Getting a Driver's License in China

In Beijing there are 2 ways to get a driver's license. Here is my best attempt to describe them both.

The hard way:
1. Make a trip to the Automobile Administrative Office, Foreign Affairs Branch, 18 Nansihuan Donglu, Chaoyang District. Phone: 8762.5150. Get a copy of the application to take the driver's license test and a list of the approved clinics where you can take the health exam.
2. Go to FESCO to get the translated version of the study manual. I think they have it in at least 8 different languages, including English. Start studying the 800+ questions in the manual. Don't use this as an opportunity to learn how to drive in China because no one follows these rules anyway. Just memorize the correct answers. (Chinese students have been doing this all their lives so they don't need these kinds of tips but I wish someone had told me from the outset!) You'll have to get 90% of the questions right in order to pass the exam.
3. Fill in the application form.
4. Go get your health exam. (It's very easy. They just check your heart and your eyes, if I remember correctly.)
5. Return to the AAO with the following:
- A completed application.
- Your passport, Foreigner Residence Permit and Z-visa
- Copy of your completed health exam.
- Your home country's driver's license and a translated version.
- 2 passport color photos
5. The AAO will give you an appointment to come back to take the exam.
6. Return to the AAO on the day of your exam. Don't be late because they won't let you in and you'll have to get another appointment and come back AGAIN! (Don't ask me how I know this....)
7. In the exam room, take the exam on your own computer monitor. You can choose your language, again I think they have it 8 languages or so. Everything is multiple choice and the questions are exactly like the ones in the study manual. You can go back to check questions you've already answered, and you can skip questions and come back to them. The program is super-easy to use. When you're done you click "submit" and within seconds you'll see either an ecstatic smiley face or an emoticon that's pouring tears. That tells you if you've passed the exam or not. The emoticons are, in my opinion, larger than they really need to be.
8. Go to the front of the exam room, where you're greeted by the test administrator, who already knows if you got the ecstatic smiley face or the pouring tears. (Note: Those who passed the exam are instructed to read a little piece of paper that's posted next to the door as you leave the room. If you got the pouring tears but want to save face in front of your classmates, you can pause in front of that piece of paper, then nod thoughtfully before you leave.)
9. If you got the ecstatic smiley face, go back to the main lobby and make an appointment to pick up your license. If you got the ecstatic smiley face and this was your first attempt, go buy a lottery ticket.
10. If you got the pouring tears, go back to the main lobby and make an appointment to take the exam again. You're back to step 6.

The easy way:
1. Go to FESCO (14 Chaoyangmen Nandajie, Chaoyang District, phone 8561 6663) with the following:
- 800 RMB (a steal!)
- Your passport, Foreigner Residence Permit and Z-visa
- your home country's driver's license
- 5 passport color photos

2. Take the test right there at FESCO. BTW everyone I know who did it the hard way failed the first time, and everyone I know who did it the easy way passed the first time.

So why would anyone do this the hard way? Mostly because they didn't know there was an easy way. There are also some people out there who don't find everyday life in China challenging enough and they want to get their license the old-fashioned way.

Whichever route you choose, good luck! See you on the freeways.

Update: Sin-Yaw passed the exam the hard way, the first time. Clearly he cheated.

Update, Jan. 7, 2010: Alert reader C recently went through this process and he has some updates. Apparently you do not need a Z visa to take the driver's license test, you just need one that grants a stay of 91 days or more. And sadly, it seems the FESCO "easy" way is less easier today than it was back in 2005 when I originally wrote this post. All they do nowadays is translate your foreign driver's license for you and help you fill in the application. You still have to go to the testing center yourself to take the exam.

Comments:

Love your blogs about china! =D

Posted by Fabio on July 10, 2006 at 01:35 PM CST #

And both ways are legit?

Posted by shubho on July 11, 2006 at 07:52 PM CST #

Any advice if you dont have a driver's license from your own country (legit or other way to get a licence )

Posted by Paul on July 17, 2006 at 07:31 AM CST #

Thank you Fabio! Shubho, yup, both ways are legit. Paul, I think you can buy a fake version of almost anything here....

