How to get your driving license in China

Yesterday I got my Chinese driving license!

My brand new driving license.


The procedure is quite straightforward (well, as straightforward as Chinese bureaucracy can be!) if you already have a driving license from another country: you only need to do a computer test. I have a driving license from Spain so I could do it. If you don’t have a driving license and want to get one in China you will need to go to the driving school and do the actual driving exam.

I am going to explain what I had to go to get my Chinese driving license. I obtained it in Suzhou and it is possible that the procedure is slightly different in other cities. That’s what we love of Chinese bureaucracy! In every city they understand the regulations differently and you can never be completely sure of what you need to do! But let’s get to the point:

How to get your driving license in China

Where do you have to go? To the Vehicle Administration Office (车管所). In Suzhou it is located in Tayuan Lu (塔园路). This is their website.

Which documents will you need?

– Valid passport with a residence permit (I don’t think you can get the driving license with a tourist visa) and photocopies of the personal data and residence permit pages.

– Driving license from another country and photocopies of both sides of it.

– Chinese translation of the driving license from another country. In Suzhou the translation must include your Chinese name and the explanation of the type of driving license that you hold in another country.

– Temporary residence registration form (境外人员临时住宿登记信息表), that is the paper that you get from your local police station when you register there.

– Three passport size pictures. Well, they’re not really passport size but smaller. You can get them directly in the Vehicle Administration Office (I paid 10 RMB for 15 pictures).

– Physical examination certificate: you can also get it in the Vehicle Administration Office before doing the exam.

What do you have to do?

1. Study the exam questions. It is possible to take the exam in English and the translation is more or less ok. You can find the exam questions in the Chinese Driving Test website. It is a very useful resource and you can study the questions in the Study section and then make mock exams in the Test section. I also have a word file written by Kevin Munk, an expat in Shenzhen, with the 902 questions that can be asked in the exam (if anyone needs it I can send it by email). I recommend that you read all the questions and do some mock tests before the actual exam. You can start studying three or four days before the test and it will be ok. If you don’t study beforehand you will probably fail as there are questions regarding regulations and norms and these can be different from your home country.

In the actual exam you will have 45 minutes and 100 questions. You have to answer correctly at least 91. If you finish and fail before the 45 minutes end, you can try again.

2. Prepare the documents. The most complicated one will be the Chinese translation of your driving license. My suggestion is that you ask directly in your city’s Vehicle Administration Office which translation agency they work with. I had a translation from a Chinese notary public and they didn’t accept it (their reason was that the translation didn’t include my Chinese name). I had a second translation done by the agency they recommended and I didn’t have any problem. Maybe they get a commission? Probably. But in Suzhou it is compulsory that the translation includes your Chinese name and an explanation of the type of driving license you have. My Spanish driving license is B type, that means I can drive vehicles weighting less that 3,500 kg and having less than 9 seats. Without these two things clearly stated in the translation you won’t be able to take the test (yes, I had to go twice…).

3. After all the documents are ready and you have studied the questions, you go to the Vehicle Administration Office. It is better to go early in the morning as they process everything related to vehicles and there’s a lot of people going there. Also, from 12 to 1 all the clerks go to have lunch and the work accumulates in the afternoon.

4. Have your picture taken if you didn’t bring the passport sized pictures from home.

5. Have your physical examination done. You need to pay 8 RMB and the “examination” is almost a joke: a lady will ask you how tall you are, make you read a number (to check if you are color blind) and ask you to show your hands (to check you have two?). If you wear glasses you won’t have to pass the eye test. The examination takes around 10 seconds and you will get a paper like this:

It says my vision, hearing and limbs are perfect. But how can she know? She didn’t check my glasses, or my hearing, or even touched my limbs.

6. Go to the information desk and ask for a number.

7. Sit down and wait for your turn.

8. When it is your turn, go to the designated clerk and give her your documents. She will probably say that you missed something, or that there is something wrong, or that you need even more photocopies, or she will give you wrong information. Don’t panic. Chinese clerks are evil by nature. You can beat her! Just smile and don’t lose your patience.

9. After the evil clerk has checked that everything is right, she will fill your data in the computer and give you a printed document. With that paper you have to go and pay 40 RMB and you can directly take the exam.

10. The exam is done in a small room with several computers. There is no schedule, you just arrive and do it. There is a webcam pointing at your face the whole time. After you’re done and if you got more than 91 points, you will get a paper like this:

Including pictures of your face while you were doing the exam! Maybe to check that you didn’t change places with someone else?

11. With that paper you go to clerk number 24. After 20 minutes you will get your brand new Chinese driving license. Voila!

Explained like this it doesn’t sound too complicated but remember, bureaucracy is never easy in China! I wasted Wednesday morning in the Vehicle Administration Office and had to go back again on Friday with the right translation. On Friday I spent there like 4 hours because I arrived a little before lunch time and they all went away for an hour.

But I got it! I can officially drive in China!


Remark for non-Chinese speakers: all the conversations and procedures described were conducted in Chinese. I don’t think anyone in the Vehicle Administration Office could speak English. If you don’t feel safe speaking Chinese, or if you are scared by Chinese clerks who will pretend they don’t understand you because you are a foreigner, bring a Chinese friend or colleague. Even if you can speak fluently they will be helpful, as they are used to argue with evil clerks!