Driving in China



Navigating the roads in China can be quite a challenge. Traffic is prone to be chaotic, and fatalities from road accidents in the country doubled over two decades from 1985-2005. Here is some information to help you navigate Chinese roads.

Driving License

An international driving license is not enough for you to be able to drive in China. Check to see if your country has signed a convention with China on driver's license exchange.

If you are an expatriate with a work permit for one year or more you can get a Chinese driving license. It is cheap, and the process is quite a simple one, involving a health exam and a computer-based multiple-choice test about China's traffic rules and regulations. In all major cities, the test is available in English, and there is a set of questions that you can study ahead. In smaller cities, however, the test is only available in Chinese.

If you are a Hong Kong resident and hold a Hong Kong driving license, then you don't have to be a resident in China to get a permanent Chinese Driving License. All you have to do is apply for one right across the border in Guangdong province. It is advisable that you get an agency in Hong Kong to do it for you. Expats may want to consider getting car insurance in China to provide them with adequate coverage.

To get more information about how to get a driver's license and region specific requirements in Macau or Hong Kong, check with the consular services of your country in China.


China, like any other country, has clearly defined traffic rules. However, flouting them is something people do very often, and if you have to drive in China, you will have to learn to accept this fact.

Always wear seat belts and be prepared when cars often come at you in the middle of the road, particularly in the mountains. That is because other drivers want to avoid potholes or stay away from the valley side edge of the road. In most Western countries, honking is considered impolite and is a measure that one resorts to only in extreme circumstances. In China, tooting your horn is necessary to let other people know you're there as well. So don't forget to honk when you are taking a blind turn, passing by people, bikes, cars and trucks. Passing by a truck is easy when you honk vigorously and get the driver's attention.


Driving in the night can be very dangerous, especially in rural areas of the country. This is because many Chinese drivers very often don't turn on their headlights in the dark and most rented cars have very dim lights.

Here are some of the not so pleasant things that you have to be prepared to encounter on the roads: unmarked road repairs, broken down vehicles and livestock. If you come from the West, driving in China could take some getting used to. The trick is to stay alert rather than follow the rules. Act according to the demands of the situation before you.

Road surfaces in China are old and worn and tend to get very slippery in the rains. Most of China's tunnels are unlit which is why you need to proceed with caution, particularly when you enter a tunnel. Most of the mountain roads do not have guard rails so stay well within safety limits. 

In Case Of an Accident

In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai accident matters are dealt with promptly and according to traffic rules and the law of the land. In rural areas however dealing with even the smallest accidents can be a long drawn process.

Emergency numbers:

Police: 110

Fire Brigade: 119

Ambulance: 120 or 999

Road Accidents: 122