Although it is widely called an international drivers licence when in fact it is an international drivers permit (IDP), that is the way most people refer to it.
There is no such thing as an international drivers licence and the websites that sell them are scamming you, as you can only obtain the permit from the Motoring Organisation in your country.
Anyway it is quite a useful thing to have if you are planning to drive in Thailand and it is not difficult or expensive to obtain.
It is useful in the sense that without one you may not be able to rent a vehicle and may not be covered by your travel insurance.
Tourists can drive in Thailand as long as holding a valid driver's license in English from their country of origin or a valid International driver's permit.
In Thailand, vehicles drive to the left hand side of the road and speed limits are expressed in kilometres per hour.
If you are only staying in Bangkok for a few days then don't even think of driving yourself.
The traffic is hectic and there are many motorbikes that you have to avoid hitting.
But, if you are planning to stay a little longer, or go to some of the beach resorts where it is a bit quieter, you may be tempted to hire a motorcycle, quad bike or even a car.
Remember you can only legally drive a vehicle that you hold a license for, the same as in your own country.
Are you wondering, "How do I get an international drivers licence"?
Well, I obtained an international drivers licence through my motoring organisation by taking a passport sized photograph, my current drivers licence and filling out a simple form.
The cost was AUD $25 for members and AUD $50 for non-members and it lasts a year.
Update 2022: The cost for an international driver's licence is now $42 for members and $75 for non-members.
It took about 30 minutes to glue the photograph and put all the red stamps all over it and I was away.
If you are licenced to drive in Australia then you can use this online link to Service NSW to get an International Driving Permit issued.
This is what it looks like and I carry it with me in case of an accident or getting stopped by the police.
In the United States, you can only obtain an IDP through the Automobile Association of America (AAA) and an IDP accompaning a US driver’s license can only be issued in the USA.
The American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) is no longer issuing these documents and recommends that drivers contact the AAA.
The link to the AAA explains how to apply for the IDP in person or by mail, although in both cases you will need:
If you are currently overseas you can mail your completed application to the following office and address:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
The issued IDP is valid for one year from the date of issue.
All U.S. residents with a U.S. driver's license can apply for an IDP, even if they are not a citizen.
In Canada an IDP can only be obtained from the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). The application process differs between members and non-members, so visit the link to find the corrrect process.
The link to the CAA explains how to apply for the IDP in person or by mail, although in both cases you will need:
In the UK an IDP can be obtained from the Post Office.
The UK have different types of IDP available. To drive in Thailand an International Driving Permit 1949, valid for 12 months is the correct one to obtain.
The link above explains how to apply for the IDP in person and you will need:
If you aleady have a Thai Driver's licence, then an International Driving Permit can be obtained from the Department of Land Transport (DLT).
The link explains how to apply for the IDP in person and you will need:
If you do not already have a Thai Drivers Licence then you will need to convert your existing licence first at the local office of the DLT.
If you would like to drive, either vehicle or motorcycle, while visiting Thailand, you are required by law to hold an international driving license.
When asked for, you need to show your international driving license along with your passport and national driving license.
Visitors or tourists driving in Thailand are expected to be able to show the home country driver's licence and the IDP as evidence that they have the necessary skills to drive a vehicle.
Here are some reasons why you should have an IDP:
The normal practice is that visitors have to leave their driver's licence with the security at the gate.
You will be able to give them the International Driving Permit instead and gain entry.
I was stopped at a security gate once and didn't know what the guard was asking for until I twigged that he wanted some form of identification and so my IDP came in very useful, as he was not going to let me in.
I have driven many times in Bangkok and the first few times were pretty scary.
As a young man I rode a motorcycle and learned to become a defensive driver and this has helped me a lot.
It is absolutely essential that you drive defensively in Thailand as you cannot assume the other driver has any knowledge or skill whatsoever.
Drivers in Thailand, drive on the left hand side of the road, but don't be surprised to see vehicles using both sides of the road and oncoming vehicles passing you on your left.
There are many divided roads in Thailand, so it is much quicker to drive on the wrong side than to drive on the correct side and have to do a U-turn.
Traffic lights are another wonder.
In a three-lane road the left most lane can have a green light and the centre and right lanes can have a red light and must stop. If this is the case you will see traffic entering from the right side and joining your road.
If you are stopped at an intersection with a red traffic light then vehicles may proceed to make a left hand turn against the red light; sometimes.
However there is no green arrow to tell you that you can go.
So how do you know?
Can make a left hand turn at this set of lights?
It seems that you just follow the other vehicles; if they go, then you go.
If your vehicle is first, then you should stop at the red light and if the driver behind you honks the horn then off you go.
Be aware that you have to give way to vehicles already crossing the intersection from your right.
If you hit one it will be your fault.
If you ever approach a set of traffic lights that have just changed to amber or red then you must STOP.
Not because it is the law, but because you will hit someone.
Motorcycles will always jump the green light and will collide with you as you pass through the intersection.
In the rush hour many of the big roads like Petchaburi Road run a contra-flow traffic system.
Depending upon the time of day the lanes in the middle of the road will either have a green arrow above them or a red cross.
Sometimes there is a hiccup with the electronics and lanes that should have a green arrow have a red cross.
Don't worry, that doesn't stop the drivers using the lane.
Thailand does not have many roundabouts and in fact the only one I can recall is located outside the Dusit Thani Hotel as you enter Pattaya.
My friend who had been driving for about a year had never seen a roundabout before and it obviously was not a part of the driving test as she had no idea of how to negotiate it.
Anyway with a quick bit of on the fly tuition we crossed the roundabout safely.
So if after reading this account you still wish to do some driving in Thailand, then do go and get your international drivers licence, or should I say, international drivers permit.
Can I drive a motorcycle on a car licence?
To drive a motorcycle you are required to have passed a driving test on a motorcycle. In the past, it was possible to rent a motorcycle without showing a driving licence. The law is now being enforced more strictly and motorbike shops are being fined for renting to people with no licence. It is going to become much more difficult to head on over to the islands and rent a motorbike, if you don't have the correct license.
How to get an International Driving Licence in Thailand?
For Thai residents this is explained above. Tourists need to get the IDP before leaving their home country.
Can I drive with a USA licence in Thailand? or Can I drive with a UK licence in Thailand?
The strict rule is that as a tourist you need to have an IDP with you. This gives you the best protection from Police and ensures your insurance cover is valid.
Do I need a driving licence in Thailand?
Yes, you do need a driving license in Thailand and it has to cover the class of vehicle that you are driving. All Thais are required to hold a valid driving licence and tourists are expected to have an IDP.
How do I get an IDP?
You get an IDP from your country of residence as explained above.
Links to obtain the IDP are provided for UK, American, Canadian and Australian residents.
Over the past three years some significant changes have been made to the transport laws to improve road safety and reduce the death toll from vehicular accidents.
These are some of the changes:
Thailand is making a serious effort to reduce its road toll and some of the activities that made Thailand fun in the past, have been curtailed.