Buying, importing, and selling a car in Thailand

Whether it’s new or secondhand, discover how to buy a car in Thailand, including importing, registering, and the associated costs of your vehicle.

Woman wearing sunglasses looks out of back seat window of orange car

By Gary Buswell

Updated 20-3-2024

If you’re moving to Thailand with a driving license, you’ll probably want to get a set of wheels to travel from A to B and explore some of the breathtaking scenery the country has to offer. This means deciding whether to bring a vehicle into the country with you or buy something once you arrive.

Read on to discover how to buy a car (รถยนต์, rot yon) in Thailand, as well as the following sections:

Buying a car in Thailand

Car ownership is common in Thailand. There are just over 45 million registered vehicles in the country, which roughly equates to two per household. This gives you an idea of how vehicle ownership has become a big part of Thai culture over the years.

The country has a good road network, especially in the major cities. Despite this, public transport options can be somewhat scarce in many areas.

Traffic on highway in Bangkok during rainy weather
Photo: Vachira Vachira/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Many expats choose to buy a car in Thailand rather than import one from abroad. This is because the Thai purchasing process is fairly straightforward, and vehicle costs in the country are on the lower side. You will, however, need to follow certain procedures and have the necessary paperwork ready.

You may be surprised to learn that Thailand is the 19th biggest car producer worldwide, producing 594,057 vehicles in 2022. However, foreign brands are the most sought-after. According to a 2023 report, the top five go-to car brands in Thailand are:

  • Honda
  • Isuzu
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Toyota

It’s not just Japanese cars that do well in Thailand. You can also find many Western and European car brands on the road, such as:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Ford
  • Mercedes
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo

A number of Chinese models have also grown in popularity in the country, including:

  • Chery
  • GWM
  • MG
  • Neta

Who can buy a car in Thailand?

To buy and drive a car in Thailand, you will need to have a valid driving license (ใบขับขี่, bai kap kee), as well as a Thai visa (วีซ่าไทย, weesaa Thai) or residence permit (ใบอนุญาตมีถิ่นที่อยู่, bai anuyaat mee tin tee yoo) valid for at least one year. The minimum age for obtaining a driving license is 18 years old.

However, you don’t necessarily need to have a Thai license to get behind the wheel. If you have a valid foreign license, you can apply for an international driving permit (IDP: ใบอนุญาตขับรถระหว่างประเทศ, bai anuyaat kap rot rawaang pratet) that will allow you to operate a car in Thailand. Bear in mind that this is only a temporary measure, and you will need to get a local driving license in the long term.

You can also buy a car without a driving license or one-year residence visa, but you will not be able to drive it in the country.

How do you buy a car in Thailand?

Buying a new car in Thailand means that you’re getting a more reliable product. Most of them are purchased from dealerships, which offer follow-up support and take care of most of the paperwork for you. However, the drawbacks are that it’s more expensive, not to mention harder to negotiate a deal and haggle on the asking price.

When buying a car, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • Driving license that is valid in Thailand
  • Thai visa or residence permit (valid for at least one year)
  • Valid photo ID (บัตรประจำตัวที่มีรูปถ่าย, bat bprajam dtua tee mee roop tai) such as a passport

You will also need to have car insurance (ประกันภัยรถยนต์, bpragan pai rot yon), though some dealers allow you to sort this out separately after the purchase.

Once you’re happy with your choice, you’ll have to sort out payment. You can finance this with a bank loan. Otherwise, some dealerships provide financial options where you can pay them in installments.

New car costs vary significantly in Thailand. On average, you can expect to pay between ฿500,000 and ฿1,500,000.

After you’ve made the purchase, you will get a manual (คู่มือ, koo meu) with all the key information on operating and maintaining the vehicle. You’ll also need to register the car in your name, which will make you the legal owner. As a consequence, you must then pay the necessary tax and insurance.

image of insider

Local expert

Jane Evans

Insider tip

When transferring car ownership for a secondhand car, you will need to prepare documents from both the previous owner and the new owner. You can do this by having the last holder sign the transferral and ID documents at the time of sale. You will usually need to go to the Department of Transport office where the vehicle was previously registered or transferred to do this. It is advisable to go early since these offices can get very busy.

Initially, you will have to pay for red license plates. With these, you can only drive your car in the province where it was purchased, and not at night. After a few weeks, you can exchange them for white plates, which are for regular passenger vehicles. In tandem, you should also receive the blue book (เล่มทะเบียนรถ, lem tabien rot) with proof of vehicle ownership.

Where can you buy a car in Thailand?

Car dealerships

If you’re looking to buy a new car in Thailand, car dealerships (ตัวแทนจำหน่ายรถยนต์, dtua taen jam nai rot yon) are a great option. You can find them in cities and big towns. Most of them are linked to a particular brand (e.g., Toyota, BMW), though there are some that sell multiple makes. Some also sell secondhand cars.

