Hiring a car in Thailand is pretty straightforward and a great way of seeing the country. While renting or hiring a car in Bangkok maybe isn’t such a great idea, other parts of Thailand are perfectly set up to explore by road. We tried our hand at driving in Thailand with a self drive vehicle in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, Pai and Mae Hon Son, Chiang Rai, Mae Salong and also on the holiday Island of Phuket. Both experiences were good and highly affordable.
All of the major hire or rental car companies have a presence as well as some strong local companies. You can read more on these road trips elsewhere on our site ( Chiang Rai here and Northern Thailand general here ) this post is just about driving, renting and hiring a car in Thailand. If you’re planning your Thailand trip, we have an itinerary here, you can pick up a car at the airport or hire one for just part of your stay.
In this post we will tell you:
- What it costs to hire a car in Thailand
- What to expect of a Thai car rental
- What driving in Thailand is like.
- What driving license is required
- Where to find the best price on car hire or rental in Thailand
- If we think renting a car in Thailand is a good idea and good way to explore during your holiday.
Cut straight to the price comparison website, Holiday Autos, below. We use them for car hire in Thailand and elsewhere.
Renting or Hiring a Car in Thailand, our Experiences
We’ve hired cars in both Chiang Mai and on the Island of Phuket using them to explore those areas fully over weeks or days. Both rentals were through the same company ( see bottom of post). Most of the cars on offer are medium size sedans that can accommodate 4 people comfortably.
For larger families, the cars on offer aren’t as plentiful and you will need to book in advance. I personally wouldn’t feel safe in a small car and with the price difference being marginal, I didn’t consider them.
We only booked a few days in advance in Chiang Mai and had no issues with availability. The price was great and it included comprehensive insurance. Our price also reduced the excess to zero.
In Phuket where a car is a necessity if you want to leave your resort and not pay for rip off taxis, then book earlier. We booked 2 weeks in advance and that gave us a great price and choice of cars. Both times we ended up with a Nissan Amera which was a nondescript car with a lawnmower engine. Perfect for just cruising around on holiday and great on fuel.
We hired both of the cars from the local airports, Chiang Mai and Phuket, which gave a much better choice of vehicle and a lower price. There aren’t so many options away from the airports. Most people come into the airports so it makes sense to take the car from the day of arrival, especially on the holiday islands like Phuket.
What’s it Like to Hire and Drive a Car in Thailand
Make sure you reduce the excess to zero because small knocks are commonplace in Thailand. Also check and photograph the car before you take it. Even the new one I had was scratched in a few places. This is important in Thailand and I can’t emphasis it strongly enough. Motorbikes and scooters are unpredictable and a menace. Thailand officially has the second highest road fatality rate in the world. You will get a copy of any damage to the car as you would in any country when you rent a car. Keep it safe as it will be required when you return the car.
I found driving in Thailand straightforward and like the UK/Australia they drive on the left hand side. The traffic rules are pretty much identical and I didn’t find anyone aggressive or pushy on the road.
Some Thai drivers like to overtake in places that I wouldn’t, but just be aware and slow down to let them pass.
The biggest thing to watch out for is the motorbikes. There are thousands of them. 2/3rds of fatalities are involving either two or three wheel vehicles. As a cyclist I’m always watching out but even I was double checking because overtaking on the inside is considered ok for both motorbikes and tuk tuks.
I did notice that it takes ages for the traffic lights to change. If you just miss the lights pull up the handbrake and relax.
Benefits of Hiring a Car to Explore Thailand
We found the following benefits:
- Self driving is so much easier than lugging back packs and children from guest house, to bus, to hotel, to another bus etc.
- You can see the parts of Thailand many don’t.
- You can drive right to your hotel, not a bus stop a mile away and then have to find a rip-off tuk tuk.
- Stop any time, to look at something, eat, stretch your legs, take photographs etc.
- It saved us money. Hiring a car for 5 days to see many places in North east Thailand was cheaper than 4 return bus tickets to Chiang Rai. Organised tours are expensive for families, we saved a lot by self driving to the attractions on Phuket.
Are Automatic and Manual Cars Available in Thailand?
Most of the cars on offer where auto but they did have manual. If you are not comfortable with a manual then make sure to specify auto. Thailand isn’t the place to learn if you’ve never driven anything but an auto.
Do You Need an International Driver’s License to Hire or Rent a Car in Thailand?
I used my UK license which was accepted and I’ve heard anecdotally that most licenses are fine with the exception of non Latin characters like Chinese, Arabic or Japanese. Check before you go as to whether or not you need an international driving license. From what we can see from our own research, so long as your license is in English, you don’t need an international drivers license under Thai law. Always check this for yourself. It would be sensible to have an International Drivers Permit because this law seems to be a grey area and traffic police do like to ask for them.
Cost of Hiring a Car in Thailand
It isn’t expensive to hire a car in Thailand. Of course local transport isn’t either so you need to weight up the pros and cons. Basically you are looking at around $20 US per day which covers you for full comprehensive insurance in a medium sized sedan or saloon car. As with most car hire companies that leaves you with a large excess should something go wrong. As I mentioned I’d strongly recommend reducing the excess here and there are numerous ways to do it.
If you have car insurance or comprehensive travel insurance check those as they can often include the excess charge. If not you can normally use a third party which is cheaper. Note that the hire company would take the excess from you and you’d claim that back through the company. The company we use to book car hire actually have this set up on their website as they use multiple hire companies. The most expensive option and easiest if something happens is to get the excess reduced by the hire company direct. This can add nearly 70% on top again though making it an expensive option.
Look at the fine print and see exactly what the excess is. Recently one of our hire cars was only $255 in excess so you need to decide if that is worth purchasing another $50+ in insurance. This is purely down to personal choice. I’ve found that the excess isn’t nearly as big as in Western countries where it can often be £3-4000. Thailand rarely reaches above $500 and if you have the car a while you need to weigh up the cost.
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How to Find the Best Deal or Cheapest Car Hire in Thailand
We like to use Holiday Autos. This company searches all available deals, big international car hire companies, as well as local providers. We ended up finding a Thai rental company that gave us a superb price. We have also used Holiday Autos in Europe with great results. You can click through to check out Holiday Autos prices here.
- Handling Your Money in Thailand
- Thailand Travel Advice and Tips
- Our Entire Thailand Archive
- Things to Love About Phuket
- Living in Chiang Mai
Don’t forget your Thailand Guide Book!
Lonely Planet Thailand (Travel Guide) is the guide book we prefer.
Hope you found our post on renting a car in Thailand useful, we have plenty of other posts on road trips withing Thailand and we’re busy writing up more after our 2017 roadtrip. If you have any further questions on renting a car in Thailand, just put them in the comments below, otherwise head to our main Thailand travel guide page or road trip content on Chiag Rai, Northern Thailand or Phuket.