International Driving Permit (IDP)
You will need an IDP if you plan to drive in Japan under your foreign driver’s license during your first year here.
You must have both the IDP and your valid home country license in your possession when driving.
The IDP expires one year from the date of your arrival in Japan, or one year from the issue date, whichever comes first, and cannot be renewed (without leaving the country for 3 months). If you wish to continue driving you must have a Japanese license. Driving without a valid IDP or Japanese license is illegal, and you will likely lose your job if discovered.
If you had not originally planned on driving before arriving but have now decided that you want to, someone in your home country should be able to obtain an international driving permit for you and send it without too much difficulty, but again, it will be invalid one year from your arrival in Japan.
If you’re staying for more than one year then it’s a good idea to get your Japanese driving license as soon as possible. Do not wait until the last few weeks to start on this process as it can take more than two months to complete. Start as soon as you can.
Getting your Japanese Driver’s License
If you already obtained a license in your home country 3 months before coming to Japan, you can convert it to a Japanese license through the process outlined below. If you don’t have a license in your home country already or you got it less than 3 months before coming to Japan, you’ll have to go through the same long and expensive (¥250,000+) process that Japanese must go through to get their first license.
Foreign License Conversion (gaimen kirikae 外免切替)
There are three stages in the license conversion process:
- Document Inspection
- Written Test
- Driving Test
Foreign nationals from the following countries are exempt from the written and driving test: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
The written and driving tests are required for foreign nationals from: China, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, the United States, or any other country not in the exempt list.
You must call to make an appointment at the test centre in order to submit the following documents:
- Translation of Existing License from JAF (Japan Auto Federation) Fukuoka Office: takes approximately 1 week by mail; ¥3385 for a money order (kogawase 小為替) with return postage). (The Kagoshima City office no longer processes translations on site. If you apply in person, your documents will be sent to the Fukuoka office.)
- Current Driver’s License: must be valid for at least three months prior to entering Japan. If you had your license renewed shortly before arriving in Japan, then you will need a copy of your driving record (see below).
- Driving Record: Unless your existing license is your first, it’s recommended to bring a copy of your driving record from your home country. You must account for your entire driving history since first receiving your license. (Some people have been able to get past this by claiming it is their first license.)
- Certificate of Residence (juuminhyou 住民票) from your local city hall indicating nationality (kokuseki no hyouji 国籍の表示) (¥300)
- Passport: Unless you have all your old passports with you, tell them that this is your first passport. (Keep your story straight; otherwise, you’ll have to provide all your previous passports.) They will look at every stamp in your passport and write down every border exit and entry. Be prepared to answer questions about your travel history.
- International Driving Permit: If you obtained your international permit after arriving in Japan, be prepared to answer some questions about why your permit has been issued after your landing date.
- Residence Card (or Alien Registration Card)
If you are exempt from the written and driving test, you will also need the following:
- Three recent 30 x 24 mm photos: They can be taken at photo booths, but if you forget, the restaurant across the street has a booth you can use.
- At least ¥4500
Once you have all these items in order, you will need to call the test center in Aira City and make an appointment to file your paperwork at 13:00 on a weekday. Unless your Japanese is particularly good (JLPT N2), it is highly recommended that you bring someone to interpret. If your job requires that you drive to your job sites (i.e. public transportation is not possible), it’s best to ask a JTE or English-speaking co-worker to accompany you. They can explain to your boss that this is official business so you both will not have to use paid leave (nenkyuu) (only if driving is essential for your job). The interview can last more than 2 hours.
- Driving: From Route 10, turn south at the Yamakataya, pass the “Everyone” convenience store, turn left at the end of the road, right at the next light, left at the entrance, and park in the lot down the road to the right. Do not park in front of the main entrance.
- Train: Get off at Chousa (帖佐) Station. The test center is about 20 minutes walk south.
