Guangzhou has one of the most impressive public transport networks in the world. The metro system alone has 14 lines, covering a whopping 478km; it is the third most expansive in China, and 10th in the world. It can take you to local nature spots like Baiyun Mountain, and hotspots like Shamian Island, but anyone having an extended stay in the city will soon find there are places of curiosity beyond its reach. If you want to go off the beaten path, explore the small towns and countryside nearby, or perhaps take an aimless trip down the coast, the best option is to drive.
There’s no need to own a car when you live in Guangzhou, and fortunately if you do wish to venture out, rental cars are quite affordable. Split the cost between a few friends, and you have a great, inexpensive road tripon your hands. International driving licenses, however, are not recognised in China. The process of getting a locally-recognised driving license may seem off-putting at first, but really it’s not too hard, and certainly pays off.
Since September 2019, the process has been made significantly easier. Expats are now able to get a temporary driving permit that requires no exams, no medical check, and is valid for up to a year (and can be renewed!). It’s so smooth that you can be in and out of the office within one hour. Here’s how.
Getting a Driving Licence in Guangzhou: Step One
Get some documents in order. You’ll need to present your passport and visa, and photocopies of both. You’ll need to show your French driving license, as well as a translation of the license from an accredited translation agency (this typically costs 400-600 RMB).
Pick a Chinese name if you don’t already have one, and make sure it corresponds with the translation of your license. Make sure you know your phone number, and have your address ready in Chinese. You may or may not need to present your temporary residence permit – to be safe, prepare it, along with a photocopy. The last thing is two one-inch colour portrait photos, which you can get made in most metro stations for about 40RMB.
Getting a Driving Licence in Guangzhou: Step Two
Book an appointment with the Guangzhou traffic police (广州公安局交警支队车管所), by calling 020-87220001. Their office is located in Tianhe District, at 1732 Huaguan Road (天河区岑村华观路1732号).
Getting a Driving Licence in Guangzhou: Step Three
Turn up for your appointment, with all the required documents, and you’re pretty much done! The fee, at the time of writing, is just 30RMB. It’s a good idea to take a Chinese-speaking friend with you, in case there’s an extra requirement, but as of the time of writing, this is all that’s needed.
Is it really that easy? Yes.
What if I want more than a year?
You can renew your temporary driving permit, if you have a residence permit. Alternatively, you can go through the process of getting a driving license that is valid for up to six years. This is a bit more expensive, requires more documents, and also requires that you pass a theoretical and medical exam. For expats who intend to stay in China for some time, and who don’t mind potentially having to pay a few visits to the traffic police instead of just one, then this is perhaps a better option.
What if I don’t have a driving license from France?
You will need to sign up to a driving school, take lessons, and pass both the practical and theoretical test in the same way anyone else would here. Courses run around 2000-3000RMB.
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I’M FREE! Where should I go?
There are so many great road trips you can go on from Guangzhou. You could take the coastal roads down to Zhuhai, continuing on to the stunning scenery of Yu Tang Mountain. Thrill-seekers might seek out the giant glass bridge in Gulong Canyon. Or, for a combination of nature and culture, head north to Nanling National Forest Park and visit the impossibly beautiful mountain-top pagoda.
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