Created on 2010/11/02

This is a report from Shenzhen Daily about how to get a Chinese driving license in Shenzhen, and expats' experience on getting it. Some points might be different from Beijing, if you are interested in Getting China Driving License in Beijing, just click on it.

EXPATS in Shenzhen might be surprised to learn that, according to Chinese law, they are expected to take a local driving test before they hit the road — even if they hold an international driving license.

The implications of this can be severe.

In one recent case, Russel, a French national not identified in full, was charged with deceiving police in Quanjiao County, Anhui Province, following his attempts to get a driving license.


After failing the Shenzhen driving test several times, Russel, 47, tried to get a driving license in Quanjiao County where the test is said to be easier but a local residence permit is a prerequisite.

Russel was eventually let off without punishment, but the company that assisted him was barred from making application for two years.

But for any expats who have attempted to go through the process of obtaining a driving license in Shenzhen, this case will not come as a surprise.


Rules no one knows

The most difficult part of the process is a 100-question theory test, in which candidates have to score 90 out of 100 to pass.

“I still have six points to go,” said Frank Lehmann from Germany, who works with a trading company.

Lehmann has attempted the test three times, though he holds a German driving license, an international driving license and has driven in several countries.

The test covers questions about laws, signs, highway driving, penalties, accident procedures, safety, first aid, administration authorities and “guidelines for civil behavior.”

All of them come from a 1,315-question bank, which has been translated into 17 languages.

Lehmann sat the English test.

“The test is a literal translation from the Chinese,” said Lehmann, “so it doesn’t really make sense.”

Lehmann quoted some questions from the test. For example:

The power of the engine is transmitted to _____ through the clutch, gearbox and transmission shaft.

A. Damper

B. Steering node

C. Driving wheels

D. Driven wheels

“I don’t really know the difference between C, driving wheels, and D, driven wheels,” he said.

Lehmann said the test also asks candidates how to resuscitate a victim of poisoning, and the height of a pillow on the driver’s seat.

“A big part of the test is traffic signs but it’s all in Chinese characters,” Lehmann said.

In another sample question, the test asks:

The main feature of pedestrians participating in road traffic is:

A. They move slowly

B. The like to get together and look on

C. They are not stable

D. They walk around at will and can easily change directions.

The right answer is, apparently, D.


A long, drawn-out process

One solution to the test is to take a Chinese exam with a Chinese translator.

But translators are required to have a government-recognized translation certificate, which very few translators possess.

Language is a problem at every step of the process.

The buttons on the test machine are in Chinese, the health check is in Chinese, the queuing system is in Chinese and all the application forms are in Chinese.

Emily, a Chinese translator who has accompanied several expats to the test, said: “It’s impossible for a non-Chinese speaking person to go through it by himself.”

But even before you can sit in the exam room, there is a long, drawn-out process to go through.

First, there is a checklist: passport, residence permit, original driving license, license translated into Chinese, medical certificate, and several photos.

After Xili Vehicle Administration Center approves all the documents, drivers are given an appointment to take the test every Tuesday.

It took Lehmann three months to complete the procedures.


By hook or by crook

These difficulties have resulted in agencies cashing in: rather than go through the drawn-out process, they say, why not just pay a middleman 5,000 yuan (US$747)?

One online agency said that for just 5,000 yuan, an expat could obtain a driving license without a test — and even without a valid foreign driving license.

The same company said it would charge expats just 1,500 yuan if they provided all the necessary documents and were prepared to sit the test.

Jan Kole, from the Netherlands, got his driving license in Hong Kong in 1997. At that time China had no exam for foreigners.

“And that was much easier,” he said, “I just transferred my international driving license into a valid one without a test.”

Andrew Marshall, from the United States, however, took the test and scored 91 points on his first try: “I’m very happy. The examiner smiled at me. When I sat the test, I crossed out the wrong answers and then focused on the right ones.”

“It’s worth the effort,” Marshall said, “You find out about road rules in China, such as the speed limits.”

Steve Culpan, who had been cheated by an agency said “The company charged me a fortune but they did nothing. I was told they hadn’t submitted the paperwork I obtained. If you want something done right, do it yourself!”

But despite the antiquated, esoteric and hyper-bureaucratic process, the Shenzhen driving test has never been more popular.

“There are more and more expats taking the test and we have increased the frequency of tests to every Tuesday from twice a month,” said Yang, a police officer with the city’s vehicle administration.

“About 85 percent will pass and then they can get the driving license valid for six years.”

“The only foreign license accepted by China is that of Belgium, which has an agreement with China concerning the driving license.”

In 2009, 21,249 expats took the test. About 18,000 had taken the test by end of October this year.


License checklist

· Documents required:

1. Passport

2. Residence permit with 3-month validity or more

3. A foreign driving licence (either local or international)

4. Chinese translation of the foreign license, notarized in Shenzhen

5. Four photos. These must be taken in Shenzhen at a photo printing store. Specify the photos are for a driving license: the store will give you the right size and background color, as well as a registered form with a barcode on it.

6. Application forms

·Address for application:

Xili Vehicle Administration Office, Longjing Section, Longzhu Boulevard, Nanshan District


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