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A Look at Driving Tests in Asia

Asia is the world’s largest continent by area, and is home to more than half the global population. It’s also got a rather large number of cars: over half a billion of them, to be precise. This means that tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people take to the vast Asian road network every day. That’s why learning more about driving tests in Asia is so fascinating.

In a continent as diverse as Asia, you’d likely expect some variation in driving tests—and that’s certainly the case. However, you’re unlikely to be totally familiar with the quirks present in each country. Want a licence in Pakistan, for example? You can take your theory and practical tests on the same day. Not so in China, though, where you’ve got no fewer than four tests to pass. In Bhutan, meanwhile, you’ll need to don the national dress for your licence photo!

In this article, we’ve selected a few of the more notable driving tests in Asia. We’ll see what makes each of them different, and compare them to the UK test. Let’s dive in!


China
United Arab Emirates
Kazakhstan
Singapore
Thailand
India
Saudi Arabia
South Korea
Indonesia
Japan

China

Map of China

🇨🇳 DRIVING TESTS IN CHINA
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Varies by region
Beijing: Theory test: 50 RMB (~£6)/Practical test: 60 RMB (~£7)
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence 6 years/10 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests*

Where better to kick off our rundown of driving tests in Asia than in the world’s most populous country? Yep, our first stop is China, home to 1.4 billion people and over 200 million cars. Defining the exact cost of obtaining a licence in this sprawling nation is a little tricky. That’s because prices can vary by region when it comes to both lessons and test fees.

Fortunately, the process of getting on the road remains the same across China. Unfortunately for those who have to go through it, however, there’s a lot of work to put in. For a theory test, for example, you’ll need to cram from a bank of around 1,000 questions. To make things more interesting, some of these apparently bear little resemblance to reality.

Actual driver training, meanwhile, can involve driving around an intricately designed ‘miniature city’ the size of Harrogate. This, according to eChinacities, has its own highway, country roads and even a bus stop! Once your lessons are over, though, the ordeal certainly isn’t. That’s because those hoping to drive here will need to pass four tests. Here’s how it all breaks down:

  • Firstly, you’ll need to take a theory test. The test consists of 100 of questions, chosen at random. You’re able to take this test in numerous languages, including English, French, Japanese and Arabic.
  • Next up is the first of two practical tests. This is an obstacle course, and it takes place within the grounds of the driving school. You’ll have to deal with the likes of parallel and bay parking, uphill driving and an s-curve. Rather than an examiner, sensors and cameras will assess your performance.
  • After this, there’s a test that’s more akin to the UK practical test. This involves getting out on the road for real—though not for too long. In fact, the test may last just a quarter of an hour!
  • To finish, you’ll go in for another theory test, just to make sure you’ve paid attention. Get through these 50 questions, and you’ve got your licence!

If that all sounds like a lot, you might be able to get off the hook. That’s because foreign licence holders can convert to a Chinese licence simply by passing the first theory test alone. An unusual exception, however, is that drivers from Belgium don’t need to take any tests to get their licence.

* Hong Kong licence holders do not need to take practical or theory tests in order to exchange their licence for a UK one, provided they apply within 5 years of becoming resident. Additionally, the process of obtaining a licence differs in Hong Kong and Macau.


United Arab Emirates

Map of the United Arab Emirates

🇦🇪 DRIVING TESTS IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Theory test: AED 200
Practical test: AED 200
Medical requirements? Yes (eye test)
Validity of licence First licence (drivers under 21): 1 year
First licence (drivers 21 or over): 2 years
Renewed licence: 10 years for citizens, 5 years for residents
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

We travel from the Far East to the Middle East for our second destination: the United Arab Emirates. In the world of motoring, it’s well known as the home of the final race of the Formula One season: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But what about those whose driving ambitions lie on the highway rather than the race track? They’ll need to take a driving test, of course!

The first step to getting on the road in the UAE is opening a ‘traffic file’. This requires passport-style photos, a passport or residence visa, an eye test report, and (in certain circumstances) a ‘no objection’ letter. If this is all okay, you can then start learning with one of the country’s nine authorised driving schools.

As is the case in most countries, both a theory and practical test are mandatory. One interesting feature, however, is that all candidates must take theory classes as well as spending time behind the wheel. In fact, you’ll need to have taken eight hours of theory lessons before you can take the test. There’s even an equivalent to the UK’s hazard perception section, known as the ‘risks recognition test’.

Only once you’ve passed the theory test can you move onto learning to drive. Those who are new to driving must take at least 40 lessons before their test, with less stringent requirements for those holding licences from other countries. Unusually, the test itself will see you driving alongside three other candidates. Not ideal for those suffering from test day nerves! With this in mind, you won’t have long to demonstrate your skills. Make it through this, though, and you’ll have your new licence within just minutes.


