***This article has been last updated on December 2019***

Japan is famous for its excellent public transportation, but sometimes the railways and busses just don’t cut it. Driving in Japan through the beautiful countryside can be a great way to relieve stress and enjoy a weekend trip, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Before you get behind the wheel, however, make sure that you have a legal driver’s license in Japan. Although in the past one could get away with a regular driver’s license from your home country, the rules have gotten much more stringent and it is not recommended if you’re going to be a resident of Japan for over a year.

NOTE: The following information is for those who have already been issued a legal driver’s license in another country. This license cannot be expired, and you must be able to show that you lived in the issuing country for at least three months after issuance. This is the bare minimum for converting a foreign driver’s license to a Japanese one. If you meet these basic requirements, then you probably fall into one of two groups: 1) no test required, or 2) both a written and driving test required.

Man behind the wheel

Photo from Unsplash by why kei

Group 1: No Test Required

You do not need to take a written OR driving test if you come from the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, or The USA (Washington, Maryland, or Hawaii only)

These countries have agreements with Japan that allow individuals to convert without the need for taking a test and vice versa, should Japanese citizens choose to convert theirs overseas.

If you fall in this category, then all you need to do is put together the required documents, go into your local Driver’s Licensing Center, and take an eye test. Assuming everything is in order and you pass the eye test, then you will most likely walk out that day with your new driver’s license.

Photo of a person taking a test

Photo from Unsplash by Green Chameleon

Group 2: Test Required

Unfortunately, Group 2 takes a bit more effort and patience to complete the written and driving test. The first test will be the same eye test that Group 1 needs to take. Once you pass it, then you will take a written test, which is available in English (although the introduction may be in Japanese).

The written test consists of ten true/false questions. It is important that you understand “X” means false in Japanese and “O” means true. You must get seven out of ten questions correct to pass the test. Once you’ve passed the written test, then you will move on to the driving test.

Be prepared to fail the first time you take the driving test. Even if you are a very experienced driver, the test has very specific requirements you must meet. With only a 35% success rate and no clarity as to whether or not the test examiner will direct you, just think of it as a part of the process if you do not pass the first time.

When you do pass the driving test, you will have then completed the process to get your license.

Photo of documents

Photo from Unsplash by Beatriz Perez Moya

Documents

Before you move forward with the gaimen kirikae, or license transfer, you should make sure that you have all your documents prepared.

  1. A translation of your original license

First, you will need a translation of your original license provided by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). For most licenses, the JAF can do the translation within two weeks, sometimes even the same day!

You will need to apply for the translation, which can be downloaded from a form here. Just note that you are not guaranteed a successful transfer even with the translation, but this is the first step. You can also do this step via proxy if you are unable to do it yourself. This step can also be done via mail; Just send clear photocopies (preferably colour) with the application form and issuance fee of 3,000yen plus return postage of 500yen using a registered pre-paid postage envelope you can buy at any post office.

The ¥500 pre-paid postage amount covers two translations. If you would like more, then the postage should be 600yen. All mailed applications must be sent within Japan and the return address should be the applicant’s, though you may use a proxy as well as long as you check the box accordingly.

There are no refunds, and mail translations will take around a week or two from the time of application to delivery.

  1.  Provide the original license.

A copy will be made and the original returned to you. You may also provide your own photocopies. If you do this, you should provide a copy of the front and back, preferably in colour, and as clear as possible. It is best to bring the original license as well, as sometimes licensing agents can arbitrarily deny your application for failing to produce the original. 

  1. Provide a copy of your residence card

In some cases, you may also need to provide a copy of your residence card, but as long as you have it with you when they ask for it, you should be fine.

Once you have your documents in place, check-in with your local Driver’s License Center. You must apply for the license transfer in the prefecture where you are registered, so it may behove you to call or have a friend call for you and make sure you’re applying to the correct centre. 

Photo of a highway

Photo from Unsplash by Caleb George

Driver’s License Center

For Tokyo residents, there are three different locations that you can contact.

1.The Written Examination Section, Fuchu Driver’s License Center,

3-1-1 Tamamachi, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo

Phone: 042-362-3591

Open: 8:30-16:30 (Mon.-Fri.) 8:30-11:30/13:00-16:30 (Sun.) Closed: Sat. & Holidays

Nearest Station: JR Chuo Line MUSASHI-KOGANEI(North Exit.) Stn.

Take a Bus #6 or #7 to Shikenjoseimon-mae stop (1min walk)

 

2.The Examination Section, Samezu Driver’s License Center,

1-12-5 Higashioi, Shinagawa, Tokyo

Phone: 03-3474-1374

Open: 8:30-16:30 (Mon.-Fri.) 8:30-11:30/13:00-16:30 (Sun.) Closed: Sat. & Holidays

Nearest Station: Keihin Kyuko Line SAMEZU Stn. (8mins walk)

 

3.The Driver’s License Section, Koto Driver’s License Center,

1-7-24, Shinsuna,Koto-ku,Tokyo

Phone: 03-3699-1151

Open: 8:30-16:00 (Mon.-Fri.) 8:30-11:30/13:00-16:30 (Sun.) Closed: Sat. & Holidays

Nearest Station:Tozai Line Toyocho Stn. (5 mins walk)

JR Kamedo Stn. North Exit (30minutes by bus to Toyocho)

JR Kinshicho Stn. South Exit (30 minutes by bus to Monzen Nakacho)

While some of these processes may feel like overkill, remember that Tokyo is a city of over 15 million people, and it’s important that everyone on the road is driving at their most defensively, no matter what country they’re from. We wish you a safe and comfortable journey on the open road!

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