Driving in China?

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Traffic Laws in China

Unfortunately, driving in China can be a risky business. The accident rate on Chinese roads is notorious, and expats may thus hesitate to hit the road. The InterNations guide tells you all about traffic conditions, legal aspects, and potential alternatives to driving in China.

How to Obtain a Chinese Driver’s License 

Driving with a foreign driver’s license is not allowed in China. This applies to an International Driving Permit as well.

If you plan on driving in China for more than three months, you must apply for a regular Chinese license. Otherwise, a temporary local driving permit may suffice.

The procedure for obtaining a Chinese driving permit may vary from province to province, but if you already have a valid driver’s license from your home country, it usually works like this.

Bring the following documents to the Department of Motor Vehicle Administration:

  • your passport
  • a copy of your visa
  • a copy of the passport page with the latest entry stamp for China
  • passport photographs
  • a health certificate
  • a copy of your foreign license
  • a certified translation of your license
  • a document stating your Chinese name and your height

Then you have to register for taking the written driving exam. It consists of 1,500 multiple choice questions. 100 are selected from a database at random during the test. You must have 90% of your answers correct; otherwise you will fail the test.

Although the exam is in Mandarin Chinese, cities like Beijing and Shanghai may offer it in other languages too. If this should not be the case, you are allowed to bring a translator.

Rules and Regulations

Although it appears that many drivers ignore traffic rules in China, be aware that if caught, you may face severe and unpleasant punishments. Penalties include immediate jail time (i.e. without a trial), suspension of your license, and high fines. Therefore it is recommended to familiarize yourself with the road rules before driving in China.

  • The legal blood alcohol content for drivers is less than 0.2‰. A BAC of more than 0.8‰ is punished particularly harshly.
  • Generally speaking, speed limits are as follows: 50-70 km/h on most city roads, 40-80 km/h on national highways, 100 km/h on city express routes, 120 km/h on expressways.
  • Seatbelts should be worn by all passengers. This is not an official law, but there has been increasing public awareness that seatbelts save lives.
  • Use of a handheld mobile phone while driving is prohibited.
  • The legal driving age in China is 18.
  • You should drive on the right-hand side of the road, as in the United States and most European countries.

If you are unfamiliar with the Chinese language or hanzi characters, it is probably wise to avoid driving until you can at least read the road signs. Road signs on major expressways are often bilingual, but this is not a given anywhere else.

Also be aware that due to its high road fatality rate, China has been cracking down on enforcing the traffic laws. The police thus want to ensure that the death toll, which has continued to drop in the past few years, stays down.

If you happen to have an accident in China, make sure you stay at the scene, call the police, keep your calm, and pay careful attention to what is going on around you. It is best to take pictures of the damage immediately. 

Try to make sure that no bribery occurs between the other party involved and potential witnesses – or even the police. If you do notice this, make sure you show them you are aware of it. However, in case of injuries, it is not uncommon for the party whose car inflicted the injury to pay for the medical costs, regardless of who actually caused the accident itself.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

David Thyne

"At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me."

Diana Anhaus-Brey

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

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