A Beginner’s Guide to Renting a Car in China

A Beginner’s Guide to Renting a Car in China

Over thirty million people visit China each year, including tourists and business travelers. China also has entire neighborhoods full of foreign residents. Although most foreign visitors in this rapidly developing nation choose to get by with the metro, trains and buses, the car rental industry offers another option. If you choose to see China from behind the wheel of a rented vehicle, rather than from out the window of the train, much of the routine involved will already be familiar to you – deposits, insurance, returning the car with a full tank.

The driving itself could be unfamiliar territory to you though, not because of the street signs since many of them have English along with Chinese, but because of the extraordinary traffic in some parts of the country along with very chaotic streets. However, the upside of renting is that you can avoid all the time spent in crowded bus and train stations, and just set off with a car that’s been delivered to your doorstep. Plus, you’ll probably have cup holders, something sleeper compartments on trains always seem to lack.

To get you started thinking about the process, and the prices, here’s a list of questions and answers that should prove useful to you in procuring a set of wheels.

What do I need to rent a car in China?

1) You will need your passport and a driver's license. What kind of license? Five of the six rental companies we spoke to said they only accepted Chinese driver's licenses, but one said that they would accept an international license. Six companies is a small sample size, but it's best to check first and not assume you can rent using the international license. If they won’t accept the international one, there are programs here that can switch you to a Chinese license in a matter of weeks.

2) If you pay by credit card (and some companies will not accept cash) then make sure you have a line of credit large enough to handle not just the rental price, but also the deposit, which can range between 2,000 and 15,000 RMB (250 – 2,000 USD). *

Does the price vary by day?

Monday through Thursday are the cheapest times to rent. During weekends and national festivals the prices rise about 20-25%.

What are the general costs and fees?

Not including any special services, daily rental prices can run you between 100 and over 1,000 RMB.** Those prices include car insurance. If you have a membership card at a certain company, there may be discounts along with it. Hiring a driver can cost between 150 and 300 RMB per day. A further rental service fee (a one-time fee for renting the car) runs about 35 RMB. Chinese rental companies also offer services such as GPS, baby seats and other special equipment. The price will vary.

How long can I rent a car for?

Rental companies here will rent to you for a minimum of 24 hours and all the way up to a year. The longer you are renting for, the lower the daily price will be.

How many cars can I rent?

Ordinarily most rental companies will only rent one car at a time. You can't rent another until you've returned the first. This practice is for their safety, so someone doesn’t rent a bunch of cars and run off with them. If you are a business, however, and are looking to rent a number of cars for your employees there are other options for you; many rental places will allow you to do multiple rentals if you show them your business license and pay significantly more for the deposit. You are likely to find such deals at the larger companies, but you might not have that option at the smaller shops.

How do I cancel a reservation?

You can usually cancel your reservation as long as you alert them at least 4 hours in advance.

Can I rent a car without a credit card?

For the car rental, you can usually use either cash or credit. However, many companies require that you pay the deposit with credit. If you don't have a credit card, some companies will allow you to use a friend's card, while others demand that you are the card holder yourself. It's best to check first.

Can I have the car brought to me?

Most rental companies will bring it to you for free. However, you will need to pay an extra deposit which will equal one day's rental price, and will have to notify them at least four hours in advance.

How do I deal with a car accident or breakdown?

If you have an accident, call the 110 police hotline and file a report. You'll also want to show the rental company a copy of your passport and driver's license. The typical car insurance will cover about 2,000 RMB worth of damage, so anything over this will come out of your pocket. If your rental car breaks down for more ordinary reasons, you can usually get free emergency help from the rental company.

How do I avoid any problems?

1. Make sure to check all the prices, rules and fees before you decide to rent.
2. When you pick up the car, make sure to check that everything is in working order and let them know if it is not. If they find damage to the car when you return it, you are the one responsible.
3. If the company doesn’t have the car that you wish, you can likely find it offered at another establishment.
4. As always, refill the gas before you return the car.

What are the most common cars available?

As you might suspect, the large rental establishments have an enormous variety to choose from. According to the people we spoke with, five-seater business cars are the most common. Popular brands include Ford, Honda, Buick, Mazda, Citroen, Chevrolet and Audi.
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