Driving in China

Driving in China is difficult, especially for anyone not used to local conditions. For most visitors it is better to use other means of transport.

Many Chinese cities have good bus or subway systems, and nearly all have cheap, ubiquitous taxis. For travel between cities there are trains, planes and buses (see China#Get around), and the fast train network is generally excellent.



Traffic conditions in China vary a lot depending on areas. In large cities you may expect to see heavy traffic, but in some rural areas that are less populated you can hardly see any traffic on the roads. Traffic congestion in major cities is inevitable, especially during rush hours. You may not expect to see drivers being polite on roads (but this also varies on regions...typically in the north people are "ruder", and in the south people are much more polite) - adapt yourself to their driving habits as it may be essential to keep the traffic flowing.

In many major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai there are restrictions on automobiles in certain areas in order to control the number of vehicles circulating on the road. For example, Beijing has a restriction on vehicles according to their plate numbers: on each weekday between 8:00 and 20:00, 2 out of the 10 possibilities of the last digit of plate number are forbidden to drive within the 5th Ring Road; violations will result in a ¥200 fine (for example your plate digit ends with 3 and on Thursdays 3 and 8 are restricted, which means you cannot drive your car in most of the daytime in downtown). When you enter a city with restrictions you can find the details on motorways as you enter the city border, but unfortunately these are available only in Chinese and often too complicated... So make sure to check with your car rental company on this.

Turning right on red is allowed in every right turn lane, unless there is a red light in the form of an arrow pointed right. When such an arrow is not illuminated or missing, even in the absence of a green right arrow, you may make a right turn.

The good news is China has wider roads than most European countries — you will finding this makes driving less stressful. Also, the majority of the country is covered with motorways (toll roads) of very good quality. The speed limit of motorways is 120 km/h but in mountains and urban areas speed limit may also be 100 or 80 km/h. Be sure to observe speed limit signs and don't exceed the speed limits, as speed traps are ubiquitous.

Don't drink and drive: there are lots of random checks (especially near bars, after events, in the night, etc), and if you get caught you may even go to jail. Penalties for drunk-drive are heavy: 20 mg~80 mg alcohol per 100 mL blood will result in 12 penalty points, ¥2000 fine, and license withdrawal for 6 months; >80 mg alcohol per 100 mL blood will be considered as criminal offense and prosecuted, and of course if you did so you will also lose your license.

Motorized vehicles generally travel on the right side of the road, although you will always see motorcycles and e-scooters disobeying this. This doesn't mean this is allowed...it's just the police finds it extremely hard to issue fines. In southeastern China you will see a huge number of motorcycles on the road.

China's traffic law gives pedestrians priority at zebra crossings not controlled by traffic lights and violations may face a fine of ¥100-200 and 3 penalty points, but the reality is that in many cities drivers don't obey this. In Beijing it is not common to see cars yield to pedestrians, but in Shanghai and Hangzhou cars do yield to pedestrians.

Fuel filling stations are full service. Unleaded petrol, lead replacement petrol and diesel are available. Fuel attendants will offer to wash your windscreen and check, tyre pressure, battery distilled water levels, engine oil and radiator water in addition to just filling up the car.


Driving through People's Square

You must have a Chinese license to drive in China, a fast-tracked way is to obtain a Temporary Driver’s License.

You cannot drive with an International Driver's Permit in mainland China; China has not signed the convention which created IDPs. You must have a Chinese license to drive in China. (Hong Kong-, Macau- or Taiwan-issued licenses are not considered Chinese licenses.)

Chinese laws stated that foreign residents can have driver's licenses and that an IDP can be converted to a local license, possibly with an additional examination. It is now possible to get a provisional driver's license very easily in major cities like Beijing. You can get one directly from the counters at Beijing Capital Airport without any tests. Actually getting a regular license may be quite complicated. The particular complications seem to vary from place to place and over time.

  • First, there is a computerized theory test of 100 out of over 1300 multiple choice questions with 90% as a pass mark; if you do not pass, you can do a second test without paying any further fee. In major cities, these tests are available in multiple languages. In smaller places, the officials may insist you do it in Chinese. Some allow you to bring a translator; others do not. It is common that besides just translating, the translator will dictate you correct answers and expect a small fee of not more than ¥100.
  • Generally, but not always, you are excused from the actual driving test if you have a foreign license.
  • Holders of a Belgian driving license can get a Chinese license, valid for six years, without a test. Belgium is the only country that enjoys this benefit. You need to provide a translation of the license from an official translation bureau, a physical examination certificate from a Chinese hospital and two photos.

