Rent a Car for Travel in Shanghai

As China’s largest and most modern metropolis, Shanghai dazzles with its futuristic skyline and vibrant food and arts scenes. Renting a car allows greater freedom to explore this massive city and access sights outside the city center. Here’s a guide on renting a car for travel in Shanghai.

Benefits of Renting a Car in Shanghai

Having your own set of wheels provides these advantages:

Flexibility and Freedom

Visit attractions like Zhujiajiao and Shanghai F1 Circuit on your own schedule. Modify plans spontaneously without fixed tour or transit routes.

Comfort and Convenience

Driving yourself allows comfort in air conditioning instead of crowded, hot public transportation. Keep belongings safe and close.

Access Outlying Areas

A rental car makes it easy to reach areas like Zhouzhuang water town that are otherwise time consuming by transit.

Avoid Public Transit Hassles

Using a rental car lets you bypass complex metro and bus maps, crowded trains, and language barriers.

Transport Purchases

Fill up on souvenirs! A rental car lets you easily transport all your Shanghai purchases.

Booking Your Shanghai Rental Car

If renting a car in Shanghai, keep these tips in mind:

Reserve Early

Book your rental car well in advance since availability is lower, especially during peak tourism months. Last minute bookings will be expensive.

Pickup/Dropoff Spot

Choose a rental location close to your hotel to prevent time waste traveling across this massive city.

Compare Rates

Research rates across rental companies. Consider package deals that include a GPS device or other features for potential savings.

Inspect Insurance Options

Verify insurance requirements and options. Purchase added coverage since personal policies likely don’t extend overseas.

Consider a Driver

Renting a car and driver can simplify navigation so you just relax and enjoy the sights.

Seek Discounts

Search available promo codes and coupons to lower your total rental costs. Every bit helps.

Navigating Shanghai by Car

Driving in Shanghai poses some key challenges for visitors to be aware of:

Major Traffic Congestion

Shanghai has extremely heavy traffic, especially during morning and evening rush. Patience is a must.

Confusing Signage

Street signs in Shanghai can be very confusing for non-Chinese readers. Use GPS but also pay attention to your surroundings.

Aggressive Driving

Local drivers often drive aggressively. Drive defensively and don’t engage with road rage.

Carry Documentation

Have your rental agreement, passport, and Chinese license handy as police may want to inspect them at checkpoints.

Avoid Driving in Central City

Driving and parking in central Shanghai is extremely challenging for visitors. Use taxis or tours here instead.

International Driving Permit

Obtain an IDP with Mandarin translation to simplify police interactions if pulled over.

Top Day Trips from Shanghai

A rental car makes visiting these popular sites outside Shanghai quick and convenient:

Zhujiajiao Water Town

Wander charming canals and old architecture of this picturesque water town, about 1 hour from Shanghai.


Explore this famed ancient canal town with riverside houses and stone bridges, 1.5 hours away.


Escape to nature and spirituality at this hilltop Catholic retreat, about 1 hour from Shanghai.

Shanghai F1 Circuit

Feel the thrill of driving 2 laps yourself on the famous Formula 1 track, 1.5 hours out.

Tongli Water Town

Another beautifully preserved ancient canal town with stone bridges just 1.5 hours from Shanghai.

Types of Rental Cars in Shanghai

Shanghai agencies offer diverse rental vehicle choices:


Perfect for solo travelers or pairs focused on affordability and fuel efficiency. Examples: Volkswagen Santana, BYD E3.


Decent legroom and cargo space for 2-3 passengers. Easy parking and maneuverability. Examples: Toyota Corolla, Roewe 360.


Comfortable room for 4 adults plus luggage. Good for road trips outside the city. Examples: Buick Excelle, Volkswagen Lavida.


For groups and families with seating for up to 7 and abundant luggage room. Example: Chevrolet GL8.


When you want to cruise in sophistication and comfort. Leather seats, top safety ratings. Example: Audi A6L.

FAQ About Renting Cars in Shanghai

What documents do I need to rent a car?

You’ll need a valid driver’s license, passport, International Driving Permit, and credit card for the deposit.

How old do I need to be to rent a car?

The minimum age to rent a car is typically 25 years old in China. Drivers under 25 incur added young driver fees.

Are automatic cars common for rentals?

Yes, automatics are widely available in Shanghai. Reserve early for best availability as they are in high demand.

Can I use my US driver’s license?

Some agencies may accept it, but an IDP with Chinese translation is highly recommended.

Is insurance included if I rent a car?

Basic liability is usually included but confirm. Purchase CDW (collision damage waiver) for added coverage.

Can I drop off the car in another city like Hangzhou?

One-way rentals are allowed but expect higher rates. Check rental company policies for one-way fees.


While Shanghai has great public transit, a rental car provides greater flexibility and access to outlying areas. Brace yourself for congested roads, confusing signs, and aggressive drivers. Give yourself ample time to reach destinations. But the convenience of cruising at your own pace outweighs the stress. Just sit back and enjoy the ride as you explore this amazing metropolis!


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