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How do you get a license plate for a car in China?

For a foreigner living in China, it’s easy to buy a car – you don’t even need a driving license! However, getting a license plate and legally driving your new vehicle is a different story, especially if you are in certain cities that are trying to curb car use: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Macao and Hong Kong. In fact, some of those cities allow people to get their license plates before they get their cars, because the situation is so difficult!

Thankfully, on the mainland at least, once you have your license plate, you keep it, separate from your car – though you should contact the Vehicle Administration Office if you change or remodel your vehicle. In Macao, there is a similar system but there is a transfer fee, and in HK your license plate is tied to your car.


On the Chinese mainland

A normal car registration process and license plate application procedure on the Chinese mainland goes like this: 

  1. Pay vehicle purchasing tax at the State Taxation Bureau. The amount is 10 percent of the vehicle’s price.
  2. Buy Compulsory Traffic Insurance. This can be purchased in the automobile store where you bought your car, or from insurance companies, insurance agencies or independent insurance agents. 
  3. Go to your local Vehicle Administration Office (VAO) to get your car inspection patch and inspection certificate (the document that confirms what the inspectors found when examining your vehicle); you can read more about the inspection process, including VAO addresses, here
  4. While at the local Vehicle Administration Office, hand in the receipt (or “fapiao“) that you got on purchasing your car, the tax receipt, inspection certificate, the receipt of your Compulsory Traffic Insurance, and your personal ID to the license plate application window. 
  5. You will be given an application form to fill in; do so and choose a license number. You will also be given the choice of having your license plates delivered by mail or collecting them from the office yourself. 
  6. You will then have a wait for about a month for your plates to arrive. In the meantime, you can also apply for a temporary plate at the VAO. These are sheets of paper with random license numbers printed on them that must be placed in your car windows. Normally, temporary plates are effective for up to 30 days. The exact time will be decided by local Vehicle Administration Office and the effective date will be written on the paper. 
  7. If you do not already have a car, you must buy and register one within six months of getting your license plate.

If you live in a small city, those steps should get you your license plate. However, if you live in first-tier cities, where there are restrictions on how many license plates are given out in order to combat both pollution and over-crowding, you may need luck or money – or both! 




In order for a foreigner to apply for a license they must have lived in Beijing for over a year, must not possess any “passenger cars” (vehicles designed for carrying people rather than freight) and have an active Chinese driving license to apply for a license plate. If they win the lottery, they must pay a registration fee and a second fee to actually make the plate (this should come to a total of about 300 yuan), and collect it from one of Beijing’s VAOs, which can be found here (Chinese only).



In order to cut down on pollution and congestion, Beijing carries out a license plate lottery system. Applicants need to register on this website (Chinese only) and fill in their personal information. They should ensure that they put down their own name and cell phone number, not anybody else’s. 

Applicants who complete the registration procedure can proceed to apply for the license plate lottery. Each applicant receives an application number, and their application joins the others in a selection process.

Applications submitted before 12 midnight on the 8th of each month will then be checked by the public security department and the human resources and social security department of local government to ensure that the applicant meets the requirements. Those who are successful will be named on the website after 9am on 25th of that month. These candidates are then entered into a lottery process which is held on the 26th of each month. Applications submitted later than 8th of the month will enter the lottery pool of the next month. 


The lottery

The license plate lottery starts at 10am on the 26th of each month. After 12 noon, applicants can log into the site to see if their application was successful. Those that did not win will be automatically re-entered for the next five lotteries. Within that period, the applicant can use the licensing website to extend the application period manually for another six months, to a maximum total of 12 months. If the applicant does not win a license plate and forgets to extend the application period within the six month period, or if the applicant fails 12 lotteries in a row, they must apply for a new number and reenter the lottery. 

If a person loses the lottery 24 times, their chances of winning are doubled. After they have lost 36 times, their odds of winning triple.

Winning applicants will be given a special notice in the “My account” section of the application website (the system is in Chinese only), which they can print out. They should then return to the local Vehicle Administration Office within six months to claim their license plate; there is no mailing option. If the new plate is not picked up within six months, it will be canceled and the process will have to begin again.  



Shanghai uses an auction system to sell its license plates, limiting the numbers available in order to stop the overabundance of vehicles in the city. The average price of a license plate in Shanghai is around 20,000-30,000 yuan

In order to buy a license plate, foreigners must hold a valid driving license, have held a visa valid for more than six months, and have a Shanghai residence permit.

The auctions are conducted online or through a phone number pre-registered with the Guopai Auction Company. These auctions happen once a month, in the second or third week of the month. The exact date is announced on the auction company’s website (Chinese only).