A couple look at a new blue car at a car dealership
Photo: Valeria Mongelli/Anadolu via Getty Images

The big advantage of using an official dealership is that you know that you’re getting the real deal. Dealers will let you test drive the vehicle and will often help out with paperwork, including registration and insurance. They sometimes offer financial options, too.

You can search for car dealerships in Thailand on websites such as Zigwheels and Siam Car Deal.

Can you buy a car online in Thailand?

You can find new cars online in Thailand. However, you will typically need to visit the dealership to complete the transaction. Websites simply make it easier to browse what’s available. It makes sense to conduct the final deal in person so you can view the product, ask any questions, and, of course, take the vehicle for a spin.

If you do buy a new car online-only, you will need to supply all necessary documentation via scanned copies. Plus, it will be up to you to determine if you’re happy with everything without seeing it beforehand.

Good online marketplaces for new cars in Thailand include:

Motor shows

Another place to find great new car deals is motor shows (มอเตอร์โชว์, motor show). This is where brands gather to promote their newest models and biggest sellers. The biggest event of this kind is the Thailand International Motor Expo, which typically takes place every December.

While you can find special deals at these events, the drawback is that they are often on forthcoming models yet to launch. Therefore, you may have to wait several months before you can get your hands on what you pay for.

Electric vehicles and hybrids in Thailand

Thailand has made moves in the last few years to position itself as a leader in sustainable transport and electric vehicles (EV – ยานยนต์ไฟฟ้า, yaan yon fai faa) in the region. The country accounts for over 75% of BEVs sold in the Southeast Asian region. It set up the National Electric Vehicle Policy Committee in 2020 and has announced plans to make 30% of new vehicles EVs by 2030.

Part of the government incentive scheme is to offer subsidies for EV purchases, available at a rate of ฿100,000 per vehicle (as of 2024). Advantages of buying these vehicles include cheap maintenance as well as superior environmental performance.

However, you’ll need to prepare for power limitations. This can be an issue in Thailand, which still has a shortage of EV charging stations.

The most popular EV brands in Thailand include:

  • BYD (China)
  • Neta (China)
  • Tesla (US)
  • Ora (China)
  • MG (China)
  • Volvo (Sweden)

To find EV cars in Thailand, make sure to visit dealerships and search online marketplaces.

Buying a used car in Thailand

The secondhand car (รถมือสอง, rot meu song) industry in Thailand is growing. Offering cheaper prices and an easier way of obtaining a motor in the country, it draws in locals and expats alike. However, buying a used vehicle naturally comes with risks. Most notably, there is less reliability and not much support if things go wrong. However, if you buy a secondhand car from a dealership, they may offer a follow-up care package.

A blue Volkswagen Beetle is parked outside of a mansion on a stormy day
Photo: Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In terms of the buying process, it’s largely the same as buying a new vehicle, including the documentation you’ll need to provide. You can also conduct a purchase through a private seller, but you will run into trouble as soon as you try to register the car if you lack anything.

Sellers should provide you with the blue book, which contains key details about the owner and vehicle history. You should also receive a valuation report which details the vehicle’s history and past repairs.

According to One2Car, the costs of the most popular brands in Thailand range between:

Car brandPrice range
Audi฿90,000 – 14,000,000
BMW฿65,000 – 9,000,000
Isuzu฿90,000 – 1,000,000
MG฿150,000 – 2,300,000
Toyota฿400,000 – 3,000,000

Where can you buy a used car in Thailand?

Car dealerships

Although dealerships are typically associated with the sale of new cars, many in Thailand also offer a range of used vehicles. You can also find ones that specialize in classic or vintage car models.

There are plenty of upsides to conducting your purchase through an official dealership. The biggest plus is that, by buying through an official dealership, you are guaranteed to receive the vehicle’s documentation. You will also have access to a support network if any problems come up. Lastly, many dealers sell nearly new cars at discounted prices.

Car dealerships will typically give you a warranty (e.g., a one or two-year guarantee), which you won’t get if you buy from a private seller.

You can search for car dealerships in Thailand on websites such as Zigwheels and Siam Car Deal.

Buying a car from a private owner

Most Thai private sellers use online marketplaces (ตลาดออนไลน์, dtalaat online), such as Facebook, Craigslist, and Kaidee to sell their vehicles. You can still find used car sales via more traditional routes, such as local ads in newspapers, automobile magazines, or even shop windows. However, this isn’t as common as it once was.

While you may be able to find good deals from sellers looking for a quick sale, this is a much less regulated way of buying a car in Thailand. Be sure to ask for paperwork (such as the blue book of registered owners) and try to get a valuation report outlining the history and condition of the vehicle.

A woman making a contactless payment to a mechanic in a garage
Photo: Cravetiger/Getty Images

If you buy directly from a private owner, it’s advisable to:

  • Use a standard sales agreement that covers the basic contractual necessities
  • Pay any money requested upfront into a third-party holding service, such as Escrow

Buying a used car online

Online used car sales have grown in popularity in Thailand in recent years. According to a 2023 survey, 42.8% of Thai respondents said they were willing to buy a vehicle online through verified platforms.

