A big adjustment for many foreigners in Beijing is their inability to drive. If you’re lucky enough to have a driver, it can feel like a perk not having to worry about traffic and parking. But if the driver is attached to your working spouse, it can be frustrating to depend on fixed schedules for transportation. While you may feel the urge to get your own license, remember that traffic here is essentially organized chaos. You have to be very confident to get behind the wheel in Beijing, where rules are mere suggestions. Should you decide to brave the process, there’s a few things you should know.
can you drive in beijing?
First and foremost – are you allowed to drive here? If you’re with a company on a package, you may need to check with the human resources department to see what you are entitled to do. Some companies do not allow procuring a driver’s license due to liability.
what about insurance?
If you are allowed to drive, the next step is obtaining insurance. Drivers in China must carry accident insurance. Will your family’s company cover you? Can you get a rider on your existing home country insurance? You need to explore all options to make sure that driving simply for your personal freedom doesn’t come at too high of a cost.
left and right
In China, motorists drive on the right side of the road, and the driver’s seat is on the left side of the car. It’s hard enough to drive here without having to remember that it may be opposite of what you’re used to, depending on your country of origin.
The entire process takes three to four weeks. Once you’ve taken care of the basics, here are the requirements for getting your personal driver’s license:
• Original driver’s license from your home country, together with an official Chinese translation. RMB 200.
• If you do not already have a valid license, you must take a Chinese driver’s education course and pass both the road and written tests.
• Passport, visa and resident permit.
• Four passport photos, one-inch size showing both ears (and glasses, if normally worn while driving). RMB 20.
• Vision test from approved Chinese provincial-level or higher public hospital. Beijing Friendship Hospital and China-Japan Friendship Hospital are two of many choices. RMB 10.
• Application form and payment. RMB 50.
• The official study book (available in nine languages). There are a thousand sample questions that you will need to read, study and memorize. RMB 90
• A trip to the Foreign Affairs Department of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration to take the test.
Once the test date is set, you need to arrive at the appointed time to take a computerized exam, available in Chinese, English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, or Arabic. Of the 100 questions asked, you must correctly answer a minimum of 90 to pass. The results are shown on the computer screen immediately. If you pass, you’ll receive your license in five business days (license is valid for six years). If you do not pass, you may make another appointment to re-take the test.
take the expressway
If you are adventurous and have a bit of Mandarin under your belt, you can go through the process alone. However, most people recommend hiring a service to assist you. They may charge dearly for the convenience, but it’s well worth the price to avoid the hassle.
Services vary, but usually include completing forms, translating licenses, providing transportation to and from the eye exam and testing site, providing the test booklet, and delivering the license to you. FESCO charges RMB 950 for the complete process, but their website also lists individual costs of each step should you decide on an a la carte approach.
Shunyi-based San Te Car Care charges between RMB 650 and RMB 800 depending on membership levels. Expat Car is cheapest at RMB 600. After you have your license, you can contact these services and others for car purchases or leases, maintenance and more.
short term solutions
Visitors can get a Temporary Driving Permit, providing they hold a visa with a valid period of stay for no more than 90 days. This permit allows access to rental cars only. Keep in mind that this process, too, takes five working days to complete and will cost RMB 450 if you choose to have a service assist you.
When it’s time for license renewal, you’ll be happy to know that you only need to retake the vision test. Until and unless driving regulations change, you may simply keep your old study guide as a China souvenir or share it with others going through the same process.
is it really worth it?
Do consider the risks before getting your license. According to the International Newcomers Network (INN), China has the highest number of traffic fatalities in the world, with about 30 percent involving bicyclists. More than 50 percent of drivers do not wear seatbelts, while helmet use (for both motorbikes and bicycles) is virtually non-existent. And be aware that many motorists simply do not obey traffic laws. On the other hand, if you have what it takes to pass the test and are a capable driver, a Chinese driver’s license will give you amazing freedoms.
Are you ready to drive in China? Here’s a micro-test taken from the official study book (pardon the Chinglish):
A: After a vehicle falls into water, the wrong method for the driver to rescue himself is to _____.
1. Close the window to prevent water from flowing into the vehicle
2. Immediately use hand to open the door
3. Let the water to fill up the driver’s cab so that the water pressure both inside and outside is equal
4. Use a large plastic bag to cover the head and tight the neck closely
B: When driving a vehicle, the driver _____ for the sake of safety.
1. May wear slippers
2. May wear any shoes
3. Should not wear slippers
4. May wear high heels
C. The article that cannot be used to stop bleeding by dressing is _____.
4. Hemp Rope
A: 1; B: 3; C: 4
Summing up the odd approach to driving in China, one local driver commented on the illogical "correct" answer to question A by saying: "It just depends on how big the plastic bag is."
FESCOMon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm. Suite 0702, 7/F, Tower B, FESCO Bldg, 17 Xidawang Lu, Chaoyang District (6777 1091, 8561 6663, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.fescoservice.com
ST Car Care Beijing
Daily 9am-6pm. 507 Pinnacle Plaza, Tianzhu Town, Shunyi District (8046 2075, email@example.com) www.stautoclub.com.cn
Daily 24 hours. Beigao Lukou, Jichangfu Lu, Chaoyang District (8152 3060, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.expatcar.com
International Newcomers’ Network (INN)
Foreign Affairs Department of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration
Mon-Fri 8.30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 9am-4pm. 18 Nansihuan Donglu (southwest of Shibalidian Nanqiao, Nansihuan Waihuan),
Chaoyang District (8762 5150)