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How to Buy a Motorbike in Thailand

How to buy a motorbike in Thailand

A Guide to Regulations for Registering and Owning a Scooter or Motorbike in Thailand

Having a scooter makes life much easier when you’re in Thailand. That’s why many tourists rent one when they are here and also why most expats will buy one.  In this guide I’ll look at the process for buying and registering a bike; the costs involved and the pros and cons of riding a scooter in Thailand.

In addition to having the cash to buy it – as you wont be able to get any type of loan, you’ll also need to register it in your name and, ideally, get a Thai driving license.  Some paperwork is required for all three steps. But it’s not as difficult as it might first seem.  But you’ll be on first name terms with the owner of your local photocopying shop by the time it’s over.  

It’s possible to get away with riding a scooter on a license issued abroad or an international driving permit.  So although common sense dictates you should have a Thai driving license for a scooter before buying one, that isn’t usually the case. People usually buy a bike first and worry about technicalities, such as the license, later. 

How to Buy a Motorbike in Thailand

Firstly, you’ll have to decide whether you want a scooter or an actual motorbike.  Unless you’re already a serious motorcyclist, then you’ll find a scooter is far more practical as well as being way cheaper.  

As for which scooter to get.  You’ll almost certainly buy a Honda or Yamaha.  As they have virtually all the market share here.  Yamaha are always a bit cheaper as most Thais prefer Honda.  As for which model, go for those that scooter rental agencies use.  As they use the most practical and reliable models.  So a Honda Click or Yamaha GT125.  A new Click will set you back about 55,000 baht whereas the Yamaha will be around 47,000 Baht.  Quite a difference. 

I have a Honda Click.  To me it just feels more sturdier and with better build quality than the GT125. So worth paying the extra for.   But as far as reliability and running costs go, they’re pretty much the same.  Very little maintenance is required.  An annual service and oil change being pretty much all my bike has every had done to it. And they’re extremely reliable.  

You can get cheaper bikes or more expensive.  The smallest, cheapest scooters have 110cc engines. This is fine if you aren’t too tall or ‘ big boned’, don’t plan to use it on any hills and will usually just be yourself on the bike.   A 125cc is better for two people and will be a slightly bigger bike so larger seat.  Most scooters sold are 125cc.  And they’ll be fine for most people’s needs.  If you decide to go up to 150cc , then it will add quite a bit onto the asking price.  And, unless you’re planning on doing a lot of riding with two passengers in a hilly area, probably isn’t required. 

Yamaha GT125 vs Honda Click

Where to buy a scooter?

Buying a second hand bike will save you a lot of money. Figure on 15 – 30,000 Baht.  Check out ads in Facebook groups for the area you are living, or ask around people you know and see if anyone is selling a bike. 

If you buy a used bike then it’s always better if you buy from someone you know.  Simply because you’ll already have an idea if they’re the type of person who looks after the bike well.  For example, keeps it undercover, hasn’t crashed it, has it serviced and doesn’t ride it like they stole it. 

But for peace of mind, I recommend buying new.  Don’t expect any type of warranty with a used bike. Unless you’re just in the country for a few months, in which case pretty much any second hand bike will be fine as an island runabout, for example.  Just check the basics if you’re buying a cheapy second hand scooter: 

  • The lights and brakes work properly.
  • The tires are in good condition. 
  • It doesn’t belch smoke when you turn the ignition. 
  • No strange noises when you rev the engine. 
  • There’s no traces of oil leaking under the engine.
  • And that it has road tax and is road legal.  It should have a ‘green book’ (the registration document). If it doesn’t then it isn’t legal.  So you may well have problems if you’re ever in an accident. As you wont be covered by any insurance.

Once you have decided which bike to buy and whether you want a new or used scooter, then it’s time to go shopping. 

Regardless of whether you are buying new or used, you’ll find numerous dealers in any town in Thailand. Prices for new bikes will be pretty much the same wherever you go.  Profits are made on selling bikes to locals, many of whom will buy on Hire Purchase. And so will only have to find a couple of thousand Baht a month for a few years to pay for the bike, but will end up paying well over the sticker price for it. 

As a foreigner you will be a cash buyer.  That isn’t as profitable for the dealer.  So don’t expect any significant discount. It’s far more common to get some freebies thrown into the deal. A free helmet, jacket, road tax etc.  