The easiest way for a foreigner to get a Mainland license is to take the following action: in Hong Kong, convert your foreign license into a Hong Kong license for about USD120. Then, go to China (Guangzhou is probably the easiest place) and convert your Hong Kong license into a Chinese license.

It is doable to pass the test all by yourself. The paperwork (registration for the test, testing, fetching license) is all done in the driving test center (e.g. in Xili for Shenzhen area). You will have to go there several times and therefore it is quite time consuming. The better way is to ask one of the small driving schools, which can be found at every second corner in Shenzhen to do all the paperwork for you. The test can be done everywhere in at least English, and the English questions for preparation are not hard to find.

In most places, private tutoring is allowed given common sense and reasonable care: that means in practice that at least one person in the car must have a valid license but not necessarily the driver.

In some cities electric scooters are legally treated as bicycles. You need to register the vehicle only with a bicycle license which is cheaper and easier than a motorcycle license. You don't need a driver's license to ride it, and because of that, expect blatant road traffic law violations and distracted driving by electric scooter motorists in these cities. On the other hand some cities (such as Guangzhou) completely ban or heavily regulate electric bicycles. There may be restrictions in where you can ride it, e.g. not in the main traffic lanes.

Self-drive tours


There are self-drive tours of various areas, often with service that includes getting a Chinese driver's license for the foreign driver and renting a car for the trip included.



In mainland China, traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Various neighbours such as Hong Kong, Macau, India, Nepal and Pakistan drive on the left.

The Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法) applies to all vehicles in China except military vehicles. Government, military, police and fire service vehicles have number plates that are white, and they are not as bound by traffic rules as 'normal' vehicles. They may run a red light or simply go in the wrong direction or weave in and out of traffic.

There is another implementing regulation to the Road Traffic Safety Law (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法实施条例) which specifies how specific regulations in the main law are supposed to be carried out. Driving licences are governed by a separate Ministry of Public Security regulation.

In addition to central government enactments, provinces or cities often have their own implementing regulations. These regulations may determine localized policies, such as whether motorcycles may be driven on expressways.

Caution Note: Be careful when using an International Driving License (IDL) as it is not officially accepted in China, and driving without a Chinese license can get you up to 14 days' imprisonment. Increasingly, Chinese Police tend to accept the IDP (also called IDL or IDD) or translations to the format of an IDP. They focus very much on their on-the-spot judgment of the driver's being sufficiently skilled and experienced to drive safely with respect to his own and others' safety.

The most serious offense is that of drunk driving, which will just about wipe all your demerit points if you've "had a bit" to drink — and will actually send you off to jail if you're drunk! The police are very visible in the late evening hours if they suspect people might be gathering to have a drink (such as during televised World Cup matches).

For minor scrapes between vehicles it is not necessary to inform the police, just take picture of the scene and inform the insurance company. If you and the other driver cannot agree on compensation then you must not move the cars until the police arrive, which can take time. This also results in many of the massive traffic jams you will encounter on Chinese roads. Police usually check registration and licenses and photograph the incident. In case of personal injury or severe damage, you should notify the police and emergency services.

Speed limits


Subject to the speed limits of specific roads, the general speed limits are as follows:

  • 30 km/h (19 mph) on frozen or muddy roads;
  • 30 km/h (19 mph) on city roads where there is only one lane per direction, 40 km/h (25 mph) on highways (national, provincial or county);
  • up to 70 km/h (43 mph) on city roads where there is a major road with central reservation or two yellow lines or 80 km/h (50 mph) on highways;
  • 100 km/h (62 mph) on city express roads;
  • on expressways:
    • 120 km/h (75 mph) for small automobiles;
    • 100 km/h (62 mph) for other vehicles;
    • 80 km/h (50 mph) for motorcycles (if permitted);
    • a minimum speed limit of 60 km/h (37 mph) also applies to all vehicles.

