have to do the vision and reaction tests, and do not have to do a practical driving test or the multiple choice theory test, which apparently they have just made much harder.
The first step was to “prove” my address, which I did by filling out a Statutory Declaration at the Australian Embassy. I took along my condo lease papers and a couple of bills as proof but they did n’t bother to check anything, just stamp, sign, “590 baht please”. The hardest part was getting through the security checks ! The alternative is to head out to Immigration and get a “certificate of residence”, which means going to the very end of the Skytrain line then catching a taxi to Chaeng Wattana in the outer suburbs, possibly waiting in a long queue, possibly paying an “administration fee” of 100-500 baht for something that is supposed to be free, and where they are supposed to send a policeman out to check you live there so you might have to wait days for the certificate.
The next formality was a medical certificate stating I do not suffer from leprosy, alcoholism, drug addiction, elephantiasis or tuberculosis. So down to a back street clinic where an amazing doctor stuck a stethoscope on my chest and back and pronounced me clear of all these diseases in about 10 seconds. I think it took me longer than that to get my wallet out and pay the 300 baht. Certainly not the place to go if you really want a diagnosis !
Thai officialdom thrives on paperwork, so next step was to photocopy these papers, plus my International Drivers Permit (front cover, data page and vehicle categories) and passport (data page, visa page, visa extension pages), not once but twice, as car and motorcycle licenses are separate and each require their own pile of papers even when getting both licenses at the same time.
I knew that the application forms were all in Thai, so I bribed a friend with the offer of lunch to come along and help ease any language problems for an hour or so. The local Land Transport office for me is close to my condo, near Sukhumwit soi 99 Phra Khanong, so that was handy.
Unfortunately I had chosen a week when all the motorcycle taxi drivers had been told to come in and get their licenses checked so when we arrived at 10am the queue was out the door. 😦
There are virtually no signs in English, so for anybody that might need to go to this office, this was the procedure.
Go to the information desk just inside the door and ask for application forms, one for each license.
As a farang I was told to just fill in my name on the application forms, the staff would do all the other sections in Thai.
Then go to counter 9, where they will check you have enough copies of all the needed paperwork, look at your original passport and IDP and then give you a queue number for counter 11.
Wait nearby until they call your name (if you are lucky) or number (in Thai) then get all your paperwork back plus a test paper and a queue number for room 15/16 where you do the vision and reaction tests, and which did have an English language sign …”welcome practical test takers”.
This was the longest wait as everybody had to go through here, marshalled in groups of twenty by a Grumpy Old Lady who quickly threw out anybody trying to jump the queue. I think she was saying something like “I said RED tickets 60-80 ! If you cannot tell the colour of your ticket how are you going to pass the colour blindness test !”
While waiting you can watch a video of the tests and what to do, the trouble was that everybody would be quiet and attentive during the Thai language part, and then start talking during the English language section where the audio was not very good anyway. Full credit to the LTO for at least having an English language video though.
By now it was obvious we were not going to get in before the office closed for lunch at midday, so we headed back down to Sukhumwit and a restaurant called “Captain Navyn’ (or something like that) where we got Tom Yam Gung (spicy prawn soup) in airconditioned comfort for an amazingly cheap 40 baht !
After lunch there was a new testing team, and G.O.L. was not to be seen or heard. It was about 2pm by the time I got in, but once inside things moved quickly. GOL’s replacement was a pleasant young girl who got everybody into numerical order, and amused the Thais by constantly calling me “baby” or “darling” despite me being more than old enough to be her father.
First test is for colour blindness, where you have to identify red, yellow or green lights on a “traffic light” (English answers are OK). Next test was for peripheral vision, where you stick your head into a frame and identify coloured lights at about 45 degrees. I found this a bit hard because the lights were faint. Then it was a reaction test where you put your foot on a pedal and ‘accelerate” until a light turns red, when you have 0.75 seconds to ‘brake” on another pedal. The last test was for depth of field, where you used a remote control to move a marker backwards or forwards until it was parallel to another fixed marker. Well, that’s the theory but only the backwards button worked so if you went too far the tester had to move it forwards again for you !
Looking at the test results I saw that I passed each test the required 2 times out of 3, even though I had only done the last 2 tests once 🙂 and I was doubtful about the peripheral vision test.
Then it was off to counter 8, where I got yet another queue number for the actual license…only 107 people ahead of me !
But with 4 desks in operation I was soon sitting down and having my photo taken, and in exchange for 360 baht I was soon the holder of a Thai drivers license, two in fact. I’m sure there is a logical reason for having separate car and motorcycle licenses, but I don’t know what it could be. So altogether it took me about half a day going to the embassy and doctor, and 6 hours on the actual day, of which 20 minutes or so were in the testing room, an hour when the office was closed for lunch, and about 4.5 hours queuing or waiting !
Unfortunately, your first license is only a ‘temporary’ one for 12 months, then you have to go back and do the whole thing again to get a 5 year license. 😦