International Driving Licenses aren’t valid in China, but foreigners with a Residence Permit can apply for a Chinese Driving Licence.
Here’s everything you need:
First, you need three photos. These have to be against a white background. They need to be 1-inch photos, which is smaller than a standard passport photo. Your local Kodak-type shop can make these.
You need to take a Driving License medical test. This is very simple and a number of hospitals and clinics offer them. Here is the list for Beijing. The two minute exam is just a colour blindness test followed by a reasonably simple eyesight test against a wall chart.
The medical exam costs 10rmb and there’s a brief form to fill out in Chinese. The form requires the foreigner to have a Chinese name, so make one up. For me, this was the most time consuming part of the process.
Driving License Translation
Your current driving license needs to be translated into Mandarin (not Pinyin). Anyone can do this as long as they are willing to put their signature at the bottom.
Additional documentation required
- Foreign Driving License (bring both the laminated card & paper license if you have them)
- Residence permit
- Two forms, available at the centre. These are in Chinese, so you’ll to be able to read and write, or take a friend.
Everything must be photocopied, including the front and back of the driving license.
Go to the Motor Vehicle Administration departmentThe Foreign Affairs Department of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration
Address: No.18 Southeast 4th Ring, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Telephone: 010 8762 5150
There are two small car parks, or a lot of taxis waiting outside.
The main entrance is for Chinese drivers. Walk round the outside to the left to find the much quieter Foreigners Section.
Inside, submit all the paperwork for checking at the first desk. If they’re satisfied, then progress to the documents desk where they will take them away and create a test permit. This costs 50rmb each time you take the test.
Scheduling the test is a bit inflexible. They can only schedule in a small window about 10 days away and you have the choice of 10am or 2pm.
Taking the test
Given all the hurdles to get there, the test is actually well organised. I arrived a few minutes late and was directed upstairs to a large room full of computer terminals and many confused looking foreigners.
Everyone in the room stopped and stared at me.
The terminal is a small screen, along with a mouse and a number pad. Follow the instructions on screen to set it to your preferred language. There were about eight language options including French, German and Spanish.
It used to be the case that foreign applicants could take a translator. This could be a friend or a hired specialist. After a while, the specialists got to know all the answers, making it easy to cheat.
There’s also a small camera attached to the screen, pointing at each candidate, but I’m not sure what it was recording. Now candidates have to enter their candidate number, which is matched against their driving license photo.
Again, this is because of cheating. It was possible in the past to have a more competent friend go and sit the test for you…
The questions appear at the top of the screen, whilst your progress is shown at the bottom. First up are the 40 yes/no questions, and you’re required to select either [x] for wrong or a distractingly large square root symbol [√] for correct.
These are followed by 60 multiple-choice questions, selected by clicking A, B, C or D.
This is a very good mock up, and a good way to practice and much more up to date than the resource I used to study…
A pass is 90/100. I’d say about 70% is common sense when driving. The rest is made up of China specific questions about rules, fines and prison terms. These need a little study, but generally choose the worst-case scenario (i.e. highest fine, longest sentence) and it’ll be right.
You can move backwards and forwards through the questions, but I prefer to go with my first answer otherwise I’ll overthink it and change it to something silly.The only confusing part was watching people around me not being able to answer any questions.
I entered at 10.10am and finished at 10.25. Having arrived late, I didn’t want to be the first to leave, and the guy in front had only answered six questions in his 25 minutes.
You only get 45 minutes for all 100 questions so he needed to get a move on.
The Japanese chap to my right was reading all the questions aloud, which got the attention of the moderators. They asked him to stop. He refused. They shouted at him. He resigned himself to just mouthing the questions.
Finally, two other people finished. The moderator paused at their desks then pointed at the door. They stood up and walked straight out.
I debated going through my answers to double check, but couldn’t remember any that I was unclear about. There were a few that were educated guesses, but I couldn’t do much more so pressed the [Hand In] button.
The screen flashed red, which was worrying. A stalled heartbeat later, a green banner came up with 91/100.
The moderator came over, wrote 91 on my slip of paper and sent me to the front of the class where a senior looking chap wrote 91 on yet another sheet of paper and had me sign it, before saying ‘Monday’ and pointing towards the door.
Everyone in the room stopped and stared at me.
Downstairs the chattier desk clerk explained that this meant I could pick up my license on Monday (which is five business days). If you fail, this is where you can reschedule and pay another 50rmb.
It was 10.45 and the test should have finished. Still nobody else had come out of the room.
Picking up the License
Back at the Traffic Management Bureau I just presented my passport and picked up the driving license. There was an additional fee of 10rmb for the license, and it came in a fancy embossed plastic wallet
The driving license looks like a standard Chinese driver’s license, but with the passport number written at the top in pen.
Here’s the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau website. The process varies by city so look for your nearest bureau.
The following morning I went through the test again on the updated website and got 96/100, so I’m sure my ancient study guide was outdated or simply wrong in quite a few places. Anyway, doesn’t matter now!
Good luck if you take it, and hopefully you won’t get too many of the indecipherable hand signal questions. The following day I finally got to experience driving in China.