Renting a Car in U.S.

This is part of a series article: From Shanghai to US – A Handbook. These articles are to help my friends (obviously in Shanghai) to plan their first time visit to U.S. To be concise, I only outline information that I think helpful for this group of people. So don’t be surprised if it left some important information outside the scope.

I will cover about grand transportation about people from China arrives in U.S. later, but this time, I will talk about renting a car in U.S. with Chinese Driver’s License.

Motivation to Learn to Drive

The matter of fact in China is, most people don’t have a car, like I did in my first 5 years after graduate.

And most people don’t even plan for that, since there are just enough dreams to be filled before a car. Also, the great public transportation system in every city in China makes it possible to live wonderful life without a car. In Shanghai, for example, Metro, buses, and taxis are easily accessible.

But believe me, everything people go back from the States, there is strong desire to learn to drive, since people found it is so convenient to have a car and drive around in the vast west of the country, and the life is so hard without a car. In Seattle, for example, although the Homestead is just several blocks away from Microsoft campus, it still takes much time to walk, not to mention the nearest shopping center. Taxi works different in U.S., it is cheaper to rent a car than taxi, and you have to call and wait for 15 minutes for a taxi.

So every time I got back from the State, I promised I will learn to drive and get a driver’s license.

If you are going to U.S., or plan to do so, I suggest you get a driver’s license ASAP. It will save you much time and money in U.S.

How the Driver’s License from Chinese works in the States

Basically, driver’s license in China works well in U.S. I didn’t find any documents, but it worked for me at least in both AVIS in Seattle Airport, WA, or San Francisco Airport, CA.

The Chinese driver’s license only have Chinese characters, not any English words there. I believe they can only tell it is your document from the photo. It seems when the inspector feels you are confident enough to tell them it is the government issue valid license, they accept it.

It worked out once in AVIS at SFO airport, when I forgot to bring an English copy.

If you want to be safe, and show respect to car rental companies, you can bring an English translation of the driver’s license with you.

Here is the sample created by Edward Wang

Driving License of The People’s Republic of China (Original)

License No. : 3521011977xxxx08xx

Name: Wang Qingsheng Gender: Male Birth Date: xxxx, 1977

Address: Rm 415, No. 230, Jiujiang Road , Huangpu district

Stamp of Issuing Authority

Date of Issue: June 8, 2004

Vehicle Type : C

Effective Period : From June 8, 2004 to June 8, 2010

Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau , Public Security and Traffic Administration Bureau , Vehicle Administration Office

I used the template and print it out with my printer. It works like a charm in U.S. You also can get an official translation from the government agencies and pay for that. For me, I don’t think it is necessary.

Other Tips

Do reserve before you go.

Logon to either AVIS, or HERTZ. Don’t expect cars available for you at airport. Last time, I went there, and found there is no cars available. It is good that I have reserved one. How disappointing it is when you plan to travel by car but find out they don’t have one for you.

Also, almost all cars are automatic shift cars. In China, many people drive manual shift cars. The change is not challenging at all. It is much easier to drive auto-shift car even though you never touch it before. Put the shift to “D”, and everything works well.

There are two gas plan – one is getting the car at full gas, and fill it to full. The other option is to let the rental company do it for you, but the gas is a little bit more expensive.

I would suggest to have the rental company to fill the gas for you. You may not be familiar with the location of gas station; what type of gas you should fill, and even how to operate the the machine. So leave the challenging work to the next time.

Last but absolutely not least, drive safely. I know people who killed themselves at highway in U.S. If you are not sure, do not drive at all. Also, do not drive if it is your first time to visit the States. You should sit in a car to watch how cars and roads work before you actually drive.

Good luck!

10 thoughts on “Renting a Car in U.S.

  1. Another good thing to keep in mind is that there are rules when driving in the States unlike in China. Drivers from China should not drive the same way they do back home. It’s also important not to use your horn too often, it’s best not to use it at all unless it is absolutely necessary. It’s for your safety, there are still lots of road ragers out there.

  2. This is just a reminder.

    A chinese driver’s license works fine with the rental company does not mean it also works fine with the police.

    Not finding any official law/ruling only means that wheather it works or not depends largely on how a police officer thinks of it when he stops you and how well you argue your case on the spot.

