If you want to drive in China, you need a Chinese driver license. In China, foreigners cannot drive with their National driving permits and International driver licenses. But, Chinese laws allow foreign residents to have Chinese driver license issued by the Chinese government. Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan issued licenses are not considered for driving in Chine; Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents also need to apply for a Chinese driving license to drive in the Chinese mainland.
Foreigners with National driving permits and their International translations of driving permit, who come to China for a short term (within 3 months), can apply for a temporary Chinese driving license at major cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Before foreign tourist can drive in China, they need to attend classes to learn Chinese road traffic rules. The temporary Chinese driving license should be used together with the National driving permit; it gives visitors rights to drive small or automatic-gear cars.
If a visitor is going to stay in China for a comparatively long time, he/she heed apply a Chinese regular official driving license. For applying, foreigner must go to the motor vehicle administration; a holder of a valid foreign driving permit, who is over 18 years age, can apply for the Chinese driving license the same category. It is necessary to provide following required documents:

  • A driving license application form.
  • The original and photo copy of identification document (ID).
  • An original health certificate issued by the government authority approved medical center. Employees of foreign embassies, consulates and international organizations don’t need to have a health certificate.
  • A foreign driving permit, its photo copy and Chinese translation. 
  • 1-inch color photos with a white background.

After the application is accepted, an applicant may reserve a time for the written (computerized) test.  It is quite probable you will only need to pass a written test to obtain a 6 year Chinese driving license.
Chinese traffic is clearly dangerous for drivers and pedestrians. In China, the driving manner strongly differs from European and American. You should be prepared to following:

  • Chinese drivers follow the rule "first is right"; in other words, any car with a slight lead position has right of way.
  • When the traffic lights go green, oncoming vehicles are racing to turn left before you cross the intersection.
  • U-turns may be done regardless of the lines on the road and the oncoming traffic.
  • Chinese drivers don't stop for pedestrians; even they are on a cross-walk with the light. Drivers honk at pedestrians (even on the sidewalks) to get out of the way or drive around them.
  • Chinese drivers rarely look to the left when they are going to turn right out of a road.
  • Lane changes and turns are often not signaled.
  • Chinese drivers merge onto any road without yielding to traffic.
  • Chinese drivers don’t pay much attention to lane discipline and turn signals.
  • In China, overtaking on the right is very common.
  • Bicycles, motorcycles, and sometimes cars ignore one-way signs. Lane markings are often ignored too.
  • In the countryside, many drivers ignore stoplights.
  • Lorry drivers may not switch on lights at night.
  • Usually, bicycles don't have lights and even reflectors. Motorcycles often run without lights at night. Sometimes, both are on the wrong side of the road.
  • As a rule, a Chinese driver desiring to turn left across oncoming traffic will not yield to oncoming traffic and await a "safe" movement.
  • At night, people in dark clothes often walk in the middle of the road, with the back to the oncoming traffic.
  • At petrol stations, the “no smoking” signs may be ignored.
  • Drivers of large trucks prefer to drive late at night.
  • If in main lanes, traffic is jammed, vehicles take to bicycle lanes.
  • If there is no opposing traffic, Chinese drivers usually go through red lights. They can run on red lights even the other traffic is present.
  • That looks like Chinese drivers don't know about dimming their headlights for approaching vehicles.

At first sight, it seems that all drivers ignore traffic regulations and the main things on the road are don’t hit anything and don’t get hit by anything. However, if a driver are caught by the police at road rules violation, he/she may face strict punishments: high fines, suspension of your license, and penalties include imprisonment. Therefore, before driving in China, drivers should familiarize with Chinese road rules.

  • In China, it is right-hand traffic.
  • Overtaking on the right is forbidden.
  • The minimal driving age is 18 years.
  • While driving, using of a handheld mobile phone is prohibited.
  • Allowable blood-alcohol level is .02%.
  • Speed limits are: on city, 30 km/h (19 mph) – 70 (43 mph) km/h; on national highways, 40 km/h (25 mph) – 80 km/h (50 mph); on city express routes, 100 km/h (62 mph); on expressways, 120 km/h (75 mph). Tolerance is around 10 km/h (6 mph).

China National Highways have:

  • G-level (national) highways which are a pleasure for driving;
  • S-level (provincial) highways that sometimes don’t have the central reservation or road separation.
  • X-level (county) highways some of which may be in areas cordoned off for foreigners.

On major expressways, road signs are often bilingual (English, Chinese), but in anywhere else, this is not a given. So avoid driving a vehicle until you can read the road signs. The road conditions are not the same anywhere, so be prepare to choose the appropriate vehicle. Also, listen to some advices:

  • Give way to pedestrians.
  • For your safety, wear your seat-belt all the time.
  • If you are in a small vehicle, always give a way.
  • Do not speed and park your car inappropriately.
  • Do overtaking as fast as possible, preferably on a blind bend.
  • All foreign visitors over 16 years of age must carry their passports at all the times.
  • You cannot travel to Tibet without the appropriate permits.
  • You also should consider that the wet season is from May to November, particularly, in the southern and eastern coastal regions of China.
  • Turning off from the main roads may require off-road driving skills and technical equipment; at some places, it is illegal.
  • Try to drive near the middle-right of the road.
  • If you see merging driver, yield and allow merging.
  • Don’t drive with lights on during daytime.
  • If you drive at the night, switch on all lights to see if there are no approaching vehicles.
  • If it is possible, avoid driving at the night; that is unpleasant and dangerous.

In the case of an accident in China, don’t panic. Take down the driver's name, number of his/ her license, license plate number, and type of car. Don't intervene with the accident scene. Ask several passers-by to be eye-witnesses. Call to the police about an incident. If necessary, contact the branch of your embassy or consulate in China.

Chinese Road Vocabolary

 Driving Overseas - Short Information