Getting your Motorcycle License in China – Michael’s Story
Want to know how to get a Motorcycle License in China. LTL student Michael Maris tells us how it’s done.
Since acquiring my motorcycle license in China in June this year, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some rewarding and genuinely life-changing experiences.
The chances are that if you are reading this article, you are either a student of languages or you at least plan to be.
The notion, therefore, of exploring other cultures – their practices, habits, and living spaces – is probably one that naturally appeals to you.
Motorcycle License in China – Why get a Motorcycle License in China?
Motorcycle License in China – Tight Knit Communities
Motorcycle License in China – Why I learned Chinese?
Motorcycle License in China – Motorbikes & Mandarin : What’s the link?
Motorcycle License in China – How to get the License?
Motorcycle License in China – What Documents do I need?
Motorcycle License in China – The Theory Test
Motorcycle License in China – FAQ’s
If this can be described as adventure of the linguistic kind, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that its road-based bedfellow is the humble motorcycle, which for the last hundred or so years has catapulted the petrol-head and the horizon-chaser around the world at sometimes breakneck speed, often to the delightful cacophonous burble of a two or four stroke engine.
Two wheels can take you where no other vehicle can, and do so whilst exposing you in the most immersive terms possible to your surroundings.
Like learning a language, they take a very long time to master; like living in a foreign country, they can be both intimidating and intensely exciting; and like achieving fluency while abroad, they grant you a very privileged access to unique and uncommon experiences.
What’s more, as I’ve discovered, motorcycle enthusiasts form tight-knit communities in every international destination and are some of the most welcoming people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
The notion of a common interest, a shared appreciation of and for what bikes enable riders to do, is something that transcends even the most obstinate of linguistic barriers, and lays a solid foundation for friendship and camaraderie even in the unlikeliest of far-flung places.
My motorcycle license in China has enabled me to ride dirt-bikes in the mountains a few hundred kilometres north of Beijing in a group consisting of four 老外 (laowai) and twelve Beijingers, skimming along the brows of mountains and over plains that lope towards Outer Mongolia.
Why get a Motorcycle License in China?
It allowed me to (legally) purchase a cheap but convenient Chinese dual-sport and avoid the subway by riding it to school, as well as being the catalyst for conversation with many locals as they gazed open-mouthed at a foreigner, yes, a foreigner riding a motorcycle in their city.
It was the cause of what is and will continue to be a deep and enduring friendship with a Chengde gentleman by the name of Li Hou Zi, with whom I ended up living and whose riding friends warmly welcomed me into their community as we sped through the twisty mountain roads on sports bikes.
Possessing the motorcycle license naturalized the decision to travel to visually and culturally spectacular Yunnan province, which borders with South-East Asia, and ride 2,500 kilometres over two weeks accompanied by a Kunming local, who taught me all sorts of local phrases in his musical dialect.
We reached freezing highland vistas at 4,500 metres above sea level, visited ancient Tibetanesqe lamissaries, and traced the Mekong river as it spilled and twisted its way down to the fertile wetlands of the lower country.
I even rode off-road over the Cao Yuan (Grasslands) which border Inner Mongolia, and crossed over into that country whilst part of a convoy of fifteen 4x4s, six motorcycles and two ATVs, in a dramatic and euphoric expedition which saw us tracing the contours of the rolling hills for which the area is famous.
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Tight Knit Communities
During all of this time, without exception, the company I was in spoke nothing but Chinese.
This not only allowed me to experience firsthand the non-classroom and undiluted side of the language, but also encouraged and substantially developed my spoken Mandarin.
Most importantly for anyone considering whether coming to China to study is a worthwhile investment, not a single moment of my adventures could have been possible without speaking Chinese.
As a student who recently finished an MA in some rather obscure if not deeply fascinating dead languages, I am very well aware of the sometimes overly ‘academicy’ nature of linguistic study.
The long days wrestling with your brain as you struggle to remember something only recently covered: the frustration of endless vocab lists, grammar memos, underlined headings and highlighted phrases.
Let alone the courage required, unknown to anyone who hasn’t studied a modern language, to just open your mouth and use your knowledge in those many densely-packed social occasions, when you know that even the slightest slip causes sense to tumble to the ground in an embarrassed heap.
Yep, learning any modern tongue isn’t easy, but Chinese perhaps rightly deserves its reputation as being one of the more difficult.
I have been studying a hair over six months and there have been some tough moments.
A large proportion occurred when the walls of the classroom seemed to be my horizon, and when the language seemed only to exist between the pages of the text book. But my point here is this.