Kazakhstan

Map of Kazakhstan

🇰🇿 DRIVING TESTS IN KAZAKHSTAN
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost No information
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence 10 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

We continue our journey through driving tests in Asia by heading to Kazakhstan. As one of the world’s least densely populated countries, there’s certainly plenty of space for Kazakhs taking to the open road! So, what is the process of obtaining a licence like here?

Well, things have become a little easier here in recent years. That’s because, in 2016, the government abolished a law that made training at a driving school mandatory. Now, it’s possible to rock up to the driving test centre without any official training. This might sound a bit shocking, but it’s worth remembering that the same is true here in the UK!

Another area of similarity is that anyone looking to get their licence must pass both a theory and practical test. Where things differ from the UK system, though, is that both tests take place on the same day.

Firstly, candidates must take the theory test—in either Kazakh, Russian or English. There are 40 questions to answer, with a pass mark of 38. After that, it’s time for the practical test. Rather than taking your own car, you’ll be driving one provided by the test centre. That’s because they’re fitted with a computer program that automatically monitors your score. You’ll rack up points for any faults you make, with each fault given a specific score, such as 20 points for stalling. You’ll need to stay below 100 to pass!


Singapore

Map of Singapore

🇸🇬 DRIVING TESTS IN SINGAPORE
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Basic theory test: $6.50 (~£4)
Final theory test: $6.50 (~£4)
Practical test: $33 (~£19)
Medical requirements? Yes, if 65 or older
Validity of licence 3 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must exchange their licence for a UK one, but do not need to take tests as long as completed within 5 years

Next, we move from one of Asia’s largest countries to one of the smallest: Singapore. There are over 5 million residents in this city state, so anyone on the roads here will certainly encounter plenty of traffic!

Now, Singapore has a reputation for exceptionally stringent standards and regulations. When it comes to the driving test, then, you might expect to jump through some hoops. As it happens, there are a few differences. Firstly, you’ll need to get through two theory tests: Basic (BTT) and Final (FTT). Driving schools offer theory lessons, but these are not mandatory. You have six months after passing your BTT to sit the FTT, and two years after passing the FTT to sit the practical test.

After this point, you’ll have the option to learn at one of the country’s three major driving schools or via a private instructor. Either option comes with enrolment fees—$96.30 for the former, and around $50-60 for the latter. The advantage of learning with a driving school, though, is that you’ll be training in the same centre in which your test will take place.

The practical test works in a similar way to the UK version. On the test, you’ll need to avoid scoring 18 or more demerit points, as well as any faults that result in an instant fail. (The UK test, for comparison, requires learners to commit no serious or dangerous faults, and no more than 15 minor faults.) After you’ve passed, it’s now a simple matter of paying $50 for your licence and hitting the road! You’ll need to display P plates for your first year of driving, which is a probationary period. Demerits apply in this too—don’t score more than 13, or you’ll lose your hard-earned licence!


Thailand

Map of Thailand

🇹🇭 DRIVING TESTS IN THAILAND
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost 300 THB (~£8)
Medical requirements? No
Validity of licence 2 years (first licence)
5 years (subsequent licences)
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

A favourite destination of backpackers the world over, Thailand is rightly proud of its reputation as the ‘Land of Smiles’. However, the country is equally notorious for its often chaotic traffic. Indeed, we featured Bangkok in our rundown of the cities with the worst road conditions. What role does the Thai driving test in this problem?

To begin with, there’s a common perception that the Thai driving test is, well, easy. That isn’t to say that would-be drivers don’t need to go through many of the same formalities as their counterparts in other countries. However, the speed at which they’re able to do so is rapid, with a multifaceted six-part test crammed into one day. So, what’s on the test?

  1. You’ll begin with a colour blindness test, which consists of looking at an image made up of coloured dots.
  2. If all went well, you’ll move onto a peripheral vision test. During this, you’ll need to look forward while correctly identifying the colour of a traffic light to the left or right of you.
  3. The next test will assess your reflexes using a simulator, which features an accelerator and brake pedal. You’ll need to accelerate until LEDs on a panel in front of you turn green, then brake before they turn red.
  4. Next up is a depth perception test, which ensures that you’re able to judge distance accurately. Using buttons, you’ll need to align a moving pin with another pin 10 metres away.
  5. After all of this, it’s on to one of the more recognisable parts of the process: a theory test. Since changes made in 2014, this has consisted of 50 questions, with a pass mark of 45.
  6. Finally, candidates sit the practical test. By all accounts, this is far from the trickiest in the world. All you’ll need to do in order to pass is drive around a small course, and reverse park without hitting any traffic cones. Candidates can hire a car to use for the test for 100 TBH (~£2.50).