Tolerance is generally around 10 km/h (6 mph). Some expressways may have tolerance set all the way up to 20 km/h (12 mph); however, anything around 15 km/h (9 mph) to 20 km/h (12 mph) over the stated speed limit is risky.

Speed traps are conveniently identified with the characters "雷达测速区" (radar speed check zone) or "超速摄像" (speeding detection camera), but you should keep in mind that the government is not obliged to put a notice in front of speed cameras. In some cases, there are multiple-camera systems which measures your average speed - these are always clearly noted as "区间测速". However, speeding is common to normal in cities and in the countryside adding to the already dangerous driving environment.

Penalties for exceeding the speed limits are as follows:

  • up to ¥200 for excess speeds over 10 km/h (6 mph) but under 50% of the speed limit. Example: if driving at 100 km/h (62 mph) in a 80 km/h (50 mph) zone.
  • up to ¥2000 and possible loss of license for excess speeds over 50% of the speed limit. Example: if driving at 190 km/h (118 mph) on a 120 km/h (75 mph) expressway.

Road conditions




The physical condition of roads and road maintenance varies greatly from municipality to municipality with the western provinces being poorer than the eastern coastal provinces. As the building and maintenance of roads are mostly funded by local government, you may notice a sharp change when crossing provincial borders. Trunk roads are generally of good quality, though the quality of rural minor roads can vary drastically between regions.

In large cities the side of the road is usually a mixture of pedestrian, bicycles, tricycles, drain well without covers, and in rural areas, animals. The side of roads are also frequently occupied by premises, vendors and other non-road users.

Turning off of main roads may require technical off-road driving skills and equipment, and in some places, especially in natural reserves it is illegal.

City roads


In major city roads traffic is often congested, even on the myriad of city ring roads (except those on the outer fringes of the city). Beijing comes in at the worst (comparatively), despite six ring roads and nine arterial expressways. Shanghai ranks relatively better, with elevated expressways and tunnels.

The congestion is far more complex than that in Western countries. In some cities bicycles swarm everywhere even in the dark. In many areas, there are also lots of motorcycles, electric scooters and golf carts. In smaller cities, anything from tractors to bullock carts may turn up!

China National Highways

A typical milestone (1306 km from Beijing) on National Highway 107

Hainan Province is the only administrative unit where tolls are not charged for expressways, but you will find that fuel in Hainan is much more expensive than in other provinces - this is because they have incorporated expressway tolls in the fuel. Most national highways are free, and the government keeps working on removing highway tolls.

G-level (national) China National Highways are a pleasure to drive on. The speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph), but cars sometimes zip at speeds over 100 km/h (62 mph), thanks to the relative absence of speed detection cameras.

S-level (provincial) highways may be less smooth to drive on. Unlike national highways, sometimes there is no central reservation or road separation, and you may be limited to one lane per direction.

X-level (county) highways are not necessarily the worst to drive on, but they can be challenging. More challenging are township-level highways. Some of these roads may be in areas officially cordoned off to the visiting foreigner.



Expressways and express routes in China are a godsend, with traffic signs in both English and Chinese (except in ethnic minority areas, where the signs are bilingual in Chinese and the minority language instead), emergency facilities, service areas, sufficient filling stations, plenty of exits, high speed limits, and the relative lack of traffic jams. However, when one does occur expect to wait several hours or in rare cases even days for the traffic to clear as damaged cars or trucks or usually not taken off the roadway after the accident resulting in kilometer upon kilometer of jammed roadways. Furthermore, this will result in drivers jockeying for position and jamming the emergency shoulder adding further waiting time to the traffic jam and potentially more accidents. Traffic jams are also common during major holidays such as Chinese New Year.

An average rest area in China

Rest areas that include shops and petrol stations are built along expressways, but their services vary by provinces. While rest areas in Eastern provinces will have a range of shops and facilities, rest areas in Northeast China or Northwest China may only have shabby petrol stations and convenience shops, probably even lacking sufficient lighting.

Although in English express routes and expressways are referred to as "expressways", their Chinese counterparts are named differently. "Express routes" are written 快速公路, whereas expressways are written as 高速公路. The idea is that express routes link of cities and larger municipalities, but expressways do the national work, liaising from one centre to another.