Mandarin is spoken by one and a half billion people, and whilst it is easy to lose sight of its incredible applicability and utility whilst in the classroom, it is a ticket to life experiences.
Why I Learned Chinese
It is a language which furnishes the foreign speaker with opportunity, and immediately grants you the status as an ‘object of interest’ to the majority of the local population.
It enables you to travel in a simply massive country, swathes of which are unavailable to most foreigners because their inability to understand what people are saying leaves them dependent on a network of guides, hotel-arranged excursions and travel books.
It makes you the master or mistress of your own decisions, to step off the beaten path of tourism by genuinely conversing with locals over a beer and some lamb skewers, to know that you are capable of organizing your own transport and independently visiting a place of interest or a particularly well-known local restaurant.
So what, it might be asked, is the relevance of this to getting a motorcycle license in China?
Hopefully I have given some implicit sense that learning Chinese, and riding in China, are a perfect complement.
The one enables and indeed greatly enhances the other.
China is, as with every great travelling experience, what you make of it, and I would venture to say that time spent outside the classroom is as indispensable as time spent within it.
The most valuable moments here are always those which you didn’t expect; engaging with the bosses of local small restaurants, watching the Chinese at home during celebrations of festival days, wandering through the park and seeing how people behave in their free time here.
If understanding the language hugely accentuates that whole experience.
I’m sure you can imagine just how much it helps when you are way from the city centres, where the more traditional elements of Chinese culture still flourish, and where you get to see the ebb and flow of life that remains impregnable to the non-Chinese speaker.
Motorbikes and Mandarin – What’s the Link?
Riding a motorcycle with the ability to converse in Mandarin allows you to go on cultural safari, reaching parts of the country that very few foreigners have been or can get to.
The language works as the first and most necessary stepping stone on the intricate surface of Chinese culture while enabling you to access the deeper parts of it.
Riding bikes and learning Chinese serve equally well as metaphors for one another.
Both connote adventure, new experiences and places most people have never been.
Both represent a foray into the unknown, and a long and sometimes difficult road to some of life’s great moments.
There are times when you’re off balance and stressed, but it is the hard bits that act as the real catalysts for progression.
The rewards are superabundant, rich and exciting. If doing the driving qualification licenses allows you to ride bikes to interesting places, then learning to speak Chinese is a license to engage with and better understand the country and its people while doing so.
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How to get a Motorcycle License in China?
I was initially worried that a student visa might not qualify for the License requirements but when I went to the ‘Foreign Office of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration’, they reassured me that it was fine.
I hold a full category (no restrictions) motorcycle license in the UK.
It allows me to drive any motorcycle as well as three-wheelers.
I also have a car license. What follows assumes that you have either a car or a motorcycle license in your own country.
Without either of these the process to obtain your license is much longer and requires not just a theory test but also a practical examination, as well as arranging lessons to complete a mandatory number of ‘learning hours’ with a state-sanctioned instructor.
If you want to get a motorcycle license in China without going to driving school, you must already be in possession of a bike license in your country.
It is preferable to have a full category (i.e. no engine size/power output restrictions) entitlement.
If you already have these things then the Chinese government stipulates that all you have to do is a theory test and jump through a number of rather annoying bureaucratic hoops to get your license.
If you want both your car and your bike license, you sit exactly the same theory test.
The best category to aim for is the C1D which means you can drive any two-wheeled vehicle as well as cars.
Booking a Theory Test for a Motorcycle License in China
You need to go to…
Foreign Office of Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration
Address: No.18, East 4th Southern Ring Road, Chao Yang District
Tel: 87625150 (Don’t bother phoning, they never, ever, pick up)
Once there, you walk up the main steps, hang a left, and walk past the toilets until you reach a small room with seating and a video screen usually playing quite graphic videos of accidents.
There are a row of booths on your right hand side, and to your immediate right is a desk where you can ask questions.
The ladies there were very helpful and patiently listened to me as I laid waste to their beautiful language. Fortunately, they understood and gave me a document indicating everything that I needed to have with me if I were to book the exam.
They told me that usually when you book you can do the next week’s first available exam slot.
What Documents do I need for a Motorcycle License in China?
Armed with this information, and having heard it from the horse’s mouth, here’s what I had to take with me:
- Valid Motorcycle License
- Complete translation of your motorcycle license
- Resident Permit
- Medical Form
- Colour Photocopies of all of the above
- Passprot Photos
… and now in more detail
1) Passport, with at least 90 days remaining on your Visa.
2) Valid Motorcycle License from country of origin.
