If you’ve lived in Beijing for very long, you know that transportation for trips out to the Great Wall or the countryside can be expensive, or inconvenient. So my wife and I decided to purchase a car. I already had my Chinese driver’s license, so we registered in the lottery (摇号) having convinced ourselves we would eventually be granted a license plate. However, three years later, many of our local friends had been granted plates, but we had given up. What other recourse did we have? We could rent cars when needed, but that was a hassle, or we could borrow cars from our Chinese friends, which we had done on a number of occasions, but that’s just not the same as packing for two or three nights and heading out to the countryside on a whim.
The solution for us was a Chinese motorcycle license (摩托车驾照). There is no lottery for a motorcycle license plate, and no restrictions (限号) likely the weekly one day restrictions automobiles have to deal with. We both decided this was a brilliant idea, the only problem was, I had no experience on a motorcycle, and no foreign license I could use to avoid formal training class in Beijing. How did I get through the process? This blog is the story of my own experience with the process, and the result.
In order to apply for a motorcycle license, China law requires that you either hold a Chinese drivers license for one year or can prove you have an overseas motorcycle license. So if you don’t have a motorcycle license from your home country you must first provide the necessary documents for your drivers license application at the Chinese equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), International Department (北京车辆管理所涉外管理科)near Shibalidianqiao (十八里店桥). These include your current Passport and current Resident permit with a minimum validity of 90 days, a valid drivers license issued from your home country with a certified translation, four 1” photos with white background, and a health certificate issued by an approved hospital. Bring several copies of each when you make you application.
You can get your health certificate at almost any local hospital, which I found very simple to retain for my original Chinese drivers license at the Sino-Japanese Friendship hospital International Department. I just told them what I needed, provided a photo (this is in addition to the 4 required with the application), had a hearing and vision test, and was on my way with health certificate in hand.
Submit all of these documents along with several copies of each and the current application fee to the DMV and sign up for a test date. The test for either a regular drivers license or motorcycle license consists of 100 test questions that are taken from a much larger selection of questions. Be sure to purchase a copy of the test questions and answers available in English at the DMV and allow enough time to study well when you sign up for a test date. There are several hundred questions to study, and 90% is the minimum passing score, so be prepared. Your test will be taken on a computer system that will give you your score immediately. Assuming you pass the first time, you can go back to the front desk and either arrange for your license to be mailed to you, or in some cases, you can wait for them to prepare it and take it with you.
If you’re among those who already have a motorcycle license from your home country, then you can follow all of the instructions above, with the exception that you must apply for the motorcycle test. This test also consists of 100 questions chosen from a list of over 400 multiple choice and true/false questions. Take note that the test is only available in Chinese. But if you read some Chinese, and are determined to pass, then you can take advantage of an app that has all of the test questions and also includes practice tests. You can find the app at www.jiakebaodian.com . This app was a lifesaver for me as it provided the opportunity to learn all the characters I was lacking to read well enough to pass the test.
The rest of the story.
So once the decision was made, I began to research the motorcycle license process. Having passed the English test a few years earlier, and so now qualified to apply for the motorcycle license, I was thinking “how hard can this be”. I was soon to be enlightened. So in addition to having retained a drivers license, I was now required to not only pass the 100 question motorcycle test, but also had to take a practical riding class and pass a riding test. The practical riding course was by far the most interesting and enjoyable part of the process.
Foreigners are require to sign up for the riding course at the Laoshan jiaxiao (老山驾校). You can see their website at http://www.laoshanjiaxiao.com and find their address just north of line 1 using your favorite maps app. I suggest you make a stop on the way and get your physical exam report at the nearby hospital (石景山医院).You want to head over to east entrance where you can find the physical exam department (体检). They first asked for a photo and an application, which I filled out in a couple of minutes. I then stepped over to the left where a nurse examined me along with an older Chinese gentleman. We both looked at a few pages in a book to check for colorblindness, followed by the vision chart. She then sent me next door to pay 10RMB, after which I returned with a receipt to pick up my completed exam form.
It’s about a brisk 15-minute walk from the hospital to the school. You can take a taxi up there, but it may take a while if you want to take a taxi back as the school is a bit secluded. I walked in with great confidence, submitted my documents to the school (all the same as those required for the drivers license) and was then asked how well I could read Chinese, “你的汉子怎么样”, I was shocked to learn that the motorcycle test was only available in Chinese. I’d been studying an English version, but later learned the test had been revised and was no longer available in English. To be honest, I was certain as I paid for the course that I would not be back to take it. Another surprise was that foreigners don’t pay the same fee as the locals. At first I thought this unfair, but as I went through the process I realized Laoshan has to provide more services for foreigners. Below is an overview of the process. You can see that you have to pass a 50 question test before you can schedule your riding class, but you have to pay for the classes in advance of the first test. On the way home I sent a message to my wife that it would be a miracle if I got my license. I still believe it was a miracle.
1) Prepare all the required documents, photos, translation and copies.
2) Get a physical exam certificate.
3) Go to the Laoshan school with all of the above and pay for the course.
4) Get a phone call from Laoshan school to meet them at the DMV and sign up for the first 50 question test. There representative will be there as scheduled to help you get signed up for your test.
