Important note: this article only applies to people whose driver’s license was issued in one of the following 25 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK and USA (only Maryland & Washington).
Are you from one of the above listed 25 countries? Then I can assure you that converting your driver’s license into a Japanese one is a piece of cake because you don’t need to take any written test as well as driving test. Well, almost, because you still need all the necessary documents from different places and do everything within a certain time frame.
The most important thing first: After you have moved to Japan, you have exactly one year from the date of entry to convert your license. If you are only staying for one year, there is no need to convert. To convert, you need to be a resident of Japan. Let the year pass and you will have it much harder to convert (but not impossible).
For the first year of your residency in Japan you are allowed to drive with your home’s driving license but under certain conditions; you either need a translation of your license or an international driving permit. Now, before you start running off to get either, you need to know which one you need because it depends on each country.
For people with driver’s licenses issued in Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia, Switzerland and Taiwan; you need to get a translation from the Japanese Automobile Federation – JAF – and then you are allowed to drive for exactly one year. Note again, that the one-year-period starts with your date of entry and not when the translation was issued. While driving, you always need to carry both your license and translation with you. Your are not allowed to drive in Japan with an international driver’s license!
To obtain the translation, visit the JAF website for more information.
You can request the translation by mail (address must be in Japan) or simply go to the JAF office of your prefecture. If you go to the JAF office early enough in the morning, you can often get it within the same day after a couple of hours.
All other nationalities are fine to drive with their international permit, but as regulations change from time to time, please check again before driving. However, even if you can drive with your international permit, you will need the translation eventually for converting, so best to get it asap.
After obtaining the translation, the next step is to inform yourself about converting.
Do not wait until the last week to do it because you do need a couple of documents, although converting itself only takes one or two days.
Find out where your nearest driver’s license center is (in Japanese: 運転免許試験場 untenmenkyoushikenjou). You can only convert your license in the prefecture you are registered in.
There are three centers in Tokyo:
Samezu Driver’s License Center in Shinagawa-ku (Shinagawa, Higashioi, 1 Chome−12-5)
Fuchu Driver’s License Center in Fuchu-shi (183-0002 Tokyo, Fuchu, Tamacho, 3 Chome−1-1)
Koto Driver’s License Test Site in Koto-ku (Tokyo 136-0075, Koto, Shinsuna, 1 Chome-7-24)
Important: The Koto center only converts licenses from the above mentioned 25 countries! If you are reading this article and have your license issued in another country you have to go to either Fuchu or Shinagawa.
My husband and I chose the Koto center because it was the closest and we thought it might take less time there because they only convert licenses from the mentioned 25 countries. Of course, I cannot confirm whether this actually worked.
The one in Koto only accepts foreigners for converting between 8:30 to 11:00 and 13:00 to 15:00. As it takes at least a couple of hours, I would strongly advise you to go early in the morning in order to receive it the same day.
You will need the following things for the conversion:
- Your original driver’s license
- The translation by JAF (also those who could drive with the international permit until now)
- Foreign Residency Card
- A Juuminhyou 住民票 from your city hall that certifies you’re a resident there (you can get it at your city hall for a few hundred yen)
- A recent photo (not older than 6 months) with size 3 x 2,4 cm
- Proof, that you lived in your country for at least three consecutive months after you obtained your license
- A person, who speaks Japanese
- Something to entertain yourself with while waiting
3 important remarks here:
- If you want to convert your license with your partner and both of you live in the same apartment, you will still need two Juuminhyos. Doesn’t matter that both of you might be listed on the same document, you will need an original Juuminhyou document each (no copies!).
- The 3-month-proof is trickier than expected. Even though you might have taken your driver’s license 20 years ago and lived in your country for the last 20 years until moving to Japan, they still want proof. I could use my last degree’s transcript of records, which stated when I started university and when I finished. They were extremely strict with the dates and even though the transcript stated that I started my studies with the winter semester, which regularly begins in October, they would only count from December 31st. Just because the exact day wasn’t mentioned but just “winter semester”. My official Master’s certificate only stated the date I graduated and could not be used. It should be one single document that somewhere indicates a starting and ending date. My husband only had this kind of document from another European country and thought, because the German license can be used in any other EU country, they wouldn’t mind. They did mind! They ended counting the weeks/months he spent at home according to his passport stamps.
- If you speak conversational Japanese, you will be fine. If not, ask a friend to accompany with you as they will most likely not help you in English. Some of the documents provided are in English though, so your Japanese really doesn’t have to be fluent.
Got all your documents together? Then head to the Driver’s License Site.
After handing over all your documents, everything will be checked, which might take a while. When everything is OK, you will get your official application with which you will go from one counter to the next. First, you have to pay (around 5,000 Yen), then do a quick eyesight test (took 5 seconds) and lastly, have your photo taken (the photo you came with is only for the application). All you have to do then is to wait for your license to be printed out. It really sounds like a 10 minutes issue but be prepared for 3 hours or more. You will mostly just sit somewhere and wait. So I really recommend you to take some snacks with you and a good book. Even leaving the room/ building is not wise as they will just shout out your name and if you are not there within 5 seconds, they will just take on the next person. Sounds lovely, I know.
Your license will be valid for two to three years, depending on your birthday. You will have a two month period before expiring to renew your license. If you miss this period, you will have to do the whole procedure again.
Seriously, even if you are not sure you ever want to drive a car in Japan, do it. Driving in Japan in pretty easy, especially in the countryside and many places can only be reached by car. And you do not want to go through the ordeal of taking classes and taking the tests. Even Japanese people often fail the driving tests multiple times and end up paying thousands of dollars.
I hope I could shed some light on the not so difficult process of converting.
Below, you will find a list of useful links for further information.
Also check your embassy’s homepage to make sure, they usually provide information on driving in foreign countries.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (engl.) – http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/multilingual/english/index.html
Japan Automobile Federation – JAF – (engl.) – http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/
JAF – information on how to obtain the translation – http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/translation/index_e.htm
JAF regional offices – http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/list.htm
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Page with PDFs in several languages at the bottom – http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/menkyo/menkyo/kokugai/kokugai05.html
For the exact steps, check this official PDF document – http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/multilingual/english/traffic_safety/drivers_licenses/index.files/d_license.pdf