The Traveler’s Guide to Driving in China

China is a massive country with countless things to see and experience. Consider all of the interesting places you can go. You could spend some time exploring the Forbidden City, the Great Wall. The Terracotta Army, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. You could also see the Beijing National Stadium, the Summer Palace, and so much more.

Because there is so much to see and do, this means that having reliable transportation, such as a rental car, is the best way to do it. However, getting behind the wheel is not easy in China.

Can you drive in China?

In China, the only way you can drive is if you have a Chinese driver’s license. You are not allowed to use your national license and an international permit. However, even if you are going to be in the country for a short period – less than three months – you can apply for a temporary Chinese driving license at the major cities – Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. You will actually need to attend classes to learn the rules of driving in China before you are granted a temporary permit. Once you get the permit though, you can use that along with your national driver’s license to drive small automatic cars. Do not try to drive in China without going through all of the proper channels first.

Road conditions and safety

Once you get your permit, there are some things you need to know about driving in China. First, the road conditions can vary greatly. In the cities and the urban areas, the roads are paved and are generally in very good condition, making it easy to drive on them without worry. In the rural areas, the roads are often dirt, and they may be in poor condition. When it rains, some parts of the roads may wash away, so be careful when traveling far from the cities.

The traffic flows on the right side of the road, and overtaking on the right is illegal. You are not allowed to use mobile devices when you are driving. Do not drive with your lights on during the daytime.

Even though there are many strict traffic laws in China, the drivers tend to ignore many of them. This can make it very dangerous to drive there. They do not always yield or give the right of way, and they may not use their turn signals.

Speed limits

Always obey the speed limit when in China. The speed limits are as follows.

  • City – 30 to 70 km/h
  • National highways – 40 to 80 km/h
  • City express routes – 100 km/h
  • Expressways – 120 km/h

There are several different types of highways in China.

  • National – For pleasure driving
  • Provincial – These highways may not have road separation between the lanes
  • County – In some cases, foreigners are not allowed on these highways

There are many things to see and do in China. Even though it takes some extra hoops to jump through to be able to drive in China, if you are vacationing for a month or so, and you have the time, it might be a good idea to get the permit and rent a vehicle.


The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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