Can Tourists Drive in China?


Planning a trip to China and thinking of renting a car there? Or planning to make China one of the stops of your self-driving tour? So you’ve got an international driving license? But you know what? China does not recognize international driving licenses or any other driving licenses issued outside of China mainland.

So are tourists allowed to drive in China? Yes, If you hold a valid visa for up to 3 months, you can apply for a 3-month Provisional Driving Permits which requires no test. If you hold a visa allowing you to stay between 3 months to 1 year, you can apply for a Provisional Driving Permits as long as your visa expires with no test. In addition, if you hold a visa allowing you to stay over 6 months, you have an option to apply for a Chinese driving license, but you have to pass a multiple-choice test. For the Provisional Driving Permits, you can apply at the Vehicle Management Offices and get it on the spot. But for tourists, the most convenient way is to get it directly at the port you land in China, ie. the international airport, the land border, or the seaport.

Since most tourists only get a visa for less than 3 months, this article will focus on the process of getting a Provisional Driving Permit. If you are interested in getting a permanent Chinese driving license, please read this article here. So let’s take a look at what you need to prepare to get a temporary Chinese driver’s license.

Make sure you are qualified to apply

First of all, according to China’s laws and regulations, if you belong to one of the categories listed below, you are eligible to apply for the Provisional Driving Permits.

1、Foreign auto vehicles and their drivers who are approved by authorities to enter China temporarily for organized tourism, matches and other interactions.

2、Foreign auto vehicles and their drivers that will only drive within certain border areas after entering China temporarily.

3、Foreign personals holding a local driving license that need to drive a rented car after entering China temporarily.

While staying in China on a temporary base, foreign personals with a driving license issued by other countries can drive their own auto vehicle permitted to enter China or drive an auto vehicle rented in China.

Note that if you have a track record of fleeing from traffic accidences in China mainland, you are NOT allowed to apply for the Provisional Driving Permits. If you have outstanding traffic tickets or are involved in unsolved traffic accidences from your past stay in China, you have to solve all of them first before applying for the Provisional Driving Permits.

Documents needed to apply for a Provisional Driving Permits

  1. One original copy of filled <Provisional Driving Permit Application Form>. Download it here or get it at the office. Note: the form is in both Chinese and English, but you need to fill it in Chinese.
  2. The valid ID the applicant used to enter and depart China and 1 photocopy of the photo page, visa page, and the entrance stamp page each.
  3. Valid oversea’s driver’s license and 1 photocopy (of both sides). If the license is not with the Chinese language, the Chinese translation is required.
  4. Three recent 1-inch color certificate photos of the applicant in the white background wearing no hat or uniform;those who has corrected vision must wear glasses.
  5. Physical exam report. According to the up-to-date traffic law, the physical exam is not required. However, if the airport you apply for does require this, there will be instructions on where to go to get it.
  6. For those who come to China for organized tourism, matches and interactions, proof documents from relevant authorities in China are required.
  7. For those who enter China with their own auto vehicles, a copy of the vehicle’s registration paper and its Chinese translation is required.

Where to apply?

If you enter China from the airway, you can apply at the Motor Vehicle Service Station at the landing international airport. Here is a list of exact places where the vehicle administrative office is located at the most popular international airports in China.

Beijing:

Motor Vehicle Service Station on the ground floor, Terminal 3 (opposite Gate 7 to the right), Beijing Capital International Airport. Monday to Sunday, 9:00-18:00.

Motor Vehicle Service Station at Beijing Daxing International Airport. Monday to Sunday, 9:00-18:00.

Shanghai

Haitian Si Road 9, Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Monday to Sunday, 9:00-17:00.

Konggang Yi Road 201, Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. Monday to Sunday, 9:00-17:00.

Shenzhen

The Public Security Bureau Registration Center, 4th Floor (Departure Hall), Shenzhen Baoan International Airport. Monday to Friday, 9:00-17:00.

Chengdu

24-Hour Motor Vehicle Service Station, arrival hall, T1, Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. Monday to Sunday, 24 hours.

Sanya

Temporary Motor Vehicle Driving License Processing Point, International Arrival Hall, Sanya Pheonix International Airport.

Haikou

Temporary Motor Vehicle Driving License Processing Point, International Arrival Hall, Haikou Meilan International Airport.

The limitation of the Provisional Driving Permits

There are no limitations to the Provisional Driving Permits as compared to the official Chinese driving license. You should abide by all the traffic laws and regulations.

Other useful information:

  1. If all the application documents are verified by the traffic authority, the applicant will be given a brief on-site learning session of Chinese traffic laws and regulations with regard to road safety. The Provisional Driving Permits will then be issued onsite.
  2. The validation date for the temporary driving permission will be the same as the validation date of your visa or the expiration date of your local driving license, whichever expires earlier, with 12 months the maximum, and it is not to be extended after the expiration.
  3. If you are holding a multi-entry visa, you can use the same temporary driving license every time as long as it’s not expired.
  4. You can only drive the same categories of vehicles in China as permitted by your local license.
  5. If you need to rent a car in China, you can only rent a compact car or a compact automatic car.
  6. Always keep your valid traveling ID (usually a passport), the Provisional Driving Permits, your local driver’s license, and its Chinese translation together. You need to show them all when stopped by traffic police.
  7. You can always find the up-to-date traffic regulations regarding the temporary driving permission on the Chinese government website here.

Related questions

What is the age requirement to apply? You should be between 18 to 70 years old.

Can I delegate somebody to apply the Provisional Driving Permits for me? No. You have to apply for yourself in person.

Where can I get the application form? You can download it here or get it from the office where you want to apply for the Provisional Driving Permits.

Can I fill in the form in English? No. You must fill in the form in Chinese.

Can I translate my local driving license by myself? No. You must get your local driving license translated by professionals.

How do I know if a translation service is acceptable? -Here are 3 things you need to check when choosing a service: a) The company should have a “Specifial seal for Chinese and English translation” and stamp the translated paper with this seal. This seal is issued by the authorities and each has a special serial number. b) The company’s Chinese name must include the word “翻译” and the corresponding English company name must include “translation”. c) The format and the content of the translated document are aligned with the Traffic Administrative Office’s requirement.

Can I apply for a temporary driving license if my visa is valid longer than 3 months? -Yes. The longest validation time for a Provisional Driving Permits is 12 months. If your visa is longer than 3 months and within 12 months, you will get a Provisional Driving Permits long as your visa expires. If you need to drive in China for longer than 12 months, you should consider applying for a Chinese driver’s license instead.

How much does it cost to get a Provisional Driving Permits? – It costs 10 RMB.

How long does it take to get a Provisional Driving Permits? -You will get it on the spot within 30 minutes if you have all the required documents listed above correctly.

Where else to apply for the Provisional Driving Permits aside from international airports? – You can apply from the Motor Vehicle Administrative Office from the Traffic Police Brigades and Traffic Police Detachment in the city or the county you stay in. The documents required are the same. And the processing time is 3 working days.

What shall I do if I lost my Provisional Driving Permit? – If you still wish to drive, you should request a replacement for the old one at the Motor Vehicle Administrative Office. The documents required are the same, and you need to fill in the <Replacement Request for the Provisional Driving Permits> form in Chinese.