Driving in China
Most visitors find they have enough trouble surviving Chinese traffic without actually taking the wheel. It is generally best to just rent a car with a driver or employ a driver if you buy a car. Because of Chinese wages, the cost of the driver is quite low.
You cannot drive with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) in mainland China; China has not signed the convention which created IDPs. You need a Chinese license to drive in China. (Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan issued licenses are not considered Chinese licenses).
PRC laws say that foreign residents can have driver’s licenses and that an IDP can be converted to a local license, possibly with an additional examination. It is now possible to get a provisional driver’s license very easily in major cities like Beijing. You can get one directly at Beijing Capital Airport (see below). Getting a regular license may be quite complicated. The particular complications seem to vary from place to place and over time.
- Only Belgium and Hong Kong license can be converted directly without any test requirement. License from other country/region including Macau, Taiwan does not qualify.
- First, there is a computerized theory test of 100 out of over 900 multiple choice questions with 90% as a pass mark; if you do not pass, you can do a second test without paying any further fee. In major cities, these tests are available in Arabic, Russian, German, French, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and English and the syllabuses are available from the Public Security Traffic Management Bureau, for example see: www.gzjjzd.gov.cn. In smaller places, the officials may insist you do it in Chinese. Some allow you to bring a translator; others do not. It is common that besides just translating, the translator will dictate you correct answers and expect a small fee of not more than 100 yuan.
- Generally, but not always, you are excused from the actual driving test if you have a foreign license.
One possible method for a foreigner to get a Mainland license is to take the following action: in Hong Kong, convert your foreign license into a Hong Kong license for about US$120. Then, go to Mainland (Guangzhou is probably the easiest place) and convert your HK license into a Mainland license. Though this may have worked in the past, foreigners are no longer allowed to convert a HK license into a Mainland license unless you have a HK identity card, which requires seven years of residency in HK or birth there. This is NO LONGER TRUE. Anyone, including Hong Kong born people MUST take the written exam if converting the HK driver’s license to a mainland one.
On January 1, 2013 a new motor vehicle driver training teaching and examination syllabus came into force in China. The new pool of exam questions has been extensively updated and 90% of the questions are new. The new question bank is not going to be published by the Traffic Management Bureau as it is their intention that students must learn the traffic regulations and understand the intention of the rules rather than memorize answers to questions.
It is quite possible to pass the test all by yourself. The paperwork (registration for the test, testing, fetching license) is all done in the driving test centre, eg. in Xili for Shenzhen area. It is quite time expensive though, because you have to go there several times. Better way is to ask one of the small driving schools, which can be found at every second corner in Shenzhen to do all the paperwork for you.
The test can be done everywhere in at least English and although the English questions are not officially available for study anymore, English translations can be found online. For example www.chinese-driving-test.com
In most places, private tutoring is allowed given common sense and reasonable care: that means in practice that at least one person in the car must have a valid license but not necessarily the driver.
At least in some cities electric scooters are legally treated as bicycles. You do need to register the vehicle but only with a bicycle license which is cheaper and easier than a motorcycle license. You do not need a driver’s license to ride it. Some cities completely ban the use of electric bicycles. There may be restrictions in where you can ride it, eg: not in the main traffic lanes.
Provisional driver’s license at Beijing Capital Airport
A provisional driver’s license can be obtained easily at Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport. A description of the procedure from 2012 including pictures and forms can be found here.
As of February 2017 the procedure at Beijing Capital Airport required the following documents (see image on the right):
- Passport & a copy of the passport (including the photo page, visa page and entry stamp). The copies can be obtained at the post office at the airport.
- Overseas drivers license and a copy of the license (including both sides). Note that no International Driver’s Permit nor a translation seems to be required currently; the national driving permit seems to suffice. There might be some discussion on what category of vehicles the overseas license is valid for, though, because the catagories in China are different than for European licenses for example.
- Three 1-inch color photos with white background. The photos can be taken in the business centre on the 4th floor. Cost: 20 CNY for 9 pictures.
- Physical exam at the medical center on the west side on the 2nd floor of Terminal 3. Cost: 10 CNY.
With all these documents completed, the officer at the traffic police station (office hours currently Monday to Sunday 08:30 to 11:00 and 12:30 to 16:30) will issue the provisonal driving license. Cost: another 10 CNY. The entire procedure takes about an hour. The driving license is then accepted by car rental companies.