Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Drive from Penang / Malaysia to Thailand (Hat Yai / Dannok)

I have now made a number of trips by car to Hat Yai in Thailand which, for those unfamiliar with the geography here, is about a 3 hour drive from Penang.  Having done the trip a few times I thought it might be useful to post a thread which details the border crossing layout and procedures as it will hopefully make the trip a little less daunting for those contemplating doing it for the first time.

Actually the process at the border is very simple and straightforward, IF you know what to do, but the crossing itself on the Thai side is quite chaotic, with what little signage there is not being very clear, to such an extent that it would be very easy to drive through without either having checked in at Immigration or obtaining a 'Carnet' (temporary vehicle import certificate) unless you happen to get flagged down, which, especially at busy times, will be a rarity.  Searching through the internet turns up several 'hits' which talk about the border crossing but in many cases the actual detail is either incorrect, very limited or outdated.

To cross the border into Thailand via Bukit Kayu Hitam (the border crossing closest to Dannok and Hat Yai) it's a very simple drive from Penang or elsewhere in Malaysia.  From Penang, merely drive straight over the Penang Bridge and keep going, following the signs for Alor Star / Setar.  You then keep on the 'E1' and continue to follow the signs for Alor Star / Setar and then 'Bukit Kayu Hitam' until you reach the border.  As you get close to the border though you will see a sign saying 'Bkt Kayu Hitam - turn left', don't.  Just drive straight ahead to the border.  Many of the main highways in Malaysia are toll roads and the charges for the main stretch from Butterworth to near Changlun is about RM13 with a RM 1.60 charge for a short section closer to the border.  I find it much easier to use a 'Touch and Go' card for the tolls and for bridge charges coming into Penang (see post here).

You may also wish to consider getting an extension on your car insurance to cover you 'comprehensive' for when you are in Thailand.  Most insurers will do this on an 'accommodative' (per trip) basis for a minimal charge and some may even provide annual cover if your trips will be frequent.  It is obviously worth checking with insurers to see if they provide annual Thailand cover when renewing car insurance if you intend to travel frequently.  If you purchased your vehicle insurance through a car dealership most of them can also provide the extensions to your cover for Thailand.  Be mindful that most insurers need at least 7 days notice to approve the extension to your cover.

Petrol is about double the price in Thailand compared to Malaysia so I always fill up before going and, doing little mileage once there, I have enough to keep me going until I return across the border and fill up at one of the three filling stations just after the border (Petronas normally).  If you need to fill up before crossing the border there is a large Caltex service station a few km before the border which also has reasonable WCs if you need them.

Things you will need to take when crossing the border:

1) A copy of your car registration document showing you as the owner of the car (make sure it's a current copy showing your correct address and the paid-up road tax for the year in question), I took the original too (see below)

2) Your driving licence (I use my Malaysian one) but there must be an English translation if your driving licence is not in English

3) Passport

4 ) Visa if you have / need one  (many visitors don't as Thai Immigration (land borders) grant 14 days on arrival to visitors from many countries). It's advisable to check if you're not sure if you need a visa or not and there are many sites containing information about Thai Visa requirements, including this one here.

It's also useful to have a pen handy!

In order of completion there are 5 things you need to do when driving into Thailand from Malaysia:

a) Clear Malaysian Immigration
b) Clear Malaysian Customs

Then, park up your car before the Thai checkpoints and

c) Clear Thai Immigration
d) Obtain a Thai 'Carnet' (the international simplified agreement that allows duty free import of a vehicle for up to 12 months) from Customs

Then return to your vehicle and:

e) Clear Thai Customs

The above is a summary and should be used as a checklist, make sure you have done ALL five before you drive into Thailand as at least two (c & d) would be easy to omit if you aren't aware of requirements and /or how the border controls work.  This may sound strange but if you have this mental (or written!) checklist you will be sure not to inadvertently drive through and forget something, and it's too late on the way back!!

