Recalling my last visit to the California Department of Motor Vehicles a few years ago, Diane and I cringed as the expiration date of our drivers licenses quickly approached. Usually looking more positively on a root canal than a trip to any government office, we’re glad we decided to hold off on buying a car or motorbike. But even though we don’t have intentions of buying a vehicle in Malaysia, we do plan moving into a suburban house in Chiang Mai, Thailand next summer which makes walking impractical so we’ll need to buy a motorbike. Legally speaking, many nations allow you to drive with a license from your home country but usually only for a few months (although every Brit expat we’ve come across drives here on their UK license since it’s almost perpetual with an expiry date of your grandchild’s 80th birthday). Having looked into the rules for obtaining a Thai drivers license, we decided no sane person would even attempt the long and tedious procedure that includes having someone act as your translator. Fortunately, it’s legal to drive in Thailand with a current Malaysian or Singapore license and Malaysia offers convenient conversion of foreigners drivers licenses so we prepared ourselves mentally for the trudge across the bay to the local JPJ office (a Malaysian acronym for the Road Transport Department).
Back in the good old days of the MM2H Forum they had extensive posts and topics on the conversion process and they all made it sound complicated, frustrating and tedious. Recalling obstacles like non-English speaking government officials not understanding the process and long waits at the office, we anticipated the worst. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball and as it turns out, our trip to the JPJ turned out to be surprisingly pleasant and quick. Although we only received a receipt because it’s a two-step process for foreigners whose home country doesn’t have a bilateral agreement with Malaysia, the experience was anything but frustrating and in fact may have been the world’s easiest navigation of government bureaucracy. Unusually generous rules even allow holders of expired foreign drivers’ licenses the right to convert to a Malaysian license as long as it’s not been expired for more than three years. Thinking it might somehow be helpful to visit the office before the expiration date, we took up our neighbor’s generous offer of a ride and headed out for what we all thought might be an all day event.