Getting A Taiwanese Driver’s License

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Video by MJ Klein

Recently, I passed the required tests and got my Taiwan driver’s license.  The path leading to my having a local driver’s license was full of mystery and myth.  I’ll pull away the curtain for you and explain what it took for me to get my Taiwan DL.

Taiwanese Driver's License

The result of my efforts – a Taiwanese driver’s license

Years ago, someone meaning well told me that “foreigner cannot get Taiwan license.”  This person was sadly mistaken.  Yet, among Taiwanese, it appears to be a common misunderstanding.  Sometimes, the worst source of information is local people and one must set out on a search for Truth and Fact on their own.  This is what I did.

Since I hold a US passport, this discussion will naturally revolve around the process for such a passport holder to gain a local license.  It’s all about “reciprocity.”  The first thing that you need to know is, Taiwanese driver’s licenses are tied to the ARC (Alien Registration Certificate). If you do not have an ARC you cannot get a local driving license.  For those of you who don’t know what an ARC is, it’s the Taiwan equivalent of a “green card” except that it’s not expected for ARC holders to gain Taiwan citizenship eventually (although that option is certainly open to everyone).  To get a local license you must have a resident visa and an ARC.

If you have an ARC and you come from a US state with full reciprocity, apparently all you have to do is to take your valid (not expired) driver’s license from your home state, to the local Motor Vehicle Department, and you will be issued a local license on the spot.  I say “apparently” because my state of New Hampshire isn’t such a state.  I was told that NH license holders need to take a written test but not the road test to be issued a local license.  My problem is that I have been living outside of the US for so long that my NH driver’s license expired.  I would have to take the written test and also the road test to get a license.  That’s not so bad.  But it turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.

A big problem with getting information in Taiwan is that it is not uniform.  You go to 3 different “experts” on a subject and that’s the number of differing opinions and advice that you’ll get.  To begin my quest for a DL, I went to one of the local expat forums and got a website with study information.  I downloaded the files, printed them out and proceeded to study the questions and answers.  I took all my ham radio license tests by studying the questions and answers and I’m used to doing this.  It was not really a problem for me and once I felt confident, I went back to the DMV and took the written test.

The Written Test Procedure

If you need to take a test in any language other than Chinese, you can use the computer system.  It displays text, along with any graphics which may be part of the question, and also plays back an audio recording of a female who is reading the question.  I’m not sure about any other languages, but on the day I went to take my test, there were women (presumably new wives) from Vietnam and Indonesia who were also using the computer to playback in their languages.  You sit in a small booth and the attendant sets up the computer and then also monitors you taking the test to make sure you aren’t using any aids.  There is a 60 second warm up so you can get used to how the buttons on the computer work, adjust the volume, etc. and get ready for the test.  Then comes the test itself.  You have 30 minutes for the test and you get the score immediately after.

The first thing that was evident was the fact that there were questions on the computer version of the test that were not in my study materials.  I failed the test.  I was pissed!  I told this to the test examiners and they gave me another website where I could d/l the correct files and study them.  I did this.  After a few more weeks of study, I took another written test, and I also failed this one – for the same reason!  Now I was really pissed off! I took this issue up with the examiners and they told me that they couldn’t guarantee that the question pool on the website was complete! This is so typical of doing things here that I should have realized that in the first place.  The examiners had no further insight except that I should “buy the book” and study the questions there.  The book is in Chinese.

It became apparent that if I were to get a Taiwanese driver’s license, it would have to be through Taiwanese methods.  Yes, I would have to attend one of those driving schools and use their study aids in order to pass the test.

I have since learned that there is a blue colored book in English that contains the entire test question pool for foreigners to study.  I was not offered this book, nor was it even mentioned.  Another foreigner who went to the Hsinchu city DMV was given this book right away.  Apparently the county doesn’t have these books.  This is what I mean when I talk about how difficult it is to get information sometimes.

The Driving School

I went to the local driving school in my neighborhood and asked about enrollment.  As random probabilities would have it (I don’t believe in luck) they were starting a new class 2 days from then.  I signed up for the cost of NT$11,000.  They gave me an enrollment card and that was that.  2 days later I showed up and began my learning process as a student driver.

