Japan is well known for its super-efficient public transportation. While it’s true, especially in Tokyo, private vehicles are very much needed if you live outside Tokyo. Whether for your daily commute, job requirements, or dream of a road trip across Japan, obtaining a driving license will be convenient.
If you’re a foreign resident in Japan, you can either use an international driving license or create a Japanese license based on a few factors. In this article, we talk about what license works for you and how to obtain one.
International Driving Permit
If you stay in Japan for a short period, you can use an international driving license. Japan only recognizes driving permits that are based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, and it’s valid for a year. However, it’s not issued in Japan, so make sure to get one before going there.
International Driving Permit
Some countries, such as Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland, and Taiwan, have an agreement with Japan regarding driving permits. If you come from those countries, you can translate your local driving license through the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or Japan embassies to use during your stay in Japan.
The translation process costs around JPY3,000. It takes an estimated 1 week, so you must arrange them in advance. Make sure to bring both the original license and the translation every time you drive. Similar to an international driving license, it’s only valid for a year.
Foreigners who stay in Japan for more than a year will need a Japanese driving license. There are two options on how to get one. If you have a driving license from your home country’s institution, you can convert it to the Japanese one. You have to get it the way Japanese people do if you don’t have any.
Converting Driving License (Gaimen Kirikae)
Transferring a foreign driving license will save money on driving schools. The process also won’t take long, depending on how much time you need to pass the test.
Eligibility for switching foreign license:
The foreign driving license must be valid (expired licenses are unacceptable)
The applicants stayed in the issuing country minimum 3 months after getting the license
1. Application form
2) 3 cm x 2.4 cm recent photograph
3) Original juuminhyou (住民票) or passport if you are not registered under the Resident Register System
4) Original National health insurance card, My Number card, residence card
5) Driver’s license issued by a foreign administrative office (international driving permit is not acceptable)
6) Japanese translation of foreign license (issued by the Japan Automobile Federation)
7) Documents to prove your stay in the issuing country for at least 3 months after getting the license (for example, a passport with entry and exit date stamps)
Bring all the documents and money for the application fee to the local Driver’s License Center. All applicants must undergo an eye test. After that, applicants must pass the written and driving test unless they are from exempted countries. It’s normal to take the test a few times, especially the written test.
If you’re from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, or United States (Hawaii/Washington/Maryland), you won’t need the test, and your license will be ready the next day.
Japanese Driving License
A Japanese driving license (運転免許, unten menkyo) is a credit card-sized document governed by the Road Traffic Act. It is filled with your photo, name, address, and information regarding the driving license, such as issuing date, issuing authority, and driving conditions. The validity of a driving permit is 3-5 years, depending on the driver’s driving history and age.
Japanese Driving Permit
There are 3 types of driving licenses in Japan:
仮運転免許 Learner’s permit or provisional license
For new drivers who are still in training to get their Class 1 license
Requirements: 10 hours of study, pass the written test, 12 hours of in-school driving
Valid for 6 months
第一種運転免許 Class 1 driver’s license
For driving private vehicles
Requirements: 16 hours of study, pass the written test, 19 hours of public road driving
第二種運転免許 Class 2 driver’s license
For driving commercial vehicles, such as taxis and bus
Requirements: three years of driving experience with a Class 1 license
How to Get a Japanese Driving License
The most common way to get a Japanese driving license is by attending driving classes and fulfilling the requirements. The process is not complicated, and if you diligently attend the class, you can get your license within a month or two months. The cost of driving school varies, but it usually includes course fees, textbooks, tests, and insurance. However, if you fail, you have to pay again to retake the exam.
Eligibility for driving license:
Must be at least 18 years old for a Class 1 driver’s license and 21 years old for a Class 2 driver’s license
Have a valid passport
Have a long-term visa (more than a year of stay period)
Driving practice with instructor
Upon applying, applicants will have an eye test. If the result is good, applicants can proceed with the registration. They will also have an aptitude test to know what areas they need to focus on. The courses are divided into the study in class and driving practice. Some institutions offer classes in English or Chinese and let you take the written test in those languages too. Coursework in driving schools includes driving rules and intensive CPR and first aid classes.
One instructor for each student accompanies driving lessons. Before getting the provisional license, students can only drive in school. However, there are simulators for driving on the expressway or in challenging weather like rain or snowing.
Other than regular driving school, you can also apply to Driving Camps (gasshuku menkyo, 合宿免許). You will stay in the dormitory while attending driving classes. The benefit of driving camp is that you can obtain a license in just two weeks.
Owning a driving license allows you to explore Japan further. Some hidden scenic spots are simply hard to reach by public transportation, especially in rural areas. It also helps with finding jobs. It’s common for Japanese people who don’t own a car and don’t drive daily, also called paper driver (ペーパードライバー), to put their license in rirekisho. Whatever the reason for your driving license, it is important to be familiar with the road traffic rules and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Japan.