Chinese applicants look at TV screen showing sample questions for a driver's license test, written in Chinese, at a driving school in Siheung March 27, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]
A new regulation has made it more difficult for residents to travel to South Korea to obtain a driver's license - which is easier, cheaper and less time-consuming than getting one in Shanghai - and then exchange it for a local equivalent.
Since the beginning of June, police have dismissed applications to exchange South Korean licenses for local licenses, even though the practice has been popular in Shanghai and other cities for many years.
The number of Chinese obtaining driver's licenses in South Korea rose from 7,000 in 2010 to around 25,000 in 2013, according to Global Times.
An officer from the Shanghai Minhang district's vehicle administration, which is part of the police system, said police recently learned from the South Korean traffic department that foreigners must show a landing certificate, which works as a temporary ID, to sign up for driving tests.
"Only foreigners holding visas for 90 days or longer are eligible to apply for the certificate. In other words, travelers with tourist visas, which usually grant a 15-or 30-day stay, cannot register for driving tests in Korea," said the officer, who only gave his surname as Lu.
"Thus, such applications without a landing certificate have all been suspended in Shanghai," he said.
Lu declined to reveal the number of driver's licenses previously granted to Shanghai residents who hold a South Korean license.
Shanghai travel agents providing services for Chinese citizens to go to South Korea for driver's licenses said the business was a huge revenue source.
In Shanghai, it takes at least three months and costs around 10,000 yuan to obtain a driver's license, and more if the driver fails an exam or practical driving tests.
One agent, who declined to provide her name, said she provides a five-day specialized trip to South Korea that consists of instruction, practical driver's training and driving tests at a cost of 7,000 yuan ($1,130).
"The cost covers training in the driving school, signing up for exams, interpretation and accommodation as well as the exchange for a Shanghai driver's license," she said. "The tests there are much easier compared to those in China."
Not everyone supports the driver's license practice, saying more drivers means already clogged traffic will get worse.
The number of people exploiting the loophole is a call for improvement and cost reduction in obtaining a driver's license in China, said Wang Chuantao, a commentator on news portal china.com.cn.
South Korean driver's licenses have also been rejected for local exchange if the applicant cannot present a landing certificate in other regions of the country, such as Guangdong, Hubei and Zhejiang provinces as well as Chongqing, Xiamen and Lanzhou cities, said jiazhao123.com employee surnamed Hu, whose company provides a driver's license exchange service.
Such services are continuing elsewhere, one travel agent said.