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Renting a car in Thailand. How to? – The Ultimate Guide

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Home » Blog » Renting a car in Thailand. How to? – The Ultimate Guide
by         : RJ Fisher
last update: February 2023


This is the most complete and independent guide about renting a car in Thailand you’ll find


Renting 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.

This article has all the information you need about renting a car in Thailand.

  • How to rent a car in Thailand?
  • Is it safe?
  • What are the costs?


Renting a car in Thailand
No limits on stopping for nice vistas if you have your own transport


Traveling to Thailand? Check the latest visa and health requirements




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Is it worth it to rent a car in Thailand?


Yes, renting a car in Thailand is a fantastic way to explore the country. It provides an opportunity to discover any destination you want, in your own time.

  • Most comfortable, you control the interior’s temperature/radio/etc;
  • Freedom in your itinerary to leave the main road. Instead, drive small rural roads if you want, it’s up to you!;
  • Stop where ever and whenever you like. Be it for food, sight seeing, leg stretching or even a short swim;
  • Independency from public transport, no hanging around at bus stations, no worries about your luggage;
  • Traveling with children just became so much easier.


Renting a car in Thailand
Ok, maybe I’m over-romanticizing the renting-a-car-in-Thailand thing a bitPhotocredit: Kelson Downes @Pexels



Thailand Car Rental Conditions


Always read through the car rental conditions, regardless of whether you are used to rent cars from the same company brand in your home country. Their conditions in Thailand may be completely different, because of law or insurance requirements.

Mileage

Conditions may differ per car rental company, but usually there’s no max on the mileage. Normally it’s not allowed to cross international borders with the rental car. Some companies also require a notification when crossing provincial borders.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

An International Driving Permit or IDP is nothing more than an authenticated translation of your national driving license, but the law in Thailand insists on it. Apply for your IDP in your home country and bring it with you to Thailand. The application process and agency or bureau where to obtain an IDP will probably be different in each country.


Renting a car in Thailand - IDP
IDP

For the record, when we rented our car in Thailand, the car rental company was ok with just my European driving license. So, no problem there. It’s the popo you have to worry about, and probably the insurance company denying coverage in case anything happens. So, better to have an IDP.

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. 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 charge extra for drivers over 65y.

Next, upon collecting the rental car you will need to show your passport (just id won’t do), your drivers license, an international driving permit (if you’re not a Thai resident) and a credit card with sufficient credit registered on the drivers name.


Renting a car in Thailand
Me and my rental car

Additional driver

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 have 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.



Thailand Car Rental Procedure


Online Car Rental

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 hire 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.

Try rentalcars.com to rent your car online. They very conveniently compare and offer rental cars from most of the large car rental companies, such as Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Sixt and more. This avoids a lot of switching back and fort between different car rental sites. No, I am not an affiliate and not sponsored.


Renting a car in Thailand - car rental companies logos
International car rental companies

Car rental on the spot

Of course it’s also possible to rent a car on the spot. Rental companies in Thailand are everywhere, especially at airports. You may prefer to speak with the staff in person to determine the type of car, insurance and payment. Of course you won’t be able to compare conditions and pricing of other companies. Also, be aware that your preferred car type might not be available and preparing all documents can take some time.

Local Thailand car rental companies

There are also ample local Thai companies that rent out cars, which are often cheaper. Nevertheless, you might be better off with one of the international companies. Thai car rental companies often feature older cars and maintenance is not always a priority.

Local rental company cars stand a higher chance of defects. 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. Many of them are excellent, but better safe than sorry. My advice is to choose a reliable international company with offices throughout Thailand.



What does renting a car in Thailand cost?


The cost for renting a car in Thailand depends on the type of car, the rental period and the price setting of the rental company. Total rent price is paid in advance together with the deposit.


Renting a car in Thailand
Our rental car was very conveniently delivered to our guesthouse

Prices start around THB1000 ($32) per day for small compact cars that seat 4pax and larger SUV’s that seat 5-7pax start at THB1,500 ($45). Usually there’s no maximum on the mileage.

