Exchanging a Foreign Driving Licence

Information on who can exchange their driving licence for a China one, and the steps to follow if you have to exchange your licence...

China did not sign the convention which created International Driver’s Permits and therefore does not recognise them. To drive in China foreigners must hold a People’s Republic of China (PRC) licence. Chinese driving licences are issued by the Public Security Bureau (Traffic Authority). A standard PRC licence allows the holder to drive manual and automatic cars with up to nine seats.

Temporary Driving Permits

Temporary Driving Permits are valid for up to three months only, and are aimed at foreigners on tourist or business visas (with a maximum visa validity of 90 days) who want to hire a car for a short period. The licence limits the driver to small (sedan) or automatic vehicles. These permits can be applied for from the local Public Security Bureau or Traffic Management Office. The procedure is similar to that of applying for the Permanent Chinese Driver's Licence. Applicants must attend lessons in driving on Chinese roads.

There is anecdotal evidence that not all car-hire firms will accept the temporary permits, so it is worth investigating any such restrictions with companies before going through the process of applying for the permit.

Permanent Chinese Driver's Licence

Driving with a foreign driving license or an international driving permit is not allowed in mainland China. A Chinese driving license is required. A foreign licence can be exchanged for a local license after passing a theoretical exam.

Documents and medical

The first step is to have various overseas documents translated and verified by a translator approved by the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Documents include:

  • Passport
  • Residence visa/permit
  • Overseas driving licence

Applicants also need to take a medical examination at the local approved hospital and collect a pass certificate (the fee for this is usually approximately CNY50).

Next, take the translated documents to the PSB or traffic management office and make the application. The applicant needs to bring the translated and original versions of the documents mentioned above, plus:

  • Copies of the photograph page, Chinese visa page and latest entry/exit stamps in their passport
  • A copy of the overseas driving licence (both sides, plus any paper attachments)
  • Several passport photographs (at least four), although some offices prefer to take these using their own equipment
  • The health certificate
  • The fee (CNY150-00, area dependent)

Note: Applicants need to provide a Chinese name for their new licence. Because this is a common requirement for many bureaucratic procedures, foreigners usually decide on a Chinese name to take when they arrive and use it throughout all their official dealings.

The theory test

Once the application is approved, an appointment can be made to take the theoretical exam. After passing the test the license is usually issued within two weeks and is valid for 6 years. If the test is failed, it can be taken again at not extra cost. Depending on which city the test is being taken in, the questions may be in English or Chinese. Applicants will be advised if it is the latter, and are permitted to take someone along to translate.

The questions relate to the rules, regulations and practices of driving in China, and are multiple-choice. An information booklet (similar to a Highway Code) is supplied when applicants register, for them to study before taking the test. The computerised 45 minute test consists of answering 100 out of 900 multiple choice questions. The pass rate is 90 per cent. It is possible to take one retest without paying an extra fee.

  • The Chinese Driving Test website has example of questions in English from a theoretical exam for those wishing to practice

Once the test has been successfully completed, the new Chinese licence is issued and ready to collect (usually within a week). The licence is valid for six years before it must be renewed, and both the Chinese licence and the overseas licence should be carried when driving. The exception to the above procedure is for holders of Belgian licences; due to a special agreement, Belgian licence holders do not have to take the theory test.

Exchanging a Motorcycle Licence

The procedure for exchanging a foreign motorcycle licence is the same as for car licences.