Navigating China’s Temporary Driving License

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By Alberto Díaz

Driving in China can be a difficult road to navigate, as using a license issued by a foreign country is not legal in China. In addition, the country does not recognize international driving licenses or any other documentation that has been issued outside Chinese territory.

It is therefore essential for foreigners living in China to get through the application process for a Chinese driving license if they have any plans to drive a car themselves. This norm applies to all Chinese cities and provinces.

Foreigners who wish to undergo the official examinations and apply for a Chinese driving license may find the procedures described here.

To obtain a regular driving license, the applicant must have a valid resident permit in China. Any past received driving licenses, in the home country or elsewhere, are irrelevant to the process. Tourists, therefore, are not eligible for regular driving licenses. Besides preparing several documents, the applicant must also pass a driving test, upon which, the license is issued in about one week.

In January 2007, it became possible for foreigners in China to apply for temporary driving licenses (临时驾驶执照) with the approval of a new clause by the Ministry of Public Security. The application process for temporary driving licenses is less complicated and removes the requirement of the examinations, the health check and other procedures.

However, holders of temporary driving licenses are subject to several limitations. Firstly, not all Chinese visa holders are eligible for this “express” application method. Only those foreigners who have been granted a visa with a duration of stay of at least 180 days are eligible. Secondly, the holders of the temporary license will only be allowed to drive in China for a period of 90 days at maximum after the issue of the certification. Thirdly, this period cannot be extended, and multiple applications are not allowed under the same visa.

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Once issued, the holder of the temporary license must carry both the Chinese and the original driving license issued at the holder’s home country when driving.  In case of a police inspection or control check, the authorized driver must provide both documents to the authorities if requested. Failure to do so could be considered noncompliance with the law, with a penalty of a fine.

The temporary license may be obtained at the traffic police department or in select international airports. Necessary documents to be presented include:

  1. National driver’s license (translated in Chinese);
  2. International Driving Permit (translated in Chinese);
  3. Completed application form;
  4. Resident permit or hotel booking (for tourists); and
  5. Three color ID photos against a white background.


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1 thought on “Navigating China’s Temporary Driving License

    Harry says:

    I have a few questions about the application for tempoary driving permits:
    1. Firstly, is all the information you have provided equally applicable to those wishing to drive motorcycles in China using IDP + home county motorcycle driving licence?
    2. I have a Tourist visa valid for two years with multiple entries and each duration of stay limited to 90 days (UK Citizen) – is it possible to apply for a tempoary driving permit considering I don’t have the stated 180 days duration of stay?
    3. Are there any CC engine limitations for motorcycles on this tempoary driving permit?
    4. Can you confirm if a medical check is not required for the tempoary driving permit? As I am colour blind and I know a medical check is required for the full licence, although I can drive in nearly every country in the world despite having slight colourblindness.
    Thank you very much

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