The price includes VAT, but not fuel, full 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.

Deposit

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 your credit card has sufficient balance available.



Thailand Car Rental Insurance


Insurance when renting a car in Thailand is never covered by the insurance policy for your own car back home. Also, in most cases it’s not covered by a travel insurance policy. You always need a separate car insurance for your rental, which can be provided by the car rental company.

Different car rental companies offer different car insurance. So, before signing a car rental contract always check what the car insurance entails, as well as the deductible amount.


Insurance
Don’t leave home without it.

My advice is to insure yourself to the max and lowering the excess to a reasonable amount. You’ll pay a bit 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:

Car Insurance options

  • Liability Insurance:
    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 covers certain (medical) expenses for driver and passengers in case of an accident. Usually limited to a max amount. Best to cross check with your health insurance if you need this item.

  • 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
    This option limits how much a car rental company will charge you for repairs. 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. Examples of items that can be excluded: 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.

  • SCDW / Super Collision Damage Waiver
    This is an upgrade to the standard Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), lowering your excess and reducing the number of excluded items.

Tip: There are a few credit card companies that include insurance for car rental if you use their card for payment. This could save you the cost of buying insurance from the car rental company. Again, I am neither an affiliate nor sponsored by any credit card company. However, take into account that the writer of the article under the link might be.

Travel Insurance

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 rental insurance!
Read more about travel insurance, or get a non-committal instant quote in under 30 seconds!



Collect your rental car in Thailand


When all documents are agreed upon and signed it’s time to pay the car 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.


Renting a car in Thailand - car keys handover
Keys are yours

Upon collecting the car, check thoroughly for visible damage (together with the service staff). Taking photos is always a good idea. Don’t forget the contents of the fuel tank and the spare wheel.

Fuel

Most cars in Thailand run on Gasohol 91, Gasohol 95 and sometimes diesel. Check the fuel type with the agency to avoid drama at the fuel station.



Is it safe to drive in Thailand?


Actually, Thailand has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. This is partly due to a confusing traffic infrastructure, bad drivers and the many motorbikes. Sounds terrifying, right? But think about it. As an attentive driver, self drive is probably safer than being driven by a bus/minivan driver whose driving skills and ethics are unbeknownst to you.


Safer than self drive?

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.

Car damage, theft, breakdown or an accident, it could happen, so it’s best to know beforehand how to deal in such situations. Expect the unexpected and prepare yourself for the following situations that are not uncommon on the Thai roads:

  • 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 crisscrossing from everywhere;

  • Pedestrians, dogs and even cattle suddenly trying to cross the street or even animals lying in the middle of the road;

  • Oncoming traffic suddenly appearing in your lane, because they overtake in a blind curve.


Renting a car in Thailand
And you thought I was exaggerating

Road Amenities

Thailand maintains its road network surprisingly well. Sure, you will encounter dirt roads and potholes. Still, most roads have asphalt and signage is sufficient and often in English. Having said that, signs can be invisible because of vegetation and strange U-turns deserve extra attention.

Also, roads are very poorly lit, especially outside of the cities. My advise is not to drive after dark anyway, since many Thai vehicles go without functioning head and/or tail lights.

Gas stations are everywhere. Most of them have restaurants, coffee shops and even a mini market. Of course the gas stations have rest rooms. In general, they are relatively clean, but remember to bring your own paper towels.

Thai Traffic Rules

Sure, there are rules, but many Thai drivers don’t (strictly) abide by them. The speed limit is blatantly ignored and vehicles overtake from left and right. Motorbikes swarm through traffic like ants without a plan. It’s quite normal for motorized traffic not to stop at pedestrian crossings. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t as well.


Thai stop sign
Stop sign
Thai stop sign
Also a stop sign
Thai stop sign
And yes….

Official Rules

There are a few general Thai traffic rules to take into account, but like I said, not all Thai drivers abide by the rules:

  • 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 under the right circumstances;

  • 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 blind curve is mandatory;

  • Traffic coming from the left has right of way. So does the traffic on the main road and on a roundabout.