When I was in driver education in high school, we saw films about dead people being pulled from cars, burnt to a crisp, because they tried to beat the train at the crossing.  In Taiwan, a cute little bear in a book explains things to you.  I felt that in many cases the gravity and seriousness of the subject matter was lost in all the cuteness.

The driving school had a computer system “supposedly” like the one at the DMV.  I was able to use the computer as much as I wanted until I became familiar enough with the questions and the answers to be able to pass the test.  The problem is that the computer gives you practice tests with questions taken from the question pool and in order to make sure that you see all of the questions, you must take practice tests over and over until you are ready to kill yourself from boredom!  Once you start getting 100 point scores, you are almost ready to take the test.

Written Test Practice

This is one of the 100 point scores that I got during practice at the school.  Of the 2 days just before the written test, I got 100 points on each day.  I felt I was ready for the test after this.  Notice the smiley face.  If you fail you get a frown.

The Test Track Procedure

In Taiwan you can be tested on a standard or automatic transmission, but whichever one you use it what you will be limited to using by your driver’s license.  I chose a standard (stick and clutch) transmission.  The Taiwanese road test consists of a number of procedures that one must perform on a test track.  Driving schools have these test tracks on the premisis for you to practice.  The course instructor took me through the test track.  While going through the test track, I was told of a number of procedural cues to look for, based upon indicators placed on various locations on the test car.  For example, to back up into the “garage” on the test track, one has to look for the dot over the rear door to line up with the name plate signpost on the test feature.  Once lined up, the driver must turn the wheel to the right until it hits the lock, and then straighten the wheel once the car has passed a certain point.  Each test track feature had some special trick to learn in order to pass the test.  While some of these tricks could be used in the field for actual parking, some of the techniques where somewhat inpractical, such as pointing the mirrors down to the ground to look at lines on the road.  Clearly, this driving school was not about learning how to drive, but rather about learning how to pass the tests. For 21 days I attended the school and practiced the various features on the test track until I was so familiar with them that I could drive them in my sleep.  Rote memorization is how things are done here.  I’m not sure that the students actually learn the reasons behind the laws and regulations that exist.  They just know which answer to give, and how to turn the wheel to accomplish the correct movement of the car within the track.  People who live in Asia recognize this as a common theme.

If you would like to see an online version of the test track in English, click this link.  You can see the various test track features in operation.  This site is quite good.

Finally, I Take My Driver’s Tests

At 7:00 I arrived at my school.  It’s a short distance away from my home so I bicycled to it every day.  This day was no exception.  There was a bus waiting to take us to the DMV in Hsinchu.  16 students (including myself) piled into the bus and headed over to take our tests.  I went to the back of the room and waited for an examiner to set up the computer for me.  After all the other students had been setup with their answer sheets in Chinese, I was finally allowed to be seated in front of the computer and take my test.  Believe it or not, after all that preparation, I still was given 2 questions that I had never seen before, but the rest of the test was just like it was at the driving school.  I missed both of those new questions and got a score of 95 points.  I passed!

The students were then bussed back to the school were we waited for the examiner to come from Hsinchu to give us the road test.  I’ve heard foreigners brag that they just drove to the test track at the local DMV, drove the test and passed.  This is highly unlikely.  I only know of 2 people who have done this, and one of them admits that the examiner told him how to turn the wheel, when to stop, etc. so he could pass!  Most cars are too large to successfully drive the course and without those tricks it would be very difficult to know what to do.  I drove the course with the examiner in the car and after having driven the course at least 150 times over the 21 days that I attended the driving school, it was a piece of cake.  I was the second student to take the test that day and I passed with a score of 90.  No one gets 100 points on the driving test.  No one.  The examiner told me that I “drive very well” in Chinese, once the test was over.  One of the advantages of doing the tests through the school is that I was able to use the same course with the same car that I practiced with.

I now have my Taiwanese driver’s license.  I am allowed to drive a standard transmission car, and also a scooter under 100cc.  If I want to drive a bigger scooter, I have to go take another driving test.  I think I’ll take a break from driving tests for awhile.