Thai Compulsory Insurance

Before getting in to the detail, one of things you will also need in Thailand is compulsory 3rd party insurance cover, beyond that of your Malaysian insurance.  This insurance is available either before or after the border but there is something VERY, VERY important about this insurance that the vast majority of websites and forums fail to mention.  The compulsory insurance that the agents sell, and that the vast majority of people purchase (according to the agents themselves), is 3rd party BUT covers people only (e.g. anyone that you might injur) it DOES NOT provide 3rd party cover for damage to other vehicles.  This is very important as I suspect that some people buy this cover and happily drive off believing they are covered for most eventualities in Thailand.  Wrong!

If you want only the compulsory cover it costs RM 15 for the minimum which is 9 days cover or, if you plan to make several trips over a 12 month period, you can buy annual cover for RM 105.  Some internet sites make reference to you being given a disc when you purchase this insurance which you need to affix to your windscreen, however, this only applies to those purchasing the 12 month cover.  Now, if you also wish to insure against any damage your vehicle may cause to other vehicles or property this '3rd Party Damage' cover can also be purchased from the same agents for RM 50 for a single visit (7 days) or RM 360 for annual cover, these costs being over and above that of compulsory cover.  So, annual 3rd party cover for both people and vehicles / property will cost RM 465.

As mentioned above, some visitors from Malaysia go further and extend their domestic (and often fully comprehensive) insurance to cover themselves in Thailand and I am also reliably informed that as another option, comprehensive cover can also be purchased, again from the same agents, for around RM 800 for one year (whether this can be purchased on a per-trip basis I am not sure) and I plan to explore the cost / benefits of doing this v extending domestic Malaysian cover.  For the occasional trip it's probably not worth it but it may actually make claims and processing much easier if you have an incident in Thailand than trying to organise repairs and make claims from a Malaysian provider whilst in Thailand.  I will update this post in due course with the findings.

A couple of kilometres before the crossing on the Malaysian side there is a rest compound called 'CTC', it is not far after a large 'Caltex' gas station on the left which is itself just a few km after the traffic light controlled crossroads at Changlun (signposted 'Kodiang' (left) and 'Sintok' (right)).  It has a vertical blue and red sign on the road-side with the letters 'CTC' in red at the top.  CTC has a large off road car park and there are a number of stores located there.  CTC also has toilets but personally I would stop at either the Petronas or Caltex stations before CTC for toilets as they are of a higher standard.  The insurance is purchased from the small travel shop within the covered eating area. You can also get it at several locations in Changlun well before the border. The CTC shop and some of the other places you can buy insurance will sell you and complete a Tha Immigration 'Arrival/Departure' card for a small fee (RM 1.50) but the process is so simple I didn't bother.

You will need to show your copy registration document when you purchase the insurance cover.  I do stress that is essential to get this document.  You will most likely need the form in order to obtain your 'Carnet' (I say most likely as lately people are not getting asked for it) from Thai Customs.  I also encountered three police roadblocks in Hat Yai recently and, while I was waived through two of them, I was stopped and asked to show my Thai insurance at the last, they may of course also ask to see your 'Carnet' vehicle import form along with the vehicle registration and your driving licence.

The insurance document can also be purchased at kiosks just after the border (you basically walk through and buy it after clearing Immigration and before returning to obtain your 'Carnet') as there are many money changers which display signs for 'Malay/Thai Insurance Card'.  As I mentioned, it seems that most times of late you do not need to produce this insurance to get your 'Carnet' so many drive through, stop and then buy the the 3rd party cover BUT parking can be 'dodgy' to say the least as the section of road just after the border is a busy part of town and traffic can be quite hectic.   If you purchase it on the Thai side the cost is the same and, that close to the border, they will accept either Thai Baht (THB) or Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).

Border Crossing

Now, on to the crossing.  This is where you will need to ensure you have your passport and vehicle registration handy.

The first part of the process is to clear Malaysian Immigration.  This is very simple and straightforward.  It is essentially a 'drive through' process.  As you approach the border you will see signs directing cars, busses and trucks through different channels.  Following the cars route you will come to a number of kiosks set out in line ahead and its simply a case of queuing and waiting for the green light which indicates a free kiosk.  Drive up to the kiosk and hand your passport(s) to the Immigration Officer, there is no need to get out of the car.