Express routes have lower speed limits than expressways. In Beijing, a few expressways have speed limits below express routes: these are the Beijing—Tianjin—Tanggu Expressway (Beijing segment) and the Beijing—Harbin Expressway (Beijing segment). They are clocked at 90 km/h (56 mph).

Level crossings

A typical manned-level crossing in China

In cities, most level crossings in China are manned and supervised, and railway staff will intercept anyone who attempts to cross when a train is going to pass. So despite all the chaos on Chinese roads, level crossings are somewhat safer. Most vehicles tend to ignore the signal to stop when alternating red lights of a level crossing sign flash until the gate is closed. As a result, gates are usually closed a long while before the train actually arrives, which may delay your journey.

Lighting of a level crossing, which consists of the pair of red lights at the upper part, and the function light at the lower part

The purple light under the red lights means that the level crossing is functional. Maintenance however, may vary, and in extreme cases, both lights and bells may be too dim/weak. Stop at a level crossing either when alternating red lights are flashing or gates are closing.

Lastly, there are always plenty of unmanned level crossings in rural China. Pay extreme attention when driving through these crossings. If you hear a train horn, a train may be waiting for drivers to stop.



Printed street maps for most major cities, as well as national and provincial roads atlases are commonly available. Major bookstores (e.g. the national Xinhua chain) usually stock maps and atlases at least for the local area; city maps are also often sold by vendors near train stationsen and in other locations commonly visited by travelers.

Among online maps, Google Maps, as of 2017, has been blocked in China for some years, although some can access it via a VPN. One peculiarity of Google Maps' coverage of China is that all the maps are shifted by a few hundred meters (in various directions) with respect to "satellite view"; this is particularly noticeable in the display of border and seaside cities cities, such as Heihe/Blagoveshchensk, Hekou/Lao Cai, of Khorgos.

Chinese map services include Baidu and Amap maps, which provide up-to-date information on roads, albeit in Chinese. Apple Maps takes data from Amap and provides the same information as the Chinese app, but with limited features and bad translations. Outside of Chinese map services, one may expect spotty coverage and/or outdated information. Bing also provides map coverage.

Any street or road map, printed or online, needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since even a recent map may combine current and obsolete information, as well as some wishful thinking. It's not unusual for what looks like a perfectly good road on the map to suddenly be blocked by a concrete fence, a construction site, or a vegetable garden.



In 2018, China had over 240,000 road traffic accidents. In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated China had 17.4 deaths per 100,000 population. This number is higher than that of the USA (12.7) and Europe (5).

To a newcomer, in some areas traffic appears to have no rules or, if there are rules, it appears they are neither followed nor enforced. Of course there are rules, but the reality is there are too many people on the roads and law enforcement are often overwhelmed.

Do not assume that Chinese drivers will follow any rule you know. The rule is much more that they care only for their own vehicle.

Foreign drivers must try to adapt to this (or, perhaps more sensibly, give up and take taxis or hire a driver). You do not have to learn to drive like a Chinese, but at least you should not be surprised when they do. In the absence of road signage, the rules of the road specify that the vehicle ahead has right of way (see Right of Way section in this article). Therefore there is absolutely no point getting angry if someone cuts you off or drives against the red light or on the wrong side of the road. You simply yield and carry on as if nothing had happened.

Every car/driver has a "body language" which predicts what they will do next. It is essential to learn this "body language" and drive by it. If you are driving down a four lane road, and the lane in front of the taxi to the right of you and slightly ahead of you is blocked, the lane ahead is free, you should immediately assume the taxi will move left into your lane without any warning. This sort of thinking ahead, or defensive driving, can help you avoid many problems but of course you cannot predict everything that may happen.

Another way to look at it is that there are only two rules you must obey, both equally important. Don't hit anything, and don't get hit by anything.

Despite all the above, driving conditions are not as chaotic as in say, Vietnam or Indonesia. Many foreigners do drive in China and, after adapting, some feel reasonably comfortable and confident about it.

Right of way

County routes (designated with letter X) are usually paved, but gaps exist, especially in mountainous areas, as on this road in Fujian

The concept of right-of-way is quite different in China than in many other countries, although by law it is the same. "First is Right," or less succinctly, any vehicle with a slight position lead or access to a gap before another vehicle has de-facto right of way to enter that gap. This essentially allows for any driver the habit of cutting right out into the traffic flow forcing the opposing vehicle to either stop or crash. This "rule" applies to lane changes too that can come at anytime from any angle. Be alert to brake at any moment! If you do not force your way in, you will not ever be allowed to enter the flow of traffic at busy sections.

