Is It Safe to Drive in China?

Is It Safe to Drive in China?

As a major trading partner of the United States, China is a frequent destination for countless executives’ business trips. While many cities, including the capital, Beijing, have extensive public transportation systems, some business travelers may see the attraction in renting a car. Here are some points to consider before booking a rental in China.

  • Chinese authorities do not accept international driver’s licenses

That leaves two options: apply for a temporary license for the duration of your trip, or apply for a permanent license, which requires residency. You may apply for a temporary license at certain police departments as well as select international airports, including terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport. To apply, you must provide your existing national driver’s license, an international driving permit, a completed application form, hotel booking information, and three color photographs taken against a white background. Keep in mind that you must arrange for the translation of the documents from English to Chinese as well.

  • Get ready to spend a lot of time in your car

The vast majority of road signs use Chinese letters and symbols, and for foreign business travelers, this makes navigating highly stressful and leaves them prone to error. When it comes to traffic, many Chinese cities consistently rank in the world’s most congested roadways. In fact, navigating traffic jams requires in-depth local knowledge of which roads to avoid and the times of day to stay off the highway. In a country where being on time matters, a delay could prove extremely costly in financial terms and could also damage goodwill with existing or prospective business partners.

  • Prepare for a different type of driving experience

The Chinese approach to driving involves practices alien to those from Western societies. For example, drivers often ignore red lights, and they also don’t yield to other drivers in the same manner those in other countries do. And it’s not unusual for a driver to veer into oncoming traffic to pass something in their lane. While the roads in major cities are generally well maintained, road conditions vary by municipality. If you plan to drive between major metropolitan areas, exercise caution—especially in rural areas. Parking space is available at a premium, so check with your hotel to make sure they will allow you to park a rental vehicle for a reasonable cost.

Instead of relying on public transportation or doing the driving for themselves, many executives opt for a car service with a prescreened, bilingual driver. By doing so, not only will an executive avoid the stress of driving in a foreign country, he or she will also arrive on time with plenty of additional time to prepare during the drive, resulting in a more productive meeting. And while violent crime is a relatively rare occurrence in China, an experienced local driver can make sure executives visit establishments in safe districts that welcome foreign business travelers.

For additional information on how to prepare for international travel, click here.