Last Update: January 2020
To rent a car in Thailand and self drive is an excellent way to explore this beautiful country. Discovering beautiful destinations and gorgeous beaches without having to rely on public transport brings a great sense of freedom. You can stop whenever you feel like it and decide on any last minute route changes.
However, there a few things you should know before getting behind the wheel. How to rent a car in Thailand? Is it safe and what are the costs?
This article provides you with all the ins-and-outs on how to rent a car in Thailand.
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We did it! We did rent a car in Thailand and just drove off. It was everything we thought it would be.
We felt completely independent and totally enjoyed the sense of freedom and adventure. No one to telling us when to leave. No one to decide our destination but ourselves and no hassle with luggage.
To drive a car in Thailand had never even crossed my mind until I had this idea of doing the Mae Hong Son loop in Northern Thailand….in rainy season. For the ultimate Mae Hong Son loop experience you should ride it by motorbike, or so they say. However, navigating mountain roads in torrential rain just didn’t sound appealing. Hence the idea was born to rent a car.
Still, the thought of driving on the left side of the road, chaotic traffic, unknown roads, it all terrified me at first. I just wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. On the other hand, the promise of ultimate freedom, adventure….. anyway, we did it and we absolutely loved it! In fact, we liked it so much that we already decided that next time we are in Thailand we will rent a car again.
With 11 international airports, Thailand is easy to reach by air. Use the Skyscanner website to find the full schedule and prices of incoming and outgoing flights.
Why you should rent a car in Thailand
Again, traveling with your own transport in Thailand provides a tremendous sense of freedom. Moreover, a car is comfortable and aircon can be adjusted to your liking without having to worry about other travelers. Ok, except maybe your family.
Get off the main roads and instead, drive small rural paths if you want, it’s up to you!;
Stop at roadside stalls, either for food if you are hungry or just for looking around, it’s your choice!;
No worries about sanitary stops;
Photo stops and short swims on a whim are no problem and entirely for you to decide;
Traveling with children becomes so much easier.
Of course Thai traffic dynamics are different from the traffic back home. However, if you are an experienced driver and aware of the possible risks, I am 100% sure that you will be ok driving in Thailand.
It’s actually very easy to rent a car in Thailand, especially online. Most large car rental companies are represented and pre-payment by credit card is possible.
Always read through the rental conditions, regardless of whether you are used to rent cars from a certain company in your own country. Their conditions in Thailand may be completely different, because of law or insurance requirements.
Conditions may differ per rental company, but usually there’s no max on the mileage. Normally it’s not allowed to cross international borders with the car. Some companies also require a notification when crossing provincial borders.
International Driving Permit
An International Driving Permit is just an authenticated translation of your national driving license, but the Thai police insists on it. Just showing your own countries driving license, even if it’s from an English speaking country will almost certainly end up in a fine. So, before you leave, apply for your International Driving Permit and bring it with you to Thailand.
Minimum and maximum age
The minimum age for renting a car in Thailand is 21y and you should have at least held your driving license for 1 full year. However, some car rental companies like Sixt and Avis require a minimum age of 23y. There are also companies that charge an additional fee for drivers younger than 26y (typically THB100-200 per day). Also there might be restrictions on the type of car for younger drivers
As far as I know the maximum age is 99y (only Budget has a max of 70y), but I did hear that some companies are known to charge extra for drivers over 65y.
Next, upon collecting the rental you will need to show your passport (just id won’t do), an international driving permit (if you’re not a Thai resident) and a creditcard with sufficient credit registered on the drivers name.
For longer trips it might be convenient to register an additional driver. The additional driver must be registered in the rental agreement. Similar to the main driver, he/she should meet the age requirements and hold an international driving permit. If the additional driver is not registered in the rental agreement you might run into trouble insurance wise in case of an accident.
As said, it’s incredibly easy to rent a car in Thailand online. With just a few clicks you can search what’s on offer, compare pricing and conditions and arrange insurance. You can also arrange for the car to be delivered at your hotel or else collect it at the airport. The paperwork and payment is done in advance, so all you have to do is drive off and enjoy.
Of course it’s also possible to rent a car on the spot. Rental companies in Thailand are everywhere, especially at airports. You might prefer to speak with the staff in person to determine the type of car, insurance and payment. For me the biggest disadvantage with on the spot rental is that you won’t be able to compare conditions and pricing with other offerings. Also, you need to be aware that your preferred car type might not be available and preparing all documents can take some time.
