Tired of taking the trains everywhere or fancy a road trip through the Japanese countryside? Before you get behind the wheel, make sure that you are legally licensed to do so.

Although in the past one could get away with an international driving license from your home country, no matter how long you have lived in Japan, the rules have gotten much more stringent and it is not recommended that you go this route if you’re going to be a full-time registered resident here for longer than a year.

The following information is for those who have already been issued a legal driving license in another country. Your 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 current 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.

Group 1: No need for taking a test and vice versa

This group is for those whose issuing countries is one of the following:
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 USA (only Maryland [from Jan 2016] or Washington [from Jan 2017]

These countries have agreements with Japan that allow individuals to convert without the need for taking a test and vice versa.
If you fall in this group, then all you need to do is put together the required documents, go into the Driver’s License 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.

Group 2: Need for taking tests

Unfortunately, Group 2 will require 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” is true. You must get seven out of ten questions correct for a passing score. When you pass the written test, then you will move on to the driving test.

Be prepared for a fail the first time that you take the driving test. Even if you are a very experienced driver, the test has very specific requirements to be met for a pass. 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 then complete the process to get your license in hand.

Documents

Before you move forward with the “gaimen kirikae”, you should make sure that you have all the documents prepared.
1.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 with even some done the same day.

You will need to make an application for the translation, which can be downloaded here. Just note that you are not guaranteed a successful transfer with the translation, but this is the first step. Also, another key point is that you can do this step via proxy if you are unable to do this step yourself.
This step can also be done via mail application. Just send clear photocopies (preferably color) with the application form and issuance fee of 3,000yen plus return postage of 500yen by a registered postal cash envelope.
The return 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.
Further keep in mind that there are no refunds even in the event that you cannot transfer your license.
Finally, it will take around a week or two from the time of application to delivery.

2. 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 color or as clear as possible

3. 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 and they ask for it, you should be fine.

Once you have your documents in place, then it is a good idea to check in with your local Driver’s License Center. You must apply for the license transfer in the prefecture where you are registered.

Driver’s License Center

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

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)

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)

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)

The main thing to remember is to understand that it is a process, but a bit of patience and perseverance will be worth it to give you the freedom of the roads.

Leave a Reply