Participants have to register before the auction at one of the following addresses: 

Room 11, Zone 4, Hongkou Football Stadium, 444 Dongjiangwan Lu, Hongkou district. 上海虹口区东江湾路444号虹口足球场4区113号

E1, Minhang Stadium, 288 Xinzhen Lu, Minhang district. 上海闵行区新镇路288号闵行体育馆E1

Guopai Building, 108 Fuzhou Lu, Huangpu district. 上海黄浦区福州路108号国拍大楼

Room 101, Block A, Yunding International Commerce Square, 800 Chengshan Lu, Pudong New Zone. 上海浦东新区成山路800号云顶国际商业广场A座101

Hours: All four offices open 9am-4pm from Sunday to Friday. They are closed on Saturdays, the auction day, and national holidays.

Contact: 021-6339-2222 (main office)

Registration is valid for six months. During the six months, the applicant can bid three times. If the applicant fails all three auction attempts, he or she has to register again. 


Guangzhou and Shenzhen 

These two cities offer both options – auction (with an average price of 20,000-30,000 yuan) and lottery – to give applicants the chance to grab a car for themselves. Lottery winners must still pay for their license plate production; this should be 154 yuan in Guangzhou and 125 yuan in Shenzhen.

To get a plate in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, foreigners must have a driving license and a valid visa, have lived in the city for over two years, and must spend at least nine months of each year living in the city. 

To apply for the lottery or auction of a Guangzhou license plate, please see this site (Chinese only). 

To apply for the lottery or auction of a Shenzhen license plate, please see this site (Chinese only). 


Hong Kong

In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, car owners must fill in an application form to apply for a license plate; fees vary depending on the make of car and its emission levels. There is also a requirement to pay a usage fee for the plates; this can be paid annually or every four months, as required.

The form can be downloaded online, or obtained from the License Plate Offices of the Transport Department of Hong Kong, or at post offices. Special number, or “lucky number” plates, are also auctioned by the department; to give you an example of such plates, on March 28, 2015, the auctioned special plates included “PL 1185″, “JW 375″ “HG 6″ and “SX 688.” 

After filling in the form, applicants should take the application form, a photocopy of their ID, and the license plate fee to their nearest license plate office, or post it to said office. The plate can later be mailed to applicant’s address or fetched in person from office.



Car owners in the Macao Special Administrative Region can choose from the 400 plate numbers that are published each day. Prices depend on whether you are buying from the first 200 plates or the last 200; those at the cheaper end cost 12,000 MOB while those in the more expensive half cost 20,000 MOB. There are also auctions for special number, or “lucky number” plates; previous plates have included “MU-11-11″ ” MU-18-81″ “MO-10-00″. In addition to the initial payments, license plate owners must also pay an annual circulation tax; this can range from 850-4,500 MOB, depending on the type of car and its emission levels.


Useful Chinese words and phrases

牌照 páizhào License plate
摇号 yáohào License plate lottery
拍卖 pāimài Auction
国税局 guóshuìjú State Taxation Bureau
车管所 chēguǎnsuǒ Vehicle Administration Office
交警 jiāojǐng Traffic police
交通强制保险/交强险 jiāotōng qiángzhì bǎoxiǎn/ jiāoqiángxiǎn Compulsory Traffic Insurance
发票 fāpiào Invoice/receipt
购车发票 gòuchē fāpiào Invoice/receipt for car
shuì Tax
车辆购置税 chēliàng gòuzhì shuì Vehicle Purchasing Tax
车检 chējiǎn Car inspection
检验证明书 jiǎnyàn zhèngmíng shū Inspection certificate


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3 Responses to How do you get a license plate for a car in China?

  • Hello!

    I was reading through the article. Well i am foreigner and i plan to go to China for 3 months as a tourist. How is it possible for me as a temporary tourist purchase a scooter and ride it legally? Do i need proof of adress to register vehicle on my personal name?

    Eenos Henno

    • Hi Eenos. We’re happy to hear you’re coming to visit China, and hope that you have a fun vacation here!

      As you will see in this article, the laws about whether you can drive electric scooters without a license depend on which city you are in, as there is no single country-wide law governing this in China. Petrol scooters always require a driving license. It would be difficult to run through the rules of each individual city, so we suggest that you enquire at the cities you visit when you get there, either at a police station or at the shop where you intend to rent or buy your scooter.

      The cities of Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Haikou, Nanning, Shenzhen and Zhengzhou have banned scooters altogether. 


      If you are going to use a scooter in China, remember that the roads here may be more chaotic and dangerous than you are used to in your home country, and may follow different rules. Please make sure you wear a helmet, and also follow this guide for tips on how to drive safely.

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