After Immigration, you drive straight ahead a short distance to Malaysian Customs.  Again, another series of staggered kiosks.  As you drive through, have your drivers window down and be prepared to show the registration document.  At times they won't check, especially if they can see that you have it available.

Before reaching the Thai side of the border there is a large and well stocked duty free shop on the left where you can park (for free if just shopping there).  There is also a money changer inside and the rates are very good, slightly better than Thailand I find.  As to prices, from what I've seen, most whisky and gins are more expensive at the duty free than in Thailand, whereas some liquors such as Kahlua are considerably cheaper than Thailand. Shortly after the Duty Free Compound you will come to the controls on the Thai side of the border.

Now, this is the potentially tricky part that could catch first timers out.  Thai Immigration and the related booths are NOT 'drive through', albeit this is not immediately clear and, given the slight state of confusion at border crossings with vehicles and people milling around, it could be easy to just 'go with the flow' and drive through the Thai controls without checking in at Immigration or clearing the temporary import of your vehicle.  The role of the officers is to stop and check vehicles / people when they see a need, NOT to ensure that you have done all that you need to and have all the required paperwork to enter Thailand.  The onus is on you to ensure you complete each stage of the required process and the important thing to remember now is:

After clearing Malaysian Customs, drive ahead BUT be on the lookout for the entrance to a large car park on the left which is BEFORE the various Thai kiosks.  Turn into that car park and park your vehicle.

As you walk back out the car park you will see the numerous Thai Immigration kiosks.  At the kiosk you will need a two-part Thai Immigration Arrival/Departure card.  If you don't have one there may be some at the desks (some of which also have pens) before the Immigration kiosks or, if not, just to the left of the Immigration kiosks there is an office marked 'Visas on Arrival'.  They will give you a card.  Fill this in (both parts) before you get to the Immigration kiosk.  Don't forget the check boxes on the rear of the card.  Also, be sure to retain the 'Departure' portion of the card that they will stamp and hand back to you with your passport, Thai Immigration will need this when you depart, as will any hotel you check into, to verify you are still legally in Thailand.

After Immigration you will need to locate the Customs Vehicle Import kiosk to get your 'Carnet'.  DO NOT forget to do this!  At the passport controls you will see just one section (to the right) where vehicles can drive through.  There are passport controls located here also.  Directly after the passport booths on the drive through section there are two Customs booths adjacent to each other.  This is where you get the 'carnet'.  First you go to the desk kiosk which is on the right, produce your copy registration document and your passport (you may also be asked for your Thai 3rd Party Insurance). You will then be provided with the 'Carnet' form which you then take to the very next window where you will be asked to sign it in two places (there are example forms and the Customs officer will tell you where to sign).  This document covers your vehicle's temporary importation which you must retain for when you leave the country.  At times, people get told to sign the form and leave it at the booth until you drive your vehicle through but, to avoid jams, it seems this rarely happens now.  Whatever happens, DON'T forget it!  I have heard some people say that if you are using a copy of your registration document to obtain the Carnet, it must be a copy which has been certified by the police in Malaysia as a genuine copy.  I have never encountered this problem (having also done subsequent trips) but I did take the original document with me just in case (it's a long way to go back if a Customs official decides an uncertified copy is not good enough.

After this, simply go back to the car, drive out the car park and turn hard left, near the Immigration kiosks and this will funnel you down through Thai Customs.  This IS a drive through and most people are merely waived through, remember to collect your 'Carnet' form if they have retained it.

After that you are through and pretty much clear.  Just keep going on the road straight ahead.  It is a little confusing as about 1/2 a mile down the road there is another Thai Customs checkpoint, mainly for trucks.  You can't miss this as the road straight ahead is barriered off.  At the barrier you merely turn right, drive into the 'pound', follow the signs for your type of vehicle, turn left then left again, then right, back out on to the road you turned off (albeit some way further on of course).  Again, you are unlikely to get stopped here.

So, that's it.  Fairly easy really but easier still if you know what to do before you get to the border and the have a rough idea of the sequence / layout.   Hopefully this will be of help to others.  I have not posted images as at most border crossings photography is frowned upon.  Details of the return border crossing process can be found here.

