Motorbikes and Scooters in Thailand: What Are the Rules?

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Should you ride a motorbike in Thailand? What are the risks? Find out all the essential information before you rent two wheels.


Busy motorbike traffic Photo © iStock/Leonardo Patrizi

Each year, thousands of tourists hire motorcycles in Thailand. But before you join them, you need to know the following tips about insurance, helmets, road rules and scams, gleaned from my decade living on and off in Thailand.

Do not ride a motorbike in Thailand if you do not have a license to do so in your own country.

Reconsider riding a motorbike in Thailand

Before I even impart any advice on how to ride in Thailand, I’d ask you to reconsider motorcycling in Thailand. It is perhaps the most dangerous nation on the planet for motorcyclists. A 2019 report by the New York Times found Thailand had the highest per capita rate of motorcycle deaths of any country.

This does not surprise me given my experiences across many years of living and driving in Thailand. Its roads are clogged and chaotic. Motorists constantly disobey road rules, to the extent that it appears there are no rules. Cars speed wildly and swerve erratically. Trucks are similarly unpredictable. Motorcyclists are perhaps the most kamikaze of all, often weaving in between lanes without a helmet and seemingly no fear.

Even veteran motorcyclists face grave danger on Thai roads because no amount of skill can protect you from crazy motorists. Yet many tourists hire bikes despite having little to no motorcycling experience. That includes me. I made this error as a cocky young man and long ago vowed never again to motorcycle in the Land of Smiles.

Don’t ride at night

The first time it happened, I was in shock. By the dozenth occasion, I realized why so many motorcyclists die on Thai roads. What I’m referring to, is being behind the wheel of a car in Thailand, at night, and having a motorcycle ride towards me in the wrong direction and with no headlights.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous, yet common occurrence on Thai roads. Rather than taking the longer, legal route to their destination, some Thai motorcyclists prefer shortcuts, and will happily ride against the flow of traffic to save a minute or two.

Many more ride in the evening without their headlights on, making it near-impossible to see them until they’re directly in front of you. This is just one reason I avoid driving at night in Thailand, wherever possible. Another is that, according to Thai media, drunk driving is a plague, and it stands to reason this will be at its most common after dark.

Zebra crossings are dangerous

In Thailand, zebra crossings mean exactly the same thing they do in Western countries – they signify a location where motorists are meant to give way to pedestrians. The problem is many Thai motorists ignore this safety measure, especially motorcyclists.

While living in Bangkok, dozens of times I’ve carefully walked across a zebra crossing, only for a motorbike to fly through the middle of a line of stopped cars and nearly hit me. Even when walking with my baby boy in a pram this was a regular problem.

In 2022, this issue became national news when a Bangkok doctor died after she was hit by a motorcyclist who sped through a zebra crossing. Just because other motorcyclists ignore zebra crossings in Thailand, do not follow their lead when you’re riding. Be extra cautious whenever approaching one of these crossings.

Wear a safe helmet

Now you know Thailand is the world’s deadliest country for motorcyclists, you should be fixated on finding the safest possible helmet. Because the risk of an accident is high and the businesses that hire motorbikes tend to offer cheap helmets.

Some of the motorbike helmets you’ll see in Thailand are barely more robust than an empty yogurt tub. When you collect your bike, don’t expect it to come with the kind of high-end, heavily-reinforced helmets that are common in the West. That is what you desperately need. But you may well have to buy one of these yourself, or at the very least shop around at different rental agencies until you find one.

Never hand over your passport

This lesson I learned from an anxious experience. The first time I rode a motorbike in Thailand the rental company demanded I give them my passport as collateral. Rather naively, I complied. When I returned the motorbike, the staff member on shift pointed at scratches on its side and accused me of causing the damage and demanded I pay for it.

I denied responsibility and said I would not cough up any more money. Then he reminded me that he held my passport. Panic set in as I believed I was about to be scammed. Luckily, a more senior staff member arrived, recognized that the damage was pre-existing, returned my vital legal document, and sent me on my way.

But many, many other people in my situation are not so lucky. Because possessing a tourist’s passport is the preferred form of leverage for Thai rental agencies that aim to scam foreigners, asking for big money to repair supposedly tainted bikes.

It should be noted that most of these businesses are trustworthy. However, there are enough dodgy operators that you should never part ways with your passport. Instead, offer them a photocopy of this document. If they say that’s insufficient, simply move on to another rental company.

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  • Hugo said

    The person that wrote this has no idea what he is talking about. There are 13,000 motorbike deaths on the road and tens of thousands of injuries. The Thai driving style is like nothing a westerner has seen. This is a dangerous place unless you are a very seasoned motorcyclist, and even then take great care.


  • Lex said

    I've ridden a motorbike for 20 years including in Italy, not known for its safe driving, and some international trips. Riding in Thailand is fucking terrifying and expensive due to police shakedowns. I would not recommend it other than for short daytime hops.


