Driving in China

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If you have ever experienced tough traffic conditions, it is best you are aware of how much worse the traffic in China is. It is highly recommended that you do not drive unless you absolutely have no choice at all. It is best to rent a car along with a driver, or hire a local driver if you are planning to buy a car. Considering the wages in China are low for hiring a driver, it is not such a bad idea. Remember - China has one of the highest traffic related fatality rate of any other nation!

In China cars drive on the right hand side of the road and overtake from the left. Roads regulations and traffic laws apply to all vehicles in China except military vehicles. A military vehicle is allowed to move in the wrong direction and not stop at a red light if it does not wish to.

Chinese traffic rules are quite different from the rest of the world. Cars generally do not stop for pedestrians. Instead they weave their way around them and use their horns.

Driving License

Since early 2007 International Driving Licenses are accepted in China, and visitors can now get a Chinese temporary driving license for a limited period of time of up to three months, but not more than the period marked in the entry and exit certificates. This period cannot be extended. To get the temporary license the driver must attend lessons to study Chinese road safety regulations, before they can drive in China. And they can only drive small cars or automatic-gear cars.

Getting an official driver's license may be complicated, but if you are a foreign resident in China, you may convert your International Driving License to a Chinese one, with an additional exam (some people report that this exam was in Chinese...). To do so, they should take their foreign driving licenses and valid ID cards to the automobile management bureau, fill up the automobile driving license application form, take related physical examination, and attend a traffic regulation test. Once they have fulfilled all these procedures and passed related tests and exams, they can get the official driving license issued by the Chinese government.


This is one of the biggest problems - most people in China don't have any!

Speed Limits

Speed limits vary depending on where you are driving. The speed limits are as follows:

Type of roadCity/IntercitySpeed Limit
City Express RoutsCity100kph
China National Highways

(not expressways)

China National HighwaysCityDown to 40kph
Fast Through RoutesCity80kph
Road with two uninterrupted yellow linesCity70kph
One lane per-direction roadsCity50kph

Few people drive according to the speed limits, and on most roads, enforcement cameras are non-existent. Where an enforcement camera does exist, it is marked "speeding detection camera".

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A tolerance level of 10-20kph is accepted. However if you go above those limits, you will be violating speed laws and may be fined. There are several speed check zones and radar traps conveniently placed that photograph a speed crime in action. Be careful of them. Violating speed laws can cost you fines up to CNY 2,000 and maybe even confiscation of your license. In Chinese, speed limits are also known as biao che.


The general road conditions in China greatly vary from district to district. It completely depends upon the municipality. It is not uncommon to find an open manhole or large cracks and crevices in the roads. Even the smooth roads are sometimes not spared.

Other Issues

You are allowed to make a left turn in front of an oncoming vehicle. The vehicle in front will not stop. A general rule to follow to ensure your safety is to keep moving no matter what happens.

Knowing the Chinese way of driving may not necessarily ensure a pleasure ride. But at least you will be safe while driving.