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.
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.
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.
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