Unofficial Rules


Renting a car in Thailand: Traffic rules
Pizza baker ahead
Renting a car in Thailand: Traffic rules
Beware of…
Renting a car in Thailand: Traffic rules
Only in Thailand

Ok fun aside, strangely enough, we noticed that most Thai do abide by some unofficial traffic rules:

  • The largest vehicle has right of way, or takes it anyway;

  • 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.

What to do in case of damage?

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 full insurance coverage. If not, you’ll have to pay for (part) of the damage.


Renting a car in Thailand
Accidents can happen

What to do in case of a car breakdown?

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 car rental contract whether this is included and log the phone number.

  • Park your hired car in a safe part of the road and switch on the hazard lights. Call the insurance emergency assistance phone number and wait for the mechanic to arrive. If the phone number is not operational or no one answers, try to google your rental company’s nearest office phone number. If the person answering the phone does not speak your language ask a Thai bystander to translate for you.

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. So, always make sure to have plenty of water and some food in the car.


Renting a car in Thailand
Strandedphotocredit: patti black for unsplash

What to do in case of an accident?

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 extra insurance coverage.



Tips for renting a car in Thailand


Ferries to the Islands

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. Use the 12Go transport planner to see the ferry schedules and ticket fees.

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.


Renting a car in Thailand
Avoid the Bangkok traffic

Always bring:

  • All rental documents;

  • Drivers license, International Driving Permit and Passport;

  • Smart phone with a data sim card (buy one at the airport or Thai convenience store);

  • Sufficient water and some food

More Tips

  • 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);

  • Book your accommodation on the go with at Agoda.com. Check location, availability, last minute prices and read reviews. You won’t have to drive around 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, find a rental company on one of the airports so you can hop on the highway immediately.

  • Enjoy!



Our experience with renting a car in Thailand


We did it! We rented 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 or when to stop. No one to decide our destination but ourselves and no hassle with luggage.

Car hire in Thailand had never even crossed my mind. I mean, driving in Thailand! Until I had this idea of driving the Mae Hong Son loop in Northern Thailand….in rainy season. The Mae Hong Son loop is a 600km bucket list road-trip in Northern Thailand, often done by motorbike.


Renting a car in Thailandn- Mae Hong Son loop
One of the beautiful sights on the Mae Hong Son loop

However, navigating mountain roads in torrential rain on a motorbike just didn’t sound appealing. Hence the idea was born to rent a car. Sounded a lot safer as well.

Still, the thought of driving on the left side of the road, chaotic traffic, unknown roads, it all terrified me to bits. 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 will be renting a car in Thailand again.

Update February 2023: Since that first time renting a car in Thailand, we did the same on two more occasions. We toured the South and the East of Thailand by car, blog posts pending.



If you have any further questions about renting 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.

Safe Travels!


RJ


* affiliate links disclaimer



FAQ


Can I drive a car in Thailand with a US drivers license?

To drive a car in Thailand you need a Thai drivers license or a valid drivers license from your home country combined with an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Can foreigners rent a car in Thailand?

Yes, as a foreigner it’s no problem to rent a car in Thailand as long as you qualify for the following conditions:
1. Hold a valid drivers license from your home country for at least one full year;
2. Hold a valid International Driving Permit (IDP);
3. Minimum 21 years of age.

Is it difficult to drive in Thailand?

With the exception of maybe Bangkok, foreigners should have no difficulties with driving in Thailand. One should keep in mind that Thailand drives on the left side of the road and most rental cars feature automatic transmission.

What does it cost to rent a car in Thailand?

Local Thai companies rent out compact cars for as low as THB700 per day. International car rental companies start their rates from THB1000 per day for small cars up to THB1500 per day for a SUV. Included: vat, liability insurance, unlimited mileage. Excluded: extended insurance, fuel and extras (gps, child seat, hotel drop-off, etc.).




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You might also like…


Link to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) Travel Guide
Link to Chiang Khan Travel Guide
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Link to Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Link to Mae Hong Son Travel Guide
Link to Best Thailand Festivals blog post



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