  • soeren Hein said

    I have been riding moto bike in Thailand since my first 3 month visit in 2015. I started out slowly in small southern town Prachuap Khiri Kahn, and I was completely sold. I simply loved it! When You go in most of Thailand the weather is extremely hot and humid, and just the thought of taking on long trousers or gloves would be a total turn off. The way I deel with the safety/comfort issue, is at all times to keep my speed on max 50-60 km/h, always to wear a helmet, and always to have an eye on the road in front of me. It is also important to know that a lot of motobikes at high speed will overtake you on your inside, meaning at the left of You, so be a little carefull. Already one month into my first visit in Thailand, I went on a 14 days motobike ride through the mountains in the red triangle in the northern part of Thailand, starting from Chiang Mai. People were extremely friendly, the weather more pleasant and cooler than in the south, and the mountain sceneries of big beauty. I bought a special road map from the golden triangle riders, that helped me to get off on the small country roads. Comming home to Dk I took a motorcycle lisense, and this year I go legally in Thailand with an international driving permit (this is just an English version of your real driving license, valid for 3 month, in Thailand) Riding moto bike in the warm tropical clima and in all the green of Thailand, is an unforgettable experince. Go slowly, with a helmet and enjoy the sceneri


  • Carson said

    I have a question if anyone can help me. 1. In America you don't need a moto license for 125cc and under scooters. I have one in America and ride it legally with just a drivers license. 2. Looked up the 1949 Geneva act on road traffic and 1968 vienna driving act and all I need to legally drive in Thailand is my drivers license from my home country. Called the embassy and they confirmed this. So my question is do I need a moto license to drive legally in thailand if all I rent is a 125cc scooter? My health insurance covers all accidents just won't cover damage to the bike. Just trying to figure out The legality since my license is legal in america but in Thailand do I still have to have a moto license? Thanks if anyone can help with this


  • Garry said


    As long as you have an International driving permit and your home licence it will state the classes of vehicle you are entitled to drive.

    The UK for instance only issues one licence but shows the classes of vehicle you are able to drive. If your US licence doesn't show a motorcycle class then don't ride one in Thailand.


  • Gatis said

    I have EU car drivers license for only 2 years now and I learned to drive motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh for the first time. Driving in Thailand 2 years later (except Bangkok, as they do not allow to rent bikes in Bangkok) was easy. Hard to adapt to left driving, but if you are a good driver in your own country it shouldnt be a problem. In south, like Krabi, Ao nang, Phuket, we saw only few policeman. If you ride properly they will not stop you at all. Probably even dont speak english and is afraid of you :) go with the flow and all be fine


  • Sabine Ekaterina Müller said

    UNTRUE concerning law stated about "under 125 cc no special license needed." You need a license for a motorcycle above 50 cc. ALL the time. Get it. Take the classes or practice before you get there. You can take the motorcycle safety course and then get your endorsement by using a 250 cc Honda Rebel, accessible by women and men by size and maneuverability. Good bike on which to practice, especially since most will rent a 50 cc scoot. I plane to buy a 125cc+ scoot as I plan to take a trip through Burma and India after leaving Thailand. I would prefer a 250cc scoot.

    Get your training, or ride a taxi, TukTuk or otherwise. Be careful. The only accident I have ever had, was caused by another driver turning in front of me in the United States. Wear bright colors, especially your helmet. If you can stand it, wear a full face helmut( I can't---claustrophobia), mesh jacket with reinforced armor on elbows, shoulders, and chest. Also wear AT least Chaps, leather ones, if not jeans. You can take them on and off as you travel as you can wear them over your regular clothing. While you are riding, you will not be as hot, as long as you are moving. Also, always wear gloves, even if they are fingerless, but they must have hand pads. I saw a woman who wore no protective gear and she skinner half of her scalp off and had major gavel in that side of her body. Don't do it. At the least, wear a jean Jacket and jeans with gloves.


  • Harold said

    Riding a bike in Thailand is like swimming with fish, all move together, sharks coming and going all the time. Day dream once and your fucked. You not allowed to have a mistake on these roads or a bad day.


  • ItalianGuy said

    You guys make me laugh .. driving a bike is dangerous everywhere if you don't know what you are doing. Policeman here are a joke, if you got a fast bike they will never catch you and they will never care to pursuit you, they got other slower people to steal from... yes... they steal, corruption is so high in this country, they do not care if you are following the law or not, many time they find something wrong and if you will have to pay them a bribe to go away. When I first come here, I had in mind european rules, I stopped everytime police call me and I learnt on my skin what a kind of police thailand got. Just avoid them as much as you can! They will not care if you escape.


  • Alex Cottle said

    Hi there

    I am currently in Thailand and want to ride a scooter. I have a regular (car) driving license in my home country. Not passed my CBT. I wanted to know what my options are? Can I take out insurance and am covered still? Would just getting a local license here be enough? Or do I need a bike license from my home country?




