Motorbikes and Scooters in Thailand: What Are the Rules?

Are you insured for riding a motorbike in Thailand? Do you need a license? Find out all the essential information before you rent two wheels.

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Photo © iStock/Leonardo Patrizi

Many travelers to Thailand are by-passing professional services, like public transport and cars with drivers, and are driving themselves.  

Before you take off on that rental bike, find out the essential information, and the answer to our most frequently asked question: do I need travel insurance to ride a motorbike in Thailand?

The short answer? 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, you'll need to have absolute nerves of steel to survive emotionally and physically. The country has an appalling road safety record and there are lots of accidents, despite numerous government safety initiatives over the years. 

Thailand rates second in the world for road fatalities per capita, behind Libya. During the 2016/17 new year holiday period, 478 people died in road accidents in one week. 

You must have a license – one from home (best paired with an international driver's permit) – or you can get one in Thailand, and it has to be for the class of vehicle you're intending to hire.

If you don't have a motorbike license back home, you don't magically acquire one by flying into Thailand. Thousands of visitors each year rent a motorbike and ride around Thailand totally unlicensed. It's illegal.

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 offenses.

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 the 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 – you still need a license; it's only in some European countries that licenses aren't required for under 50cc engines.

But Everyone's Doing It!

Tens of thousands of visitors each year rent a motorcycle or scooter, ride around unlicensed and get away with it. It's illegal.

Many travelers 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. So listen to your mother.

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

If you don't have a valid license in the country where the accident happened, 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 riding under the influence of drink or drugs (everywhere).

If the shop lets you rent a bike without asking for your license, it doesn't mean you don't need one. Again, it's not their responsibility. It's yours to check local laws before you go. 

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 iyou suffer serious injuries, 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:

  • 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. We know it's hard when it's stinking hot and humid in Thailand, you're just zipping back from the beach!
  • Wear gloves - most people put out their hands to protect themselves in the event of a fall, even on a hard bitumen road approaching at 30mph (50 km/h). Ouch!
  • Don't speed, drink or do drugs and ride.
  • Don't ride at night.

If you do end up in a crash, whether you are at fault or not, if you are a farang (visitor), 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.



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9 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.

    Reply

  • 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.

    Reply

  • 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

    Reply

  • 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

    Reply

  • 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.

    Reply

  • 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

    Reply

  • 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.

    Reply

  • 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.

    Reply

  • 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.

    Reply

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