- Bus: The 67-1 Iwasaki/Kagoshima Kotsu bus bound for ken-jidousha-shikenjou-mae (県自動車試験場前) leaves Chuo Station at 7:30 a.m. (Tenmonkan at 7:35) and drops you off about 200 meters from the test center at 8:15 am. There’s also a bus (67-1) that leaves Tenmonkan at 11:39 and arrives at the test center at 12:19. Return buses are at 12:30, 14:25, and 15:45.
Arrive 10-15 minutes early and wait in area #6. All windows, shades and doors will be closed until an announcement at 13:00. Someone will call your name and take you to a small room. You will then need to wait for someone to come to the cubicle, ask for your paperwork, and interview you. Be prepared to answer a lot of seemingly irrelevant questions for around two hours. As frustrating as it may be, be polite and patient.
If your documents are accepted, and you are a national of one of the countries that are exempt from the tests, you will have an eye test, fill out a form, choose two PIN numbers, pay the fee, take your photo, endure a short lecture explaining the license points system, and receive your Japanese license. (If your home country license was issued over 1 year ago, you will receive a small red stamp on the back of the license that states that you do not need the yellow & green “new driver sticker” on your car. If there is no red stamp, you must get stickers for your car immediately from a 100-yen shop or grocery store.)
If you are required to take the tests, you will have to make an appointment at least 2 weeks later to take the written and driving tests. The driving test is notoriously difficult, so you should plan on practicing several times.
The written test consists of about ten true or false questions, and you are given about ten minutes to complete it. Mark 〇 for true and × for false. 70% is passing. The English is sometimes difficult to understand, but there are pictures, and the questions are also written in Japanese. An appointment is required (13:00, weekdays). If you pass, you can take your driving test the same day. If you fail, you must return another day and take the written test again.
- You can buy JAF’s translation of Japan’s driving laws: Rules of the Road.
- Study the Japanese road signs and street markings.
- Take these three online practice tests.
- Review the driving rules summary.
You will need to bring the following items:
- Foreign Driver’s License
- International Driving Permit
- Residence Card (Alien Registration Card)
- Three recent 30 x 24 mm photos (If you forget, the restaurant across the street has a photo booth you can use.)
- At least ¥4500
The driving test is the most rigid interpretation of Japan’s driving laws, and it requires a great deal of practice to memorize every motion of the two driving courses. It is possible to pass the first time, but most people take 3 or more attempts.
You can practice on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) with someone that has had their Japanese license for more than one year. The fee for using the test center is ¥5000/hour. It is recommended that you take at least one lesson from a private instructor.
You may want to record the entire lesson as it can be very helpful in preparing for the actual driving test. Your instructor will drive you around the first course and tell you what to do at each point. Then, you will have a chance to practice it yourself. This will then be repeated with the second course. Japanese driving instructors will grab the steering wheel, stop the car, and drive you crazy, but they know exactly what is needed to pass the test, so it is best to swallow your pride and listen to everything you’re told. If you practice at least three times, you will have a good chance at passing your first test.
Once you pass the written test, you will be taken back to the waiting area. A testing proctor will explain the procedure. (It would be a good idea to bring a Japanese friend for the test if your Japanese is not particularly good.) You are expected to have practiced on the weekends and thoroughly memorised the driving course.
The test begins the minute you step off the curb. Verbalize everything you do during the test to show the proctor that you know the course and your actions are deliberate. Try to make a dramatic show of turning your head every time you check your mirrors. After the test is over, you’ll be told what you did wrong and whether you passed or failed. If you pass on your first try, you can proceed to take your eye test and complete your paperwork almost immediately. If you fail, you’ll have to come back at least one week later to re-take the test.
If you must re-take the test, no appointment is necessary. Arrive to the test center before 09:00 with your paperwork. You will be given a test time. If you pass in the morning, you’ll have to come back at 13:00 to take the eye test, complete the necessary paperwork, create two PIN numbers, pay the fee, have your photo taken, and receive your license.
If your home country license was issued over 1 year ago, you will receive a small red stamp on the back of the license that states that you do not need the yellow & green “new driver sticker” on your car. If there is no red stamp, you must get stickers for your car immediately from a 100-yen shop or grocery store.