Most dealers will have a member of staff who speaks some English.  They will also be used to selling to foreigners, especially in larger towns and tourist areas.  A good dealer will offer to take care of all the paperwork required for transferring the bike to your name for you.  This makes your life much easier – assuming you can supply the documents needed to register the bike in your name.

How to Register a Motorbike in Thailand 

Firstly, you’ll need to make sure that your bike is legal.  Not a problem if it’s a new bike. But any second hand bike must have it’s original registration booklet. That’s important. A small green booklet you’ll see referred to a simply as a ‘green book’ on adverts for bikes for sale or in forums with discussions regarding  buying and selling scooters and motorbikes in Thailand. 

In Thai this document is ทะเบียนรถ- ‘tabien rot’ which translates as ‘register car’.  The details of the bike including the current and previous owners; it’s serial number and license plate number.  If there’s no green book, don’t buy the bike.  Simple. 

These are the documents required to register your motorbike or scooter at any Department of Land Transportation (DLT) office in Thailand. 

Documents required for buying a new motorbike from a dealer

Dealers will take care of the registration process.  So you only need supply:

  • A copy of your passport main page, current visa stamp, and departure card (TM card)
  • A Certificate of Residence.  This is issued by your local immigration office.  It confirms your address in Thailand.  Or for people working in Thailand, a copy of your Work Permit – all the pages – , can be used instead providing it shows your address. Alternatively, an affidavit of address, issued by your Embassy in Thailand can be used.  Although this is often quite expensive to obtain.

Documents required for buying a used motorbike

More paperwork is required as the new owner has to show the current owner has agreed to sell the bike.  So you’ll need:

  • A copy of your passport main page, current visa stamp, and departure card. (TM card)
  • A Certificate of Residence.  (Or Affidavit of Address from your Embassy or copy of Work Permit.) 
  • The bike’s original registration booklet. i.e. tabien rot (green book).
  • A photocopy of the current owner’s ID card (or passport if they are a foreigner), which should also be signed by the current owner.
  • A copy of the current owner’s House Registration book, which shows their address. This should also be signed by the seller.
  • A copy of the document applying to transfer ownership, signed by the current owner. (This is available at the Land Transport Office).

Once you have the required documents, you can then register the bike at your local Department of Land Transportation office. But as you can see, the new owner requires the co-operation of the seller. 

The ideal way to transfer ownership is for both the buyer and seller to go to the office together.   Documents can all be signed there and if there are any issues regarding ownership they can easily be resolved with both parties present.   If you are buying a second hand scooter, then you also need to ride the bike to the Transportation Office, in case it needs inspecting or the serial numbers need checking. As mentioned above, if you are buying new from a dealer, they will take care of the registration.  

In the past the change of ownership could take a couple of days for paperwork to make its way from one desk to another.  But nowadays it’s a quick process. If the documents are all in order, then it will just take an hour or two.  There’s a 200 Baht fee for the change of ownership.  And you’ll also have to buy mandatory third party accident insurance, which is around 300 Baht. Whether you are buying new or used.  The end result is that you will then be the legal owner. With a tabien rot ‘green book’ with the motorbike in your name. 

One additional thing you might have to take care of is renewing your bikes road tax.  All vehicles have a tax sticker.  Cars will have it in the window.  But on a motorbike it’s often placed somewhere on the body of the bike.  Or even under the seat or rolled up in a clear plastic tube.  It has to be renewed annually at the Department of Land Transportation office.

This is now extremely quick to do. Many offices now have a drive through section for re-issuance of road tax. It takes around 1 minute from pulling up to departing with the new sticker. Although sticker isn’t really the correct word. It’s a square piece of paper.  

And that’s it.  Easy.  Or at least it would be if it wasn’t for the Certificate of Residence.  As getting one isn’t quite as simple as rocking up to your local immigration office and asking politely. 

How to Obtain a Certificate of Residence

You’ll need to prepare :

  • Two Color Photo’s (4 cm x 6 cm).
  • Your passport.
  • Photocopies of your passport main page, current visa stamp, and departure card (TM card).
  • Proof of your address in Thailand. This can be a copy of a rental contractor a letter from your landlord, for example.

There’s an example PDF of the form you need to complete at the Immigration office here. The Certificate of Residence is valid for 30 days from the date it is issued.  And it’s purpose is listed on the document. It’s technically free.  Some immigration offices will automatically issue it for free in the 10- 15 minutes it takes to type it up. 

