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I was recently at a car rental desk and next to me was a group of Chinese tourists renting a car. This was a bit perplexing since China is not a signatory to the 1968 Vienna Convention nor it is to the 1949 Geneva Convention. This means that China is technically unable to issue IDPs and therefore no Chinese license holders should be able to drive anywhere outside of China.

So my question is - do any countries in the world actually recognize Chinese licenses as valid? Or were those tourists breaking the law by getting a rental car?

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    I don't follow the logic. If China hasn't signed those treaties, that just means that no country is obliged by these specific treaties to extend driving privileges to Chinese license holders. It doesn't follow that "no Chinese license holders should be able to drive anywhere outside of China." Each country could decide, either on its own or by bilateral negotiation with China, to extend those privileges anyway. – Nate Eldredge Aug 3 '17 at 20:00
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    @NateEldredge well, China itself doesn't recognize any other licences, so why would anyone do the favor and recognize Chinese ones? – JonathanReez Aug 3 '17 at 20:33
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    In order to encourage Chinese tourists and business visitors to come and spend their money there? – Nate Eldredge Aug 3 '17 at 20:38
  • @NateEldredge sure, but on the other hand most states don't even grant visa-free entry to Chinese citizens, which would be a better start – JonathanReez Aug 3 '17 at 20:41
  • @JonathanReez I know of a few countries that let Chinese drive their own car (ie Chinese plates). And a friend of mine took a photo of a Sichuan-registered car somewhere between Bordeaux and Bayonne... A long way from home, and quite a few borders to cross from China... – user67108 Aug 25 '18 at 14:52
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International treaties do not completely determine a local country's rules in determining who can drive in the country. For example, from Driving on New Zealand roads:

You can drive in New Zealand if:

  • you have a current and valid overseas licence or driver permit, and
  • you haven’t been given a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand, and
  • you came into New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and
  • your overseas licence is in English, or you have an accurate translation, and
  • you haven’t been granted a New Zealand driver licence since you last entered New Zealand.

There do not appear to be any country-specific restrictions, certainly not for China (NZ hosts many thousands of visitors from China every year, and many of them drive). Factsheet 56 states that:

If your overseas licence or driver permit is not in English, you must also carry an accurate English translation issued by:

  • a translation service approved by the NZTA (visit our website at www.nzta.govt.nz/licence/residents-visitors/translators.html or phone 0800 822 422 for a list of approved translators), or
  • a diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy or consulate, or
  • the authority that issued your licence.

Note: if your driver licence is not in English, an international driving permit (IDP) – issued in accordance with a United Nations Convention on Road Traffic - may be acceptable as a translation.

China is not a signatory to the Convention on Road Traffic, but many other countries are also not.

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In the US it is dependent on the state:

According to USA.gov:

People who drive in the U.S. must have a valid driver's license. Some states require an International Driving Permit (IDP) from foreign nationals, in addition to a valid license from your own country.

Then I went to the State of New Jersey, Motor Vehicle Commission, and it states:

Foreign motorists with valid driver licenses from qualifying countries* are free to drive personal or rental cars while visiting the United States as a tourist and are advised to carry an International Driving Permit.

The asterisk led me to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, the Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Motor Vehicle Traffic, and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. China is not listed on any of them.

However, that is just New Jersey, in New York,

You can drive in New York State with a valid driver license from another state or country. You don’t need to apply for a New York State driver license unless you become a New York State resident.

If you have a driver license from another country you do not need to have an International Driving Permit, but it is helpful. The permit verifies in several languages that you have a valid driver license. Police officers who can’t read the language on your foreign driver license will be able to read the permit. Contact the authorities in your home country to get an International Driving Permit.

So yes, there are countries that recognize Chinese licenses as valid - the US, but it's dependent on the state. So they can't drive in NJ, but they can a few miles over in NY.

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Germany would recognize Chinese driving licence as valid:

If you hold a valid domestic driving licence or International Driving Permit, you may drive all categories of vehicle indicated on your licence in the Federal Republic of Germany. If there are any conditions or restrictions on your driving licence, you must also comply with them when driving here. However, your driving licence is not valid if you have not yet reached the minimum age required for the appropriate category in the Federal Republic of Germany and your driving licence was not issued by another Member State of the European Union or another state party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area. You must carry your driving licence with you when driving or riding a motor vehicle.

If you hold an International Driving Permit, you do not have to have it translated.

Source: Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure

  • Since the concept of an International Driving Permit (IDP) was created by the Vienna Convention, in which one of the requirements is that it be issued by a Contracting Party (i.e. a country that signed the Convention), it could be that the term IDP here only includes those which are issued by such countries. If so, then there is nothing in this passage that suggests that Chinese licenses would be recognized. – Nate Eldredge Aug 25 '18 at 14:51
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For the rest of China (excluding Hong Kong), you can drive in the UK for 12 months only. If you wish to continue to drive, you will need to apply for a UK provisional driving licence, pass the theory test and pass the practical driving test.

Source: Chinese Driver License in UK

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    Welcome Scoox. While we appreciate personal experience answers, yours does not seem to be much of an answer and more of a rant. Rants are not allowed here. I could bring up many arguments whether other people should be allowed to drive in the areas they visit, but that is not the point here. It is whether the laws allow them to drive. And it seems the law does. If you can edit the rants out of your answer it might be saved. – Willeke Aug 25 '18 at 13:19

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