China is an extremely scenic country with fascinating cultures that stretch back centuries. Naturally, foreign visitors (like ourselves) often look for ways to do self-drive tours of this vast country. However, for those making such plans, the first and greatest obstacle is often how to get a Chinese driving license. In this blog, we’ll be sharing our experience on how can foreigners get a driving license in China.
Note: The information in this blog post is based upon our experience of getting a provisional driving license in Chengdu (成都) (Sichuan, China). The information herein is correct as of Nov-2017.
Driving restrictions in China
First off, China does not recognize any foreign driving licenses. Even driving licenses issued in Hong Kong and Macau are not recognized within greater China.
The only way a foreigner can drive within China is to get either a full Chinese driving license or a provisional driving license. The provisional driving license is a temporary driving license that is typically only valid for the duration of the applicant’s Chinese visa.
How can foreigners get a driving license in China
The issuance of driving license in China is under the authority of the traffic police department (specifically车管所). Each major city should have its own branch of this office.
For foreigners, trying to get a driving license (full or provisional) is often frustrating and complicated. The requirements appear to change frequently. To make matters worse, the requirements can even vary depending on whom you speak to within the traffic police department (车管所). Therefore, do not be surprised if the requirements we’ve listed here are changed or vary from city to city.
Getting a provisional driving license in Chengdu, 成都 (Sichuan)
Below are the requirements for foreigners getting a provisional driving license in Chengdu. Refer to next section for requirements of getting a full driving license (in Chengdu).
(Information is correct as of Nov-2017)
#A: Passport and original driving license
#B: Chinese translation of your country’s driving license
Applicants need to get a Chinese translation of their home country’s driving license. You could get this done at one of the many translation companies in China. We got our translation done in a similar company in Chengdu.
However, when we went down to the Chengdu traffic police department to apply for the provisional driving license, the staffs informed us that it is not a requirement to perform the translation via such translation companies. Instead, we could simply make our own translations on a piece of paper and thumbprint it. We would assume that this is the official stance.
#C: Accommodation Registration Form for Aliens (境外人员住宿登记表)
This form is issued by the local police station and certifies that the applicant is staying at the said address. This is to ensure that the applicant can be traced to a valid address in China.
The first step to getting this form is to find a local resident who owns a house in the respective area. Being a property owner, this local resident should have a property ownership document (房产证).
The applicant, together with the local resident, needs to visit the local police station with the property ownership document to apply for the form. Typically, it is not required for the applicant to physically reside in the said address. This form is just to link a valid local address to the applicant.
This form is free and can usually be obtained on the spot.
Finally, we’ve tried asking the local police if we could just use our hotel address in the form (so as to avoid involving a local resident). The answer was no. But we wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is different for other cities in China.
#D: Medical Certification for Driving License
In China, all driving license applicants need to have a medical certification verifying that the applicant is medically fit to drive.
Simply go to a local hospital that provides such certification services and undergo the medical screening. The actual screening is extremely quick and simple, and can be over in under a minute.
After the screening, the hospital will issue the applicant with a medical certificate on the spot. The screening is extremely cheap, usually less than RMB30.
#E: Car rental agreement (???)
A copy of the car rental agreement between the applicant and a car rental company.
This is a truly confusing point.
Whenever we called the traffic police department (in Chengdu) to enquire about the driving license (provisional or full), the staff on the phone always insists that we need to have a copy of the car rental agreement. Their reasoning is that they need to ensure that the applicant is planning to rent a car before they are willing to issue a driving license.
However, this is truly a catch-22 situation. Because most larger car rental companies in China refuse to issue us a car rental agreement because we do not have a driving license. To overcome this, we had to scout for one of the smaller car rental companies whom are willing to pass us a copy of their rental agreement.
Interestingly, when we went down to the Chengdu traffic police department to apply for the provisional driving license, we were informed that the car rental agreement is no longer a requirement. We just hope this stance stay unchanged.
Application at traffic police department
With the above documents #A/B/C/D + 2 driving license sized photo (white background), go to the city’s traffic police department for application. Applicant must be present during the application.
The application is free and we managed to get the provisional driving license within 2 hours. However it is not a guarantee that the office will issue you the license on the same day.
Our provisional driving license is specified to be valid for 2 weeks, inline with the duration of our Chinese visa.
Getting a full driving license in Chengdu
Other than the above-mentioned documents (#A/B/C/D + 2 photo), the below 2 additional requirements are necessary for getting a full driving license.
#F: Chinese visa with a minimum period of 90 days
In order for a foreigner to get a full driving license in China, he/she must have a valid Chinese visa with a minimum period of 90 days.
For certain countries like Singapore, their passport holders enjoy a 14 days visa-free travel into China. As such, it is not possible for these travellers to apply for the full driving license when entering China via the visa-free arrangement. It is for this very reason that we’re not able to apply for the full driving license on our Nov-2017 trip.
Regarding the process and requirements for applying a 90 days Chinese visa, this is a topic beyond the scope of this post.
#G: Online driving theory test at traffic police department
Applicants need to undergo an online driving theory test at the traffic police department. The test involves 100 questions to be completed in 45 minutes, with a passing grade of 90%. The test is available in both Chinese and English.
There is a website (links below) that offers a practice version of the test. Applicants can visit this website to try their hands at the test questions.
During each practice attempt, the website will randomly select 100 questions from the traffic police’s actual list of test questions. Answers are provided at the end of each practice. As such, with enough practice on the website, applicants should have no problem passing the actual test.
Link to the practice website (English test): http://www.chinadriver.org/exam/exam_en.php
Tip: The English test is way easier than the Chinese version. Even if you’re versed in both languages, opt for the English test.
Getting a driving license at Beijing Capital International Airport
There are various websites (e.g. wikitravel) that says foreigners are able to apply for driving license at Beijing Airport. There is a police station and medical centre at Beijing Airport that facilitates foreigners in applying for driving license.
However, we’re not sure about the application requirements for those applying at Beijing Airport. In fact, we called the police station at Beijing Airport (on Oct-2017) and the officer mentioned that they do not issue provisional driving licenses. He added that they would only issue full driving license for those holding Chinese visas of 90 days or more.
Interestingly, this is in direct contradiction with the websites mentioned above. Which states that foreigners (with visas less than 90 days) could apply for provisional driving license at Beijing Airport.
In view of this contradicting information, we suggest the applicant make a call to Beijing Airport’s police station (before flying in), to enquire about the full requirements.
- Guide to YingXiuZhen (映秀镇) and ShuiMoZhen Ancient Town (水磨古镇)(Sichuan, China)
- Guide to HuangLongXi Ancient Town (黄龙溪镇) (Chengdu, Sichuan, China)
- Great Places to visit in Chengdu (Sichuan, China)
- The Bund, Shanghai
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