I will leave you with this video that I shot of the test track while I’m driving it.  I go around 2 times with different camera angles in the car.  I hope this gives you a good idea of what it takes to pass the test.

Thanks for reading.  We look forward to your comments and ratings below!

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30 comments

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  3. Dear MJ,

    Congratulations!! What an oddysey that you went through….!!!! I read EVERY word carefully in this article and your words put me in tears (ok, almost), feeling happy, moved and also laughing all the way through. I agree with every word you said about what’s going on in Taiwan though I haven’t taken a driver’s test yet and hope I’ll never have to….

    These words in the story are so hilarious but true–

    1. Sometimes, the worst source of information is local people (LOL!!)
    2. A big problem with getting information in Taiwan is that it is not uniform. You go to 3 different “experts” on a subject and that’s the number of differing opinions and advice that you’ll get.

    Poor MJ. But CONGRATULATIONS and thanks for sharing the experience. That’s why I’ve been putting off getting a driver’s license. Did you buy small gifts for your driving school trainer so that he/she would give you more tips to pass the test more quickly? One of my friends (a sexy and beautiful woman) did that. LOL!!!

    1. Yu-fen, thanks for not taking offense with those truthfully stated sentiments! i didn’t mean to be disparaging towards Taiwanese. i’m just recognizing and acknowledging things for the way they really are. i have personal experience with the “3 different experts” advice and all you can do is give the local authorities what they ask for, even if it’s wrong!

      i didn’t buy small gifts but i’m going to meet my driving coach for drinks next week. it turns out that he lives around the corner from me and likes to drink! he gave me his mobile number and we’re going to get together and have some Thai rum – but we won’t drink and drive after!

      you should go for your license too, Yu-fen! don’t let the hassle stop you from getting it! thanks and take care.

  4. Oh boy! I just logged in Myblog for fun and I’ve already 4 pending requests to ask me to add them as my contacts!! Internet is so powerful. *o*

  5. This is so helpful for me! I drive a scooter right now, but there is absolutely no way I’m going to put my baby on one when he/she comes (I don’t care how normal it is here). This means I need to brave the world of car driving in Taiwan! I don’t know where I’m going to get a car yet, but I figure the license is the first step. I felt sort of overwhelmed though and didn’t know how to proceed. This makes me feel better! How do you find out if your state has that whole reciprocity deal? I’m from CA. Thanks for this!
    .-= Cahleen´s last blog ..Announcement and Apology =-.

    1. hi Cahleen. take your CA driver’s license to the local DMV and they will tell you right on the spot how reciprocal your license is. they’ll look it up in a book that lists each state. that’s the first step and will let you know where you stand. most likely, the worst that will happen is that you need to take the written test. ask them for the blue colored book for English speaking foreigners and you should be all set! let me know how you make out!

  6. You are not alone in your experience. I failed the computer based test twice before passing it on the third time. I only have a motorcycle licence, and the riding test for motorcycles is quite simple so I passed that the first time.
    .-= David on Formosa´s last blog ..Kou Chou Ching win awards =-.

  7. Congratulations on passing MJ!

    I took my written test about a little more than a week ago and failed with a score of 70 (probably using the same online materials you were using). On my way out of the DMV in Nantou City, I saw the blue book study guide and asked if they had any English versions available. I’m currently studying that book in hopes to try the written test again either early next week or when I get back from vacation.

    I haven’t practiced the test track yet. After reading your experiences it would probably be a good idea for me to enroll at a local driving school.
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..Daily Photo / Announcement – Break Time =-.

    1. Todd, if you study the book you should be fine. you might want to take a look at my track video. if you have to pass that test i do recommend a driving school. strange, but you don’t need to learn how to drive – just how to pass the test! thanks Todd.

  8. Excellent post, Michael! I’ve taken the driving test in Taiwan as well and I’ve always felt that it’s a missed opportunity to educate new drivers about the consequences of certain insane driving habits you see every day in Taiwan: running red lights at small intersections, tailgating, overtaking on the wrong side etc.

    Learners should have to watch a video showing stupid driving habits and show photos of real accident scenes and photos of the people killed by others’ stupid driving. It may be shocking but if that’s what it takes to get the message across, then I think it’s totally justified.

