Driving in China: How can I get my license?

Driving in China

In this article you will find a summary of the information you need to be able to drive in mainland China.

  • 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.

Necessary documents:

  • 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 driving licenseChinese 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.

Necessary documents:

  • 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.

Necessary documents:

  • 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

Can tourists drive in China?
No, you cannot drive as a tourist in China. As mentioned, you need to get a temporary driving permit first. If you intend to stay for a longer period of time, you need to get a regular Chinese driving license.
When can you drive in China?
The legal age to drive a car in China is 18.
Does China have right hand drive?
Yes, mainland China has right hand drive like in most other countries in the world. However, keep in mind that Hong Kong SAR (which is a part of China) still has left hand drive.
Is Chinese driver’s license valid in USA?
Traffic regulations differ between US states. In addition, keep in mind that China is not a member of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968). As such, it depends.

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).

Can Malaysia driving license use in China?
No, you cannot drive in China if you just have a Malaysian driving license. You need a temporary driving license, or a regular Chinese driving license.
Can Singapore driving license drive in China?
No, Singaporeans cannot drive in China by only having a Singaporean driving license. Instead, you need to get a temporary driving permit, or a Chinese driving license in case you plan to stay long term (same as for other foreigners).
Is it safe to drive in China?
In general, it’s safe to drive in China. At least compared to places like Thailand and Vietnam. However, the traffic can be pretty bad and congested in the central parts of Shanghai and Beijing, for example, so be careful as drivers tend to be stressed.
Should I rent a car in China?
You can rent a car together with a Chinese friend, if you want to explore different areas when travelling. That’s how I did when visiting Yunnan some years back.

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 Shanghai, China by hanklee_photo

63 thoughts on “Driving in China: How can I get my license?”

  1. Hi, can I take the four exams for driving test in China, without having to go to driving school for 3 months? I already have many years driving experience overseas but no valid overseas license. I live in China and have residency permit.

    Can I have an English translator for the four exams ?


    1. I suggest you check the province regulations because can have small differences.
      Also I suggest to take at least a couple of driving lessons just to know the differences with your home country. Being able to drive doesn’t mean you can pass the examination.

  2. Hi. I try to apply for chinese drivers license in 2019 but the agency ask me to have Chinese name first. I am not sure what is the reason for that. Then, I try to have my chinese name, however, I need to make it through Philippine Embassy and that is in Beijing. It is not very accessible for me because I live in Southern China. Is there any other way you can advice?

  3. Hi Regarding converting a Korean Licence – I live in Guangzhou and my residence permit was issued in Beijing, so last time I used my Filipino Licence for conversion but was rejected because of my visa issue. I do have a valid Korean drivers licence – do you know if that regulation is still in force and if so where can i find this regulation please

  4. I have full UK driver’s licence and want to get a Chinese licence. The local notary public (Wuhu. Anhui) said that I have to have my UK licence notarised in the UK. Then they can notarise it here in Wuhu.
    Are they correct to say so? My understanding from the article above is that it can be done in China. Having to arrange for my licence to be notarised back in the UK would be a very lengthy and expensive process.
    Could someone share their experience about notarising a UK (or other foreign) driver’s licence, please?
    I would really appreciate your clarification because I am well confused.

    1. If you want to “notarize” a document to be accepted in China there are companies that can do it, the process is called 认证 公证 and basically is a oficial translation and a legalization by UK embassy in China, as it is mentioned in the point 4 of the requirements.

  5. Can Foreigners buy second hand car in China and after they get Chinese driving license (already own European license for 10 years), can they drive car.
    (Foreigner with residents permit and working visa in China)

  6. Hi ,
    I have had a driving license in China por the past 12 years . Last May , my license was taken away as I reached 12 points .
    I want to know if the points reset once a year . Do I have to retake the exam or will I get my license back after a year ?

  7. Hello,
    Actually if you want to get the driver’s license in China for the first time and you are not a chinese national, you can fly to Jeju Island (South Korea) to get your Korean driver’s license and this can be exchange by the way describe in this article (n2 Getting a Chinese driver’s license if you already have one from another country).
    Get the Korean driver’s license can be done in english and in 3 days with some good agency and you can get your driver’s license from China after it :p // I done this with getmyidp.com and I leave in South China.

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