License Plate More Than Car in China
In some cases, getting a license plate in China will cost you more than a car. Lisa Mahapatra, Classic Car designed by Andrea Gourley from The Noun Project

In China, a running joke among drivers is that getting a license plate using the country’s lottery system as harder than winning the actual lottery. In Beijing, with an estimated 7.5 million drivers on the road, traffic congestion is at an all-time high while chances of obtaining a local license plate are at an all-time low. Fortunately, there are some ways around the rules.

The license plate lottery system was established in 2011, as Chinese became increasingly wealthy and were buying cars, filling up the streets with new vehicles and the air with unprecedented amounts of exhaust pollution. In an effort to control the exponential increase of vehicles on the road, which more than doubled over a ten year period, according to government statistics, the license plate lottery is specifically designed to not equip everyone with legal vehicle registration.

However, some sly and somewhat desperate drivers have figured a way around banking on luck to register their vehicle. According to Quartz, here are a few of the rule-bending tactics that have been used:

Getting a license plate from nearby, less populated, provinces: Drivers in Beijing can obtain license plates from cities outside of the capital’s jurisdiction for 1,500 yuan, or roughly $250, like in Zhuozhou, which is an hour outside of Beijing in Hebei province. The solution isn’t exactly fool-proof though. Beijing traffic rules stipulate that Hebei license plates have to stay off the roads during rush hour periods to accommodate the flux of Beijing-registered vehicles.

Rentals: Another ‘solution’ is to rent plates off of car dealerships that were able to collect the now-coveted license plates before the lottery system was put in place. Local plates can be rented out for months at a time, at prices around 1,500 yuan.

Getting a ‘car carrier’: Buying a used car that comes with a license plate is one way of skipping the headache lottery process. These used cars, dubbed ‘beiche’ or car carrier, allow people to just buy their license plate. However, if using a plate from an old vehicle, be sure not to get caught. License plate registrations are not transferrable so the plate number will still be associated with the old owner. If caught in a traffic violation, repercussions can be serious.

It looks like these loopholes will become more useful than ever as the city has announced that the lottery just got more difficult. Beijing’s transportation bureau has announced that beginning next year, officials will be restricting license plate lottery drawings to occur every other month, instead of the current schedule, which has the drawing every month.