However, other offices will take a few weeks to process it for free.  But will offer a ‘fast track’ service for 500 Baht where you can get it the same day.  Check Facebook groups in the area where you are living to find out the situation at you local immigration office.

And it’s important to remember that you will need a valid visa (NOT a 30 day visa exemption stamp) in order to get the Certificate of Residence.  And some immigration Offices won’t provide the certificate to people who only have a Tourist Visa.  They require a Non Immigrant visa.  They type you’d get if you were studying, working, retired here or married to a Thai national. Again, you’ll need to check the experiences other people in your area have had recently to see what the situation is.  

Now you are the proud owner of a motorbike, it’s time to get your rider’s license.

Chiang Mai Land Transport office

How to Get a Motorbike (or Car) License in Thailand

I’ve been here long enough to remember then good old days when you could just pay and get any license that you wanted.  20 years ago, it was a big deal if you had a driving license and had actually taken a driving test to get it.  That was something which either impressed people or marked you out as an idiot.  As you wasted your time and effort doing a real test, rather than just pay a bribe to get it.   

I got my first Thai car and motorbike licenses back in the late 1990s in a small town west of Bangkok.  It took an hour or so and I never got anywhere need a car or bike.  Or did any type of test other than a 30 second color blindness check.  I was also offered a HGV license for an extra 500 Baht.  This was at the DLT office.  But as I didn’t foresee myself at the wheel of an 18 wheeler, I decided to save my money. 

Those days are long gone.  The system and processes are computerized and every Baht has to be accounted for.  Interestingly, there’s only one type of motorbike license here.  It’s assumed that if you can ride an automatic scooter then you are also adept at handling an 1100cc sports bike.  So there’s still some ways to go to bring the tests up to Western or even Singaporean or Japanese  standards.

Documents required for a Thai car or motorbike license

  • Your passport.
  • Photocopies of your passport main page, current Non Immigrant visa stamp, and departure card (TM card)
  • A Certificate of Residence.  (Or Affidavit of Address from your Embassy or copy of Work Permit.) 
  • A Health certificate.  Obtainable from any local clinic for around 100 Baht.   
  • Your International license or driver’s license form your home country.  If it’s not in English, you’ll need a certified translation too. 

And you may have noticed,  although you can buy a motorbike (or car) in your name, without having a Non-Immigrant visa, you will need one if you want to get a Thai drivers license. 

If you have a Tourist Visa your adventure ends here.  If you get pulled over, you’ll have to flash the cops your International driving Permit or home license and hope they don’t want to fine you 200 Baht for not having a Thai license.   Sometimes you’ll avoid the fine, other times you’ll have to pay it.  You can argue and waste half a day at the local police station.  But it’s usually far less hassle to just pay the on the spot fine and be on your way.   

The Thai Driving Test 

Before you go to your local Department of Land Transportation office to take the test, it’s advisable to get a Thai friend to call ahead.  Your first license will be a two year temporary license.  After which it can easily be renewed at five year intervals.

The staff will be able to tell them the best day / time for you to go.  You’ll need to allocate a full day, maybe more depending on how busy your local office is.  Remember to dress smartly.  So shorts or sandals.  No miniskirts or sleeveless t-shirts or tank tops etc. It’s a government office so smart casual wear is required.  T-shirt, long trousers and shoes or trainers. 

On the day, sitting around will be interspersed with colour blindness, reflexes, depth perception and reaction tests.  These aren’t difficult.  If you fail them you probably shouldn’t be anywhere near a vehicle or motorbike anyway.

You may also have to do a multiple choice test on the rules of the road.  Some of which are similar to those in most Western countries and others which aren’t.  Again, this is another thing to check by phoning in advance.  Ideally you don’t want to have to take this test.  As it first involves a 5 hour long theory class first.  Followed by the actual test.  All in Thai but usually with English subtitles.  It’s therefore handy to have a Thai friend there to translate and/or help with the correct answers.  That’s allowed at most offices. 

After that there’s a very basic practical driving test.  Just a quick lap of a short course at the centre.  For a car license, you’ll have to show you can use reverse gear and park without hitting any cones. The motorbike test is similar, just a loop around a short circuit, pausing only to stop at Stop signs.  And that’s about it.  Far less thorough than any European driving test. 

The good news is that if your driving license is in English, you can usually avoid having to do this theory session, the multiple choice test and the practical driving test.  