    1. Naruwan, i agree with you, completely. one of my pet peeves is how people will race to cut you off in front of you only to stop! this happened to me on my bicycle the other day as a woman raced by me, nearly hitting my handlebars, only to slam on brakes and stop 2 meters up the road. i yelled “go around the back” to her but i’m sure she doesn’t get it. while “right of way” is taught, it’s not really emphasized like it should be. i think that it’s because of the Confucian system of education and the “net zero” sum of all transactions, that people don’t use simple solutions to solve traffic problems where everyone makes out. there has to be a clear-cut “winner” and “loser” in any transaction, so you’re going to get cut off so the other driver can attain their goals. i’m always driving in a “win-win” mode and i lose out every time as people rush in to occupy any open space, even when someone else clearly has a right to it. i think some gory Faces of Death type films are in order so people can see the consequences of driving like an idiot. but the cute bear wins out every time!

  9. Congratulations Michael. Great article. I have a Taiwan license and failed the written test initially too. The ability to practice the road test at a school is a necessity to pass. Another thing to consider is where you take the test and get your information. The bigger the city the better the information usually. That does not mean you won’t get contradictory or incorrect information, but it usually will be more complete.

    1. thanks Tom. you make a good point about the city/county size making a difference. here in Hshincu county, they didn’t have those blue books to study the question pool. but a guy that i know in Hsinchu City was offered a book without having to even ask for it. he didn’t know it existed apparently and they told him that he should study that book to pass the test. that guy also told me that he viewed my test track video many times and that helped him pass the test. so i’m glad it helped someone! sometimes out here in the county, information is hard to come by. thanks Tom.

  10. Congrats. I did hear talk recently that the central govt was planning to do away with the closed track test and move the test onto the road and into traffic. They even recognized the pointlessness of half the things in the current test. It will be interesting to see if it actually goes ahead, although they’ll probably need to teach the testers how to drive in traffic first 🙂
    .-= Craig Ferguson (@cfimages)´s last blog ..Musings on Creativity and Assignment Photography =-.

    1. hi Craig. i’ve heard that too but it didn’t affect my attempt to get a license. i also wonder if that will go thorough or not. the driving schools do take the students out on the road (me included) but the test is not conducted there. if they start doing on-road tests, that should add to the traffic mess!

  11. “Mystery and myth”? Really? Things sure must have changed in the 20 years since I got mine; as I recall it was fairly straightforward. Of course that was in Taichung and long before the computerized system.
    .-= Poagao´s last blog ..The middle camera =-.

    1. Poagao, things have changed. the entire planet has changed in 20 years and one big change is the internet, the source of much of the mystery and myth. as i said at the beginning of the article, a well-meaning person told me that it was impossible for a foreigner to get a driver’s license here. one would think that a local citizen would know, but that’s not always the case. some of the information on various forums are not right, or just out of date. again, i’m sure the people are well-meaning. my wife has a friend who works in the DMV and she seemed to be the only authoritative source of information that i could find. our local Hsinchu county DMV didn’t even have the blue books for studying the question pool!

  12. Congrats MJ,

    I think DMVs the world over are full of misinformation and are generally a pain to deal with. I had to take a closed road test to get my license in New Jersey. That was a long time ago and all the 17 year olds thought the test was meaningless except for a way to get a license.

    That need for always having a clear cut winner drives me nuts. We just got back from 2 weeks in Banciao and the lack of common courtesy was really getting me cranked up.

    Have you learned how to read Chinese, and if so can you write an article on that experience also?

    Thanks

    1. owshawng, i took road tests in the US too. it makes more sense to have actual real-life tests than that track.

      i’m starting Chinese language class sometime next week. after i get some more experience i’ll be writing about that too. what Chinese i can read now is what i have learned on my own.

      thanks.

  13. Congratulations on getting the license. I have a valid Washington state license, so perhaps I should look into seeing what the reciprocity situation is in this case. I’ve been getting by with an international permit and adherence to traffic regulations (even when most of the locals aren’t doing so!).
    .-= Kaminoge´s last blog ..Aerial Bovines =-.