While this may seem like quite a lot to get through at once, it’s worth noting that candidates often have multiple attempts to complete several of the tests, such as peripheral vision and depth perception. This isn’t the case for the theory or practical tests, but quick resits are possible for both. With all this in mind, it’s easy to see how many drivers can end up on the road unprepared—and why the consequences later on can be so severe.


India

Map of India

🇮🇳 DRIVING TESTS IN INDIA
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost No information
Medical requirements? No
Validity of licence 20 years or until the age of 50
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

It would be remiss of us to write an article on driving tests in Asia without taking a look at the situation in India. This is important for two key reasons. Firstly, with India set to become the world’s most populous country within just years, the test here affects over a billion potential drivers.

Secondly (and more worryingly), India’s record when it comes to road safety is notably poor. In fact, Reuters labelled its road network the “world’s most dangerous” after more than a million deaths due to RTCs in just a decade. That’s especially concerning given that, at present, the ratio of cars to people remains low. As this figure rises, the potential exists for road deaths to spiral without immediate action.

One place to start making changes is with the driving test. According to InsureTheBox, the Indian practical consists of driving in a straight line for less than 1 kilometre, turning left, and stopping. Many drivers, however, don’t even bother with that. In 2017, The Times of India reported that 59% of drivers admitted they’d never taken a test, with many simply paying officers to obtain their licence.

While the latter problem is difficult to root out, there are, at least, attempts being made to improve the standard of testing. In early 2019, new automated testing centres opened in Delhi, giving candidates a much more rigorous challenge. This includes reversing along an S-shaped track, uphill driving, and figures of eight. Sensors will mark the candidate’s ability, increasing transparency and efficiency. Though not an overnight fix, it’s hoped that this will, over time, see drivers adopt better, safer habits.


Saudi Arabia

Map of Saudi Arabia

🇸🇦 DRIVING TESTS IN SAUDI ARABIA
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost SAR 435 (~£90)
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence 10 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

It’s hard to write about the Saudi Arabian driving test without noting that, until recently, half of the country’s population were banned from getting one. The long-standing prohibition on women’s driving was finally lifted in June 2018 following years of activism on the part of the Women2Drive movement. Since then, according to a Saudi official, around 70,000 women have obtained licences.

Nonetheless, it would be difficult to say that true equality has been achieved. Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the leading figures in the Women2Drive movement, rose to prominence through acts of civil disobedience such as attempting to cross the Saudi border while driving on a UAE licence. As of June 2019, she remains in detention more than a year after the end of the ban.

Meanwhile, the system of male guardianship remains in force for all Saudi women. This precludes women from being able to perform certain activities, such as leaving the country, without permission from their father or husband. Getting a driving licence, however, does not require a guardian’s permission.

The process of getting a licence takes two days, and is now the same for any Saudi—male or female. Candidates must attend a driving school, taking with them paperwork including an eye test report, blood group and passport photo. Another eye test will take place on site, before a very simple initial driving test consisting of observations and driving around a roundabout.

After this, candidates attend an afternoon theory class, lasting around 3 hours. They then sit the theory exam the following day, before taking the final practical test. This involves driving around a short course, including reversing into cones and navigating an S-shaped track. If successful, candidates obtain their licence the same day.


South Korea

Map of South Korea

🇰🇷 DRIVING TESTS IN SOUTH KOREA
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost Theory test: 7,500 won (~£5)
Course test: 17,000 won (~£12)
Road test: 25,000 won (~£17)
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence 10 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must exchange their licence for a UK one, but do not need to take tests as long as completed within 5 years

It’s not often that a driving test pass makes international headlines. In 2010, however, that was the case for one South Korean woman: Cha Sa-soon. The reason for her fame? She failed her test hundreds of times, finally getting her licence at the 960th attempt.

With this in mind, you might expect the South Korean test to be particularly tricky. It may surprise you to learn, then, that the test is actually considered relatively easy. In fact, tourists from China have started flocking to the country for an easier and cheaper way of getting a licence.

On the face of it, this might seem odd. After all, anyone looking to get a test must complete a set number of lessons with an instructor, before taking three tests: a theory test, an ability test on a closed driving course, and a road driving test. However, things aren’t as difficult as they seem.

