Updated 3 months ago

With so much to see and so many new places to explore, you may be tempted to start driving in China right away. This country is home to a multitude of historical sights and urban attractions as well as stunning landscapes beyond city borders. However, before getting behind the wheel, you will need to get a Chinese driver’s license — a process that is not quite as simple as you might expect.

Your national or international driver’s permit is, unfortunately, not valid China. This means that you will need to get another driver’s license, specifically to be able to drive in the country. Read on to learn about the process of getting a Chinese driver’s license.

First, to drive in China, you will need to obtain a residence permit. If you are not a resident in China, you are not allowed to drive.

If you have a residence permit in China and a driver’s license in your home country, you can apply for a Chinese driver’s license at your city’s Vehicle Administration Office. Here are the required documents:

  • a filled-in application form;
  • passport and work permit (or other proof of residence in China);
  • medical certificate from a designated hospital;
  • your current driver’s license with Chinese translation;
  • and a photograph.

After you have submitted the documents, you will be required to take a theory test to re-qualify for a driver’s license. The test typically includes 100 questions, and you will need to get over 90% of the answers correct in order to pass. In some cities, the test is offered in both English and Chinese.

However, in smaller towns only a Chinese version of the test is available. In this case, you are allowed to bring along a translator or a Chinese-speaking friend to help.

 Good to know:

Some people use this opportunity to get help with the test itself by bringing along an experienced driver or a paid test-taker. This is considered fraud and, if discovered, will disqualify you from the test.

If you have passed the test successfully, you will receive your Chinese driver’s license within several working days.

If you don’t yet have a driver’s license in your home country and want to get one from scratch, the process for obtaining one will be mostly the same as for Chinese nationals. You will need to apply at the Vehicle Administration Office, submit the required documents and take a written theory test. On top of that, you will also need to take driving lessons and pass several practice tests. Procedures may vary slightly depending on the city and province where you are taking the exam — but, generally, it should take at least three months to get your driver’s license.

Traffic rules and driving habits

Driving in China can be quite different from what it is in your home country. Traffic can be chaotic in urban areas, and some expats may find it difficult to adjust to the large number of vehicles on the roads as well as peculiar driving habits exercised by some drivers.

China’s official traffic laws are outlined in the Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China — and it applies to all vehicles and drivers. However, the reality of the country’s roads is often different, and traffic accidents are quite a common sight.

Driving in big cities is much more regulated compared to small towns. In towns and villages, you will also have to deal with a large number of motorcycles, which, quite often tend to follow their own rules. On the other hand, big cities are inundated with shared bicycles and electric bikes, which often cause a nuisance on the road.

It is, thus, strongly advises that you exercise caution when driving in China, avoid rush hours and stay below within the speed limits. In the unfortunate case, if you do have a traffic accident, it is customary for both parties to remain at the place of the accident until the police arrive — even if it’s a minor bump.

 Useful link:

Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China

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