Looking to step off trains and subways and explore the country a bit more personally? For those wanting to drive in Japan, foreign residents can get behind the wheel straight away if they meet certain criteria.
If you’re wanting to drive in Japan, read on to learn more about how to get a Japanese driver’s license.
Valid driving licenses in Japan
You can drive in Japan if you have one of the following:
- An International Driving Permit
- A driver’s license issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, or Taiwan
- A Japanese driver’s license
Having a valid International Driving Permit (IDP) allows you to drive a car in Japan in accordance with Japanese laws. You will need to apply for and receive your IDP in your own country prior to arriving in Japan. Each country will have its own process to obtaining an IDP, so be sure to check with your local land transport authority.
If you have a driver’s license from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, or Taiwan, you can drive in Japan as long as you also carry a Japanese translation prepared by one of the following entities:
- The issuing authority of the license, or the embassy or consulate of the issuing country in Japan;
- Taiwan-Japan Relations Association for Taiwanese licenses;
- The Japan Automobile Federation
You must also have been in Japan for less than one year.
In the next section we’ll learn more about how to convert your existing foreign license in order to get a Japanese driver’s license.
Converting to a Japanese driver’s license
You can change your current foreign driver’s license (not an IDP) to a Japanese one by applying to the Driver’s License Center of your area’s prefectural police department.
There are two requirements:
- Your foreign license must be valid and not expired;
- You must be able to prove you stayed in the issuing country of your license for at least three months after receiving it.
There are a number of documents required to transfer your foreign driver’s license to a Japanese one:
- An application form
- A portrait photograph of yourself
- Certificate of residence (住民票 jyūminhyō)
- Your National Health Insurance card
- Your My Number card
- Your residence card
- Your foreign driver’s license
- A Japanese translation of your driver’s license
- Evidence that you have stayed in the country that issued your license for at least three months e.g. your passport with entry and exit date stamps
Getting a Japanese translation
The Japanese translation of your license must be made by the Japan Automobile Federation, or your foreign embassy.
You can apply for the translation online here, however note that you must be in Japan in order to access the website.
The translation costs 4000 yen and will take about two weeks.
If you can’t apply online for any reason, you can apply by post. Visit this page for information on how to do that.
Applying for your Japanese license at the Driver’s License Center
First thing to note: if you don’t have good Japanese language skills you should bring someone with you who can speak fluent Japanese. Your school should be able to help you out with this if you’re studying!
Secondly, you may need to make an appointment first, so please double check that with your local center.
There will be an aptitude test, a knowledge test, and a driving skills test.
If your license was issued in the following countries:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United State of America (States of Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington only),
you will not need to take the knowledge or driving tests.
Those issued with a driver’s license from the state of Indiana in the United States will not need to take a driving test, but will need to complete the knowledge test.
The aptitude test will involve testing your vision, color vision, hearing, and motor skills. You may also be asked some questions in Japanese about your driving experience, how you obtained your driver’s license, etc.
The knowledge test will involve answering 10 questions about Japanese traffic law. You need to get 7 right in order to pass. You can take the test in Arabic, Bengalese, Burmese, English, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Once you pass the knowledge test, you can make an appointment for the driving test. Note that the next available date could be weeks, or months away. You will be tested on how safely you can drive, how precisely you can perform specific tasks, and how well you can navigate the car (such as through narrow roads).
The test will feel like less of a test of driving skill, and more of how closely you can follow the rules of the course. Don’t get let down if you fail. Focus on how perfectly you can complete the course, and you’ll have your license in no time!
We recommend you take driving lessons from a local driving school to ensure the best chance of passing the test.
Fees and costs
The application fee for a Japanese driver’s license depends on the type of vehicle you’re getting the license for.
Ordinary vehicle: 2550 yen
Semi-medium/medium/large vehicles: 4100 yen
Mopeds: 1500 yen
Motorcycles and tow vehicles: 2600 yen
On top of that, you need to pay an issuance fee of 2050 yen.
Enjoying your newfound freedom
That’s it! Once you get your Japanese license you’ll feel like a whole new world has opened up to you. Explore the smaller towns you may never have visited without a car, and always remember to be a courteous, thoughtful, and kind driver.
For all information related to driving in Japan and driver’s licenses in Japan, visit the official website of the Japan Automobile Federation.