You can buy a car in Thailand through marketplaces such as:

Car auctions

As with all types of auctions (การประมูล, gaan bpramoon), you place bids on used vehicles going under the hammer, which means that you could end up with a total bargain or see something go for an astronomical price.

While this can be a good way of finding a decent deal, you’ll need to make snap decisions. This means turning up prepared and knowing the limits you’re willing to bid for cars.

Bear in mind that you’ll also need to pay auctioneer fees when you attend (usually a 7–15% commission.)

You can find information on upcoming events in Thailand on the Union Auction website.

Car registration and other paperwork in Thailand

Whether you buy a new or used car in Thailand, you will need to register it with the Department of Land and Transport: DLT (กรมที่ดินและการขนส่ง: ข.บ. Grom Tee Din Lae Gaan Kon Song: Kor Bor). Dealerships will often take care of this for you, although they will typically charge a fee.

Registering the car means putting it in your name. When you do this for a new car, you should then receive the blue ownership book. You will also need to provide:

  • Payment for any vehicle taxes for the upcoming year
  • Proof of car insurance, which you will need to purchase at a minimum third-party level
  • Thai visa or residence permit
  • Valid driving license
  • Valid ID such as your passport

How much does a car cost in Thailand?

On top of the purchase cost of your car and fees associated with dealerships or sales agents, you will also have to budget for things such as:

Type of costDescriptionAmount
Car tax (ภาษีรถยนต์, paa see rot yon)Payable when you register a vehicle and renewable every yearTypically between ฿800 and ฿10,000 a year (Check this car tax calculator to calculate your cost)
InsuranceCompulsory motor insuranceBetween ฿500–1,500 for a yearly plan; roughly ฿20,000 a year for a fully comprehensive plan
Ownership transfer fee (ค่าธรรมเนียมการโอนกรรมสิทธิ์, kaa tam neeyum gaan ohn gammasit)If you buy a used car, you need to pay a set fee to transfer the ownership฿105 set fee, plus a stamp fee of 0.005% of the estimated vehicle value
Maintenance costsCosts for routine maintenanceBetween ฿10,000–20,000 a year
Fuel costsCosts to re-fuel your car Between ฿1,500 and ฿2,500 a month (take a look at current fuel prices to get a more specific estimate)

How can you import a car to Thailand?

You can import a vehicle for less than six months on a temporary permit without paying duties. However, you may need to pay a deposit or provide a guarantee to cover import fees if you do not export the car in time. Additionally, there is a fine of ฿10,000 if you ship it without a temporary permit.

Importing a foreign car into Thailand isn’t popular since the procedure is complex and expensive. The costs can end up totaling around double the value of the vehicle.

A large roll on/roll off carrier vessel docked and ready to load cars
A roll-on/roll-off carrier prepares to load vehicles (Photo: Suriyapong Thongsawang/Getty Images)

If you do decide to import a car to Thailand, you will need to have a residence permit which is valid for at least one year. Furthermore, you can only import one vehicle per person.

You will also need to present the following to Thai Customs:

  • Bill of lading from the shipping company
  • Evidence of vehicle purchase, for example, original invoice or proof of ownership
  • Existing registration certificate if importing a used car registered abroad
  • Import declaration form
  • Import permit from the Thai Industrial Standards Unit if the vehicle weighs under 3,500kg (plus additional permit from the Ministry of Commerce for used cars registered abroad)
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Release order (Kor Sor Kor 100/1)
  • Valid ID plus Thai residence permit

Once the car has been presented to the customs office, all documents have been checked, and import taxes have been paid, it will then be allowed into the country.

Next, you will need to register it with the DLT. Most shipping companies will take care of the paperwork for you and include any admin costs in their total bill.

Selling a car in Thailand

You can sell a car by using any of the same methods and websites listed in the ‘Buying a used car in Thailand’ section above. Bear in mind that, as the seller, you will have a legal responsibility to provide supporting documents with the vehicle.

Whether selling online, through a licensed dealer or conducting a private sale, you will need to provide the following:

  • Blue book: Contains ownership history, including information on any money owed on the car (which you will have to settle prior to the sale)
  • Car insurance policy: Applies if the car is currently on the road
  • Roadworthiness report: Applies if the vehicle is over seven years old
  • Thai residence permit
  • Transfer of ownership forms: Needs to be completed by both buyer and seller need to complete (available from the DLT)
  • Valid photo ID

Make sure to arrange a valuation report (รายงานการประเมินมูลค่า, rai ngaan gaan pbramern moonlakaa) before selling your car. This will determine the value of the car and provide peace of mind to prospective buyers.

image of insider

Local expert

Jane Evans

Insider tip

It’s a good idea draw up a basic sales contract outlining rights and duties of both parties. This will help to protect you in the event of a subsequent dispute.

Equipment your car needs to have in Thailand

You should always keep the following in your car:

  • Blue book (proof of ownership)
  • Proof of car registration
  • Proof of mandatory car insurance
  • Valid driving license

Useful resources