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How to rent a car in China with a foreign driver licence

China does not accept a foreign or international driving permit

China does not recognize any other driver’s license except for the Chinese one. To rent a car in China, you should first get a Chinese driver’s license. The latter can be subdivided into two types:

  • temporary license (for the duration of your visa, but not more than 90 days). At each entry, you should get it once again;
  • permanent driving license (for 6 years). It is to be granted if you have a residence permit (e.g. if you are a student or working).

How to apply for China provisional driver’s license

Step 1. To apply for a Chinese driver’s license, foreigners driving in China should provide the following documents:

  • a national driving license translated into Chinese and notarized. The latter is not obligatory if a translation is made by the licensed translation agency;
  • international driving permit;
  • a passport, a visa, and a hotel reservation;
  • a certificate of temporary registration of a foreigner (to be completed and sealed by a hotel clerk upon request of the hotel guest).

Step 2. Since a certificate of temporary registration of a foreigner should be certified at the police station, you can’t get it directly at the airport. Foreigners driving in China have to check in first and then go to the nearest police station.

Step 3. Tourists driving in China should go through the medical check. It takes about a quarter of an hour and includes visual examination, an eye test as well as testing distinguishability of colours (what if you are color-blind?).

You can get all copies (scanned pages) of documents as well as your driver’s license photos on site. However, you will have to pay extra money. The price is about $8 (50 yuans).

Once your China provisional driver’s license is ready, traffic enforcers give you a driver’s license manual (written in English with lots of graphic tips).

Foreigners in China should keep in mind that driving can be another challenge since the traffic here is a real nightmare. According to Statista.com, in 2016 China’s main national highways had reached an average traffic volume of 24,468 vehicles per day. Moreover, rental cars are not allowed to leave a particular administrative area (unfortunately!).

If red tape is not a problem for you, you can go to the rental agency.

How can foreigners driving in China rent a car?

What you need to know

Tourists driving in China may start facing the problems at once if their driver’s license expires next month or even earlier. Some (mostly large) companies refuse to provide you with a rental car if you stay in the country over a short period. However, small rental agencies that don’t have so many clients usually don’t pay attention to the expiry date of your international driving permit in China.

We recommend tourists driving in China to book a car beforehand since prices here vary considerably according to the season and a day of the week. That is why the earlier you book the desired service, the more you save!

The cost of car rental in China, as elsewhere, depends on the class and brand of the car, its engine capacity, type of transmission, etc.

Make sure you have carefully inspected the car. Otherwise, you will be asked to pay for the cost of any scratches and dents, etc. if you fail to prove they have already been there.

To rent a car in China, you should provide your temporary license. Then you should pay the deposit ($700 to $1,500) in cash or by credit card. The deposit amount will be blocked on your card until you return the car.

Foreigners driving in China should draw up and pay for a car insurance policy together with signing a rental contract. In China, car insurance premiums cost not more than $10 per day. However, tourists driving in China will have to pay another $80 in case of traffic penalties. If you drive carefully and do not violate local traffic rules and regulations, you will get your money back.

Read the contract carefully since in most cases employees at rental agencies may include additional service options in the contract.

Thus, do not be in a hurry. Keep calm and well-organized when driving Chinese roads. Statistics is implacable: in 2009, a total of 67,759 individuals died from road traffic crashes in China. Of the 67,759 road traffic deaths in 2009, more than three-fifth (40,886) occurred in rural areas. So, please be careful and obey the traffic rules and regulations of the country you are in.

How to rent a car in China if you have US driver license

American? We recommend you, first of all, to make sure that you have the right documents for driving in China. US citizens are usually required to have a valid passport and a US driver’s license. We suggest you apply for the International Driving License (IDL) to be on a safe side.

If you want to rent a car in China, you should know that Americans who have a US driver license can apply for a temporary Chinese driver’s license. The temporary China provisional driver’s license can be valid for three months at the most. American tourists driving in China should use it together with their US driving permit and always carry these two licenses with them.

If you have US driver license and you plan to stay in China for a long time, we recommend you to get an official Chinese driver’s license. First, you should take your foreign driving license and valid ID cards and bring them to the automobile management bureau. Then fill in the driving license application form, go through the medical check and finally attend a traffic regulation test. If you have successfully completed all the tests and procedures, you can get official China provisional driver’s license.

Alternative ways to rent a car in China

If you don’t like red tape, you can rent a car with a driver. Driver hire service is widely available. Foreigners can easily find a local driver. If a driver speaks your language, that will be awesome. However, keep in mind that you will have to pay the cost of the fuel, highway toll, etc, as well as driver’s food and accommodation and translation services. Prices in this segment vary significantly — from $15 to $300 per day.

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