License to what, I’m not quite sure.
The plastic card says I now have a license to drive a “Temporary Car.” Just what one of those might be, I’ve no idea. “Should you choose to drive this car it will self-destruct in five seconds.” Not too many of those around.
What I really have is a temporary license to drive a car. And it’s “temporary” in the sense that everyone’s first license is only valid for a year, after which – if you’ve been a good girl or boy – you can obtain a five year license. Considering what I’ve just experienced, I think I’d better start pulling together the paperwork right now!
I’m convinced Thailand must have a Ministry of Complications (MoC). If so, they should be congratulated, because they do a fine job. They take what should be the simplest of tasks, analyze it to death, and turn it into a series of apparently meaningless and time-consuming steps that do nasty things to the blood pressure. Literally! Read on…
I started the process of obtaining a Thai Drivers License more than a month ago. Okay, I could have speeded things up by not taking breaks between the MoC’s many steps, but I couldn’t see any point. I have a valid Malaysian license, which I was told I could use for a year, so I didn’t imagine anyone would object to that. But then I noticed something online that said most insurance companies say you can only use a foreign license for ninety days after becoming legally resident, after which the insurance is invalid. Oops! I was breaking that rule, so obtaining said license suddenly became a top priority.
Now, in every other country I’ve lived, I’ve turned up at whatever the local DMV was called, presented my previous country’s license, paid some money, maybe filled out a form, and was given my new one. But that’s way too simple for Thailand’s MoC.
First I had to persuade my landlord to provide multiple signed copies of his identity card. I think he suspected me of identity theft. Except he’s only knee high to a grasshopper, so I think anyone would notice the difference. Then I had to make multiple copies of my passport, my residence visa, the page that proves I’ve reported to Immigration within the last ninety days, and my Malaysian license. Then I had to prepare three photographs and a urine sample. No, not really. I made up the last bit.
Next I had to trek off to Immigration in Nakhon Si Thammarat to ask them for a Certificate of Residence. Actually I had to make two copies of everything because I needed two Certificates. One to register the car, and one for the license. You’d think one would be enough, but the MoC doesn’t agree.
I sometimes think it’s not wise to read too much online because many websites told me this was a lengthy process, and that Immigration often sends the police to your home to check you really live there.
But as it turned out, getting the Certificates was one of the easy steps. The only thing they didn’t like was the forms I had downloaded and completed, and they insisted I had to pay a small extra “fee” to use their identical ones. No big deal. They even filled them out for me.
I have to say, for Immigration people they were super-friendly. Everyone spoke English. And they were so thoughtful they even provided reading glasses for those who struggled to read their official forms! Never seen that before; anywhere.
I would have been in and out in less than thirty minutes if it hadn’t been for a senile moment! When making copies, I’d left my passport in the scanner, and had to endure a two-hour round trip to retrieve it. Everyone (sans moi) found that very funny.
So I figured the next step would be to visit the Department of Land Transportation to ask about the next steps towards obtaining a license. If you recall, I’d tried to find the office a couple of weeks ago. I figured someone there would speak enough English for them to tell me what paperwork I needed, and most importantly, whether or not I needed to take a written test. But I never found the place.
The test apparently is not funny. It takes twelve hours. It’s all in Thai, so you need a translator, and you have to answer at least 90% correctly.
Dear Land Transportation Persons,
I’ve been driving for 53 years. I really don’t need to take a 12 hour test.
So I pleaded for help from my friendly translator. Unfortunately she was busy early morning, and assigned a couple of her friends in Nakhon to help me. Now that was very kind. I appreciated the gesture. They’re nice ladies. But neither of them spoke any more English than I speak Thai. It was very much the blind leading the blind.
I managed to find the correct road because I’d been there before, and left them to find the right building and office. So far so good. But from there on, I felt like a five year old being dragged around from one place to the next. Come here. Sit there. Wait. Hand over passport. Sit again. Get back in car. What? Why are we getting back in the car? No one could tell me.
Eventually, with frustration level and blood pressure rising in tandem, one of the ladies said “Hospital.” Hmmm. They were going to have me committed?
Actually, that wasn’t too surprising. I knew I needed a health certificate, so I wasn’t discovering anything new. But given that the objective of the morning was to learn, and to find out whether or not I needed to take the twelve hour test, on that subject, I was none the wiser.
I had no way of undoing the miscommunication, and the nice ladies were determined that one way or another I was going to get my license today, whether that was my plan or not.
I had read somewhere that if you go to a small clinic, you can just answer a few questions, hand over some money, and five minutes later walk out with “proof” of being fit to drive a car! Instead, we arrived at the best private hospital in Nakhon, and they wanted to do things the right way. Inside I’m going ballistic. Outwardly I’m still smiling, or maybe grimacing.
The hospital wanted to take my blood pressure. “It’s too high” they said. By this point if they’d told me it was normal I would have advised them their equipment was faulty. Of course I have high blood pressure. I’m being dragged around Nakhon by two almost strangers with whom I can’t communicate, and not achieving what I wanted. I confess, if there’s one thing in life I like, it’s being in control. And here we were with an epic fail.
I think at this point the hospital didn’t want the bad publicity of having a farang die on its premises, so I was told “take this, lie here, and rest a while.” So now I found myself – very luckily for the first time in my life, and I hope the last – lying on a hospital bed. In the emergency ward. With a guy next to me who sounded like he was in the process of dying. And how exactly is this supposed to relax me, I wondered silently.
Anyhoo, eventually a doctor appeared. Checked me over. Confidently told me “Nothing wrong with you” and signed the certificate! Later I discovered the nice doctor is actually the owner of the hospital, whom my friend had called in a panic, when she’d heard I was lying in the Emergency Ward. Very thoughtful of her. It all ended happily.
And then, for something like ninety minutes of the hospital’s time, some mysterious meds, the close attention of at least a dozen nurses (no hardship there) plus a consultation with a senior doctor, and the issuance of the Medical Certificate, I was presented with an horrendous bill of THB57. That’s slightly more than £1 or US$1.50!
And people wonder why I live here. Well, I can put up with an almost infinite number of frustrations in return for Thailand’s cost of living.
Now, if you’re still with me, I have to warn, we are nowhere near the end of the saga.
Next, it was back to the Land Transportation people, where, with my trusty translator now also in tow, I thankfully discovered that no, I did not need to take the 12 hour test.
It seems the Ministry of Complications has failed to plug a loophole that says the test is not needed for holders of Malaysia, Singapore and Laos licenses. The day was looking up. Maybe I would get my license after all, and the Thai ladies – now three of them – could be happy that they’d out faranged the farang.
But the lack of the 12 hour test did not mean a total absence of tests. The fun was only just beginning. I was ushered into a room where, fortunately for me, there was another applicant ahead of me. I could watch what he was doing, and then act like a monkey by mimicking his actions.
First it was “stand here and tell me the colors on this traffic light.” Sounds easy, but the positions of the colors kept changing. I’ve never seen a traffic light with red in the middle and amber on top, but hey, as they say on the expat forums “TIT”. Which apparently means “This Is Thailand” – where anything can happen, and usually does.
Next it was something akin to having my eyes tested. I had to place my nose on a metal plate, where a million noses had been placed before. The yuk factor kicked in and I chose to place my nose a little ways away, and tried not to breathe. I had to look straight ahead and to shout out the colors and position of lights that were shown in my peripheral vision. Seemed easy enough.
Then it was onto the reaction test, which had dummy pedals for gas and brake, plus more red and green lights. The idea was to step on the gas, which illuminated the green light, and then jump on the brake when a red light appeared. On the left edge was a vertical row of about twenty tiny green lights, topped by about five red ones. These seemed to be connected to a timer, and lit progressively the longer you took to hit the brake. I wouldn’t have known about the tiny lights except the guy ahead of me reacted so slowly, he managed to illuminate all of them, including the red ones, which clearly indicated he had the reaction time of a sloth. Maybe a sleepy sloth.
I can feel the beginnings of a tongue twister here … several sleepy sloths stamped slighly’n’slowly sideways … Okay, you can complete the rest of it.
Anyhoo, despite failing miserably, I saw him a half hour later walking out with his new license, so I hope I never spot him in my rear-view mirror!
When it was my turn, I reacted so quickly none of the lights came on. I don’t think the examiner had witnessed this before, so I had to repeat my party trick a couple of times more to prove it was no fluke.
The final test I’m sure I flunked, because I really couldn’t figure what I was supposed to do, and the guy ahead of me was no use, because he couldn’t figure it either. Actually, I think he failed all of the tests, but as I mentioned, he still got his license. If you’ve ever driven here, then that will explain a lot.
Anyways, this final test involved pressing a couple of buttons to line up something inside a small glass box. The examiner didn’t seem to care, so that was the end of silly games time.
The final step was taking my photograph and printing my license, which was all taken very seriously. Perhaps because this was the only piece of equipment in the whole place – except for the party games. No computers. Mounds of paperwork. Not a sign of automation.
I’m not sure if I felt more happy or relieved. But at least I can now temporarily and legally drive a car in Thailand, while I start to prepare the paperwork for next year’s renewal!