China has many beautiful remote places that are not yet well-connected by public transport. The only problem is that foreign driver’s licenses aren’t valid in China. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to get a Chinese license. In this post, I’ll walk you through the process of getting one, so you can enjoy the freedom of the open road (once you’re out of the city that is). There are three main steps: getting your documents, study, and take the test. Be aware that the procedure might slightly differ between cities.

Preparing your documents for the driver’s license

Before you can take the test, you first need to get your current license translated into Chinese. You have to do this at an official translation bureau. You can find a translation bureau by searching for 翻译工作者协会 (fānyì gōngzuòzhě xiéhuì). If that yields no results, try searching for the word 翻译(fānyì) which means ‘translation’. Make sure to check that the office can give you an official stamp. The translation shouldn’t take long. It took the translation office in Kunming about 20 minutes to translate my license. I paid 50 yuan for the translation, but in other cities, it can be more expensive. Be prepared to pay between 50 and 200 yuan for this service.

This is your checklist for all the other things you will have to bring to the test center:

  • Your translated driver’s license
  • Your official driver’s license + photocopy
  • Your passport
  • A photocopy of your passport’s ID page
  • A photocopy of your resident permit
  • A photocopy of your latest entry stamp
  • Your most recent police registration slip
  • A few 1-inch photos taken against a white background. These pictures are smaller than the photos you need for your visa application. Some test centers will have photobooths at their location. You should wear a non-white T-shirt and take off any jewelry.
  • I couldn’t pay with WeChat or Alipay at the test location in Kunming, so it’s good to bring some cash with you.

Once you have collected everything, it’s time to study!

Studying to pass the driver’s theory test 

Since you already have a driver’s license and you may have driven many miles, you might think you can skip the studying part. Well, I would rethink that option. The exam consists of 100 questions of which you need to answer 90 correctly. In most cities, you can take the test in English. However, the translations aren’t very good, which makes some questions impossible to understand. For example, on my test, I was asked if the shown sign marked the start of a highway or the beginning of a highway.

Luckily, someone created this amazing website (https://www.chinesedrivingtest.com/) where you can study questions that are very similar to the ones on the test. You can either take a full test or study specific topics. I found the study option especially useful for the Chinese point system and their punishment rules. I studied for about a week until I could consistently pass the test.

Taking the driver’s theory test

Now that your head is full of traffic rules and your bag is full of paperwork, you’re ready to take the test. First, you need to locate the test center in your city. You can search for 车管所(chē guǎn suǒ)or 机动车驾驶员考试中心 (jīdòngchē yuán kǎoshì zhōngxīn). It’s good to check if you need to make an appointment to take the test. I went to the center in Kunming early in the morning and could take the test without an appointment. However, in other cities, you do need to make an appointment.

When you get to the test center, you need to fill in a form and submit all your documents at the front desk. You will also have to complete a simple health check where they check your height, weight, eyes, and reflexes. Finding out where you need to go at the test center can be a little bit tricky, so make sure you come early. If you want to test only for a normal car, you should choose the C1 test. If you also want to be able to drive a motorcycle, you should choose C1E. Keep in mind that the questions for this test are slightly different than the ones on the website I shared before.

After the registration and your health check, you can move to the building where you can take your test. If you can’t find it, ask one of the people that work there: “请问,考试在哪里? “ (qǐngwèn, kǎoshì zài nǎli?) – “where is the test?” You will have 45 minutes to complete the test, although I eventually only used 20 minutes. You will get your results directly after you finish. If you failed, you can usually retake the test the same day or even straight afterward. If you’ve passed, you can take your results back to the place where you registered and get your license printed. In some places, it can take up to 5 days to get your license. You also have to pay for the test at this moment, which was 60 yuan. That’s it, you’ve now got your Chinese driver’s license.

What’s next? 

Now that you have your license, there are so many places to explore. For our first ride, we decided to do a little road trip. We packed a tent in the car and first drove to a place about 2 hours north of Kunming. We drove up into the hills until we reached a place that seemed nice for the night. We pitched our tent on top of the hill and stayed there for 3 nights. After that, we drove another 2 hours west to some hidden natural hot springs in an amazing valley. We only stayed here for one night and the next day we drove back to Kunming. It was great to drive on these small mountain passes and see some amazing views.

Where would you go if you had a Chinese driver’s license? Want more inspiration for where to go? Check out our Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/i2_education/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/i2education) to see where our teachers spend their days off.

By Eline Schaap