What You Need to Know About Riding Scooters in Thailand

Thailand is a pretty safe place - if you're sensible about it. But the thing that's most likely to get you in trouble? A rented motorbike. People keep falling off them!

Many travellers to Thailand are bypassing ‘professional‘ services, and are now taking the wheel on their own hands – but obviously there are far greater risks involved. Make sure you read our advice on riding around Thailand before you take off…including our most popular question: Do I need travel insurance to ride a motorbike in Thailand? Yes, yes, YES!

Do I Need a License to Ride a Motorbike in Thailand?

If you want to drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Thailand the most important thing to note is that you need to have absolute nerves of steel to survive emotionally and physically. The country has an appaling road safety regime and lots of accidents. In fact it's one of the worst places on Earth for fatalities per capita.

You will also need a license - one from home (best paired with an international driver's permit) or one you obtain in Thailand - and it has to be for the class of vehicle you're intending to hire. If you don't have a motorcycle license from home you don't magically acquire one by crossing into Thailand. Thousands of visitors each year rent a motorcycle and ride around Thailand totally unlicensed. That doesn't mean it's legal.

You will need a driving license from your home country if you want to hire a motorbike or car. But, if you do not have an international license, or a Thai license, you will be driving illegally.

What if you‘re stopped by police? Yes, you can usually pay the police officer off for a few dollars - not that we recommend that!

But you should check out our guide to bribing police and find out the going rate for traffic offences.

The fact that the shop rented you the bike without asking for your license doesn‘t mean you don‘t need one. It‘s not their responsibility if you don‘t check out local law.

What About a Scooter Under 50cc?

Apart from the fact no one should be seen on a scooter with a sewing machine engine for propulsion – it‘s only some European countries that do away with licenses for under 50cc engines.

But Everyone's Doing It!

Tens of thousands of visitors each year rent a motorcycle/scooter and ride around unlicensed and get away with it. That doesn't mean it's legal.

Many travellers report ticking the motorcycle box on their International Driver‘s Permit. If the policeman who stops you isn‘t fooled, you‘ll pay a “fine“, after which he‘ll let you go on your merry way. This does not mean you are riding legally; you‘ve just avoided the law by paying a bribe.

You can keep on riding regardless, but what if you have a crash, and you need to call on your travel insurance? It‘s pretty straightforward; no valid license means you‘re riding illegally and you‘re not covered.

If you tried that "everyone's doing it!" stuff on your mother we're pretty sure she'd want to know if you were going to jump off a cliff if everyone else was doing it - listen to your mother.

Do I Need Travel Insurance to Ride a Motorbike in Thailand?

Sure you can keep on riding if you don't have a license, but what if you do have a crash, and you need to call on your travel insurance? It‘s pretty straightforward; no valid license in the country where the accident happened, means you‘re riding illegally and you‘re not covered. If you're not sure give us a call.

You cannot insure against illegal activity. That also includes not wearing a helmet where it‘s compulsory (Cambodia, Thailand, Bali), and not riding under the influence of drink or drugs (everywhere).

The fact that the shop rented you the bike without asking for your license doesn‘t mean you don‘t need one. It‘s not their responsibility if you don‘t check out local law.

Am I Covered if I Injure Myself on a Motorbike?

Injury from a motorcycle accident is one of the most common claims received by insurers. If it‘s a bad one and you need medical evacuation, the cost could run to $100,000 or more. Don‘t be fooled, the insurer will check if you have a valid license (forging that international permit isn‘t looking so smart anymore).

Don't Be an Idiot With Your Own Safety

Here are a few tips to keep you safe while on the road (If you‘re still tempted to roll the dice, unlicensed and uninsured, do everything you can to make sure you don‘t get hurt in a crash):

  • Wear a helmet – preferably full-face.
  • Wear protective clothing – long trousers and a jacket of sturdy material.(Flip-flops a t-shirt and shorts don‘t count as “sturdy“).
  • Wear gloves - anyone who‘s falling puts out their hands to protect themselves, even on a hard bitumen road approaching at 50 km/h. Ouch!
  • Don‘t speed, drink or do drugs and ride.
  • Don‘t ride at night.

The protective clothing is the toughest one – it‘s stinking hot and humid, you‘re just zipping back from the beach to your room, you‘re on holiday, who wants to follow rules! - We get it. Just ride really carefully!

If you do end up in a crash, you will also wear the cost irrespective of if you were at fault or not. Basically, the law of the land goes like this: If you are a Farang (visitor or tourist), the accident is your fault. Don't fight it, but negotiate to keep the costs down.

Going to give the motorbike a miss now? There are plenty of other transport options in Thailand.



5 Comments

  • 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

    Carson

    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.

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