In the following article we will give a brief introduction to the driver’s license and permit options available to long-term foreign residents in Japan. Many long-term expats in Japan find that Japan’s superb public transportation system is more than adequate to their needs. However, having a driver’s license will give you more flexibility when choosing where to live and work, and allow you to explore some of the more inaccessible parts of the Japanese countryside.
Getting an International Driving Permit
An International Driving Permit (IDP) can be issued by and used in any country that is a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1949. You can find out if your country is a signatory here:
The IDP must be obtained in your home country, and when you drive in Japan you will need your international driver’s license, your passport, and your original driver’s license. The IDP lasts one year and after that you will need to get a Japanese driver’s license. For more information check this website: https://internationaldrivingpermit.org/
For citizens of a small number of countries an IDP is not necessary and all you need is your original license, an official Japanese translation of that license (issued by the Japan Automobile Federation), and your passport. These countries are Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Monaco, and Taiwan. Like the IDP, the translation will be valid for driving for one year after which you will need to get a Japanese driver’s license.
Converting Your Overseas License
If you have a valid drivers’ license from any of the following countries or regions you can get a Japanese driver’s license at registered Driver’s License Center without taking any further tests:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the US states of Hawaii, Maryland and Washington
To convert your original license you will need to show that you were resident in your home country for three months after getting your license. The documents you will need are your original license, your passport, and an official Japanese translation of your driver’s license. The official translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) and costs 3,000 yen. At the Driver’s License Center they will check your general aptitude, knowledge of traffic rules, and driving ability before issuing your new license. For an ordinary motor vehicle license the application fee is 2,550 yen, and the issuance fee is 2,050 yen.
Getting a License from Scratch
If you do not have a valid driver’s license from your home country, then you will have to attend a driving school in Japan. Two kinds of license are available: automatic and manual, but if you get a manual license you can drive both automatic and manual. For either license you need will to attend 26 hours’ worth of lectures for the written test. For the practical driving test you will require at least 31 hours of practice for the automatic test and 34 for the manual. However, these are minimum times for driving lessons and many people require more. After finishing your course and passing a practical driving test at the driving school you will go to an examination center where you will sit a written aptitude check and a written test on the rules of the road. If you pass those, you will then get your license. The written examination costs 1,550 yen and the cost of the actual license is 2,050 yen. The average costs for driving schools are 240,000 – 330,000 yen for an automatic license and 250,000 -340,000 yen for a manual license. This includes such things as driving lessons, materials, lectures, the cost of a provisional learner’s license, and the practical driving test. The average total expenditure for lessons and testing inclusive of tax is 287,142 yen for an automatic license and 303,902 for a manual license.
Naturally unless you are super fluent in Japanese you may be reluctant to take driving lessons in Japanese. However, many of the big cities have schools where English language lessons are available. A quick online search for “driving school” should bring up some results in your area. To enroll you will need to bring your residence card and most probably your hanko (official seal) too. Check out the following websites to get more details on individual courses:
Interested about the ups and downs of driving in Japan? Read our previous article.