Get licensed, get legal, get going

13:20, January 14, 2010      

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Learning to drive at the Beijing Oriental Fashion Automobile School.

While driving on the streets of Beijing may seem like a daunting task, obtaining a Chinese driver's license is not. At least for most foreigners.

"It was a lot easier than I expected," said Patrick Brown, a Canadian journalist who drives in Beijing.

The first time Brown arrived in China in 1990, foreigners could obtain a Chinese license simply by taking a valid driver's license from their home country to a local police station where it was exchanged for a domestic one. A medical test was required as well.

When Brown came back a second time around a decade later, there was still the medical test and also a written exam.

"To my astonishment, I was called out as one of the passing students," Brown said. "I thought I must have failed."

Foreigners who have driver's licenses from their home countries and are not working for an embassy or international organization in China are required to take a computer-based test on traffic rules in China before obtaining a local license.

Drivers from Belgium do not have to take the test because China and Belgium automatically recognize the license of each country.

Application forms for the test are available at the Beijing traffic and vehicle department and traffic police corps, which are located in every district in the city.

Part of the form must be filled out by the applicant and part must be completed by a doctor after having administered a medical check-up.

Once the form is complete, it should be returned to the foreign affairs office of the Beijing traffic and vehicle department with other required materials, including residence permit, passport and foreign driver's license.

That office will then schedule a time for the applicant to take the test, which is offered in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Russian and Spanish. A 160-yuan ($23) examination fee is involved.

Test questions can be tricky. Aside from knowing basic rules of the road, would-be drivers also must know China-specific driving facts.

"It is not as straightforward as you might think," said Fran Chen, an American who took the Chinese driving exam in 2005.

"It was pretty specific. They had a number of questions you wouldn't know unless you had gone through the book."

The Beijing traffic offices as well as local driving schools offer study materials for the test. If applicants pass, they can obtain their Chinese license about an hour after taking the exam for 5 yuan.

Expats who do not have a driver's license from abroad will have to go to driving school, such as the Beijing Oriental Fashion Automobile School. Oriental Fashion is one of the only training schools in the city offering classes to expats.

Since the school had its first foreign student in 2006, more than 550 expats have learned to drive there, said Wang Lei, director of training at the school. This year, there have been about 200 foreign students, he said.

Trainees first study Chinese driving rules for around two weeks before taking the computer test. If students pass the exam, they can then proceed to on-the-road training.

Oriental Fashion has about a dozen coaches who speak English, Japanese and Russian. Tuition fees for foreigners are 8,500 yuan for a course that averages about 45 days.

All students take classes at the school's headquarters in south Beijing's Daxing district. Free shuttle buses are available from 16 locations citywide.

Coaches teach students Chinese driving terms to prepare for the final road test, which is conducted in Chinese. Students will know if they pass on the same day and can obtain licenses three working days after the test.

Source: China Daily
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