How to get a Chinese driving license

Find out how to get a driving license as an expat in Beijing

Last year, the number of licensed drivers in China reached 289 million. A reliance on cars has made for some headaches (Beijing saw one of the world’s longest traffic jams – a 100km, ten-day doozy in 2010 – for example), but stats aside, car rental is easy and affordable in Beijing and there are plenty of impressive sights to see just a couple of hours drive from the city centre.

If you get around town via electric scooter you’re in the clear, but for driving anything petrol-powered you’re going to need to get your papers in order. Here’s how to get a driver’s license in Beijing.

Step 1: get a physical

First you’ll need to complete a medical exam, which can be done at any city-level local hospital in town. Only a handful of hospitals provide the service over the weekend, so double-check opening hours at your hospital if you plan on going on a Saturday. At the hospital’s registration window, request a Driver’s Physical Exam Certificate (机动车驾驶人身体条件 证明, jidongche jiashiren shenti tiaojian zhengming). You’ll need to bring a one-inch visa photo and around 10RMB to cover the cost of the medical check, which is simply an eye exam involving a letter chart and colourblind test. After the exam, head back to the hospital’s registration area for a stamp on your certificate to confirm that the process is complete.

Step 2: register for the written exam

Next, register for the computerised theory exam at the Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration. First, round up the following materials: your passport (with visa valid for at least three months), residence permit (valid beyond six months), a photocopy of your driver’s license from your home country, four 1x1 inch visa photos and your physical exam certificate from Step 1. At the Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration, present these documents at the Foreign Affairs Department. You’ll be asked to fill out a form translating your license from your home country into Chinese (if you have special qualifications such as a motorcycle license, be sure to include it on this form). Exam times are either 9.30am or 1.30pm on weekdays and cost 50RMB. Note that anyone taking the exam needs to register in person, so don’t send a friend on your behalf.
Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration. 18 Nansihuan Lu, Chaoyang district ( Open 8.30-11.30am, 1.30- 6pm daily.

Step 3: study up

Now you’ll need to prepare for the theory exam. Test questions cover the country’s points system for penalising road violations, local road signs and general driver etiquette. Sounds straightforward enough, but due to wonky translation many of the questions sound like riddles that need to be carefully deciphered. Study up before your exam date by downloading smartphone app Driving in China (18RMB, available in English, Chinese and German). It has all 1,400 questions you might see from the most recent version of the exam.

Step 4: take the exam

The final stretch. Head back to the Motor Vehicle Administration on the day of your exam. You’ll have 45 minutes to complete 100 true or false and multiple-choice questions. You need 90 percent correct to pass, but you can take the exam twice in one sitting. Present your passing exam at the Foreign Affairs Department and voilà – your license will be issued in as soon as just three days. Happy road tripping!
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