    • said

      Alex did you get everything sorted yet? If you get a local thai motorcycle license (and car if you need it, they're separate) then you'll be all good for insurance coverage and fully legal regarding police and licensing.
      Otherwise, you need an IDP (international drivers permit), a motorcycle license from your home country and then you'll be covered by insurance and free from Police drama as long as you're wearing your helmet.
      Good luck man!


  • Michael D said

    Hey there,
    I have a question regarding buying a moped in Thailand
    I am a tourist and am looking to go from south Thailand to south Vietnam through Cambodia and cannot find a suitable rental place that will allow me to rent in Thailand and drop off in Saigon and so I feel as if my only option is to buy one and then re sell it (if possible) once I reach Vietnam.
    I have a full UK driving licence but do I need a green book as a tourist for purchasing a moped? And if so how is it best to acquire a green book as I have no place of residency as I will be in hostels all over South Asia.
    Also it is legal to drive a Thai moped through Cambodia and Vietnam?
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Michael D


  • Steve said

    Been in Chiang Mai 6 years, travelled all over by car and big and small motorbikes.
    What I can tell you is, people on motorbikes have zero mercy to anyone else on one, whether farang or Thai... their sole purpose in life is to get around you anyway they can, just like with car drivers, it’s something inbred in them, they have to overtake, and if you either hit someone else or have a fall, they ain’t slowing down, they’ll just keep riding, same as if they hit your car whilst working their way through stopped traffic to get to the front, I’ve had my car hit several times, they just ignore you and keep going.
    I can tell you from experience that you never stop if there is a accident, chances are you will be blamed for it, regardless of your good intentions you are a third party and unless you are fluent in Thai and can handle the situation, chances are everyone will be looking at you as the cause. Thais are never wrong, ever, so they will look at a third party to blame, with deep pockets, because you’re going to be handing out cash to resolve a dispute. I have had three situations before I learned to look the other way when I saw a accident and I have seen dozens, believe me.
    Thai police smile at farang at a police check, why, because they are already counting the cash, no helmet, IDL or Thai license, registration or insurance... I take a bit of perverse pleasure at seeing the smiles disappear when they realise, you are 100% correct and they can’t hit up for tea money.
    Go with the flow of traffic at lights, ignore those idiots that take off before the light goes green only to have a car or two decide to ignore the red light and blast through well after it’s gone red. Be prepared that no one looks behind then before they pull into traffic, Thai road rules If you are behind someone and you hit them you’re fault, applies to cars and motorbikes, I’d say 60-70% never look or shoulder check, or even bother with indicating. If the traffic queues up motorbikes will just go into oncoming traffic to get to the front.
    Double and even triple parking are common, Thai are very lazy and will happily double park at a noodle stand or directly in front of a 7/11. Too bad for anyone else, just have to deal with their selfishness.
    Understand that whatever Riad rules you are used to wherever you are from are nonexistent here, keep out of everyone else’s way, stay left, don’t drive or ride erratically. Stay focused and expect almost anything to happen in any direction...


  • jonathan hurley said

    Doesn't matter the locale....m/c is dangerous. More in unfamiliar territory, more in opposite side driving, more for level of experience.....and even the BEST riders meet with disaster at times. I am American....and have had people seem to actually target me. I have lost 3 friends to death from m/c...none did anything wrong but get hit. Follow laws, rules, customs AND be a good rider....and no guarantee you come home.
    MCs I have owned since I was 14. 175cc Kawasaki Bushmaster. 350cc Yamaha. 650cc Bonneville. 750cc Norton. Indian RoadMaster 111 ci (or 1.8L or 1800 ccs and 800 lbs. (what a fckng BIKE!!!!!)....Now 71, wife prohibits biking. Period. Sold Indian 4 years ago. Miss it. Best bike I ever rode....and I borrowed/rode hundreds of other bikes.
    Had to give up SCUBA diving too.
    Do NOT miss the hyper-attentiveness required.


  • Simon Bleechmore said

    I have to say that the comment by Steve above ("Been in Chiang Mai 6 years etc") is the best summary of riding/driving in Thailand I have ever read.

    I'm an Australian married to a Thai lady from Chiang Mai, and over the past 10 years I've learned that everything Steve has written is spot on. It boggles my mind how little of their brain the average Thai person uses when driving a car/truck (my estimate <50%) or riding a motorcyle (<10%). This statement seems racist but it is the only way I can rationalise the comically absurd actions of the average Thai motorist. Furthermore, they are perversely proud of their ridiculously high road fatality rate, year after year.

    I ride and drive over here (including in Bangkok) but have eyes in the back of my head, am constantly scanning for risks, and never ever relax behind the wheel.


  • Paul Barker said

    Totally wrong information. As long as you have an MC license from your home country, if it is a co signatory of the international conventions that allows governments to accept each others licenses, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, you can ride inThailand. And you absolutely don’t need an IDP if you’re from those countries.
    I live in Thailand and ride a bike.
    The author clearly didn’t check his sources very well


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