Travel, Teach, Live in China
If you're planning to visit China or intend to live there for a short or extended period of time, there's a good chance you've also been thinking about what it's like to drive within the country. Even though you may be an experienced driver, it can often be a bit unsettling to drive in a foreign country. To help you prepare for your trip to China, here are some driving tips to take into consideration.
Should You Plan on Using a Driver?
If the thought of driving in China unnerves you too much, it might be best to simply plan on using drivers once you get there. Traffic conditions in China can often be quite hectic and congested, especially in the big cities. By using a driver, you'll avoid all the hassle and worry associated with driving a car yourself.
Are Bicycles a Good Idea?
The number of bicycles on the road surprises many people who visit China for the first time. You'll find that they are used in rural areas, as well as in congested city traffic. If you're up for the challenge of maneuvering a bicycle among cars through busy city streets, this mode of transportation could be the right choice for you.
Traffic Laws in China
When observing traffic in China, many foreigners get the impression that there aren't any traffic laws at all. Although there are laws, they are probably very different as compared to what you are accustomed to in your home country. Here are just a few of the unexpected "rules of the road" that you'll have to become accustomed to in China:
Merging: Basically, if a merging vehicle can find an opening, the oncoming traffic is expected to allow the merge and yield.
"First is Right": This basic rule can take a lot of getting used to. Essentially, it means that no matter what the situation, the car that has a slight lead or better access to an opening in traffic has the right of way. To the person unaccustomed to this kind of driving habit, it can appear as though cars are cutting each other off in traffic. This same rule applies when changing lanes. It can also be alarming to see cars turning left through oncoming traffic, expecting the approaching cars to give way. You'll often find that when a light changes from red to green, cars planning a left-hand turn through the intersection will go first, making the oncoming traffic wait until they have completed their turn.
Traffic Signals: Just as is the case in most places, a red light signifies the need to stop. However, you can't always count on a red light being adhered to in China. If there isn't any oncoming traffic, many drivers will simply go through a red light. If there are pedestrians in the way, they will usually honk their horn at them and keep on going. If you are a pedestrian, you should always make sure to cross only within the designated pedestrian crossing areas. Cars may not actually stop for you in these areas, but you definitely have the legal right-of-way there. Pedestrians, bikes and cycles are considered to have the right-of-way when there is a collision between these vehicles and larger vehicles, but it's best to always be on guard.
So You Really Want to Drive?
If you've decided you really want to drive during your visit to China, be aware that an International Driver's Permit is not a license to drive in Mainland China. In order to drive in China, you'll need an actual Chinese license. There is a computerized written test that must be passed. However, some people visiting China manage to obtain a license by first converting their foreign license to a Hong Kong license, then converting the Hong Kong license into a Mainland license. In the end, to drive or not to drive while visiting China is a personal decision that only you can make.