Friday 27 November 2009

Renew or obtain a Thai drivers license, an experience

Renew or obtain a Thai drivers license, an experience

Besides an adventure, it's also a lesson in keeping a smile on your face and remain patient, regardless of what they tell you or sometimes not tell you.

In all the years that I've been visiting the Transport office Surat Thani, Branch Koh Samui area supervisor, which dates back as early as 2002 when I obtained my first drivers license, I went back a couple of times to renew my drivers license, two times for a one year renewal and now the second time to renew for 5 years.

As in each country, public service offices tend to like red tape but the Thais seem to take the strudel, the first time still has to be seen when everything goes smoothly and I didn't 'forget' anything, whether it's not sufficient copies of this or that, bringing a motorbike or bringing pictures, there's always something.

The office itself is in Lipa Noi, a bit further down the road from Nikki Beach, coming from Nathon, pass the crossing where Samui immigration is located and take a right at the next red light. It's the crossing that leads to the old and still functioning Raja ferry pier. The sign on the previous picture hasn't been up for too long, so it's not too difficult to miss nowadays but if you didn't know where it was before that sign was put up, it may have taken you a while to find it, since the building, as pictured above, is completely hidden from the road.

One of the things you need is a letter from Immigration, stating that you behaved well and hence can apply for a drivers license. Cost; 500,-THB. If you don't know anybody at immigration, this may take a couple of hours to get sorted, renewing your license is something for the next day.

Since I'm applying for two different licenses, one for driving cars and one for driving motorbikes, I needed a copy of that letter made by immigration. All other paperwork and copies were fine! Not too bad, in my early years at this office I had to drive back to Nathon on my motorbike to get more copies sorted which was rather time consuming. At last, somebody had the bright idea to start a copy, oops sorry, a coppy shop in the middle of nowhere but with a steady supply of people in urgent need for copies; each copy 5,-THB, so one copy wasn't too bad but that shop is a copy gold mine. The shop also acts as an insurance broker for cars and motorbikes.

Inside the building nothing had changed much, since my last visit 5 years ago, except the new purple signs with English translations, a nice touch and helpful.

I arrived shortly before 9am and after picking up a number and handing over my paperwork and quickly getting one more copy of my immigration letter sorted out, I was told to sit down and wait until 9.30am. Mmmm, that would be an early day than, in and out and rather efficiently.

Well, not to be! At 9.45am, whilst I was reading my Dirk Pitt novel, I was approached by a Thai guy who was apparently sent down by the office staff because he could speak some English and he came to tell me that I needed to go to the 2nd floor. Following him I ended up in a classroom where a lady immediately went into an explanation in Thai about what was going to happen, what I could make out of it was that we all, a group of 27 people, 24 Thai and 3 Westerners, where to take a 'simple' test on some kind of machine, do a test for recognising colours (red, yellow and green, sounds familiar in relation to traffic?) and once that was done take an exam. Hold it, take an exam? I had done mine 7 years ago when I got my first drivers license. What is going on here. During the colour test, I finally got a chance to ask the lady in charge and found out that I just needed to complete the two tests but not the exam. Thanks for explaining straight away.

The color chart is visible in the background but the machine in front is piece of work! There are three tests in this machine, one that tests field of vision, by looking at a point in front of you, colors appear left and right of you and you need to state the color codes (red, yellow and green), it also test field of depth, by which you need to line up two white plastic tubes with a remote control and last but not least, it involves a reaction test, push the gas pedal and when green lights start to appear, hit the breaks before they lights turn red.

Do each test twice and you pass. Fail one test, do the test again, fail the test again, come back Monday and try again!
Since I had no probs with all the tests, I was home free but since we Westerners were the last in line, it was near 11am before we finished this.

Now it was off to pay the fees (increase of 100% since 5 years ago) and get my licenses, however, since I lost my motorbike license (needed to give it as deposit on Koh Tao for a bike rental and upon returning the bike the next day, the guy with the deposits had run off, incl my motorbike license), she somehow couldn't find me on the system so I only left with my brand new car drivers license. Price 655,-THB.

The lady who I was dealing with was actually nice and very helpful and she gave me her phone number in order to call her back on Monday so she could do some more research and give me the result since I wasn't listed on the ID # that was on my old drivers license and as it turned out, once I could double check back home, my first set of drivers licenses where issued on a different passport #, a way older passport. Well, most likely time for another run down to Lipa Noi early next week.

Something I didn't want to with hold, the practical part of the Thai drivers license exam. Drive around the building, park on the curb and park backwards. When I did my exam, after passing the written exam, I was asked to do exactly this with my rented car. Back in those days I didn't have my own car yet. However, than they found out that I didn't bring a motorbike and if I wanted to get a motorbike license, I needed to have a motorbike to complete the practical test. OK, off I went to Nathon to rent a bike and upon returning I was asked to drive twice around the building. That was the practical test.

I wasn't done yet however, since some Thai guys showed up without a car. I was more or less summoned to give them my car for their test.
My explanation that my car could be rented and if they wanted to use my rented car they would need to pay for the privilege didn't go down very well but since they had me go all the way to Nathon to rent a bike for just driving around their building, this was the perfect opportunity to cover my combined rental costs of the day.
In typical Thai fashion, the Thais that came to the exam with a car where never asked to hand over their car to the people that showed up without a car.

This is the highly modernised and computerised classroom where the written exams take place. A far cry from the simple wooden table that I had to sit at 7 years ago.

This is the final result, my brand new Thai drivers license, valid for another 5 years. Now I just need to get my hands on a new motorbike license and all is good again for the next 5 years on the license renewal front.

All in all less stressful than expected but a lot more time intensive than I expected with a rather friendly and helpful desk person. If you need your license sorted out, make sure you got time and make sure you know what to bring, makes life a lot easier.

Hope you enjoyed this rather long post.



Mike said...

Hi Camille sounds like fun! I just got my first 1 year licence.

I had to do the three tests plus a driving knowledge test in English on a machine, which I failed the first time but she let me have another go!

The questions were multi-choice but half of them either had two possible answers or none that seemed correct.

Mai pen rai!

Camille Lemmens said...

Hi Mike,

Saw that miltiple choice machine as well, but luckily enough I didn't have to torture myself on it.

The whole license obtaining experience has definately made a step into the 20th Century (!), compared to 7 years ago.

Marc said...

Hoi Camille,
Prachtig verhaal....heb echt moeten lachen!!
P.s. je krijgt de groeten van "meester"Sjef Lemmens van de Mavo....(snotneusjes-piefjes)
Groetjes van Marc

Camille Lemmens said...

Hoi Marc,

Ja, het gaat hier allemaal net even iets anders.
Zo krijg je wel weer makkelijk een halve dag om.

Unknown said...

Hi Camille,

Don,t know if you are aware that instead of the letter from immigration a coppy, like the spelling, of your work permit will do. Renewed my 2 driving licences at Samui office on 1st Dec 2009 wiusing a copy of passport and Work permit for both, saved myself 500 baht there :)


Camille Lemmens said...

Hi Dave,

That's excellent advice, didn't know that. Thanks.