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Getting a Japanese Driver’s License

If you live in Japan, you might feel like there’s no need to get a Japanese driver’s license. Japan is well-known for its extensive public transportation that can get you just about anywhere.

But at some point, perhaps you thought it’d be nice to go for a drive and there are many locations which are a bit difficult to reach by train or bus. Many Japanese people consider ‘driving’ as a hobby, and yeah, who doesn’t enjoy a road trip every now and then.

If you’re lucky, maybe one of your friends has a license and so can volunteer for driving duty. But if that’s not the case, then how exactly do you get a Japanese driver’s license?

How can I drive in Japan?

It’s a good question. And the answer really depends on your situation.

One option is to be prepared and apply for an International Driving Permit in your home country before coming to Japan. It’s a simple process if you have a driver’s license already and it’s valid for one year. This is not only for Japan, but accepted in over 100 countries worldwide.

Well, that’s nice, but I’m already in Japan and I don’t have a IDP, you say. Ok, so there’s a second option, but only for a select few.

If you have a valid driver’s license from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, or Taiwan, then you simply need to apply for a Japanese translation and once you receive it, you can drive in Japan.

So what if you don’t fit into one of the two categories above? Now it gets a bit more complicated.

How to switch a foreign license to a Japanese license

If you have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you can switch to a Japanese license, known as a Gaimen Kirikae, by applying at a Driver’s License Center.

First of all, your driver’s license has to be valid. And second, you need to prove that you lived in the issuing country for at least 3 months after obtaining the license.

For some people, like myself, proving that second point can be a bit tricky, but there are several ways.

If you have the passport from the time period you received your license, and IF immigration stamped your passport upon EXITING the country, then you can use that as proof.

When checking my own American passport, I noticed that there were no exit stamps from the USA. I tried to convince a Driving Center staff member that an entry stamp to another country should prove I was in the USA until that time, but he wouldn’t budge.

Another method would be showing some documents from the months after receiving your license, such as a diploma or utility bills, which should list your home address.

My license was from Oregon state, where I only lived for several months, so unable to come up with any documents, I was forced to make a FOIA request, asking for my entry/exit records.

I submitted my FOIA request on 01/26/2021 and received the entry/exit records on 03/15/2021. Hopefully, you don’t have to resort to this method, but below is the link to submit a request just in case.

So assuming you have a valid driver’s license and can prove you lived in that country for at least 3 months afterwards, what’s next?

You need to get a translation of that license, as I mentioned above. You can apply by mail and all of the details are listed below.

Next, you should look up the closest driving center to where you live to find out what documents you need and what their application hours are.

In general, you’ll need the following:

  • foreign driver’s license and a copy
  • Japanese translation of the license
  • proof of residence in the license’s issuing country (as mentioned above)
  • passport and a copy of all pages, except for blank pages
  • certificate of residence jūminhyō listing nationality, residence period, and visa status
  • 3x2.4cm picture taken within 6 months

Take all of these documents with you to the driving center of your choice during their application hours.

If the staff determines that you have all of the necessary documents, they will conduct a short interview about your driving history so if you don’t speak Japanese, you should also bring someone to translate for you.

If your license was issued from one of the following locations, you simply need to pass a vision and color recognition test after submitting your documents and then you will receive your Japanese license!

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

However, if your license is not from one of the above locations, then you will need to take both a written and driving test to get your much sought-after Japanese license.

The Aptitude test determines whether you understand basic traffic rules in Japan. It is offered in English, as well as several other languages, depending on the license center. For more information and for practice tests, check the site below.

If you’ve passed the written test, then there is just one more hurdle. And this is the big one that so many articles have been written about… the driving test!

In my case, I submitted my application documents, was interviewed, and passed the written test all on the same day. Then I scheduled my driving test for a separate day.

If you ask your Japanese friends, most of them likely went to a driving school to get their driver’s license. And if your license is expired or you don’t have one, then you have to go to a driving school in Japan too!

However, just because you have driven for many years doesn’t mean you will pass the driving test on your first try. Actually, most people fail several times. This is not because of poor driving, but not knowing the many simple steps and behaviors that the examiners are looking for.

Below are several resources which may help prepare you for your driving test.

My Driving Tests (yes, plural)

I applied and took my tests at the Komyoike Driver’s License Office in Izumi, Osaka.

Upon scheduling my first driving test, I was handed a photocopy of the driving course and the staff highlighted the route for me. I was told to memorize the route as the examiner would not tell me where to go, but that ended up not being the case.

The first time, I failed because I stopped at a traffic light with the bumper beyond the white line.

The second time, I was told I needed to position the car closer to the left side of the road when taking left turns to ensure bicycles could not pass by.

On the third attempt, I was told to be more careful when changing lanes. The examiner said I needed to turn on my blinker, check the mirror, and turn in three distinct steps.

Each time, the instructor sat in the front passenger seat beside me and ticked off his evaluation sheet when I did something wrong. Once I’d lost more than 30 points (passing requires at least 70/100 points), he would tell me to return to the start of the course.

I hadn’t actually seen anyone finish the course before I was able to pass on my fourth try. Upon finally reaching the end of the course, the instructor warned me that I needed to be careful about bicycles and checking my blind sports. Then he informed me I’d passed and asked me to wait until all the others had completed their tests.

I had somehow intuited that I’d pass that day so I’d request the day off from work, which was fortunate because I spent 5 and a half hours at the driving center that day, most of that waiting to complete my application and have my picture taken.

How much does a Japanese driver’s license cost?

I calculated the total cost of switching my license, not including time spent or my round-trip commutes. You can see the breakdown below.

  • ¥3,000 - Japanese translation of license
  • ¥1,500 – Written test
  • ¥1,450 – Driving test (x4)
  • ¥2,550 – Application fee (x4)
  • ¥2,050 – License fee
  • Total Cost = ¥19,550

Considering driving school in Japan can cost anywhere from ¥100,000 to ¥330,000, I got my license for dirt cheap.

If I had failed my fourth attempt, I was considering going to a driving school for a one-day refresher course. I found several schools in the Osaka area that offer an hour of driving practice with an instructor for between ¥5,000 - ¥10,000.


It took me almost 11 months to get my Japanese driver’s license, starting from the time I began gathering my documents, to my fourth and successful attempt at completing the driving course.

My hope is that this article makes converting your foreign license to a Japanese one a bit easier, and shorter!

To everyone who decides to get a Japanese driver’s license, I wish you the best of luck and hope to see you on the road soon!

By - Mujo.