Car rental companies
In Thailand most international rental companies are represented. There are also ample local Thai rental companies, which are often cheaper. Nevertheless, you might be better off with one of the international companies. Thai rental companies often feature older cars and maintenance is not always a priority.
Local rental company cars stand a higher chance of defect. Also, their operation is often less professional and English is not always understood. In case of a car breakdown or accident they might not understand you correctly, or worse, there might be no one answering the phone.
Please understand that the above doesn’t apply to each and every local car rental company, but better safe than sorry. My advice is to choose a reliable international company with offices throughout Thailand
The cost to rent a car in Thailand depends on the type of car, the rental period and of course the price setting of the rental company. Total rent price is paid in advance together with the deposit.
Prices start around THB850 per day for a small economy car that seats 3pax. Compact cars that seat 4pax start at THB1,000 per day and larger SUV’s that seat 5-7pax go for THB1,500-2,000. Usually there’s no maximum on the mileage.
The price includes VAT, but not fuel, insurance and any extras, such as a child seat and GPS. Always reserve extras in advance, since they are not always available.
Cars are rented for min 24hours. Returning the car late will almost always result in an extra 24h charge. Returning the car early almost never entitles you to a restitution. Again, read the terms and conditions thoroughly. All the more reason to do this online when you’re not pressed for time and have the opportunity to compare.
Typically the deposit is anywhere between THB10,000-20,000. Larger and more expensive cars often require a higher deposit. Reputable rental companies will reserve an amount for the deposit on your credit card so make sure you’re credit card has sufficient balance available.
Insurance for your rental car in Thailand is never covered by the insurance policy for your own car back home. Also, it’s partly not, and in most cases not at all, covered by a travel insurance policy. You always need a separate car insurance for your rental, which can be provided by the rental company.
There’s a difference to how rental companies offer car insurance. So, before signing the rental contract always check what the car insurance entails, as well as the deductible amount.
My advice is to insure yourself to the max. You’ll pay more, but it will give you great piece of mind while driving in a strange country. Most common forms of car insurance in Thailand are:
Covers injuries and/or damages inflicted to third parties and their property, not to the driver or the driver’s property. This insurance is mandatory and often a standard in the car rental package.
PAI / Personal Accident and Personal Effects Coverage (PAI/PEC):
This insurance is offered at the time of rental for an additional daily charge. The PAI provides renter and renter’s passengers with Accidental Death, Accident Medical Expenses and Ambulance Expense Benefits.
TP / Theft Protection:
Theft Protection covers part of the cost for replacing the hire car if it’s stolen while you have it. It also covers repairs to the car if it’s damaged when someone tries to steal it..
CDW / Collision Damage Waiver
Collision Damage Waiver limits how much a car rental company will charge for repairs. This insurance will cover most of the car’s bodywork, but depending on the rental company there might be a lot that is still not covered. Just a few examples: windows and mirrors, wheels and tires, undercarriage, engine, the car’s interior, flat battery, personal belongings, lost keys. On top of this there’s also the deductible to take into account.
Whether you travel by rental car or not, do not forget travel insurance! One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. For the record, these are not included in your car insurance!
Read more about travel insurance here, or get a non-committal instant quote right now!
When all documents are agreed upon and signed it’s time to pay the rental fee and deposit (unless you already paid online of course). For credit card payments, the credit card has to be registered to the main driver. Check the car for visible damage (together with the service staff) and take photos if necessary. Don’t forget the contents of the fuel tank and the spare wheel.
Most cars in Thailand run on Gasohol 91, Gasohol 95 or sometimes diesel. Bangkok fuel prices are the lowest in the country.
Car damage, theft, breakdown or an accident, it could happen, so it’s best to know beforehand how to deal in such situations. Prepare yourself and be aware that the following situations are not uncommon on the Thai roads and might occur:
Speeding traffic (even on the wrong side of the road);
Traffic overtaking from the left and right;
Vehicles suddenly hitting their brakes in front of you, because they want to make a last minute U-turn;
A million scooters/motorbikes coming from everywhere;
Pedestrians and/or dogs suddenly trying to cross the street or lying in the middle of the road (dogs, not pedestrians for the latter);
Oncoming traffic overtaking in sharp curves with no view on what’s behind the curve.
The Thai road network is kept surprisingly well. Sure, you will encounter dirt roads and potholes, but most roads have asphalt and signage is sufficient and often in English. Having said that, roads are very poorly lit, especially outside of the cities. My advise is not to drive after dark. Next to poor road lighting it is known that many Thai vehicles go without functioning head and/or tail lights.
