International Driving Permit (IDP) is not accepted in China. However, you can get a Chinese drivers license quite easily if you have a valid license from another country.
The basic requirements to get a license in China are:
- A valid (non-expired) driver’s license from another country.
- A valid Chinese visa or resident’s permit with the duration of stay at least 120 days.
- Pass a written exam.
Special Procedure for Citizens of Belgium
If you are from Belgium then you don’t even need to take the written exam. A Belgian driver’s license can be directly exchanged for a Chinese driver’s license without taking any exam. This is due to a bilateral agreement between Belgium and China.
If you don’t have a valid license from another country
If you don’t have a valid license from another country then you would need go through same procedure as a Chinese citizen. This will involve taking a driving course, a written exam, and road test. If you don’t know how to drive, China is not a good country to learn. I don’t recommend driving in China unless you are highly skilled driver.
If the duration of stay of your visa is less than 120 days (most tourist and business visas are 30, 60, or 90 days only) then you will not be able to get a normal driver’s license in the legal way. You can get some kind of temporary license for tourists in some bigger cities, but you have to apply for it every time you enter China and it’s only valid for the duration of your current stay.
Or, you can get a normal license in the illegal way (using an agent), but I don’t recommend this.
If you want to get it illegally, then generally what happens is that an agent will take you to a small city where they can bribe someone to allow a third party to take the test on your behalf or give you the answers while you take the test. There might be somebody sitting under a desk (there are cameras in the test room) whispering “A, C, D, A, B” for example.
In addition to being illegal, this is not recommended because your license can be invalidated at any time once the scheme in the place that issued your license is uncovered by higher up authorities. This happened recently to many foreigners in China who got their licenses in Hainan.
How to pass the written exam
The most difficult part for me was studying for the written exam. The English version was complete Chinglish (and I assume still is) so I had to memorize all 1,500 of the multiple choice and true/false questions. The questions have now been updated, but if you are interested to see some of the questions that I thought were funny, read them here.
I got my license in China in 2010 and the test questions were changed on Jan 1, 2013. The new questions have not been published by the Traffic Management Bureau because they want foreigners to learn the traffic regulations instead of memorizing answers to questions.
The best available resource is the Chinese Driving Test website, where you can find translated questions from the Chinese version of the test. You can study the questions on this website, but the exact wording of the translation will be slightly different on the actual test.
I studied 2-3 hours a day for 2 weeks before being able to pass the test. Most of the questions are very specific types of rules and regulations, so you cannot use common sense to pass this test.
Below is my personal story of how I got my license in 2010. For up to date information, check the current regulations with the authorities in the city you are living.
Step 1 – I went to a notary office to get my passport (main page) and Canadian license translated into Chinese and notarized. It cost me 100 yuan per document (200 yuan total). I found out later that it would have been much cheaper if I had translated the documents myself and asked them to notarize my own translation.
Step 2 – I then went to an appointed hospital to get a special vision test that is specifically for getting a drivers license. The cost was around 25 yuan.
Step 3 – I took my Canadian license, passport, notarized translations, vision test, and residential police registration paper to the driving test center to apply for the license and register for a class. It was a full day course completely in Chinese but was required to attend this class before registering for the exam. Although the exam was available in English, the course was only in Chinese. I didn’t understand very much of it, I just sat at the back of the room and did some work on my computer.
Step 4 – After completing the class, I was finally able to register for the exam. I booked an appointment 2 weeks later and started studying the questions. I think it cost 35 yuan to book the appointment for the test. If you fail, you can book another appointment. I think you may have to wait a certain number of days after failing before trying again but I can’t remember exactly. I studied well and passed on the first time.
In total it should not cost more than a few hundred yuan to get your Chinese driver’s license in the legal way.