3) Complete translation of your motorcycle license. Some say that it has to be from an official translator, but the lady at the Motor Vehicle Administration building told me that wasn’t the case.
I asked my teacher to help me translate it. You do need a Chinese name however. I also included a complete translation of my entitlement according to the UK Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s website.
This was just to make sure that any officials looking at my document would know that the letters on my UK License (A/etc.etc.) don’t correspond to the Chinese categories.
I also wanted them to know for sure that my license was unrestricted so I could go for the C1D.
PS – if you don’t have a Chinese name, get one here, now!
4) Resident Permit/Form of Temporary Residence In PRC. This can easily be obtained free of charge in the first 30 days you’re in China from your local police station.
Thereafter there’s a charge. I obviously dismissed the 30 day window as unnecessary (it’s China, right?), so I didn’t do it in my first month, but it turns out that they can slap you with a fee if you don’t.
Fortunately the nice police lady was amused by my Chinese so she chose not to charge me.
5) Medical Form, which is obtained by going to a local hospital.
Some people say you have to go to an officially certified place but I went to a small hospital near Guanghua Lu and it took all of 10 minutes, start to finish.
I think it was 20 kuai. You need to get the form from the Motor Vehicle Administration place.
The exam is ridiculous: it consists of a 30 second eye exam and some smiles. They cover your eyes but it would be extremely easy to cheat.
6) Colour Photocopies of all of the above. This probably isn’t entirely necessary but you never know in China.
Definitely your Passport (its photo page, Chinese Visa page and the entry stamps). Definitely both sides of your Driver’s License and its translation, your Residence Permit and your Health Form.
I would suggest at least 3 copies of each. Probably comes to around 20/30 kuai.
7) Correctly sized colour passport photos, x6 (just in case). Easily obtainable at a print shop for around 20 kuai or less.
Tell them you’re doing your Driver’s License (驾照 Jià Zhào). There’s a specific format – they’re pretty small.
Once you have all of this stuff, you can pass go and collect 200 pounds, or…you can go back to the Beijing Motor Vehicle Administration Office and hand all your stuff in.
They ask for 50 RMB and then give you an available time slot for your exam.
I went in on a Friday (11th July) and did my test the next Tuesday (15 July). You are told to bring back a document they give you with your passport number and a photo of you, as well as your passport/form of ID.
Congratulations, you’ve now got your ticket to go and ride some of the most exciting and beautiful roads in the world.
Motorcycle License in China – The Test
Thanks to the ‘Drive in China’ App, I don’t think the test is challenging.
Most of it is common sense except road signs.
Whilst you can take the test in English, I think a basic knowledge of some characters helps when identifying whether a lane is Bus/Multi-Passenger, or whether a sign is indicating a Highway Entrance or Exit, to give some examples.
You definitely can’t completely neglect revising. A few hours and keeping an eye out for things when you’re in a cab or on the bus should be sufficient.
The lady at the Motor Vehicle Office suggested under her breath that buying the Official Book wasn’t necessary – the App does the job.
Be warned that the real exam I sat, had some questions that I didn’t encounter when revising using the app, and also that the choice of English is sometimes different, but still more or less decipherable.
Arrive early, sit at the back of the room so you’re the first in, enter your number on your document that they gave you when you registered for the test, and away you go.
10-12 minutes is all you really need if you don’t want to check every answer, but I went back and read through the whole thing again once I finished.
I had 25 minutes remaining from the 45 minutes you’re given.
After I passed (94/100) I went to the guy at the desk in the exam room and he told me to sign something and come back Friday to pick up my license. So there you have it.
It’s not a long process, just a bureaucratic one that takes some planning.
Good luck to anyone who’s trying to acquire their Chinese License.
Motorcycle License in China – FAQ’s
Can a foreigner gain a Motorcycle License in China?
Yes. Do note though, if you want to get a motorcycle license in China without going to driving school, you must already be in possession of a bike license in your country.
What documents do I need for the Motorcycle License Theory Test?
Valid Motorcycle License
Complete translation of your motorcycle license
Colour Photocopies of all of the above
How long is the Motorcycle License Theory Test?
45 minutes, which is more than enough.
Is the Motorcycle License Theory Test easy?
It’s not too taxing at all. Most of it is common sense except road signs.
What score do I need to pass the Motorcycle License Theory Test?
Out of 100 you must score 90 or higher. The pool of questions is 900 in total.
Where can I book a theory test for a Motorcycle License?
Address: No.18, East 4th Southern Ring Road, Chao Yang District, Beijing
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