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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Thailand

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2014


Expats are permitted to drive in Thailand with a foreign licence or an International Driving Permit for three months. The foreign licence must be in English or otherwise be accompanied by a certified translation into Thai or English.
After this period, you must apply for a Thai driving licence at your local transport office. To obtain a licence, you must complete a practical driving test, a written test and a two-hour lesson on driving in Thailand. The application form is in Thai only, though the officer present will help you to complete it if necessary.

The road network is variable but fair overall. Roads along major routes are very good, though quality depreciates quite sharply with the importance of the road and accidents are common on rural roads. There are some toll roads, mostly in the Bangkok area. Fees are reasonable, starting at 25 baht.

Driving in Thailand is on the left; a peculiarity that is shared with Malaysia to the south but with no other neighbouring countries. The minimum legal age for driving a car is 18. Wearing a seat belt is compulsory for the front seat only. Traffic signs are in Thai, though English translations are provided in some tourist areas.

Typical speed limits in Thailand are given in the table below.

Road Type

Speed (kph)

Speed (mph)




Built-up areas



Fine for speeding are payable at the nearest police station. The drink-driving limit in Thailand is 0.5mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (or 0.2mg for those who have held their licence for less than 5 years.) Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers at all times.

In addition to your driving licence, insurance and registration documents, whenever you are driving in Thailand, you will need to have  a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your vehicle at all times.

Having said all that, be warned. Thailand is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to drive in. Local drivers have very little respect for the laws of the road and traffic police are too few or too indifferent to do anything to help. Drink driving is another contributing factor.

The situation is worst in Bangkok. According to one source, there are approximately 25 deaths per 100,000 people per annum, making Thailand the 11th worst country in the world for road traffic accident fatalities. In short, use walkways whenever possible and, if you insist on driving, drive defensively. In other words, always err on the side of assuming that drivers are feckless and irresponsible.

When driving, keep to the laws of the road but don’t expect the locals to do so. Understandably, if you are completely baffled by the ‘logic’ of Thai motorists, it is usually better to hire a local driver. The accident rate for motorcycles is particularly frightening, so if you choose to ride one, make sure you wear a helmet.

Note that flashing headlights is used as a warning signal in Thailand. Especially in more rural areas, locals indicate that there has been a traffic accident or breakdown on the road ahead by putting tree branches on the road. Both motorists and pedestrians should beware of motorbikes, of which there are many. You should never cross the road without looking. Even if the locals do!


As an alternative to public transport, in addition to regular taxis, there are motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks (which can either be small vans or covered motorbikes). These can work out as cheap but it is best to negotiate your fare before you start travelling. Otherwise, insist that drivers use the meter, as they are legally obliged to do.


The Thai railway service is run by the State Railway of Thailand. The railway network has its hub at Bangkok. At just over 4,000 km, it is rater skeletal, but covers a wide area. There are three levels of train service: express, rapid and ordinary. Even the express service is reasonably priced. Note that you should buy a train ticket before boarding the train or you may be fined. The safety record for trains in not exemplary, though train travel is still far safer than going by road.

Bangkok has an elevated railway, the BTS Sky Train, with two lines, and a metro which only has one line, but it is currently being extended.

Buses and Coaches

Buses are a cheap and widely available means of getting around major cities. Buses run regularly along major city routes and to airports. The largest bus and coach company is the government-subsidised Transport Company (some content of the linked website is in English). This runs five standards of bus – top of the range buses are relatively fast and have air conditioning. There are also privately run bus and coach services. On a Thai bus, you pay when you get off – typically from 15 to 35 baht.

Coaches and long-distance buses are very important in Thailand. They fill in the gaps where there are no train lines and are very cheap, though of course they are slow. This is particularly the case in rural areas such as the Isaan.


Domestic flights are quite popular in Thailand, and are usually the quickest option for travel across longer distances. However, this will only be true if you live near an airport and your destination is near an airport too. There are two international airports in Bangkok, and one each in Chiang Mai city and Phuket. Twenty other cities have major airports. The national airline is Thai Airways, which serves all major airports. Air Asia is also popular, as is Orient Thai Airline.


Taking a ferry is the most popular and convenient option if you are travelling between the mainland and the various southern islands. These islands, particularly Phuket, Koh Samui and Phi Phi Island, are very popular tourist destinations. The two main ferry companies are Seatran Discovery and Lomprayah.




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