    1. Kaminoge, i certainly would, as the International Driving Permit is only valid in Taiwan, if stamped by the foreigner jurisdiction police (where you get your ARC) and for only 30 days duration. it’s good to have a local license, especially if you get into an accident.

  14. Hi MJ,
    I took my written test again today and passed with a score of 95. The blue book really helped prepare me for the exam. As for the road test, I passed with a score of 76. So you now know 3 foreigners who drove to the test track at the local DMV and passed. The test track had large and small car versions. I was testing in the DMV’s Mitsubishi, the model escapes me but it would be considered a compact car by U.S. standards. For some reason it was considered “large” so I took the test on the “large car” track (the difference being a roomier S-curve, “garage”, and parallel parking space. There were two other people also taking the test. The instructor brought us along in the testing car and went through the track one time. I volunteered to go first because it was a scorching hot afternoon and I didn’t want to wait outside.

    I got points taken away on the backing into the garage section. I am not used to backing into a space with my car perpendicular to the space, I am familiar with turning out a bit first, then backing in so it isn’t such a tight angle. The siren that rings when the sensor is hit is absolutely nerve-wracking. I also had points taken off on the S-Curve. While backing out I went forward to readjust so I wouldn’t hit the sensor strip (I couldn’t remember if you could hit the sensor strip or not while backing out. I don’t speak Chinese well enough to ask the instructor if it was okay to hit the sensor and just not the curb). The rest was a piece of cake.
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..Daily Photo / Announcement – Break Time =-.

    1. Todd, at least on the license, it doesn’t say “barely scraped by” lol! good work on the road test. what i didn’t like about the parking tests is that all the references one would normally use are on the ground and cannot be seen. one hint to pass the test is to aim your side mirrors down so you can see the sensor pipes and the curb well. btw, i had no idea there was a “large” and “small” track. my school only had once size! i know what you mean about the nerve-wracking siren! when it goes off and you’re already nervous, you want to jump out of your skin! backing up and hitting the sensor is ok, just not the curb. once you get through those parts of the test the rest is a piece of cake as you said. nice work, Todd! glad you joined the Taiwan Driver’s License club! thanks for the update!

    2. I just joined the Taiwan driver’s club as well. I went to the Taipei Motor Vehicle Office Northern Branch near Shilin in Taipei Wednesday afternoon.

      I was able to get through the application, health, photographs and car written test then. However, there’s no practical tests for car or scooter on Wednesday afternoons or Monday mornings.

      This morning, I went back to the office for the driving test itself and after reading through the handbook a couple of times, being walked through the course via Chinese instructor and wall board, I went out and repeated Todd’s experience of hitting the sensor on the garage, but was fine elsewhere.

      After getting the car drivers license, I went back through to the testing gal for my heavy scooter practical test. I was walked through the 4 things to be tested on, told to pick a helmet and hopped on the scooter they provided for 25 NT. Once told to go, I started out too slowly and put a foot down. Fail. On the second round, I started out too quickly and didn’t get slowed down in time and passed the 7 second course in 6. Fail.

      Oh well, next Thursday I’ll see the course and scooter again. In hindsight, scooter practice of standing stop to slow, straight crawl for 10 seconds is what I’d do. You only get the length of a scooter to get your feet up, so it’s more of the start that’s hurting me.

      Thanks for the blog MJ, it helped me just get out and get the license finally.

      Also, I have a current New Hampshire drivers license and motorcycle endorsement. It didn’t seem to help make things any smoother as in not requiring a test or such.

      Your results may vary with the MVO. Also, for my written test (90/100), I read the resources at http://www.tealit.com/article_categories.php?section=transportation&article=drivers_license. During my practice test at the MVO, I still ran into a few unknowns. Principally, what’s the police officers hand signals. I didn’t find those in English anywhere.

      Good luck!

      Michael
      Michael Cannon´s last post ..Life in Taiwan: Week of June 14, 2010

      1. hi Michael. we’re glad to hear your positive experience with getting a Taiwanese DL. you’ll pass the scooter test on the next try, i’m sure. at some point i’m going to have to do that one myself. thanks for the update!

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