10/26/2023, 7:33:52 AM

How to Get Your Chinese Driver's License as an Expat?


Lucy Tao

Content Manager

Driving in Shanghai has become significantly less intimidating in recent years, especially when compared to a decade ago when traffic rules felt more like suggestions than actual regulations. For many, owning a car remains a pursuit for long-term expats with ample resources. However, renting a car can be a fun and cost-effective way to escape the city for a weekend adventure and it's relatively straightforward to do.
First and foremost, it's crucial to understand that foreigners are not allowed to drive in China using their home country driver's license or an International Driver's Permit (IDP). To get behind the wheel in China, you'll need a Chinese driver's license.
So, here's a comprehensive guide on how to obtain one based on your situation. Skip to the section that applies to you and read on.
You can obtain a...
Temporary Driver's License (临时驾照): If you already have a driver's license from your home country and just want to drive rental cars, this is the easiest option. No exams are required; it's just some paperwork. The downside is that it's limited to rental cars, and the permit expires with your visa. [More on this process](insert link to relevant article).
Permanent Driver's License (长期驾照): If you already have a driver's license from your home country and want to drive any car, including your own, follow this route.
Starting from Scratch: If you've never held a driver’s license before and want to obtain a Permanent Driver's License from the beginning, this section is for you.
Step 1: Get Your Documents Translated
If you have a valid driver's license from your home country, obtaining a Permanent Driver’s License in China is a straightforward process. You don't even need to speak Chinese to get it. First, you'll need to get your current home country driver's license translated by an official authority. Take both your driver’s license and your passport to the Shanghai Interpreters' Association (or send a courier). Your visa should have at least 90 days of validity remaining. The verification cost varies by country, starting at 50 RMB. The process typically takes two to three days. Ensure you don't open the envelope provided by the Interpreters' Association.
Step 2: Study for the License Written (Theory) Exam
Don't underestimate the written test; it's often considered the most challenging part. The Chinese driver's license test is known for its difficulty. You'll need to study diligently for this crucial step.
Administered by the transportation bureau, the written test requires you to answer 100 random questions from a pool of 1,500 that you must study beforehand. To pass, you need to get 90 of them right. Most of the questions are multiple-choice and true/false questions, with 90% being common sense that you might already know even if you've never driven before.
The remaining 10% require focused learning. Some questions may be tricky due to awkward phrasing. For example, you might encounter a picture of a car driving away from a traffic accident and be asked if it's a "Law-Breaking Act" or a "Criminal Act." These can be challenging to decipher without prior study.
Several apps on the app store can help you prepare for the exam, but the quality varies. We recommend "Drive in China" and "Laowai Drive." Please note that while both apps claim to be free, some may charge around 10 USD once you've downloaded them.
Based on our testing, "Laowai Drive" had more up-to-date questions, whereas "Drive in China" was outdated and potentially unreliable.
It's essential to remember that all apps use a combination of Google Translate and user-submitted translations that may not match the wording used in the actual exam. More on this in the "How to Not Fail the Damn Exam" section below.
Step 3: Register Your Application and Take the Test
Visit the No. 1 Branch of the Vehicle Administrative Office without the need for a prior appointment. Bring the following documents:
  • Unopened envelope with the certified translation of your home country driver's license.
  • Original home country driver’s license and a photocopy (front and back).
  • Passport and a photocopy.
  • Residence permit and a photocopy.
Although the office may assist with photocopies, it's advisable to bring your own copies for a smoother process.
After registration, you'll be directed to a room for a brief health and eyesight test. Proceed to the second floor to take the written exam.
Step 4: Taking the Written (Theory) Exam
Now, let's talk about the exam itself. You'll have a total of 45 minutes to tackle the 100 questions, and you need to answer at least 90 of them correctly to pass the exam. Before starting the test, you'll be asked to select your preferred language, which you won't be able to change during the exam. Please note that personal items, including your phone, are not allowed in the testing area.
The test is administered on a computer, and the user interface may appear somewhat different from the apps you used for studying. It might take a moment to get used to it. During the exam, you have the flexibility to change your answers at any time. Once you've completed all 100 questions, simply click a button to submit your responses, and your result will be provided immediately.
What if you score 89 out of 100 points? Unfortunately, it's considered a fail. But here's a pro tip: you have the opportunity to retake the exam on the same day, so arriving early can give you ample time for two attempts. If you encounter another setback, you can register for a new appointment for the following week.
The catch? They don't reveal which questions you got wrong, making it a rather challenging experience. 
Good luck! 
Lucy Tao

Content Manager

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