Getting A Driver’s License In China

3 August 2014, Comments: Comments Off on Getting A Driver’s License In China

How Old Were You When You Got Your First License?

Driving License of the People’s Republic of China
中华人民共和国机动车驾驶证 or 驾照 (JiaZhao) for short

Even if you are not planning to buy a car in China, the relative convenience of renting a car or perhaps the opportunity to borrow a friend’s car make it worth considering getting a Chinese Driver’s License.

If you already have a license from some other countries (like the USA or Australia), you don’t need to take a driving test to get a Chinese license. The process basically involves getting foundational documents formally translated, undergoing a very rudimentary health check, processing your papers at the licensing bureau, and then passing a computerized multi-choice test which you can take in English. Like everything else, it is an overly bureaucratic process. However, armed with the right information you will find it very doable.

For a detailed step-by-step explanation of the procedure (including locations in Xi’an), please contact us.

In this blog, I want to focus on one aspect of the process which can cause problems if you are not forearmed. This comes from the recent experience of an applicant from the USA. After taking a number and waiting all morning and through the lunch break for the 200 people who were in front of her she finally got to the counter, only to be told that since she got her first license before the age of 18, she could not get a Chinese license.

You say whaaa…….? Well, here’s the thing:

  1. The Chinese system is very particular about the date of first issue of your driver’s license (whether Chinese or foreign).
  2. The Chinese system cannot process you if your records show that you obtained your first driver’s license under the age of 18 (which is illegal in China).

This will come into play when you first go to the licensing office to process your papers and book your test. It seems that the newer application forms require you to enter the date you were first issued with a license. In any case, the clerk will ask you for that, and you need to be ready. In my case, the clerk understood that it was difficult for me to remember (let alone actually prove) the date I was first issued a license. She was content with the fact that I was sure of the year, and I was guessing the month and day. But it does not always go so smoothly. In the case mentioned above, the clerk was very combative, asking questions like: “Are you sure that is the correct date?”, “Can you prove it?” and so on.

So the best advice seems to be: If you don’t have proof, make your best guess as to the date you were first issued your driver’s license, write it down on the form, and stick to your guns. If you cannot prove it, most likely they cannot disprove it either, nor would most be inclined to even try.

BUT, your problems may still not be over. If the date you give indicates that you first received a license when you were under the age of 18, they will not be able to process your application. Their system simply will not accept a date that is within 18 years of your birth date, because you cannot get a license in China until you are 18. Now, if you get an unhelpful clerk, he/she may simply say that you cannot get a Chinese license, thus declaring about 99% of Americans (for example) residing in China barred from ever driving legally while they are here. That is plainly absurd. Fortunately, even some of the functionaries in the licensing office realize that, and there seems to be a standard work around. So what is the work around?

One applicant, who would not take no for an answer, was eventually told by someone higher up the chain that she should fill in a new application form, this time using the date she was issued her current foreign driver’s license. As it turned out, her application was then processed and she was able to move on to the next step.

In other words, the thing to do is interpret the “date of first issue” of your foreign license very broadly. It could mean, for example, the date of issue of your current license, or the date you were first issued a license in your current state or country (assuming you have moved since your very first license ever), or something like that. Anything that will get you to the age of 18 or above so far as the system here is concerned.

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Rob Paix

Founder at XL Consulting
Founder and Executive Manager of XL China, Rob is originally from Australia but has lived much of his life in Asia, including 6 years in China. He particularly loves Xi’an and Western China. His varied career to date reflects his passion for aviation, travel, language and communication.

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