5) Go back and pass the test.
6) Take your test results back to the Laoshan school and wait 2-3 days for them to call you with your class dates. Note that when you sign up for class you have the choice of weekend classes or a 5-day midweek morning class.
7) Take the riding course and pass the riding test.
8) Go back to the Laoshan office with your results (note that only foreigners have to follow this process). They will call you in a few days to let you know when you can go back to the DMV to sign up for your final test.
9) Go back to the DMV at the designated time, pass your test, and either wait for your license or arrange for them to mail it to you.
A few days later I got the call from Laoshan to meet their representative at the DMV. As it turned out, there were two of us there to register for our first test. I set mine test date up for a two week delay figuring I needed as much time as possible to prepare for the test, but I still had no idea how exactly to prepare. After we had both set our test dates the other student asked our rep the key question “What is the best way to study for the test”, she was a bit perplexed at the question, “You don’t know about the app?”, I should have known, there seems to be an app for everything these days, why not one that includes everything you need to study for your Chinese motorcycle license.
As it turns out, the app did not work on my iPhone, but they also have a website that works just the same (http://www.laoshanjiaxiao.com), or even better for me when studying at my desk with my laptop. So over the next two weeks I spent many long hours reviewing all the answers to both the multiple choice and true/false questions. I then used the practice test function. This was no longer about freedom for my wife and I to travel, it was more about the challenge of passing the test.
On test day my wife came along for moral support. You basically just need to show up a few minutes before the test. There are usually quite a few folks waiting. When the test time comes an official will make an announcement and everyone will head upstairs to the testing room. I needed some help finding the motorcycle test on their computer system, but once situated I rolled through my 50 questions in about 12 minutes, missing one question. I was out so quickly my wife thought something had gone wrong. We had experienced the first miracle in the process.
We then went directly to Laoshan and showed them my test result. They were a bit surprised, which was an encouraging reaction. They called me a couple days later with the start date and basic information for the riding course. The only items I was required to bring were all my documents, including the receipt for my payment, and a helmet.
My first class started at 8AM on a beautiful Spring Monday morning. After passing the first test, I was really excited to get started riding. I’d only borrowed a motorcycle for 30 minutes so I could teach myself how to use the controls, shift, etc. This proved extremely helpful as our instructor didn’t do much instructing. He did a roll call, walked us through the course we would be tested on that Friday, showed us how to start the old 70cc bikes we would be using all week, assigned us riding partners for taking turns through the week, and then watched us for a few minutes as we took our turns going through the course. For the better part of our first 3 days he left us alone to figure things out for ourselves, coming back now and then to make sure we hadn’t destroyed any equipment. There were sixteen of us in the class with 8 motorcycles going through the course. On the first day he told us that the law required us each to be there on time each day and to practice until 12PM. There were several students who asked if they had to come every day, and he just repeated himself. In the end, most of us were there every day, but a few only showed up now and then. For the most part, in the end, it didn’t matter what technique we used, it was about getting through the course without any of our mistakes being noticed.
On Thursday our instructor had us line up our bikes and ourselves up just as we would be for the police officer who would be arriving to observe us the next day. His main point was that we should do our best, and if we made any mistakes and the officer asked us how it went we should just pretend it went fine and tell him so. If he asked us twice, we were to tell him we made a small mistake, in which case he could still pass us or give us a second chance.
We were all lined up and ready to go when the officer showed up. He gave us some simple instruction and then we got started. It was surreal. Here we were, 16 of us testing for a motorcycle license and about 10 more testing for a sidecar license. There were at least 3 of us on the course at any given time with the officer speaking with each of us and signing us off as we finished. That is one pre-occupied officer, sitting in his car, facing away from half of the course, and trying to observe all of us…impossible doesn’t describe the conditions. Several made mistakes, some of them fairly major, but he didn’t catch any of them. Needless to say, everyone passed on the first try.
The officer then excused me to go to the office (all the locals then had to go to the local DMV office and immediately take their test). At the office they confirmed my results and once again told me they would be in touch to tell me when I could go back and sign up for my last test.
About a week later I was back at the DMV, but this time I wanted to test as soon as possible. I continued to practice for the test, and when the time came I passed with a 100% score in about 10 minutes. 30 minutes later I had my license in hand and my wife and I were on our way home to celebrate. A completed miracle.
There is much more to this story with respect to my Laoshan school experience. My fellow students were incredibly helpful and great fun to be with. We still have a Wechat group that stays in touch. Some of them go on rides together and all of them have treated the laowai (老外) like I was their mascot.
My wife and I have also really enjoyed the freedom our Suzuki GW250 has given us. We ride it everywhere, but mostly out to the north of Beijing. Road fees are the same as for cars, but that and fuel costs are very inexpensive compared with hiring a driver or renting a car.
This is a friend who has a sweet little B&B out near Mutianyu Great Wall
I’ve since also tested for and retained my motorcycle license in my home state. Someday, when we move back to the USA, I’m hoping to ride there too.
As the owner/manager of 1on1Mandarin I do reap special benefits. Our teachers and staff are always will to see their laoban and all of our foreign staff and Chinese language students succeed. www.1on1mandarin.com