Car and Driving:
Driving in Shanghai


Shanghai Traffic
You do not need a car to survive in Shanghai as taxis are cheap and plentiful and the subway system is new, clean and efficient.

If you live a considerable distance from downtown, it is likely you will have a car and driver supplied by your employer. Driving in Shanghai can also be particularly stressful due to most motorists flouting any kind of traffic regulations.

Plus, the traffic is particularly bad during the rush hour times of 7.30am-10am and 5pm-7pm.

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However, a determined few are willing to take the expensive and complex route involved in buying and running a private vehicle in order to feel that sense of freedom that driving can bring.

Importing a Car

Costs Of A License Plate

In a bid to curb traffic jams and pollution, Shanghai has restricted the number of license plates it issues each year and has priced cars as a luxury item for the local population. Although imported luxury cars (Mercedes, BMW) are very expensive, General Motors and Volkswagen cars, which are made in Shanghai, are cheap when compared to Europe or the States.

Individuals and private companies in Shanghai are free to buy a car but have to go through an arduous procedure before driving off. In order to register a new car, you have to bid in an auction for a restricted number of licence plates. The "sealed bid" auctions have been held by the local government once a month since 1986, with the lofty goal of keeping the number of cars under control and curbing traffic congestion.


About 5,000 licence plates are sold each month at prices averaging above 30,000 RMB. Bidders usually exceed the supply of number plates by a factor of two. To give you a rough idea of the bids below some statistics:

The Saturday bidding is held once a month at an auction house in Anting, an hour west of Shanghai. To participate, you must register at one of several places in Shanghai and pay a USD$250 deposit. The bids can also be placed by phone or on the Internet (since April 2003), but most people prefer to go to the site to size up the competition and enter their bid in the computer themselves...and then wait nervously to see whether the amount they offered was above the cut-off line.

Another option, is the possibility of buying a used car in Shanghai. Some 142,000 used cars were sold in the city in 2004, according to the Shanghai Second-Hand Car Association. Now there are some 900,000 cars on the streets of Shanghai, of which 300,000 are owned by individuals. This is possibly the easiest route and you should contact a local dealer for more information on the secondhand availability of the type of vehicle you are interested in purchasing.

What to be be aware of when buying a car

We recommend to select a reputable car dealer when purchasing a car and rather buy a so-called luxurious version which would be more comparable with a car of Western standards.

Costs Of A Car

The following other costs are involved when buying your own car:

Car Price (new or secondhand car)
Registration Fee
Road Tax
License Plate


Monthly maintenance, tolls and insurance comes to about US$3,000 annually, while the cost of a base license plate is about US$ 4,000.

Car Showroom in ShanghaiWith the cost of top-of-the-line imported luxury cars in the US$ 100,000 range, most expatriates drive General Motors or VW cars, both of whom have factories located in Shanghai. The popular MPVs cost in the US$ 25,000 range, while VW has just come out with a two door passenger car in the US$ 10,000 range.

While the true cost of a car is its depreciation, the second hand car market is very new in Shanghai (personal cars have only been a factor for a couple of years), and determining your car's depreciation is difficult.

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Car Leasing

Long-term car leases are a viable alternative to buying a car. The costs actually work out to be higher: buying a VW Santana 2000 costs about US$25,000, all in, while leasing it is about US$32,000. However, the cost is spread out over a year, instead of tying up capital, and at the end of the lease period, the lessee has the option of buying the car for a nominal price.

In order to lease a car, you will need the following documents:

Company's business license (if a company is the lessee)

Identity card, passport and local driver's license of the company representative

Company Seal

Refundable deposit of US$1200 - 3600, depending on the type of car and the length of the lease period




See also Shopping/Automotive

Car Renting

Opt for reputable car rental companies to avoid problems.

Car Repair/Spare Parts

It is best to ask your car dealer for their list of approved workshops. Some workshops make and use counterfeit car parts, which could compromise the quality and life of your vehicle.

If you know exactly what you need, you can also try "Car Parts Street", a two block long stretch of shops on Weihai Road, beginning at Shaanxi Road.

Hiring a Driver

Hiring a Driver in ShanghaiThe fear of navigating Shanghai's maniacal streets, is enough to detract all but the most car-mad of expats.

So why not let someone else take up the strain - hire your own driver.
For between 2,000rmb-3,000rmb, it is possible to hire an experienced driver.