The general rule appears to be keep moving no matter what. Cutting people off, swerving into the oncoming lane, driving on the shoulder, or in a fenced-off bicycle lane, or the wrong way down a divided highway are all fine as long as they keep you moving in the right general direction and do not cause an immediate accident. It is even fairly common to see cars, trucks and motorcycles all on the sidewalk along with pedestrians and bikes all going their own separate ways! Taxis are the worst offenders.

Merging: vehicles depart from intersections, side streets, alleys and parking lots, merging onto any road without yielding to traffic already underway on that road (and often apparently without a glance at oncoming traffic). If the merging driver can reach any opening in traffic, the oncoming cars are expected to yield and allow the merge.

Lane changes: lane changes and turns are more often than not signaled, but then the "first is right" rule reigns, and yielding is expected of a trailing vehicle, even if only trailing by a small margin. Imagine where the collision dent will be: if someone enters your lane and you strike the side of their vehicle, it will be assumed that you failed to yield even though they cut you off.

Left turns: at intersections, upon a red-to-green light change, vehicles intending to turn left across straight-through traffic will usually enter the intersection to accomplish their turn before straight-through traffic can proceed. Allowing the turning vehicles to complete the maneuver is the best practice. Such turns are aided by the yellow-before-green traffic light sequence common in China. Furthermore, observe this protocol and use a red-to-green light change as de facto left turn arrow. If possible use a leading turning vehicle as a shield. Be aware that vehicles behind you (using you as a shield) will often try to veer to either side of you, completing their turn without regard for your situation.

As always, "first is right"; trailing traffic is expected to yield. In other words, a "new" green light is usually regarded as a "left arrow".

Regarding left-hand turns in general; a vehicle desiring to turn left across oncoming traffic will not yield to oncoming, established traffic and await a "safe" opening. Any opening may be exploited, the required minimum size of the opening apparently depends on the left turning driver's sense of self-preservation (larger vehicles and poorer quality vehicles will take more chances). Oncoming vehicles that slow in wariness of a possible ill-advised turn, will often prompt the turning driver to commit. Oncoming drivers are advised to continue without pause, while preparing for heavy braking or lane changes to accommodate the turner.

Car-pedestrian interactions are complicated; ubiquitous pedestrians, bikes, and cycles, often acting negligent or even oblivious toward surrounding traffic, are generally considered to have possessed Right of Way in any collision between them and a vehicle. If a larger vehicle strikes a pedestrian or rider, the larger vehicle will generally be assumed liable. Bearing that in mind, vehicles will use their speed and security advantage, and often the horn, to maneuver through even densely occupied crossings. Aware pedestrians will generally expect a vehicle will force through a walk way, and are often confused if the vehicle halts to allow them passage. Painted cross walks (white bars painted on road ways) are not typically observed as "pedestrian protected" areas, but woe to a driver who strikes a pedestrian there. Never assume a driver will actually stop for you at a marked crossing. Drivers will actually push anything in front of them off the sidewalk or side of the road, it is assumed you will move out of their way.

Running red lights


Running red lights in China is a serious traffic offense and will result in 6 penalty points (you will have 12 in total per year and lose your license until finishing a theory test if you lose them all). Thanks to ubiquitous traffic cameras, less drivers have the gut to run red lights. In intersections without cameras however, you should expect a handful of offenders flying pass red lights, often also cutting through road dividers. Electric scooter motorists are also common offenders, as electric scooters are usually driven without registration, making enforcement hard.

In some places, it is legal for car drivers to make a right turn against a red light - albeit they ignore the latter part of the rule 'turn with caution' - it's all too common for cars, and more notoriously, trucks, to fly round an intersection too fast and causing accidents.

Police vehicles often flashes emergency lights to enhance police presence instead of responding to callouts or conducting traffic stops. Most suspects not on duty will also include government and military vehicles, and even diplomats. One should always pull over when emergency vehicles light up and use sirens. If traffic cameras wrongfully identified you for traffic law violation, you may lodge an appeal to the local police with evidence like dashcam recording.

