Driving in China?

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Car Ownership in China

Unfortunately, driving in China can be a risky business. The accident rate on Chinese roads is notorious, and expats may thus hesitate to hit the road. The InterNations guide tells you all about traffic conditions, legal aspects, and potential alternatives to driving in China.
Due to the hassle of importing or registering a car, just calling a taxi may be the easiest choice for many expats.

Import or Buy?

Importing your own car into China may be something of a hassle. First of all, specific types of cars – such as vintage cars, electric cars, or vehicle made for countries with traffic on the left-hand side of the road – may not be imported at all.

Moreover, import duties and other expenses, especially shipping costs, can be rather high. There is also lots of contradictory information on whether you have to re-export your car or may sell it in China, and if so, when and under which conditions.

Therefore it may be easier and less stressful to simply buy a car directly in China. If you wish to purchase a Chinese model, these come fairly cheap in comparison to European prices. European models and US brands cost about the same as elsewhere in the world.

There are many car dealerships that help their buyers with the registration process, which may be a bit complicated. It is thus highly recommended to purchase a car from a dealer. Many car sellers also offer good deals on certain brands, so be sure to shop around before making your final decision. If you are not fluent in Mandarin, be sure to take along someone who speaks the language, so that you don't get taken advantage of.

Car Registration and Car Insurance in China

The registration process, if not taken care of by the car dealer, is rather complex. Keep the proof of purchase as you will need it for the registration procedure. You also need to get third party liability insurance (see below), and you have to purchase a license plate.

These are assigned differently than in most other countries. A limited number of license plates are auctioned at your local department of motor vehicles. Due to this quota and the sales process, you may end up spending as much as several thousand US dollars on one.

Third party liability insurance as well as traffic accident insurance is compulsory in China. The insurance policies must usually be issued by a Chinese insurance company. Coverage from a foreign insurance company was not acknowledged. The People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC) has a monopoly over all insurance companies in China and is therefore the most widely used. You should be able to locate an office in bigger Chinese cities.

However, in February 2012, China agreed to open the car insurance market to foreign insurance providers. So the insurance market for motor vehicles is undergoing some major changes.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

David Thyne

"At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me."

Diana Anhaus-Brey

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

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