    My advice is, dirve cautiously and avoid stoping by a police officer as best as you can.

  3. Remember not to spit or throw garbage out your window. The general public and the police in North American don’t take lightly to that… You WILL get fined if you get caught.

  4. I moved to China from the US and today I got my Chinese DL. If you are planning to go to the states and for some reason you were stopped by the police, DO NOT get out of the car. You just sit there and roll down your window when the police officer approaches your car. All police officers in the US carry guns and you do not want to make any suspecious move.

    Also please drive within the lane, do not use the horn, if you are making a right turn stop completely and wait for the traffic to clear. American drivers will not slow down to let you in. If it is their right of way they may run into you and you will get ticketed and fined.

    Also please never spit in public.

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  6. I am also planning to a two year stay in the US, now trying to get a license before I make the trip in Sep. Your article helps a lot and I think I don’t need to get a so-called “international driving license”. But the template is not working well for some reasons when I am accessing from Korea. Not sure whether it works when I go back to China.

  7. I have take a chinese Driver licence for 6monthes. now planning to a month business travel to Atlanta . Your guy articles helps me too much. My DL have english characters too. so I dont think need to prepare the english copy . I remember do not ues the horn unless the emergency case. and turn right stop completely until the traffic clear.

  8. I’m a US citizen that has seen enough of Chinese traffic that I can make a reasonable comparison:

    As has been said, don’t use your horn to announce your presence like you often do in China. You’ll find it’s fairly common at a traffic light when someone hasn’t noticed that they can go. While you’re moving it’s normally only used when there is a dangerous situation. Most years I don’t touch it while driving.

    US traffic is *FAR* more orderly than what you’re used to. Think about how you would drive under the eyes of a cop–that’s pretty close to US norms except with regard to speed. Drivers here will also expect you to follow the rules and thus will be much less likely to react fast enough to avoid an accident when someone tries to squeeze in somewhere. The guy who broke the rules will get the ticket and the repair bills are far higher than in China. It would be much better to be a passenger first so you get an idea of how it works.

    Wear your seatbelt. In some states the cops can (and will) ticket you simply for not wearing it, in the rest they can’t stop you for it but they’re still likely to stop you on any other infraction and then ticket you on the belt even if they let the other infraction go (like what happened to a friend. 28 in a 25, ended up with a seatbelt ticket but no speeding ticket.)

    Note, also, that traffic speeds are higher. 70 km/hr limits on large streets are quite common and in reality the actual traffic speed is often a bit higher. Restricted access roads will generally be 90 km/hr or even higher even in city areas.

    As has been said, stay in the car. The cop isn’t ignoring you, he’s running your plate through his system. He wants to know if the car is stolen or the owner is wanted before he approaches you. He *IS* armed, don’t go doing things that might scare him (remember, plenty of bad guys here are also armed.) Keep your hands visible, if you have to reach for something to comply with his requests don’t make sudden movements and tell him what you’re doing before you do it.

    He’s going to want to see your driver’s license, vehicle registration (if you’re driving a rental you won’t have it, give him the rental agreement instead) and insurance card. Do *NOT* attempt to bribe your way out of it! Always be polite, being stopped doesn’t always mean a ticket. The last time a cop stopped me was to tell me that I had a burned-out brake light. She could have ticketed me but instead simply noted it and let me go. (Had I been stopped again the next cop would have seen the note and ticketed me for it.)

    You pump your own gas here in most of the country. In most places it’s on a pay-first system. You go into the station (or in some cases simply put your credit card in the pump or in a machine there for the purpose), give the clerk money and tell him what pump you want (“gas on “)–there will be numbers either on or above the pump. He will set the pump to dispense no more gas than you gave him. When you’re getting close to the limit you’ll find the pump slows way down and then cuts off at what you paid. If you don’t pump as much as you paid for you go back in and get the change (“change on “). Note that if it’s night the station will generally not have very much change available–don’t try to buy $20 of gas with a $100 bill! You very well might be left with a lengthy wait for him to get enough change.

    You’ll still find a few gas stations that sell E-85. It’s always a bad deal (while it’s usually cheaper per gallon your car won’t go as far on it) and unless you have a vehicle rated for it you absolutely do not want it–it will damage the engine. It pumps from the same nozzles as regular gas, be sure of what you’re pumping!

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