Many drivers of very large construction trucks prefer to drive late at night (10pm-4am) on roads such as Jingmi Highway or Chaoyang North Road in Beijing. These drivers are paid by how many trips they make and because of this they are notorious among Chinese and expatriates for running red lights, seemingly without slowing down. They will also most likely be abominably overloaded, almost certainly for (illegitimate!) economic reasons as well. Be sure to keep away from these trucks.

Two-way traffic everywhere


Bicycles and motorcycles and sometimes cars ignore one-way signs. On divided highways, seeing pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles going the wrong way down the shoulder is entirely normal, and a few go the wrong way beside the center fence. At traffic circles (roundabouts), drivers hate going around the island in the middle if they can avoid it; they will often just swing left instead. Lane markings are also routinely ignored; for example, taxis often go straight through an intersection via a lane marked as left turn only, because that gets them past other cars.

On newer roads there may be, for example, a roughly triangular traffic island southwest of an actual intersection. Two sides are roads; the third is a curving lane intended for drivers making a right turn from eastbound to southbound. In China, drivers turning left from northbound to westbound routinely use that lane.

Many Chinese cities have bicycle lanes fenced off on either side of the road. These lanes will carry two-way traffic regardless of the direction of the traffic flow: including bicycles and motorcycles plus the occasional car, truck and pedestrians. Cars routinely take to these lanes if traffic in the main lanes is jammed; they then honk at bicyclists to force them out of the way using their horn as a form of "sonic plow" clearing the way in front of them. The driver is operating under the assumption you will move and if you don't move in a timely fashion you are risking being struck down if walking or on a bicycle and will most likely be blamed.

Even the sidewalks often carry two-way bicycle and motorcycle traffic, plus the odd car going to or from a parking spot. Cars again operate under the assumption they own the sidewalk and its up to you to get out of their way. Again, even on the sidewalks, vehicles honk at pedestrians to get them out of their way.

Lights on

Older tunnels in rural areas, even fairly long ones, may have no lighting

Lorry drivers may not bother with switching on lights at night. You should. Switch on your headlamps — all (reasonable!) lights on, in fact, if there is no other vehicle approaching you. Please be aware in doing this, if the local police catch you in a vehicle with lights on during daytime, you will be fined — this will be very different to some road rules in Europe and Canada!

Few Chinese drivers seem to know about dimming their headlights for approaching cars. Except on some freeways, driving at night is unpleasant and dangerous. Avoid it if at all possible.

When driving at night, be very aware that people often walk in the middle of the road, with the back to the oncoming traffic, in dark clothes. This is one reason local drivers do not often dip the lights. In the country, there may even be people sleeping on the road.

Bicycles very rarely have lights and many do not even have reflectors. Motorcycles often run at night without lights. Both are sometimes on the wrong side of the road.

Tunnels on expressways usually have lights on at all times; however those on minor highways may be unlit, even for miles! Make sure your vehicle's lights are in good working order.

Other oddities


Overtaking on the right, despite being illegal, is very common in China. One reason is that slow vehicles often drive in the center lane of multi-lane roads, If you find yourself behind such a vehicle and want to pass on the right, be alert for anything from motorcycles to horse-drawn carts in the right lane.

Public buses and many private buses, rather than acting as professional drivers responsible to their passengers, are often among the most aggressive drivers; Many in the countryside routinely ignore stoplights or fail to slow while turning, will pass stopped or slower traffic even if this requires using the oncoming traffic lanes, and will often employ their sheer size to enforce merging. Again, "first is right": if the front of a vehicle hits the side or rear of another vehicle, the front-dented vehicle is assumed at fault, no matter the circumstances that preceded the collision.

At night, illegal racing is another problem. Chinese police is known to be inefficient when dealing with illegal racers. The situation becomes more complex when illegal racers have relation to government officials (i.e. nepotism). Gas theft can be a problem on highway rest areas, though most thief targets truckers at rest.

The current military license plate of the People's Liberation Army, which is often faked by drivers

You should pay extra caution if there are vehicles with military license plates. As military vehicles are not governed by normal traffic police, some drivers may employ fake military plates to avoid being caught with traffic offenses and pay motorway tolls (Police and military vehicles are excluded from paying motorway tolls). These fake license plates can be hard to spot. Besides, there can be real military vehicles which were driven erratically.

