How To Avoid “Roadside Fines” In Thailand
As with virtually everything else for foreigners in Thailand, there are special restrictions on driving. These restrictions are not all that draconic, however, and with a little preparation you can easily make yourself ready to hit the road when you land in Pattaya (or Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or wherever else your heart desires).
First of all, understand that many, many foreigners and even Thai nationals are not driving legally. To hear expats tell it, stopping a motorist and offering them the chance to pay their fine on the spot is sort of a cottage industry for Thai traffic cops. Countless are the tales I have heard from my expat and tourist friends about a police officer pulling them over and finding some pretense to impose a hefty fine. A fine that could accompany jail time. Of course, if you’d rather just pay the fine right there, it could be a little less expensive and a whole lot less of a hassle than spending hours and hours down at the precinct house. It seems that every foreigner in Thailand has been targeted by a cop looking to increase their wages.
The choice is usually pretty easy. For a tourist the ‘on the spot fine’ is usually a trivial sum of somewhere between two hundred and four hundred baht, AKA around $10 US. Even for an expat it’s not a huge amount and most people do choose to pay instead of insulting the pride of a policeman in a country where this sort of behavior is pandemic and public slights are serious business. Now here is the catch: For every offense you’ll be paying a bit more. Makes sense, of course. You’re paying per avoided ticket.
No license? That’s one. No insurance? There’s another. Improper plates? Driving while inebriated? Out of date inspection? Tick, tick, tick. Congratulations, you are now faced with the prospect of a thousand baht ‘fine’ or a trip downtown. And if you do decide to stick to your guns and do things the proper way just be aware that for every new cop that gets involved you can be sure the price is going up, up, up. So the easiest way of avoiding this sort of extortion is simple: Drive as legally as you can.
If you have a foreign driver’s license you can get an international license with little to no hassle. DO THIS. While many countries have a reciprocal agreement with the Thai government allowing visitors from those countries (e.g. Australia, the USA) to use their licenses but the more paperwork the better. If you prefer to use your foreign license and it isn’t in English you need to get an official translation of your license into either English or Thai and keep it with your license. Next, when you rent a vehicle, get all the paperwork: The rental agreement, a copy of the registration and the insurance. Check the license plates to make sure the stickers are up to date. And, for Buddha’s sake, make sure there aren’t any obvious mechanical flaws like non-working blinkers or a cracked windshield. Getting pulled over is expensive.
Now, don’t worry. From a legal standpoint, driving in Thailand is usually quite hassle-free if you don’t drive irresponsibly or foolishly. But given a chance you can have the bad luck of having to deal with a Thai cop who knows you’re afraid of getting locked up abroad.