In this article you will find a summary of the information you need to be able to drive in mainland China.
Driving in China – Index
- In mainland China, you can’t drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP), nor with permits obtained in Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan.
- This article is based on the laws of the province of Beijing, and as usually is the case in China, the requirements may vary slightly depending on the city in which they apply.
- Written exams can be done in English or Chinese. Nonetheless, in some small cities, you may be forced to do them in Chinese (sometimes they may authorize you to bring a translator). On the other hand, in some of the main cities of the country, you may even find exams in other languages (such as Spanish, French, German or Arabic).
Getting a temporary driver’s license
For people traveling to China for a short period of time, including tourists, they can get a temporary driver’s permit for a maximum of three months without needing to pass an exam. Normally, you can obtain this at the traffic police department (车管所) in the city you are in. In Beijing and possibly in other large cities, it can be obtained directly in the airport.
- National driver’s license.
- International Driving Permit.
- Chinese translation of the foreign driver’s license (consult the embassy to know where this can be done).
- Completed application form.
- A hotel booking for at least one day.
- Three one-inch color photos with a white background.
Chinese driver’s license
Getting a Chinese driver’s license if you already have one from another country
If you have a residency permit and a driver’s license from another country, you can get a Chinese driver’s license (valid for 6 years) just by passing a written exam. The process and the exam take place in the traffic police department (车管所) in the city you live in and you may need a prior appointment.
The exam consists of answering 100 multiple choice questions, lasts 45 minutes, and you pass by getting more than 90% of answers right. If you don’t pass, you can repeat it at that time, and if you don’t pass the second time, you have to wait at least 20 days to take it again.
- Passport and resident permit with at least three months of validity (original and photocopy).
- Record of temporary residence obtained at the local police station (original and photocopy).
- Driver’s license from the other country (original and photocopy).
- Certified and notarized translation to Chinese of the driver’s license from the other country (In many places, such as Beijing, you only need to provide a translation signed by a Chinese national and bring the copy of his/her ID card).
- Medical certificate (normally you can get this at the same place).
- Three or five one-inch color photos with a white background.
Getting a driver’s license for the first time
If you are over 18 years of age, you have a temporary or permanent residency permit and you don’t have a driver’s license from another country, you can still get a driver’s license in China. To do this, you’ll have to pass four exams:
1) Written exam on laws and traffic regulations and basic concepts on vehicles (100 questions).
2) Parking and basic driving skills test on a track.
3) Written exam on correct driving habits (50 questions).
4) Road test.
Each exam can be taken twice. If you fail, you’ll have to pay the fee again and wait at least 20 days.
To get your license, you’ll have to sign up for a driving school. There are some driving schools which specialize in foreigners or which accept foreigners. There are even some which allow you to bring along a translator. It normally takes 2 to 3 months and 3,000 to 8,000 Yuan (fees, theory classes and on-road practice) depending on the driving school and the city.
- Passport and residency permit with at least 3 months of validity (original and photocopy).
- Record of temporary residency obtained at the local police station (original and photocopy).
- Medical certificate (normally this can be obtained in the same place).
- Three to five one-inch color photos with a white background.
Web pages and apps to study for the written exam
Chinese Driving Test: Web page with tests to prepare for the exam.
Jiakao Baodian: App to practice for the test in Mandarin.
Chinese Driving Licence Test: Webpage and app to practice for the test in English (not free).
Frequently asked questions
For example, in New York, Ohio and Oregon you’ll have no problems. However, in Connecticut and Arkansas you need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) first. This should be done in your home country (i.e China).
However, you should not rent a car if you’re a foreigner and don’t have a temporary driving permit. And I advise you to not drive in the bigger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The subway and taxis are more convenient, safer, and cheaper.
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): First photo (www.flickr.com/hank-taiwan/)]