Is it possible to drive through mainland China, for example for transit from Kazakhstan to Vietnam, as a non-Chinese citizen, in an own car/van/truck?

This is about an European Union citizen, trying to make a tourist trip overland by car from the EU to Vietnam. This is about a special (equipped with sleeping, cooking and other facilities) vehicle, that the owner intends to keep and use in Vietnam, so buying/renting a vehicle inside China and selling it before leaving is not an option - the question is about driving a specific vehicle the owner already has in the EU to Vietnam. getting new licence plates is OK, as long as it is allowed to put back the old ones when the vehicle gets back to the EU.

What legal issues are there with getting in an own car over China, and how to overcome them?

Is it possible to drive a car with EU licence plates through China, or would one have to get something like temporary Chinese plates? Is an EU driving licence valid? Are there any customs issues one has to know about, and how long one can keep a foreign motor vehicle in China without having to pay import taxes on it?

  • 1
    You might want to ask the drivers license question separately.
    – Bernhard
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 14:21
  • 3
    I have a colleague who drove from The Netherlands to Beijing and back in 2010. He did this in a Dutch car. I do not recall the details, but I remember that he was not allowed to drive in China at all (as they don't accept foreign driver licenses) and he had set-up a meeting up front at the border with a Chinese guide. This guide drove the car to wherever he wanted. It cost my colleague around $4000, but he was staying for some time there (hiring the driver during that time) and he was with 2 friends, so they could split the costs. Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 20:42
  • @miernik: since you can't drive through Burma, either, you may want to look into doing part of the trip by sea.
    – Jonas
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 21:04
  • Probably useful Wikitravel - driving in China Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 22:43
  • Meanwhile, there is a German travel agency that explicitly offers self-driven rental car trips through China. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 18:00

4 Answers 4


It is extremely difficult to do what you want to do. It is not impossible but the bureaucracy is going to be a nightmare. In China, if an official has the power to grant you a licence, it does not mean he will grant that licence. Each city, or even each police district will have its own rules. Or more likely, when faced with a new situation and novel request, just make up the rules on the spot.

If the official doesn't know the rules, he won't go and look them up. Instead he will just say, "No." It is easier, and he won't lose face, for him to just say no and then check the rules later. Many rules however, can be side stepped if your have the right contacts and friends in the country.

I would strongly suggest you try to buy a second vehicle for the Chinese leg of your trip and sell it when you finish or try to rent a car. There are now some car rental firms operating in China and they will also help you with licences.

I have been driving in China for 3 years now, living here for 7 years. You can't use your EU licence in China. Nor can you use an International Licence. You must get a Chinese licence.

In a large city like Beijing or Shanghai, you can reasonably easily get your EU licence converted to a temporary 3 month licence by just paying a small fee. In other cities, you might have trouble convincing the local police office that such licences exist.

It is possible to get a full Chinese licence under certain conditions. These will vary form city to city. My own city police insisted that I must have a residence permit and complete the full test - in Chinese - before they gave me the licence. Other cities might only ask you to do the written part of the test and some even have the test translated into many languages so you can do it in your native tongue. Luckily for me, I had some contacts in the police and I managed to convince the local testing centre to just do the medical and written test. I still had to do it in Chinese only though as the police officer said if I couldn't do that then how would I read the street signs and that anyway their computer system only had Chinese installed.

Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, it is very unlikely that the traffic police department officers will speak English. You will therefore need to find a guide or translator to help you through the process of getting licences.

My suggestion would be to fly to Beijing first and get the licences shorted there. Beijing has more foreign residents and so the police there will understand what needs done and be prepared to help you. You can also spend some time making contacts that could help you if you have some issues on route. After that, fly back home and start your journey.


The information posted here is not entirely accurate as it seems either out-of-date or tending towards being very conservative. Hong Kong and Macau registered vehicles are allowed to drive on the mainland after affixing special Guangdong plates. I believe the same system applies for mainland Chinese vehicles wanting to drive in Hong Kong and Macau. In practice I have seen many Hong Kong registered vehicles driving in Guangzhou and even saw a Macau registered vehicle as far away as Kunming.