Known as "pengci" (碰瓷) in Chinese, there are plenty of con-artists who wilfully cause staged crashes, and demand expensive compensation. Always install a dashcam to record your vehicle's surrounding, and stay vigilant if there are erratically acting pedestrians or vehicles. Meanwhile there are also con-artists who falsely (and unfortunately, successfully) accuse good Samartians during traffic accidents. In case of a traffic accident, always dial for police or film the scene before helping others.

New drivers


New drivers (drivers who obtained their license no longer than one year) are often marked with the label 实习 (probation period), but their driving quality varies from acceptable to deplorable. Stay away from them if you can—they are often overwhelmed by the traffic as well.



The Chinese climate is generally conducive to motorcycle riding, and you see bikes in many cities across China. However, the traffic is definitely not easy to cope with. The Chinese bureaucracy is no better. It can be quite difficult for a foreigner to get the drivers license, insurance and permits to travel around China on their personal motorcycle. Despite that, quite a few foreign residents have bikes and some tourists may want to try it. Remember for a motorcycle to be legal, it needs to be legally registered with a license plate; you must have insurance and a Chinese motorcycle license.

There are some restrictions. Some cities forbid them in the downtown core in an effort to control traffic congestion and motorcycle-based snatch theft. For example, motorcycles are banned from downtown Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Zhuhai and Hangzhou, and there are restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai. Riding a motorcycle into these prohibited areas can lead to fines and possible confiscation of the bike. There can also be licensing complications; for example in some cities (such as Beijing) only motorcycles registered within the metropolitan area can be legally ridden.

Except in a few provinces, motorcycles are also generally prohibited from entering expressways. You are advised to check the signs in expressway entrances if motorcycles are prohibited on that expressway. Even for provinces that allow motorcycles, the regulations may not be well known among management staff, so be prepared to explain that you are allowed to do so. Traffic surveillance cameras are prevalent, making it almost impossible to circumvent the consequences of sneaking a motorcycle into expressways.

Thanks to an increase in dangerous motorcycle driving and parallel imported motorcycles, motorcyclists may subject to more frequent pull-overs by the police. However, police checks won't be a hassle if you have the necessary documents and licenses.

Most Chinese motorcycles are 125 cc, with 50, 90 and 150 also moderately common. There are also many scooters and three-wheel motorcycle-based cargo vehicles, most with 125 cc engines. At least in some cities you cannot register anything larger than 250 cc. A 125 cc plain-jane Suzuki sells for around ¥4000 ($600 US). A fancier bike with road racer or off-road pretensions would be a bit more, a Chinese brand somewhat less. Some Chinese companies build their own chassis but buy engine/transmission assemblies from Suzuki or Honda; these are probably the best value. Of course, at the lowest end are simply bicycles that have been fitted with engines to function like motorcycles, something rarely seen outside of China.

You can also find imported Japanese bikes in most cities. Look on the outskirts for motorcycle repair shops and eventually you will find one with some older model XRs or CBRs or the like. A 10-year-old CBR400 should be about ¥4000 in good shape. The Honda XR250 is also fairly common but are a bit more expensive around ¥10,000 for a 5 to 8 year old bike. The laws are not very clear on these bikes, if you buy one be careful of the police they may confiscate the bike. In 2006, a few foreigners in Shanghai were detained and evicted for unlicensed riding.

Few imported motorcycles meet the homologation requirements, including some BMW and Honda. Even if they are considered "big bikes", they can be registered in some Chinese cities. Ask the selling shops for help.

Jialing and Zhongzhen have started selling 600 cc motorcycles on the Chinese market; price including registration should start at about ¥35,000.

Many Chinese often ride without helmets, or only the male will wear one, or with the helmet on but the chin strap usually undone. Three people or more on a motorcycle or two on a bicycle is completely normal, as is having passengers ride sidesaddle. It is moderately common to see up to five on a motorcycle. Loads of a cubic meter or so are common for both bicycles and motorcycles, and much larger loads are sometimes seen.

All in all considering how dangerous driving in China can be, riding a motorbike there by choice is only for the adventurous and not for the faint hearted.

