Getting Drivers License in Shanghai
If you dare dip outside the warm comfort of where the high speed rail reaches, you’ll find that all the best (untouched) nature is best reached by car.
Seeing as, I set out out to (finally) get my Chinese driver’s license.
There are plenty of articles out there explaining the whole process, but all of the ones I encountered had a lot of false information. In the end, it turned out to be incredibly simple to get my license converted. Had I known the full set of steps involved, it could have been done in one day. Also the whole thing cost me less than 300 RMB.
Please: Do not pay those sketchy agents to do this for you. They are useful for visas, maybe, but this process is so simple that you’re basically burning money by paying an agent.
Anyways, rant done. There’s basically three steps:
- Translate your original drivers license
- Medical check and registration
- Take the test
1. Translate your original drivers license
The first step is to get a notarized translation of your license. This needs to be done by an official translation notary office. Regarding other information you find online for this, the original company at Xikang road is closed. Do not go there. I found Shanghai SISU Translation Service Co., aka 上外 in Hongkou to get this done. They’ll translate your license, you review it, and then they put it in a sealed envelope. Don’t open the envelope.
- Chinese name: 海上外翻译总公司
- Address: 上海市-虹口区-赤峰路573号
- Hours: 9AM - 11:30am, 13:00-15:30
- Materials needed: original driver’s license, passport
- Cost: 70 RMB
- Time needed: ~25 mins onsite
2. Medical check and registration
After getting your translated license, you now head to the big headquarters of Shanghai’s traffic authority — Shanghai Public Security Bureau Traffic Police Brigade Vehicle Management Institute Yifensuo. The name really rolls off the tongue. I just call it the Chinese DMV.
It’s a huge building, covering every facet of motor-vehicle-related bureaucracy. Don’t stress — I found this to be (by far) the most well-managed Chinese government institute I’ve ever stepped foot in. The staff are all very courteous and helpful, the building is clean, and there are never long lines for the different stations (despite the long line in the morning before opening).
Anyways, your objective: you are here to get your medical check and register for the test. Do not get a medical check or photos done off site — they do it all here, and they don’t accept outside materials for the photos and medical check. You do not need photocopies of your passport or license or passport photos, like the other articles say. Just bring your original driver’s license, passport, translated driver’s license, and temporary police registration form. You registered with the police when you moved in, didn’t you?
Enter through the main entrance, there is a main counter. Wait in line at the main counter, tell them you want to transfer your foreign driver’s license. They will give you a number, and you advance to the main chamber. When your number gets called in the main chamber, go to the window and show them all your materials. They’ll review your materials, and send you to the medical check. The area for the medical check is on the first floor, follow signs for 自动服务区/驾驶员拍照体检. There’s a little convenience store surrounding the medical check room.
The medical check personnel will take your headshots, then make you do a quick 2 minute medical test. It consists of: a vision test and squeezing a hand thing to check your grip strength. Incredibly easy. The photo taking lady was super nice.
After the medical check, head back to the front counter and take a number again. Back to the main chamber and wait to be called. They’ll review all your materials again, and ask you when you want to take the test.
At this point, you can choose to take the test on the spot, or schedule a time. I hadn’t studied adequately, so I decided to schedule a time a few days later. This is why I say you could do this all in one day — at this point, I had only spent about 40 minutes in the building. Had I known I could take the test immediately, I would have. Save one trip to Pudong.
- Chinese name: 上海市公安局交警总队车管所(一分所)
- Address: 上海市-浦东新区-华夏西路2999号
- Hours: 9AM - 5PM
- Materials needed: original driver’s license, passport, translated driver’s license, and temporary police registration form
- Cost: medical check 90 RMB, test registration 40 RMB
- Time needed: ~45 mins onsite
3. Take the test
The test is a pretty simple format: you have 45 minutes to answer 100 true/false and multiple choice questions. The questions come from a bank of about 1500 questions. For me, the best resources I found are the following:
- Drive In China - mobile app. Really shitty UX but it’s actively maintained and updated with the latest questions.
- Chinese Driving Test - web app with the latest questions and info for studying.
Don’t waste your time with any of the other apps. They are garbage — I wasted money on like 4 of them, when these were the ones that I needed.
So: assuming you studied enough, you can now take the test. In the Shanghai Public Security Bureau Traffic Police Brigade Vehicle Management Institute Yifensuo from step 2, take the escalator to the second floor. Follow signs for the foreigner’s testing area/境外考点. They have a special area for the foreigner’s to take the test.
Take a number and wait. Give them all your materials, they’ll process the materials one more time and set you up on a computer with a camera watching you. There will be other foreigners taking the test, maybe some idiot will forget to turn off his phone and answer a call during the test.
Upon completing the beautiful windows XP digital version of the test, you get to see your score right away. Walk back up to the test proctors and give them your materials. They’ll say “nice dude” and send you two doors over to get your license.
This part absolutely blew my mind: after completing the test, I had my new Chinese license in my hand within about 7 minutes. They just pressed it on the spot right before my eyes.
Pay the 10 RMB fee and you’re done.
- Cost: 10 rmb
- Time needed: ~65 mins onsite
Yeah, I know. That’s it. A total of 210 RMB to get your Chinese driver’s license. I probably paid more than that in failed attempts to finding an app to actually study for the test.
External resources, which are all inaccurate but potentially useful: