I decided I wanted to obtain a Thai drivers license. Not because I particularly wish to risk my life driving in a city that can best be described as a demolition derby without all of those pesky rules. A nice reason to get a Thai drivers license is the fact that it provides a form of accepted ID in Thailand. For a foreigner, it is the closest thing to a Thai ID Card that we can get. For this reason, I decided to go get one. I was in for an adventure in bureaucracy and boredom.
Necessary documents for a Thai Drivers License
I won’t go into great detail about everything that was needed to obtain the Thai Driving license, but a few things that I thought were odd necessities. First, they require you to get a medical checkup before granting a Thai drivers license. This checkup consisted of a doctor looking at me, taking my blood pressure and promptly asking for 300 Baht. Then, I had to go to my Embassy and obtain a Thai residence affidavit. Basically, this form states that you are resident in Thailand. Apparently, they will also accept a work permit in its place, but as I understand it, this residence affidavit is preferred, and hence more accepted, than the work permit. After obtaining these documents, I went to the Thai Department of Transportation office with my Thai associate to navigate me through the difficult waters.
Bureaucracy at its best: Thailand Department of Transportation
The Thai DMV has to be the most bureaucratic of all offices in Thailand. There are people in this office who are literally doing nothing. The entire staff of the office could be reduced by 90%. The most humorous moment during my foray into this byzantine world was the sight of a potbellied Thai senior “officer” sitting at a desk at the back of a room filled with desks and people “working.” The Thai officer had obviously been exhausted from overwork and decided that 10:30 in the morning was a good time to fall asleep at his desk with the whole world looking on.
I went up to the counter with my Thai counterpart and the lady officer went over my documents. As usual, everything submitted was rendered unrecognizable by a barrage of stamps. We were told to wait to begin the driving test.
In Thailand, Connections Count even at the DMV
As I understand the rules, anyone applying for a license must sit through a two hour long instructional video about driving. This would be useful to all drivers, but in the case of foreigners its effectiveness is slightly diminished due to the fact that THE WHOLE MOVIE IS IN THAI WITHOUT SUBTITLES. Therefore, most foreigners use this time to nap or catch up on some reading. Luckily for me, my Thai counterpart has a connection in this office and we got the 2 hour movie requirement waived. However, this did not excuse me from the other “tests” necessary for a Thai drivers license.
Running the Gauntlet: Reaction Tests for a Thai Drivers License
The Thais make you do a bunch of tests before granting this license. Some are relatively simple, like testing for color blindness, but others are really annoying. One is the gas to break test, this test has a red and green light and when the green turns to red, then the subject must go from pressing the gas to pressing the break as quickly as possible. I was lucky in that I quickly got through most of the testing. Another foreigner who decided that it didn’t matter how he dressed when going to the DMV, was not so lucky. Thais place a great deal of emphasis on appearance and this seems to go double for Thai bureaucrats. If a foreigner goes to a Thai government office in shorts and T-shirt, then he will likely receive short shrift from the officers. In the case of another foreigner seeking his license that day, the tests for would-be drivers had turned into something similar to American Gladiators.
Especially difficult to watch was the test where they test to see if one can discriminate colors through peripheral vision. They make the subject stare straight ahead and then flash different colors at the sides of the eyes to see if the colors can be discerned. In this case the foreigner I was testing with failed. Not so much based upon inability, but from the fact that the officer was not impressed by his appearance. First she would only explain in Thai. Since I had already been briefed on the procedure by my Thai lawyer counterpart, I knew what was coming. The officer just snapped at him in Thai until I explained and then she promptly said in perfect English, “Yes, designate the color you see.” Obviously the screeching in Thai was a deterrence tactic because I would come to find that the woman’s English was perfect when speaking to me, but she only spoke in Thai to him.
Then Comes the Wait…
After all of this craziness (the other foreigner was sent home and told to return the next day). I kind of felt bad for him, but part of me thought it was a bit ridiculous not to at least throw on a pair of pants before going to deal with a government office.
After the gauntlet had been run, the real test of will had begun: the seemingly interminable wait. My Thai counterpart and I waited in line for approximately 1 and a half hours to get a picture taken and the actual license printed. In their defense, this was not due to the Thai officer’s slow speed, but to the long line of people getting licenses. Total monetary cost: 105 baht. Total Cost in time and annoyance: incalculable. At least now I can drive if I need to and fly domestically without needing my passport so it wasn’t a total waste of time.
If anyone is interested in obtaining their Thai drivers license let me know. After having gone through this personally, my Thai staff and I can help streamline the process for others.
Not right here - but over by Cassanova!
The economics of Taxi Hell
“Pull over driver, you dirtied the sheet.” by WRECKS
The Real Deal On The US-THAI Treaty Of Amity
Songkran over - last year for booze.
Soi 5 nuttiness…