Sidecar rigs

Chang Jiang 750

Perhaps the most interesting bikes in China are Chang Jiang[dead link]. Back in the 1930s, BMW designed a 750 cc flat twin side-valve sidecar rig for the German army. They were built in Russia because the treaty of Versailles forbade the Germans to build military motorcycles. Later there was a factory in Germany and at the end of the war the Russians took that, moved the whole operation to the Urals, and continued producing bikes to that design. The Russian brands are called Dnieper and Volga. They also gave or sold China the equipment and Chang Jiang are the result.

Side valve machines are still produced but there is also a modernised version with overhead valves and electric starter. These are not your high performance sport bike; even the new OHV model is only 32 horsepower. However, they were designed for military use and are very solidly built. Prices are ¥20-odd thousand. They are invariably sold and ridden with the sidecar; it might not be possible to license them without it.

Companies offering these bikes include Beijing Sidecar and Chiangjiang Unlimited[dead link], both in Beijing, and Shanghai Sidecars[dead link]. It is common for a rebuilt machine from one of these vendors to cost somewhat more than a new bike straight from the factory would; people say they are worth it because of the better quality control.

A real fanatic might consider riding a Chang Jiang from China to Europe using routes in the Europe to South Asia over land and Silk Road itineraries. You could get service on the bikes in Russia from people familiar with Dneiper and Volga; some parts are even interchangeable.

There are many older Chang Jiangs around and if you buy one that is old enough, it may be classed as an antique vehicle. This might mean it is exempt from your country's import restrictions; most safety and pollution laws have some sort of exemption for antiques. This is risky: some people have lost bikes at customs. You need a thorough understanding of your country's regulations before considering it.

Motorcycle tours


There are motorcycle-based tours of various areas, often with rental of a Chang Jiang included:

Yinchuan has an annual Motorcycle Tourist Festival in late June.

Electric scooters


Electric scooters are common and cheaper than motorcycles (¥1,500 for a base model, ¥3,500 for the top-of-the-line; you can rent one for less than ¥100 per day). While they lack the horsepower and range of a motorcycle, they are quieter, cleaner, lighter, and easier to maintain. Beware however that while in terms of emission and noise pollution they are a welcome choice for China's overcrowded and choked urban roads, but they are very very silent and often you will not hear them coming at all until its too late. This of course makes the danger of a serious collision with a pedestrian common. Scooters come with a battery (or batteries) that are usually removable as well as rechargeable from a household outlet. At least in some cities, these vehicles are licensed as a bicycle so one does not need a driver's license to ride them and may take advantage of bike lanes and sidewalks (if present) to circumvent traffic. However, like motorcycles, some cities have banned them. The alleged reason is that many motorised bikes are being used in bag snatch crimes. Others suggest it is to make room for people with cars and people movers. Do not expect the majority of electro-bike riders to ever use the headlights at night or dusk.

Scooters are a target for thieves, so always ensure that one of the wheels or, ideally, both are secured with a solid lock. Batteries as well are vulnerable to thieves and should be locked to the scooter with the built-in mechanism or stored indoors while not in use. Some residences allow scooters to be brought indoors overnight, but this can be dangerous if a fire breaks out from your scooter, or if they obstruct escape path (quite common among irresponsible drivers). Charging your scooter indoors is even more dangerous, and there have been a few fatal fires arising from indoor scooter charging. If possible, always find a charging station that is safe to use. Guangdong has prohibited bringing scooters indoors or into elevators, or charging scooters indoors. Offenders risk a maximum fine of ¥1,000.

The bulk of used scooter sales are increasingly conducted over the Internet. Native Chinese who are knowledgeable in such matters should be able to direct you to a good website for your particular city. Be sure to understand what to look for when purchasing a used scooter. Most importantly, a scooter's battery, like all batteries, will lose its ability to hold a charge over time, and an aging battery is a fire hazard as well. It is often possible to purchase a new battery for a used bike.

E-scooters are prohibited to circulate the roads in Beijing.

Car ferry


China railway ferry runs from Haian South Station to Haikou Station, known as North Port and South Port respectively for car drivers.

There are also car ferry services runs from Haian Port to Haikou New Port. Tickets for both ferry services can only be purchased on spot.

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