In 2011, the South Korean government took the unusual step of making it easier to learn to drive. This included reducing the number of required hours of training and cutting certain examination categories. In the wake of this, the pass mark for the driving course test spiked to a huge 92.8%. Road test pass marks fell, however, causing concern about whether simplifying the test resulted in unprepared drivers.

The government changed tack in late 2016, instituting a tougher driving course test, which now features hill starts and perpendicular parking. Since the changes, the pass rate for this test has fallen to around 30%. Nevertheless, the test remains simpler, more cost-effective and less bureaucratic than the Chinese option. For now, the trade in driving test tourism looks set to continue.


Indonesia

Map of Indonesia

🇮🇩 DRIVING TESTS IN INDONESIA
Minimum age 17
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost 120,000 IDR (~£7)
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence 5 years
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must retake tests

Indonesia is Asia’s third most populous country, home to over a quarter of a billion people, and the largest island nation in the world. As is the case across much of south-east Asia, motorbikes are the most popular form of transport here. In fact, according to Statista, 85% of Indonesian households own a motorcycle or scooter. It’s cars we’re interested in here at PassMeFast, though—and while they may not be every Indonesian’s preferred vehicle, there are still over 22 million of them in the country.

The driving licence in Indonesia is known as SIM, an abbreviation for Surat Izin Mengemudi. Getting one starts with a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles or police station with the required paperwork, including your passport and a doctor’s note stating that you’re in good health. Additional information may be required if you’re not an Indonesian citizen, such as certificates from the police.

In order to get your SIM, you’ll first need to pass a theory test, which takes 30 minutes. It consists of 30 questions, with 21 being the pass mark. Assuming you pass, you’ll then move onto the practical test. (Don’t worry: the test centre can provide the car for you!) The test itself isn’t especially lengthy, but can prove tricky. You’ll need to prove that you can:

  • Drive forwards and reverse for 50 metres along a narrow road lined with cones
  • Slalom around 9 cones, both forward and reverse
  • Complete a reverse bay park and parallel park
  • Stop safely while driving uphill and downhill, as well as performing a hill start

According to the Jakarta Post, however, it’s not uncommon to see hopeful drivers try an ‘alternative’ way of getting their licence—bribing officials. The problem is to such an extent that signs now appear outside some test locations, warning candidates against the practice.


Japan

Map of Japan

🇯🇵 DRIVING TESTS IN JAPAN
Minimum age 18
Practical test?
Theory test?
Cost ?
Medical requirements? Yes
Validity of licence ?
Valid in UK? Yes, for up to 12 months
After 12 months, drivers must exchange their licence for a UK one, but do not need to take tests as long as completed within 5 years

Last in our rundown of driving tests in Asia is Japan. Together with South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, Japan is one of a few ‘designated countries’ with agreements with the UK. This means that it’s possible to exchange a Japanese licence for a UK one without sitting any tests. Part of the reason for this is, undoubtedly, that if you’ve managed to get your licence in Japan, it’s highly likely that you’re already a very skilled driver. That’s because the Japanese test is ranked among the toughest in the world.

There are different paths to getting a Japanese licence. Before you can get to the stage of obtaining a full licence, though, you’ll need to get a learner’s permit. Unlike in the UK, this isn’t as simple as applying. Instead, you must prove you’ve got the appropriate theoretical knowledge and practical skills first. (We told you it was tough!)

One of the most popular ways to get a learner’s permit is to attend what’s known as a ‘driving camp’. Here, you’ll take at least 30 hours of training, which is a prerequisite for getting a Japanese licence. You may also have the option of obtaining a diploma, which acts as proof of your driving abilities. It also means you can bypass the need to take an additional test on a driving course, which those learning outside of a driving camp will need to take independently. All learners, no matter which path they take, will also need to pass a theory exam before obtaining their permit.

Got your learner’s permit? Great! Now, you just have to make sure you get in some practice on at least five separate days before there’s another theory and practical test to sit. The pass mark for this final theory test sits at 90%—no mean feat. Then there’s the final driving test. All candidates practise specific routes in advance, and are expected to know where they’re going. The test is marked according to a demerit system, and you’ll lose points for infractions such as inadequate observations or going above the speed limit. You’ll also need to display your reverse or parallel parking skills. Once all that’s done, congratulations: you’ve survived (just) and got your hands on your very own Japanese licence.


Our whirlwind tour of Asia ends here! To get the lowdown about more driving tests around the world, check out our articles covering Europe and Africa.

By Andy Boardman

Andy fell in love with driving while road tripping around Iceland. He'll provide you with plenty of useful motoring advice, helping you to get the most out of every trip. When he's not writing here, you're most likely to find Andy on the way to his next destination.

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