There are several options for foreigners planning to drive in Taiwan. Getting a driver’s license via a local driving school is just one of them.
By Stuart Hill
What does it take to legally drive in Taiwan? And how do you get your Taiwanese driver’s license? It really depends on how long you expect to stay in the country.
For relatively short-term stays, using an international driver’s license is the easiest approach. Your license is valid for roughly 30 days, which is probably plenty of time to check out all the places you want to visit.
If you find a job or get married and are entitled to an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) chances are you are planning to stay longer. In this case, extending your international license to the end of your ARC validity is a smart approach. (Check out this excellent Tealit article to understand all the steps involved in getting your driver’s license ). However, the government expects you to apply for a local license if your ARC is valid for longer than one year.
If you don’t have an international driver’s license, or if you don’t qualify to convert your country’s license to a Taiwan license, then you are going to have to pass some tests before you can legally drive on the roads. There are various penalties for driving without a license, not to mention insurance hassles should you ever run into trouble.
The TAIPEI MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE outlines the requirements for how to process your application. As an aside, if you have never driven before and don’t have a license in your country of origin, then you will need to start from scratch as a learner driver; you must hold a learner’s license for 3 months before you can apply for the full driver’s license.
In summary, if you already have a license in your own country or passed the 3 months as a learner driver, the main steps to getting your full driver’s license are:
- Get a health check, which mainly tests for hearing and eyesight
- Pass the written test, which you can take in English (among a range of Asian languages)
- Pass the road test, which you can take at the Motor Vehicles Office on a special testing circuit
Here’s the process represented as a diagram from the TAIPEI MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE website.
Seems quite simple. Yet for many foreigners it could seem a bit daunting to get straight behind the wheel and take to the streets of seemingly chaotic Taipei and other Taiwan cities.
How long has it been since you sat behind the wheel? Which side of the road are you used to driving on? What do you know about basic car maintenance? What kind of signs does Taiwan use and what road conditions can you expect in and beyond the big cities?
Getting a license by taking a driving course
A way to help answer these questions, and allay a few anxieties in the process, is to attend lessons offered by one of the government-approved driving schools. One such place is the WenShan Driving School, a short walk from the XinHai MRT station on the WenHu (Mucha) line. It is easy to find and they have a map with directions on their website. The website is written in Chinese with smatterings of English (and was probably designed in the late 80s, beware the background music!) . You can register online if you don’t want to visit them in person.
Part of the “TopDrive” network of driving schools, the WenShan Driving School is romantically described as Taiwan’s only “gardenized” track; and it is one of the greenest, prettiest places to learn to drive and take your road test, surrounded as it is by picturesque “gardens”. The gardens are overgrown gravesites, but don’t let that or the ducks and fish fountain distract you from what is a peaceful place to build your knowledge of cars and your expertise in driving them.
My experience was that the staff members were friendly and helpful. They will take you through a (Chinese) contract which outlines how much you need to pay and what you will get in return. They ask for an NT$3,000 deposit to register, with the remaining paid before classes start. One of the younger staff members knows some English. The cost in total, including driving lessons, road rules classes, test fees, license application fees, fees for transport to and from the written test, come to around NT$14,000 all in.
You’ll also need to prepare 5 passport size photos, for your health report, the school’s progress card, and your license.
In contrast, without lessons and handled directly through the MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE, the cost is NT$450 per exam (check for current fees with the office directly). You also need to pay for sight and hearing tests.
But based on feedback from friends, you might need to take the driving test a few times to get familiar with the testing circuit. Another approach is to find a school and simply pay for a few hours of DIY training on their track. You can pay an hourly rate.
At WenShan Driving School you book the time of day you want to attend and get allocated to a student group. Mornings and evenings are the busiest times, as that’s when most working Taiwanese have time to take classes. I chose an early afternoon class as it seemed a more relaxed time of the day. Most of the other students were college students, although there were a couple of older Taiwanese learning to drive too.
Lessons include road rule theory and basic car maintenance. Before official theory starts, you receive an overview of what to expect from the upcoming lessons, with an explanation of the basic course services that you will receive, plus what to do in case of sickness or typhoons, and where you can get more information online about the course and the road rules.
Road rules theory is taught over 3 Saturday mornings, from 9 am to midday. Classes are in Chinese, but many sample videos are shown which can be followed easily. Some are taken from overseas drunk driving education campaigns. Others are fairly graphic videos of accidents taken from Taiwan news or closed-circuit TV.
The teacher goes over the key things that you should know before taking the written test, and to keep up in Chinese, you really need to comprehend page numbers. Marking the page in your rule book is the main thing you need to do during class.
You can practice the written test on special test simulators (computers) at the WenShan Driving School, or go directly online to take the “mock driver sim tests” provided by the MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE.
The week before your written test the teacher will focus specifically on the questions you will most likely face during the real exam.
Driving classes are Monday to Friday each week for four weeks. Each day you and your instructor will sign off on the content you have learnt. You keep track on a progress chart that is kept in the school office.
While most of the lessons are done on their practice track, the school arranges for an afternoon of driving on the real roads of Taiwan. You and another student spend around 5 hours taking turns in driving under more realistic conditions.
Your instructor will take you on roads that have been approved by the police for learner drivers. In my case, this meant out of Taipei City and via back streets to ShenKeng (深坑) along the winding roads to PingXi (平溪) and ShiFen (十分).
In the last week of driving lessons, the school lets you drive on the test track by yourself. This allows you to get familiar with the testing conditions you will go through. Your instructor is usually standing by ready to offer advice. The last few days are spent ironing out any issues you might have with specific parts of the driving test.
The driving test includes the following:
- Driving in a straight line
- Indicating before turning
- Stopping at a stop sign, lights, and a railway crossing
- Performing a hill start
- Reverse parking and parallel parking
- Driving through and reversing out of a narrow S-bend
Manual (stick shift) cars also include a changing gears component.
WenShan Driving School arranges the written test and driving test times. You can take their shuttle (they charge an NT$200 fee) to and from the school to the MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE on ChengDe Road in ShiLin, or you can make your own way there.
You’re not entitled to take the driving test until you have passed the written test. My road test was scheduled the day after the written test. In essence, the driving test is exactly the same as the previous weeks of circuit training, literally step by step.
After successfully completing the driving test, you pay a fee and your paperwork gets submitted on your behalf to the MOTOR VEHICLES OFFICE. You can then pick up your license 1 week later from WenShan Driving School.