Posted by melanie gao on September 01, 2006 at 10:40 AM CST #

What about getting an international drivers licence, or is this an international drivers licence... i am confused on the whole thing! I don't have a canadian licence so i better just get an international licence. -canadian

Posted by allie on February 18, 2007 at 01:49 AM CST #

hi Allie, the driver's license that I'm referring to in this blog entry is a Chinese one. If you're planning to drive in China you'll need one. In order to get a Chinese license you'll need to have a license from your own country first. I hope that helps! If not feel free to send follow-up questions. - melanie

Posted by guest on February 18, 2007 at 03:10 AM CST #

Do you have to get a physical exam with the easy way?

Posted by Crystal on March 03, 2007 at 03:27 PM CST #

hi Crystal, the last time I checked you do not need to get a physical exam with the easy way. It is really, really easy. :)

Posted by melanie gao on March 05, 2007 at 02:51 AM CST #

Just called FESCO. They support with the application procedure, however, you can no longer take the test at FESCO.

Posted by uwe on March 15, 2007 at 04:05 AM CST #

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Posted by Ada on June 04, 2007 at 10:11 AM CST #

I did do it the hard way and failed the first time! Got eighty seven or something, and was pissed. :'( You can actually get a driver's license in Beijing even if you don't have one of your own country. I enrolled in an academy, they made me do the test first, then waited like 3 months after I passed the test to start the driving classes, took the driving test in the academy and one week later I got my first shiny driver's license. I had to pay seven thousand to the academy for the whole thing though. The teacher didn't speak English but it was fun as hell anyway!

Posted by Xavier on June 29, 2007 at 02:32 PM CST #

I just what to live like every one else and pay my child support and have an equitable in come but no dr. lic is really killing me help me please
tom s.

Posted by Thomas A. Sonsalla on September 18, 2007 at 04:48 PM CST #

Hello, i am a canadian citizen and want to take my 650cc moterbike across the ferry from korea to china and then drive through china to vietnam. Do you think this will be any trouble if i don't have a chinese drivers license? What should i do?

Posted by Michael Knutson on December 26, 2007 at 02:44 PM CST #

Hi, i just passed the test the first time...93%. if you get the book, just read it and memorize it...most of the answers are basic commonsense with Chinese characteristics :)

Posted by ykpek on January 18, 2008 at 02:06 AM CST #

Can anybody tell me if it is possible to apply for the above without a Z visa? I am currently holding a F visa and want to apply for a Chinese driving Lincense.

thank you.

Posted by Shasha on January 28, 2008 at 09:54 AM CST #

This is my third holiday in china traveling on an F visa, can I apply for a license and where can I purchase an english translation of the questions and answers

Thanks

Posted by Tarps on January 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM CST #

Yes you can apply for a drivers license on an F'visa.

FESCO have books in English for Rmb150

Posted by ykpek on January 30, 2008 at 03:16 AM CST #

Are there any study materials for the drivers license tests avavilable in English? How does one purchase them? I presume the "easy way" test is the same written exam as the hard way.

Posted by Paul Westhaus on February 06, 2008 at 05:58 PM CST #

You can obtain the test book in English and other languages I believe from FESCO the cost was Rmb150 when I purchased.
It's 500 questions with answers...the actual test is 100 questions.

Posted by ykpek on February 07, 2008 at 02:36 AM CST #

I am moving to Shenzhen China. I have both the california drivers license and the international drivers issued by AAA. What must I do once I get to Shenzhen? Is where can I get a copy of the rules to study?

Thank you.
George.

Posted by George turner on March 13, 2008 at 01:30 AM CST #

I just passed the test the hard way. I failed the first time, because i didn't know about the english questions from FESCO. Anyway I am in Shenzhen and here are currently more than 1300 questions in the test. The second time I passed with 96%. I had the great DLQ-Swotter program from http://www.ubicomputing.de , which includes all the questions and brings realistic test conditions to your home.

Posted by Xantilon on May 21, 2008 at 04:25 AM CST #

Great info..I'd like to know if you can get the book or questions online without having to pay for it like the advertising his own product "xantilon"

anyhelp would be great..I live in the booneys, sw china and have to travel 4 hours to find this book...please help if there's anyone out there!