Lao registered vehicles can freely enter Yunnan at least up to Jinghong without affixing special plates nor does the driver need a Chinese license - Lao registered buses travel daily up to Kunming with just their Lao plates and for Lao cars special permission (requiring a Chinese guarantor) can be sought at the China-Lao border to drive all the way around Yunnan beyond Jinghong. Perhaps travel around other parts of China would also be permitted but these same documents would need to be brought to the border of each province and then applied for there - rules change over time but in the next couple of years vehicles registered in neighboring countries at least should have an easier time entering China and proceeding away from the borders. The only province where driving yourself in a foreign registered vehicle without a guide would be a problem is Tibet. Note however that Thai caravans have driven into Tibet - everyone drives their own vehicles, but the lead vehicle is locally registered and has a guide.

For foreign registered vehicles in other countries - yes you can drive yourself through China, but will require a Chinese license, that is brought to you at the border or you apply for and receive in advance to drive legally in China. There have been many foreign registered vehicles that have driven through China and then into Laos or Vietnam. It would be best to enquire through a travel agency back home with a contact in China to find out the most detailed answers. I have heard of special number plates being attached but apart from that you go along your way according to an itinerary you specify.

  • The HK vehicles that registered for Guangdong access can only drive in Guangdong Province. And vehicles from mainland DO NOT enjoy this privilege after protests in Hong Kong.
    – Ron Lau
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 6:14

It will be difficult. It is not even possible to drive with a Hong Kong license plates in China. There, you need to get a Guangdong transit License plate, which you do not want to pay for. For Hong Kong vehicles for example the prices are astronomical (currently around 100K USD).

So in the end it depends on the provinces you want to cross. Each province is managing their own rules when it comes to temporary license plates and permissions to import a car without paying duty etc. You will have to check the regulation of the provinces you want to cross and learn about their possibilities for temporary license plates. Same goes for the driving license.

China has been always very tricky with these matters and anyone from balloon riders to rally cars have had their challenges crossing the country. As an individual I would think that this is very difficult to manage - specially if you do not speak Chinese.

An additional challenge that you will have is to cross through China without making a huge detour. It is currently impossible for foreigners to travel into Tibet, so you will have a much longer trip already.


It is possible to drive through mainland China and tibet, from north to south or in the opposite direction, as a non-Chinese citizen, in an own car/van/truck/camper, even riding a bike. Quite a lot people have done it. You can find more information and like-minded people in FB overland group or overland forum.

About your questions:

Is it possible to drive a car with EU licence plates through China, or would one have to get something like temporary Chinese plates?

  • It's possible, and you will get a temporary chinese number plate.(several years ago it was metal but now plastic)

Is an EU driving licence valid?

  • No, EU driving license not valid, even international license not valid in china. You need temporary chinese driving license.

Are there any customs issues one has to know about, and how long one can keep a foreign motor vehicle in China without having to pay import taxes on it?

  • You have to pay custom deposit for your car, you get back your deposit after you leaving china. Amount of Deposit will depends on how expensive your car is and also depends on the border you will cross. You can negotiate with travel agency that who pay this deposit.

Legal issues will be:

1) Temporary import your car into china: foreign cars can be drove into china for travelling or race, which must be organized by an agency. And china custom will check if your car is organized by authorized agency when you driving into china.

2) Temp. chinese driver license and number plate: Your get these at traffic police office. They will check these documents: a) Your car's registration certificate; b) Temporary import license from chinese custom; c) Your travel plan from an travel agency; d) Your original safety inspection certificate(MOT) and translated version; e) Compulsory Traffic Accident Liability Insurance; f) Your car also have to pass the chinese MOT test!

3) China tourist visa: L visa, with travel agency's LOI(letter of invitation) and itinerary, you can apply L visa for travelling to china with your car. Better do it in your country or big consulates, so you don't have to provide flight tickets and hotel booking records.

4) Local Guide: You will also be required to take a local guide with you during the whole china self-driving trip!

In a word you need help from an angency, otherwise it's impossible.

More information about Drive into China / China Crossing

  • Just google horizonsunlimited or overlandsphere, or search overland group in facebook.
    – 500miles
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 10:21
  • 1
    If you are affiliated with the site you link to, please say so. (e.g. if you are working for the company / own the company or website, you must say this by our site rules)
    – mts
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 11:28
  • Downvoted for failure to disclose the affiliation which is obvious from looking at the user info page. Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 22:46

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