Driving in the U.S. with a Chinese Driver’s License

Driving in the U.S. with a Chinese Driver’s License

Millions of Chinese citizens travel to the United States every year for tourism and business purposes, and, barring the use of public transport, most will need to rent a car to be able to drive between attractions and appointments. However, many are actually unaware of whether or not it is legal to drive in the U.S. with a Chinese driver's license, and, if so, which states will accept the license as valid.

In order to travel to the United States, Chinese citizens are required to obtain a B1/B2 U.S. tourist visa, a multiple entry visa that allows a total stay of 180 days with each entry to the U.S. A B1/B2 visa can be granted with a validity of 1 to 10 years, depending on the needs of the traveler and the length of time the authorities wish to grant.

After obtaining a B1/B2 visa, it is also necessary for Chinese citizens to register with EVUS (Electronic Visa Update System) before traveling to the United States. EVUS determines the eligibility to travel to the United States and is valid for 2 years from the date of approval. Chinese citizens can complete an EVUS registration through a simple application online. Read on to discover the further steps Chinese citizens must take if they intend to drive in the U.S.

Can I drive in the USA with a Chinese driver’s license?

Whether you can drive in the United States with a Chinese driver’s license does not have a clear-cut answer, as every state has its own rules and regulations regarding using international driver’s licenses. For example, travelers from EVUS countries can legally use their Chinese driver’s license to drive in New York State, but by law are unable to do so in neighboring Massachusetts.

Some states do not accept a Chinese driver's license as valid documentation and require foreign travelers to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid license from their own country. Although Chinese citizens are not eligible to apply for an IDP, there are only a few states who enforce this rule, including:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Texas
  • Vermont

However, although these states insist on an IDP, you can drive in most states using a Chinese driver's license if visiting the U.S. for a short stay, if the driver has an English translation of the license with them.

Chinese citizens are advised to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state they plan to visit to make sure they can legally drive in that territory with a Chinese driver’s license. Alternatively, it’s possible to check directly with a car rental company in the state you are planning to visit.

How long can you drive with a foreign license in the U.S.?

Chinese citizens planning to drive in the United States should be aware that some states have restrictions on the amount of time you can use a Chinese driver’s license as valid documentation.

Those who are planning to obtain a U.S. residence permit and live permanently in the United States are required to get a driver's license from the state where they will live. Those who travel to the United States with a B1/B2 visa after completing an EVUS form will have to keep in mind the following time restrictions for driving in certain U.S. states. Age restrictions are also included, if applicable.

Up to 30 days Up to 60 days Up to 90 days Up to 6 months Up to 1 year
Nebraska Mississippi, 18+ Alaska, 16+ Utah, 16/+ Washington State, 16+
Washington, DC   Louisiana    
    West Virginia, 16+    

Chinese nationals are also able to use a Chinese driver’s license to rent a car or legally drive for an undetermined period of time in the following states. The minimum driving age for each state is included if applicable:

  • Alabama, 16+
  • California, 18+
  • Colorado, 16+
  • Delaware, 16+
  • Florida, 16+
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine, 16+
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota, 15+
  • Missouri, 16+
  • Montana, 15+
  • Nevada, 16+
  • New Mexico, 15+
  • New York State
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota, 16+
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma, 16+
  • Oregon, 16+
  • Pennsylvania, 16+
  • Rhode Island, 16+
  • South Carolina,16+
  • South Dakota, 16+
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia, 16+
  • Wyoming

Those who are planning to rent a car in one state and drive across others while in the United States should make sure that that all the territories they will pass through also accept a Chinese driver’s license as valid documentation.

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