When driving in Thailand I would suggest keeping your driving licence, copy vehicle registration, Thai Insurance and Carnet readily available in the vehicle as these are the things you will most likely get asked for if stopped by the police or other government department road-check.

There is a useful site here which covers some general information about driving in Thailand.  There are of course many others including a Wiki entry that is great for explaining Thai road signs.  Many may well also be unfamiliar with Thai traffic lights, it's good to be familiar with the meaning of these as you will encounter signals quite quickly after the border:

NB (Jan 2014): Previously, the 'policy' with regard to 'Via Waiver' entry (e.g. entry stamps given at the border for those without visas if they are from countries that qualify) was that if you enter Thailand by air you got 30 days but if you entered by land you got only 14.  Since the end of 2013 however, visitors from G7 countries will be granted 'Permission to enter' for 30 days whether entering by land or air.

NB (Mar 2014): It seems that the insurance certificates or 'discs' referred to above, which are affixed to your vehicle windscreen when purchasing annual Thai compulsory insurance, are no longer issued and you will get the certificate only.  I was advised about this when I recently renewed my 12 month cover.

NB:Please not that one reader has advised me that he had used the online service to pay for his annual car road tax online.  The trouble is, if you do this, you do not get your registration document updated with the details of that particular road tax purchase.  The reader had some difficulty at the border when applying for the Carnet because, despite having a valid car tax displayed, they were reluctant to accept that the registration document was valid.  So if you're contemplating trips to Thailand, renew your car tax at the post office!


  1. Very helpful detailed post. Better than Googling the crossing.

  2. Thanks. Yah, Google will turn up a lot of hits, some are quite outdated and some either lack detail or, even more importantly, omit certain information (such as the need for a Carnet document) altogether, potentially a MAJOR problem if you get asked for it while in Thailand and especially when you come to return to Malaysia and don't have one :-(

  3. Thank you. This has been very helpful. Hoping to cross the border tomorrow morning.

  4. Welcome and thanks. Enjoy your trip. It's easy to get caught up in what seems like a simple flow of traffic, especially as Malaysia side is just drive through. Do that though and you could find yourself having exited the Thai controls with no Immigration stamp in the passport and no Carnet and you definitely do no want to do that.

  5. Hi! Thanks for the wonderful info. Would really hope to get your kind advice on this, as I'm travelling there soon.

    The questions is, I'm driving my dad's car there. Car registration card will not be under my name anymore, how will that be arrangable from my side?

    TQ in advance!

  6. Hi

    As far as I know this should be no problem. As I understand you merely need a letter of authority from the owner of the car giving you permission to drive the vehicle into Thailand and a copy of the Registration Document showing the car is registered to the writer of the letter. In this case I would put both your IC number (or passport number) and that of the owner in the letter.

    Again, if it were me, I'd be tempted to get the letter and the copy Registration Document certified by a Commissioner of Oaths just to prove the letter was written by the person who is named in, and who has, the registration document and that the person has produced their IC or passport to prove it is that person.

    Hope this makes sense. the certification may not be needed but for a few RM it might prevent a problem at the border. Otherwise they could just say you wrote the letter yourself.

  7. Good Write-Up !

    Any Idea about Border Crossing Through Padang Besar ?
    - Try to Beat the Crowd during Hari Raya in August 2013

    1. Hi. Thanks. Sorry, no idea about that crossing. Process would be the same but I have no idea about the layout of the place. Never used it.

      Most of my friends here favour the Bukit Kayu Hitam crossing though, they say it's more efficient. But I can't vouch for that.

  8. what happen if I didn't return the carnet?

    1. Well, potentially, a few things. All Thai side and it will depend on how vigilant they are being at the time.

      Firstly, if you ever try to take the car back, you could well find that the car has been 'black listed' and will not be allowed back into Thailand for breaching Customs regulations.

      Secondly, if you do go back with the car you may get it impounded so that Thai Customs can sort out what is going on. Likely this will take time and you will get your vehicle back ONLY when they are finished.

      Thirdly, depending on the outcome of their enquiries, you may have some heavy fines to pay for various breeches of Customs regulations.