Then there’s an hour long road safety video that’s compulsory.  It’s all in Thai but you can get the gist of it. And there aren’t any questions afterwards.  Most of the room will pass the time playing on their phones or sleeping.   

I particularly liked the part where a guy comes up to a woman who was in a parked car and bangs on her window.  She immediately screams and a group of nearby motorbike taxi guys came over and beat the crap out of him.  A handy reminder that the motorbike taxi guys will mess up up if you step out of line.  

Once all that’s done, you’ll go off to have your photo taken and will be issued with your laminated plastic driving license.  There is of course a fee.  For the initial, 2 year,  Thai motorbike license it’s 105 Baht.  And for a car license it’s 305 Baht. 

Scooter touring in Thailand

Why Ride a Scooter in Thailand?

It’s fun but it’s also far more practical for most people than a car.  Especially as most trips by scooter are for relatively short distances.

A scooter is affordable.  A car isn’t for many people.  Brand new bikes are from around 40,000 baht upwards.  But you can pick up a second hand scooter in good condition for 15 – 20,000 Baht easily.  You’ll get around 50km/litre fuel consumption from a new bike if you’re running around on flat roads.

The tank will hold around 4 or 5 litres of fuel.  Fuel costs under 25 Baht a litre.  So 100 Baht of fuel will carry you for around 200 – 250 kilometres.  Assuming you’re cruising at a sensible speed. 

A scooter or motorbike is much faster than a car or taxi to get from A to B.  Even more so in towns where narrow streets are often crowded with traffic.  A scooter helps you avoid traffic jams.

You could take a motorcycle taxi. But if you are going on two wheels many people feel safer riding themselves rather than trusting someone else to get you there safely.  And if there are two of you, then you;d need two motorbike taxis. Or could have an awkward three person crush on a small scooter.  Which isn’t fun.

You can park a scooter anywhere.

It’s super convenient to be able to just hop on your bike and go out to the shops, market, noodle stall. Which are too far to walk in the heat.  It’s not worth the expense of having a car just for trips like this.

The vast majority of roads in Thailand are fine for riding a scooter on.  You won’t have to ride it on bumpy, dirt tracks. 

If your scooter gets a puncture or breaks down you’ll be able to fix is cheaply and quickly.  Wherever you go in Thailand, you’re never far from a scooter repair shop.  And if you are in the middle of nowhere, there’s always someone with a pick up truck who will help get you to the nearest village.  

Scooters are faster than you might realise. Most bikes will easily reach 90km/h.  Which is more than fast enough when you aren’t wearing any protective clothing ( As virtually no-one will wear anything other than a helmet as a safety precaution on a small bike.) 

Most scooters 125cc and up now have a good size space under the seat for storing a helmet.  So there’s no worries about having that stolen when you go shopping. And more practical scooters, such as the Honda Click, also have a hook for handing shopping bags on. 

What? No negatives to riding a scooter?

Yep, there are a few.

Lets start with the most obvious downside.  It’s dangerous.  Statistically, very dangerous.  Thailand has pretty much the most dangerous roads in the world. And about 70% of deaths and injuries involve motorbike riders and passengers.

Anyone who has visited Thailand on holiday will have either seen the aftermath of accidents or seen fellow tourists with arms and legs bandaged up following a crash.  There are some very simple, obvious precautions that you can take to (hopefully) avoid becoming another statistic:

Make sure you can actually ride a scooter.  Learning to ride on the most dangerous roads in the world isn’t a good idea.  

Wear a helmet. Even if most other riders aren’t. It might save your life.  But more importantly(?), it will save you from the 200 Baht on the spot fine for not wearing a helmet at a police checkpoint. 

Ride cautiously.  If you have the mindset that every other road user, or roadside animal, wants to kill you then you’ll stay alert.  Always be aware of your surroundings.  Be on the lookout for people turning without signalling, pulling out in front of you, taking a corner on the wrong side of the road etc.  Or dogs chasing each other onto the street, snakes crossing etc. 

Take extra care at night.  You might be sensible and not drink alcohol when you’re out on the bike. But drink driving is one of the main causes of accidents here. So even if you haven’t had a beer, many of your fellow road users will have had several.  This is in addition to the lack of street lighting in many places. 

To be honest, here on Koh Chang I ride a scooter most days and (after 17 years) have never had an accident.  But I don’t ride at night.  I drive.   As I feel far safer with the protection of a couple of tons of steel around me.