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Applying for a Chinese Driving License

by Matt Slater June 30, 2016

Applying for a Chinese Driving License

Acquiring a Chinese driving license is necessary before you can start driving on public roads in China, but what is the experience of applying for the license like?

This article gives a personal account of my efforts to pass the Chinese driving license test in Shanghai a few years ago.

Why Get a Chinese Driving License?

Unlike most countries where you can hire a car from the airport, you are required to possess a Chinese driving license before hitting the road in China.

Living in central Shanghai, with it’s crowded roads and excellent public transportation, I never had any desire to own a car. But applying for a local driving license still interested me, mostly for the possibility of hiring a car when travelling.

Fortunately, for the citizens of most countries, there is no need to take a practical examination. Taking a 45 minute theory test is sufficient to obtain a Chinese driving license, if you already have one in your own country.

The Application Process

Applying for a Chinese driving license is an interesting experience for anyone not familiar with the country and it’s rather bureaucratic ways.

At the Vehicle Management Bureau in Shanghai, located at 1330 Hami Road, the application process had seemingly been designed to employ as many people as possible whilst at the same time appealing to fans of orienteering.

The process, which involves zigzagging across the bureau’s leafy compound visiting numbered buildings, serves as something of a test of endurance – possibly to weed out those not fit to drive on the chaotic roads.

On top of a basic medical, which requires visiting seven different doctors, there were a whole army of clerical staff to process your paperwork.
Indeed at one step, there were three people employed just to attach your photo to a form – one to cut out your passport photo, another to apply glue and a third to press it to the form!

Once all these formalities are complete, there is a waiting period before you can take the theory test, which was two weeks when I applied.

Chinese Driving License Theory Test

These days revising for the theory test is getting easier and easier, with websites and apps helping the process.

The test can be taken in a number of different languages; although a bit of Chinese knowledge will help as this question demonstrates:

Question: The picture is a slowdown sign. 

Answer: Right (The character 慢 means slow)

There is a bank of over 10000 questions which are randomly chosen for the test, which seem to benefit candidates with good memorizing skills more than anything.

Some questions offer interesting cultural incites like this one:

Question: The driver may drive a motorized vehicle ______.

A. After drinking alcohol
B. When he suffers from a disease that impedes safe driving
C. When he is exhausted
D. After drinking tea

Answer: D

Others meanwhile, focus on the punishments for not adhering to the law:

Question: If a motorized vehicle driver runs away or commits
other extremely serious acts after causing a traffic
accident, the driver is subject to a prison term of _____.

A. 3 years ~ 7 years
B. 2 years ~ 5 years
C. 1 year ~ 3 years
D. 3 years ~ 5 years

Answer: A

Whilst some are just bizarre, such as this gem:

Question: When the driver senses he will inevitably be thrown
out of the vehicle, he should violently straighten both his legs to
increase the force of being thrown out and jump out of the vehicle.

Answer: Right

which is brilliantly followed up with:

Question: After jumping out of the vehicle and landing on the ground,
the driver should put both his hands around his head and roll in the
direction of inertia so as to evade the vehicle and keep off the danger area.

Answer: Right

At the conclusion of your theory test, which is done on a computer, your result will be given instantly.

Correctly answer 90 of the 100 questions and you have your Chinese driving license!

Author’s note: this article was originally posted on another of my blogs and may contain details which are no longer accurate.

Matt Slater
Matt Slater


Hi there, I'm a British-Australian Engineer and Entrepreneur, based in Brisbane, Australia.

Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I founded China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.
My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China safely.

Connect with me:
info@chinacheckup.com | LinkedIn profile


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