With its ribbons of cliff-hugging asphalt, cloud-breaching mountain highways, and Pacific coastal roads, Taiwan was built to be explored by scooter. Renting a scooter is almost essential if you want full access to the island’s national parks and rural beaches. But it also gives your journey that extra dimension. (Read more: Riding a Scooter in Taiwan (Part two): Best Places to Explore by Scooter)
After all, how would you prefer to take in the incredible cerulean plunge of the Qingshui Cliffs — with the sun on your face and wind whipping through your hair, or from behind a grubby bus window, view blocked by the passenger who had the smarts to sit on the left when traveling from Taipei to Hualien?
If you’re eager to get behind the throttle, we’ve got you covered. This article will explain everything you need to know about getting licensed in Taiwan, from registration to road test.
1. Choosing The Right Scooter License
Before you so much as set foot in the DMV, you’re going to want to know what kind of scooter license you want.
Taiwan issues three types of scooter license for both mopeds and motorbikes:
– General Light Motorcycle (≤50 cc)
The least powerful engines on the market. With top speeds of 50–60kph, it’s fine for getting around the city. But if you’re happy for your road trip to move that slowly, you might as well cycle. (Read more: Cycling the East Coast with MyTaiwanTour (part one of two))
– General Heavy Motorcycle (50–250 cc)
What you see most people riding. 125 cc — the engine size of most entry-level bikes — will be enough to get you around the island if time is not of the essence. Scooters of this size cannot be ridden on the national freeways, which are faster but less scenic.
– Large Heavy Motorcycle (≥250 cc)
Ride on the freeway, off the freeway, up a wall — scooters in this category can be driven almost anywhere a car can. However, to be legally allowed behind the throttle, you’ll need to be at least 20 years old (rather than 18), have held a general motorcycle license for at least one year, and have completed a 43-hour training program.
The remainder of this article will concentrate on the steps you need to take to obtain a general scooter license, but you can find a full list of the requirements for a large heavy motorcycle on the DMV website.
2. International and Exchanged License
In addition to taking a local driving test, there are two other ways of getting road ready if you already have a foreign driving license:
– Exchanging a Foreign Driving License
Depending on where you originally passed your test, you may be able to exchange your license. Taiwan has reciprocal agreements with numerous countries, the specifics of which vary from case to case. In some cases, you’ll be able to drive immediately upon arrival using your foreign license.
You’ll find all of Taiwan’s reciprocal agreements listed by region here.
Drivers from some countries will find they can exchange their license without taking a practical test. If you do find this is the case, it’s still highly recommendable that you practice under the supervision of an experienced friend before you hit the open road. Scooters are dangerous and larger cities like Taipei are notorious for their chaotic traffic and reckless bus drivers.
– Applying for an International License
If you’re staying in Taiwan for less than a year and have a license from your own country, you can apply for an international driver’s license. The exact procedure for this varies depending on the agreement Taiwan has with your home country. In some cases, you may have first had to obtain an international driving permit from your home country. You may be able to do this at your country’s representative office in Taiwan or you may have to apply before you travel.
Once you have the permit, you can complete registration at the DMV. You’ll need the following:
- Passport, Taiwan ID, or ARC
- Two 2-inch color passport photos
- Your driving license.
- Copy of passport (to verify name in English)
- Fee: NT$250.
3. Local Scooter Licences
If you’re planning on staying in Taiwan for more than a year, the benefits of having a local license vastly outweigh the tiny bit of extra legwork you’ll have to do to get one. A general heavy motorcycle licence is valid for six years, and you’ll be eligible to take the large heavy motorcycle licence should you wish after one year.
To begin, you’ll need to book a test date through the MVDIS website (Motor Vehicle Driver Information Center). You’ll have to enlist the help of someone who can read Chinese at this point as there is not yet a full English version of the online registration system.
Before booking, you must complete a short hazard assessment test — also in Chinese though the interface is fairly intuitive. You’ll watch a short video and will need to press the yellow “點擊區域” button every time you perceive hazzard. It’s fairly simple and once successfully completed, you’ll be able to save your appointment at the MVDIS.
If you’re in the Taipei are, you can take the test at the following centers:
- Shilin District
No.80, sec 5, Chengde Rd., Taipei.
- Keelung City
No. 296, Shijian Road, Qidu District, Keelung City
- Banqiao District
No. 116號, Section 3, Zhongshan Road, Zhonghe District
- Shulin District
No. 7號, Lane 248, Zhongzheng Road, Shulin District
- Luzhou District
No. 163號, Zhongshan 2nd Rd, Luzhou District
You can complete the entire process of getting a general license in a single day if you come prepared. You’ll need:
- An Alien Residence Certificate (ARC) with total validity of over six months
- A completed application form (available at the office)
- Three 1-inch licence photos taken within the past 6 months
- A medical evaluation — for the Shilin Branch this can be done on the day at this nearby physical examination center
– Drivers Ed
As part of Taiwan’s recent efforts to improve road safety, first-time applicants now have to attend a 120-minute roadside safety lecture before taking the theory test. The lecture is entirely in Chinese, and you’ll have to follow along with an already-worn-through illustrated booklet.
Don’t worry if your Chinese vocabulary doesn’t extend much past ni hao — it seems all the “talk” is intended to do is scare you into being a conscious driver and consists almost entirely of traffic accident footage.
– Theory Test
After completing driver’s ed you’ll be able to take the theory test, which has 50 questions consisting of:
- 30 multiple-choice on rules, road signs, and situations
- 20 true/false on rules and road signs
Here’s where you can breathe a sigh of relief as you can choose to take the test in English, as well as a handful of East and Southeast Asian languages.
Once you start, you’ll have a total of 50 minutes to complete the test. The passing mark is 85%. If you score less, you’ll have to wait seven days to retake it. Score higher, and you can go straight through to the test for the practical road test.
– Road Test
This is your final hurdle — all that stands between you and endless kilometers of sunkissed open asphalt. For the road test, you’ll be expected to complete a short closed circuit designed to test a number of key scooter skills and safe driving. (Read more: Riding a Scooter in Taiwan (Part One): Safety Guide and Rental Instructions)
It’s worth noting that you can choose to borrow a scooter from the center, or use your own. It’s worth noting that you won’t be allowed to drive the center bike before beginning the road test. So see if you can borrow a friend’s bike if you don’t own one yourself.
The test consists of the following manoeuvres:
- Balance in a straight line
- Zebra crossing
- Forked road
- Hook turn
- Changing lanes
- 90 degree turns
- Stop and then accelerate
- Railroad crossing
You’ll start the road test with 100 points, after which deductions will be made everytime you make an error.
To pass, you’ll need to complete the course with at least 70 points. 32 points will be deducted if you fail any of the tasks listed above — with the exception of balancing in a straight line, which you can attempt twice.
As with the theory test, you’ll have to wait 7 days before retaking the road test if you fail. Your pass in the theory test remains valid for one year, so you have up to 53 more tries before the process resets — and let’s be honest, if it takes more than that then perhaps you should stick to the passenger seat.
For more detail on the road test, check out this full breakdown of each maneuver and the points violations. The DMV also has an official walkthrough of the exam, and while it is in Chinese, we seriously suggest that you watch it through before test day.
Lastly, know that there are outdoor training circuits all over Taipei where you can familiarize yourself with the road test — for free. While the order of the maneuvers is scrambled, you’ll find that a couple of hours here will take you miles on the day itself.
(Words by Sebs Morgan; Cover Photo/ETtoday)