How To: Getting a Chinese driver's license in Kunming

By in Features

As anyone who lives here knows, Kunming — and Yunnan at large — is filled to the brim with off-the-beaten-path attractions and experiences that awaken the explorer in all of us. China's public transportation infrastructure makes many of these places easily accessible. However, there have been countless times where I've found an enticing opportunity for a weekend excursion, hiking or camping trip, and either haven't been able to figure out how to get there, or haven't been able to muster the energy for the planes, trains and automobiles that the trip would require.

Obtaining a Chinese driver's license promptly solved those woes, giving us the freedom to explore at will and unlocking places that we didn't know existed. The process itself was relatively painless, but figuring out the steps was not. To make it easier for others, here are some quick instructions for anyone hoping to get their Chinese driver's license here in the Spring City.

Disclaimer: This guide is only for people who have a residence permit for China and a valid driver's license from their home country. I'm unsure of the process for a foreigner getting a license from scratch. As with all registration procedures in Kunming, the process outlined below may well change in the future.

Step 1: Translate the license from your home country

This step is self-explanatory. There is a translation office called the Yunnan Association of Translators (云南省翻译工作者协会) located on the corner of Jinbi Lu (金碧路) and Guofang Lu (国防路). The office is down a small alley on the northwest corner of the intersection. They will provide an official, stamped translation of your home country's driver's license for 50 yuan. The whole process takes between 15-20 minutes. They are open Monday through Friday, 9:00am-5:30pm.

This way, past the white sign, to the Yunnan Association of Translators officeThis way for the health check-upDriver's License Testing CenterTraffic Police HeadquartersThe Haifeng Wetlands, one of the many places you can drive to after getting your license (Image credit: Luke Dauner)Dadieshui Waterfall, one of the many places you can drive to after getting your license (Image credit: Luke Dauner)

Step 2: Gather the required documents

Here is a list of everything you need to bring to the driver's license testing center:

1. Chinese translation of driver's license
2. Home county's original driver's license and photocopy
3. Passport
4. Photocopies of your passport's ID photo page, residence permit, most recent China entry stamp
5. Kunming housing registration form, from the most recent time you registered
6. 1-inch photographs taken against a white background. Keep in mind these are smaller than normal passport photos. There are countless photo-booths at the testing center, so this step can be completed on the day of your application.
7. A required health checkup can only be done at the testing center the day of your application. It consists of nothing more than measuring your height and weight, and maybe the administration of a cursory eye exam. The health check costs 12 yuan.

Step 3: Study for the test

The test itself consists of 100 questions selected randomly from a pool of around 1,000. Some people may not feel it necessary to study, but it was for us. If you are taking the test in English, which is an option, the question translations are at times difficult to understand and at others completely nonsensical. Here is an example of one that truly baffled us:

"True or False: When a motorized vehicle causes a road accident involving property damage, if the party leave [sic] the scene on his own but does not leave, the traffic police are not allowed to order the party to leave the scene."

The more ridiculous questions are few enough to be able to memorize. However, there are plenty of questions about things like the points system, road signs and markings, and punishments for various offenses that are all likely different than in your home country.

There are a couple of phone apps designed to help you study, but by far the most useful resource we found was the website Chinesedrivingtest. The questions are nearly identical to the actual test, and our strategy was to take practice tests until we passed them consistently without the use of notes.

Step 4: Taking the test

1. The testing center — called the Kunming Public Security Bureau Motor Vehicle Driver Test Center (昆明市公安局机动车驾驶员考试中心) — is located at 12 Jingkai Lu (经开路) in southern Kunming. The office is open from 9:00am until 5pm, Monday through Friday.

2. Complete your health check. The exam room is on the left after you walk in the front door. It's important to not that at this point, you will need to provide a Chinese name that will be put on your license, as they will not accept an English one. If you don't have a Chinese name already, you will have to choose one on the spot.

3. Bring all of your documents to the front desk of the main building. They will check to make sure you have everything, then give you a number to wait in line. We went in the afternoon and were the only ones there, so we were seen immediately. They processed our documents and entered our information.