Gas stations are everywhere. A lot of them have restaurants, coffeeshops and even a mini market. Of course the gas stations have rest rooms. Most of them (not all) are clean, but remember to bring your own paper towels.
Thai traffic rules
Sure, there are rules, but most Thai just don’t (strictly) abide by them. The speed limit is blatantly ignored and vehicles will overtake you from left and right. Particularly the many motorbikes just swarm through traffic like ants without a plan. Generally, motorized traffic will not stop at pedestrian crossings. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t as well.
Here are a few general Thai traffic rules to take into account, but as said, not all Thai drivers abide by them:
Thailand drives on the left side of the road;
Overtake other vehicles from the right side;
If there are multiple lanes in the same direction then overtaking from the left is allowed;
Turning left at a red light is allowed, provided that it can be done safely;
Using your horn while overtaking another vehicle is allowed;
On mountain roads, sounding your horn before going into a sharp curve with no sight on oncoming traffic is mandatory;
Traffic coming from the left has right of way. So does the traffic on the main road and on a roundabout.
Strangely enough, we noticed that most Thai do abide by some unofficial traffic rules:
The biggest vehicle has right of way;
When a vehicle high beams you it means that he is taking right of way…better get out of his way;
The left lane is for motorbikes and slow vehicles;
It’s perfectly ok to park on the emergency lane or to use it as an extra lane to drive on.
If you occur any small damage like scratches or minor dents, just keep driving and notify the rental company upon return of the car. Together with the service staff you can assess and agree on the damage. Hopefully you opted for the Super Collision Damage Waiver. If not, you’ll have to pay for (part) of the damage.
Nobody wants to get stranded by the road side, especially not in a strange country. Still, it could happen, so what to do? Most larger rental companies offer free emergency assistance with a toll free 24/7 phone number. Check before you agree on the rental contract whether this is included and what is the phone number.
Park your car in a safe part of the road and switch on the hazard lights. Then call the emergency assistance phone number and wait for the mechanic to arrive. If the phone number is not operational try to google your rental company’s nearest office phone number. If the person answering the phone does not speak your language ask any Thai bystander to translate for you.
But what if you’re in the the middle of nowhere and there’s no mobile phone service?
Try to stop a passing car or ask for help at the nearest house. You’d be surprised how helpful Thai people are.
In any case it will probably be a while before you’re on your way again. Always make sure to have plenty of water and some food in the car.
To be in an accident in Thailand is probably the ultimate horror scenario. Even if you’re a very experienced driver and go by the rules, it doesn’t mean that nothing can happen, so stay alert.
Stop the car in a safe part of the road
In case of physical injuries call the emergency ambulance number: 1669
Call the Thai tourist police for assistance: 1155
Call the emergency assistance number from the car rental company
The Thai police and an insurance representative will evaluate the accident. The police report will be presented to the driver and the rental company. Unfortunately the rumors are true. The tourist is often blamed for the accident no matter the circumstances. All the more reason to buy the right insurance coverage.
To reach the larger and popular Islands is as easy as buying a ticket for the car ferry. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Lanta and Koh Chang all have car ferries, while Phuket Island has a bridge from the mainland. Other, smaller Islands without a car ferry often have a designated parking on the mainland where you can leave your car for a fee.
Be aware that many of the Thai Islands are mountainous with small steep roads. Driving at night and during rainfall is a challenge not to be taken lightly.
All rental documents;
Driving license, International Driving Permit and Passport;
Smart phone with a (preferable Thai) data sim card;
Sufficient water and some food
Use your phone as a GPS with Google maps or download maps from Maps.me for when there’s no service. Program all important phone numbers (emergency assistance, police, ambulance, rental company);
While traveling, book your accommodation at Agoda.com. Check location, availability, last minute prices and read reviews while you’re on the move. You won’t have to go round searching for a place to stay and the hotel address is a perfect destination to program in your GPS.
It’s not advisable to drive in Bangkok. Traffic there is incredibly hectic and unpredictable. If your journey starts in Bangkok, try to find a rental company on one of the airports so you can hop on the highway immediately.
Find your accommodation in Thailand with Agoda.com
The best prices, regular discounts, off season and secret deals;
Price matching. Agoda will reimburse you the difference between what you pay and a lower price you find;
Email notification when your selected accommodation price drops;
Extensive search filters.
If you have any further questions on how to rent a car in Thailand then reach out in the comments below. Of course you’re more than welcome to share tips and experiences as well.