- Those arriving in Japan with an international driver’s license can technically drive in Japan for a period of up to 12 months, at which point a Japanese driver’s license is required. With that being said, it is generally best to secure a Japanese license as quickly as possible as car insurance in Japan won’t generally cover drivers without an official Japanese license.Drivers with valid licenses from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K. are only required to take an eye exam at the License Center when applying for a Japanese license.
Licensed drivers from other countries are required to take a written and driving test along with an eye exam. While the multiple-choice written (computerized) test is quite simple, the driving test confounds even the most proficient drivers with many foreign drivers requiring several attempts to pass. As such, the entire licensing program can take several weeks to complete from start to finish, due in part to the fact that the written and driving tests can’t be completed on the same day. It’s also important to keep in mind that you must complete the entire license program before your home country license expires. Once your foreign license expires, the License Center will no longer allow conversion and will require you to go through the Japanese program which is both a costly and time-consuming process.
At present, no appointment needs to be made for the written test. Once the written test is complete, the License Center will direct you to the appropriate office (within the Center) to book your driving test.
The 10-question true or false written test is simple and needs little preparation if you have been driving for any amount of time. That said, more information on Japan’s driving laws and preparing for the test can be found on the Japan Auto Federation’s Web site at http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/index_e.htm or on the Japan Drivers License Web site (a private service for foreigners taking the test in Japan) at http://www.japandriverslicense.com/. Training for the actual driving test can be conducted in English with Koyama Driving School (http://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm) or the aforementioned Japan Drivers License Web site can help setup training at the actual facility used for testing.
A number of documents are required to complete the licensing process including:
- Translation of your foreign driver’s license (the Japan Auto Federation or your Embassy can assist with this process),
- Your valid driver’s license,
- Your valid passport,
- Your alien registration card,
- A photograph 3cm tall by 2.4cm wide, and
- The relevant fees which are presently approximately US$25 for the application and US$20 for being issued the license.
Most Tokyo residents will apply to transfer their license at the Samezu Driver’s License Center at 1-12-5, Higashi-Oi, Shinagawa-ku. The office can be contacted at 03-3474-1374 and more information is available in English at 03-5463-6000. For information on the licensing process and for details on other Driver’s License Centers, visit the following link: http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/foreign/gaimen/pdf/en.pdf.