      It's far far better to remember.

  9. Can pregnant malaysian enter the border ? And also I understand that owner of the car need to to be present when entering the thai borders, how bout coming back to Malaysia? Does the owner still need to be around?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi.

      Sorry, but all I can do is give an account of my experience at the border. Questions on the law and procedures really need to be directed towards Thai and / or Malaysian Immigration / Customs.

      That said, I can see no reason why someone who is pregnant cannot enter Thailand? Whether it's medically advisable you need to discuss with your doctor.

      As for the car, as far as I know the owner does not need to be present. However you DO need the original registration document for the car and, if the driver is not one of those present in the car, a letter of authority giving you permission to take the car into Thailand. This is not something that I have need to consider so you may need to research it further. For instance, you may need the letter from the owner certified by a lawyer to prove that it is the owner who wrote the letter.

      I would stress, these issues should be thoroughly researched and check with both Thai and Malaysian Customs at the border.

  10. All written on insurance is compulsory third party cover bodily injury and damage to third party. What happen to our car? Malaysian Insurance does not cover accident damage or repair work in Thailand. Does Thai insurance agent sell comprehensive insurance cover to Malaysian tourist on short term basis? How much will that cost

    1. ALL of the queries here are have already been CLEARLY covered in the article - Quote:

      "Now, if you also wish to insure against any damage your vehicle may cause to other vehicles or property this '3rd Party Damage' cover can also be purchased from the same agents for RM 50 for a single visit (7 days) or RM 360 for annual cover, these costs being over and above that of compulsory cover. So, annual 3rd party cover for both people and vehicles / property will cost RM 465.

      As mentioned above, some visitors from Malaysia go further and extend their domestic (and often fully comprehensive) insurance to cover themselves in Thailand and I am also reliably informed that as another option, comprehensive cover can also be purchased, again from the same agents, for around RM 800 for one year (whether this can be purchased on a per-trip basis I am not sure) and I plan to explore the cost / benefits of doing this v extending domestic Malaysian cover".

  11. i used this as guide and it work wonders,,,,,thanks a lot,,,,nice post...

  12. thanks for the guide. Got a question here. What if you are not the owner of the car. but you have access to the registration card. do i have to bring the owner of the car along or a photocopy ic will do?

  13. Hi.

    There is a comment related to this above, dated 10 January.

    My understanding is that if you are not the owner of the vehicle you need a copy of the registration card AND a letter from the owner of the car authorising you to drive it AND take it into Thailand. The letter would need to be in English as the Thai authorities will accept on Thai or English on such documents.

    If it was me, I think I would get the letter certified by a Commissioner for Oaths who can check that it actually IS the owner who signed the letter (by way of the owner going to the CFO with you with his/her passport).

  14. Hi. Is it compulsory to obtain International Driving licenses from JPJ? What is the risk if we do not have that license?

    1. AFAIK if you hold a Malaysian driving licence you do not need an IDL in Thailand.

      ASEAN agreement: http://www.asean.org/communities/asean-economic-community/item/agreement-on-the-recognition-of-domestic-driving-licences-issued-by-asean-countries-kuala-lumpur-9-july-1985

  15. I am told that I need to place RM1 in my passport when crossing Thai Immigration. Is this true?

    1. It's a practice that seems to have crept in and / or remained from years ago. I've seen lots of people do it. I never have and have never had a problem.

      You will also often see folks creep round the back of the various kiosks if there are major queues and slip RM 10 in the passport, mainly for processing the vehicle import form - a kind of VIP queue ;)

  16. Good writeup but having problem reading your yellow font. Would like to suggest RED instead of Yellow.

    1. The use of yellow font is minimal and primarily used to highlight thing of particular note, red is used elsewhere in the blog for different purposes. So, in light of that, and there having been no other comments about the yellow in 4 years, I'm afraid not. But thanks for the comments.

  17. Can I buy a thai sim card at the border crossing?

    1. Not actually at the border but there are plenty of places in Dannok or Hat Yai you can buy them, including the mobile phone sellers and even the 7/11. Note that Thailand now requires all SIM cards to be registered with the person's passport / ID.


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