He will also be able to help out with running errands like taking the ayi shopping or picking the kids up from school. Drivers are prepared to work long hours and collect you late at night after going out for drinks or dinner.

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Ayi agencies can help locate drivers and ensure that they have the necessary licence and paperwork. As with ayis, drivers can also be found advertising on boards in local western supermarkets like City Supermarket in the Portman Shanghai Centre. Ayis may often put forward their husbands or cousins as ideal candidates, which can work very well.

Riding a Motorcycle

Motorcycling in ShanghaiBecause of traffic congestion, there is a moratorium on purchasing new motorcycles.

Plus, two-wheeled motorbikes are banned from the city area. And, if you are used to a powerful motorcycle back home, take note:

you can only register motorcycles up to 250cc in Shanghai!

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However, bike-loving expats sometimes buy bigger-engined used bikes, which have been registered outside of the city. Especially popular in the expat community are the China-made Changjiang motorcycles, a copy of the R-12 BMW motorcycle with sidecar. However, another issue stacked against you is that sidecar motorcycles are banned from the elevated highways.

Needless to say, helmets should always be worn, but because of the sedate pace of traffic, smash-ups are rare, although there are plenty of mishaps. Motorcyclists must apply for a Chinese driving license, "D" (all motorcycles) or "E" (two-wheel).

If you want to get into biking while living in China, contact the group below. They meet every Saturday at 9AM at the bakery Bastian in Gubei by the pedestrian area beside Hongmei Lu. All motorcycle riders are welcome as long they know where the accelerator of the bike is. For detailed information send an email to or sent a SMS text message.



Shanghai Traffic

Shanghai drives on the right, but even those from countries where this is the norm find Shanghai driving challenging.

Drivers tend to gently waft in and out of lane with no warning, and pedestrians and bicyclists weave between the cars!

But, traffic is fairly slow, and most accidents are fender benders rather than fatal. Seat belts are required in the front seat but, unfortunately not yet for the rear seats.

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Driving License

Anyone who wants to drive in China must have a valid Chinese driver's license.

Those without a license will need to take a theory exam, followed by a minimum of 35 hours of practical (ie driving) lessons, after which they can sit for the driver's licensing test. The total cost of this is estimated to be US$ 500.

Those who have a valid foreign license or international license will need to complete a registration form (notarized by your consulate), undergo a health check and in most cases take the theory test.Private driving schools are beginning to mushroom in Shanghai, but the 100 or so driving schools operated by the Traffic Patrol Division are still considered the best. Contact them for a list.

It is suggested that before you consider getting a license you ride in a car for a few weeks to get your bearings and a feel for the flow of traffic. The many bicycles, motor scooters, and pedestrians make driving considerably different from most countries.

To get a Driver’s License, you will need to prepare for the following certificates: 

The process is then as follows:

1. Go to the Ministry of Automobiles, where you will be given two application forms which must be filed out in Chinese.

2. Within the completed chopped applications and RMB¥150, you must obtain a health examination test at the Expatriate Department of any hospital above district level.

3.  The original driver’s license must be translated by the Shanghai International Studies University - see below
With all the certificates and documents mentioned above, your digital photo, and RMB¥20, you must tale a written test at the Ministry of Automobile. If you fail the first tim, you must wait for tow weeks to retry.

The test is multiple choice and is in English. The license may be picked up one week later. The test is given on Monday and Thursday 08:30 –11:00 or 13:30—15:30.

Information on the process is courtesy of Jean Wu, China Helpline


Converting a foreign driving license

Applicants will obtain a Chinese driver’s license after passing a theoretical exam. Expenses in total are RMB155, translation fee of RMB60 for the documents not included.


Involved in a Car Accident

Chinese law requires that in the event of a car accident that causes injury, the injured should be taken to the hospital immediately, there should be no changes made to the accident scene, the police should be called, and all witnesses should remain at the scene until the police arrive. If there is no injury, the parties may settle the dispute on their own in terms of damages, but this may jeopardize any future insurance claim.




Driver Points System

Info: Overview of most important DIS Points
Exceeding speed limit
Failing to conform to traffic light signals.
Using a mobile telephone hand held whilst driving


Any fines - which are always relatively small - accrued are paid at the traffic police office nearest to the place where the offense took place.


Parking in Shanghai is in a state of flux in Shanghai - plenty of free street parking is still available all over town.

B but increasingly, so are multi-storey car parks and underground parking.

Car park attendants collect cash fees when there is paid street parking, while ticketed machines operate in the parking bays.

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