It was after 3pm, and the officer said it was too late to take the test that day, so we had to come back the following morning. However, if you come earlier, you should be able to submit your forms and take the test on the same day. We had initially read that staff make an appointment for you to take the test, but we did not experience this ourselves.

4. Take the test! After being processed, the staff will direct you to another building where you can take the test. We arrived as soon as it opened in the morning and waited for about 30 minutes. You will need to put anything you brought with you in a locker outside of the testing room.

Logistics of the test: You need to get 90 questions correct out of 100 in order to pass. You can take the test twice in one visit if you fail the first time. If you fail both, you will have to wait in order to take it again. I'm unsure about the length of time, but I have heard of people who took it two times every day, and of others who had to wait two weeks between attempts. You have 45 minutes to complete each sitting, and each try costs 60 yuan.

5. Get your license! Once you pass, you will go back into the original building where you were processed and they will print your license for you on the spot for ten yuan. It is valid for six years, regardless of how long your original license is valid.

Step 6: The freedom of the open road...or the sometimes cramped, chaotic roads of Kunming. But we got our licenses to explore the countryside, and on our first weekend visited places like Dadieshui Waterfall (大叠水瀑布) — the tallest in the province — inside the Stone Forest (石林), the Haifeng Wetlands (海峰湿地) in Qujing (曲靖), and many more stunning places that are newly at our fingertips. Enjoy!

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If you have got your Chinese license, is there any problem for a foreigner to rent a car?

Insurance is the main problem as far as I can tell. It's problematic whether you're insured if you rent a car here. Or if the insurance is adequate. Perhaps you could arrange your own insurance separately - I don't really understand these things. I don't think there are any rules to stop foreigners renting.

Excellent article by the way.

My tip, for what it's worth - if you have no clue as to the answer of one of the multiple choice questions, pick the longest one. I found it was correct nearly every time.

@Ishmael we rented a car right away and it was relatively easy. Did it through Ctrip, but there are tons of apps for it (some need your passport info and take time to verify your identity and such, but ctrip did not). There was, however, about a 2,000 Yuan deposit that takes 30 days to return (after they make sure you weren't ticketed for anything).

There is Zuche, which is associated with Hertz, that has rental offices in Kunming.

Good one can rent so easily, beats buying and using cars unnecessarily.

I used an app called "laowai drive' (in addition to the other site mentioned in the article) - it's not free but the questions were exact copies of the test questions. The app also has a mode to target your mistakes and you can take practice tests until you're ready - combine these two and you'll be good to go.

I used the above mentioned App and got 100%. Most questions are easy but there are a few that are ambiguous and the App really helps with those.

In my experience the main problem I ran into besides having the driver's license for renting a car from someone like zuche was needing a Chinese credit card for the deposit. There didn't seem to be a way around it. Eventually I got a credit card and it was fine.

A really great article explaining the procedure in detail.

Which bank gave you a credit card? Can you use a debit card?

Can't use a debit card, for Zuche it had to be a credit card. Not sure if it is still possible for foreigners to get one as it seems like things have changed a little but I got mine from Bank of Communication a few years ago. Definitely worth a try.

I was able to use a debit card with C-Trip for the payment and deposit, but the deposit was a little bit extra (still got it all back no problem).

Added a few pictures to make getting to the right places a bit easier. Thanks Luke!

Could we have a similar article sometime on getting a motorcycle license since most e-bikes users will have to get this license over the next few years or give up their bikes.

A piece of advise guys, go there early and do download at least one of the apps mentioned above, practise for a few days to get used to the translations, don't be nervous as most of the people pass the test but don't be overconfident, it is not difficult but I would not say it's an easy test that anyone could pass without reviewing a few days, also be ready to go from one building to another during the procedure.

Would be nice to have an article about how to rent a car in Kunming, thanks a lot for the article btw.

The test center is now easily accessible by Metro Line 4: the stop is Zhujiacun 朱家村[...]

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