Posted by jay p on July 31, 2008 at 04:15 PM CST #

hi, im trying to get a license and the simple way seems pretty nice. but im just wondering, the article was written in 06, has anybody used the easy way this year? does it work?

Posted by alexander on September 28, 2009 at 04:21 AM CST #

Alexander, I'm not sure if the easy works nowadays. You're right, my experience in 2006 is outdated. If you are able to use the easy way please come back to my blog and let us know.

Posted by Melanie Gao on September 28, 2009 at 04:31 AM CST #

Hi- Saw your blog entry in my research for obtaining a license and thought I'd update it...

The FESCO option is really only helpful for completing the application form and translating a foreign license. If you don't speak much Chinese, this is probably beneficial, but you still have to physically go to the test center to schedule and take the exam. I called them today to confirm it is not possible to take the exam at the FESCO office. My wife is Chinese (how convenient!) so she helped me find an official place to translate my license and helped fill out the application form. I'm going to the test center tomorrow to schedule the exam myself. I'll try to post again after I've obtained a license...that is, if I pass the test!

Posted by c on January 07, 2010 at 09:27 AM CST #

One other thing: I was told that a Z visa is not mandatory. A visa which grants a stay of more than 91 days is supposed to be acceptable.

Posted by c on January 07, 2010 at 09:37 AM CST #

I can confirm, that a Z visa is not necessary. I never had one.

Posted by Xantilon on January 07, 2010 at 09:42 AM CST #

Thanks C and Xantilon for the updates!

Posted by Melanie Gao on January 07, 2010 at 09:59 AM CST #

oo thanx for information i have a student visa and now rules are totally changed

Posted by sunny on February 09, 2010 at 05:38 PM CST #

I went to Automobile Administrative Office, Foreign Affairs Branch, BEIJING and the Police told me " not allow apply for " because my visa was issued in shanghai, so I need to make the whole the process in shanghai, not matter if I'm living in Beijing and am formally registered.
any commnets, pls!!! help!!!

Posted by Ernes on May 17, 2010 at 10:11 AM CST #

Ngarangi says:
Yes they would say that on your first approach, but if you really want it bad enough you will be allowed to apply in Beijing but be prepared to pay beyond the price of what the actual licence is worth if you did it in Shanghai.
Good Luck

Posted by guest on May 20, 2010 at 06:14 AM CST #

You can find a dual Chinese/English question bank here:

http://www.cqipa.com/admins/WebEdit/uploadfile/200961912715202.PDF

Posted by JC on June 06, 2010 at 04:30 PM CST #

The English translated questions are available online. You can find links be googling: 1.1.1.1 "The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Road Traffic Safety"

Posted by guest on June 06, 2010 at 04:31 PM CST #

The English translated questions are available online. You can find links be googling: 1.1.1.1 "The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Road Traffic Safety"

Posted by JC on June 06, 2010 at 04:31 PM CST #

Thanks JC for the updates and for the link to the database of questions! I can't access that cqipa.com site (I'm getting a 'server not found' error) but hopefully others can.

Posted by Melanie Gao on June 07, 2010 at 05:54 AM CST #

Hi. I recently got my Chinese driver's license and would like to know how I can get an International Driver's Permit to use my Chinese license overseas (I don't have any other driver's license except for my new Chinese one). The various official sites in other countries (e.g., USA, UK, Australia, etc.) only issue the IDP for holders of their national driver's licenses. Is there an equivalent organization in China which issues IDPs? What do Chinese drivers who have Chinese driver's licenses do when they want to drive abroad? Any info would be greatly appreciated. (p.s., I know that there are numerous organization on-line which offer international driving licenses 'translations' but these are not officially sanctioned).

Posted by DB on June 12, 2010 at 05:35 AM CST #

Congratulations on getting your license DB!

I have co-workers here in Beijing who have only a Chinese driver's license and when they go overseas they don't drive. Some have told me there is no IDP issues by an organization in China.

But that's just hearsay. There are a few people who subscribe to comments on this post - maybe one of them will have some wisdom for you.

Posted by Melanie Gao on June 12, 2010 at 07:14 AM CST #

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