How to Convert a Foreign Driver’s License in Japan

Guide to live in Japan: Get a Driver's License

How to Convert a Foreign Driver's License in Japan

In most developed countries, capitals or large cities have a large transportation network. In the case of Tokyo it’s especially large. I think everyone who has lived in the big city will agree that you don’t need a car. In fact, getting into the chaos of Tokyo traffic can take much longer than riding the train or subway, not to mention finding a parking space.

However, for weekend trips there are many people who rent cars in order to have more autonomy or to reach areas where public transport is scarce. And in less urban areas there is less transport and people need cars more.

Driver's License in Japan

Some of the foreigners living in Japan believe that in order to drive in Japan it’s necessary to have a Japanese driver’s license, and that they need to pay for a driving school and take driving tests in Japan. Some people are concerned that driving schools in Japan are very expensive, and some people don’t have a high level of Japanese and are worried about the theory test. So they give up with the idea of having a driver’s license in Japan. But what if I told you that this is not the only way to drive in Japan?

For those who already have a driver’s license in their home country or in other countries, there is a much easier and cheaper way to drive in Japan: converting your license in a Japanese driver’s license. Read this article to find out what options there are for driving in Japan, and how to convert a foreign driver’s license to a Japanese one.

How to drive in Japan

Driver's License in Japan

It may seem obvious, but to drive in Japan you need a valid driver’s license or permit. There are mainly four ways to get this. Check here which way is the best for you depending on your situation (how long you will be in Japan, the country that has issued your driver’s license, etc).

Valid international driving permit in Japan

If you are going to live in Japan for a short period of time (one year) and you have a driver’s license in a country that has an agreement with Japan, the easiest and simplest option is to get an international driver’s license. This license must be applied for in your home country or the country where you got your driver’s license, but not in Japan. Generally, the Traffic Office that is in charge of driving licenses is also in charge of this international license. The cost varies depending on the country, but it’s usually not very expensive, and it lasts for one year.

Valid foreign driving license in Japan

If you have a driver’s license issued in Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland and Taiwan, you can use your driver’s license in Japan for one year from your entry into the country as long as you carry an official translation of your driver’s license with you.

The official translation of your license can be obtained from the embassy or consulate of the country where you obtained your license or from The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). Those with a driver’s license issued in Germany can also go to The German Automobile Federation(ADAC), and those who have obtained the license in Taiwan can go to The Japan-Taiwan Relations Association.

Conversion of a foreign driver’s license to a Japanese one

If you have a valid driver’s license from a country on the 1949 Geneva Convention list, you can convert your foreign license to a Japanese license. If you plan to live in Japan for more than one year and you have a driver’s license from a country that is on the Geneva Convention list, the quickest, cheapest and easiest option is to switch your foreign license for a Japanese license.

(To find out if your country is in the Geneva Convention, check this link).

Japanese driving license

If you don’t have a valid driver’s license in your country, or you have one but you don’t meet the requirements for it to be validated in Japan, your solution would be to get a driver’s license in Japan. It takes longer and is more expensive, but if you intend to live in Japan for many years, it may be worth the effort.

How to convert a foreign driver’s license in Japan

Driver's License in Japan

As I said above, convert your foreign license to a Japanese license  is quick and easily. It will cost you only a a couple of mornings and less than 10,000 yen. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Get an official Japanese translation of your driver’s license

The first thing to do is to ask for an official translation of your driver’s license. There are only two places where you can get this translation done: the embassy or consulate of the country where your driver’s license was issued or The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). Normally the most popular option is to go to JAF for this procedure, since in general at the embassy or consulate it is more expensive and you are the one who has to do the translation and all they do is validate it (or that is the case at my country’s embassy).

In order for JAF to do the official translation you need to bring your driver’s license and Japanese residency card. You also need to fill out an application form. There are two options: one is to go in person to one of their offices (in that case, they will give you the application form and you can fill it in there). The other option is to send the documents by post (in that case you have to send the money also by post, so you have to make a special delivery only available from Japan Post -other delivery companies can’t do this service-). In my case I went on a Tuesday morning to the JAF office in Shiba-koen, Tokyo, around 11 o’clock and although they told me it would take 2-3 days, the next morning I got the letter with the translation.

If you would like to download the application form to send it by mail or to have it already filled out so that you can wait less time when you visit a JAF office, you can find it here.

2. Go to the Driver’s License Center

The next step is to go to the Driver’s License Center of your prefecture. But before that there are certain documents you have to prepare. They are as follows:

  • An official copy of your “jumin-hyo“ (certificate of residence)
  • Residence card, My Number card or National health insurance card
  • Your foreign driver license
  • Japanese translation of foreign license
  • Applicant’s photograph
  • Official documents proving that you have stayed in the country that issued the driver’s license  for more three months or longer after acquiring the license

Once at the Driver’s License Center the procedure changes depending on the country or state in which your foreign driver’s license was issued.

The general process includes an aptitude test (a vision test), a traffic rule knowledge check and a driving skill check in which the applicant will be required to drive a car in addition to submitting all the necessary documentation. However, people who have obtained their license in certain countries or states, don’t need to make the traffic rule knowledge check and a driving skill check. Only a quick aptitude test. 

For those who have to take the driving test, first you have to pass the written test and if you pass, you have to go on a different day to take the driving test. The process itself only requires two days; one day to submit the paperwork and take the written test and another day for the driving test. The negative point is that depending on the city you are in it can take months to be able to take the driving test. For example in Tokyo when you submit the papers and take the written test, they give you an appointment for 4 months to take the driving test.

In my case, with the driver’s license issued in Spain, I only had to take the aptitude test. I went to the Koto Driver’s License Testing and Issuing Center, which is inside a police station (a really big one). The process is simple, but it takes about an hour and a half and you have to go to different counters. First, you present all the documents and wait for the staff to check them and once they check that everything is okay they give you a paper and you have to go for a vision test (in my opinion, very easy). From there you go to the payment counter and pay 4,600 yen. Once payment is made, you go back to the first counter and wait for everything to be ready. Then you have to go to take the photo for the license, and the only thing left to do is to wait in another room to get your Japanese driver’s license. In my case, I waited for half an hour and voilà! I can now drive in Japan. From the time I arrived at the place until I left, it took around an hour and a half.

Japanese Driver's License

I hope this article has been useful to you! Don’t hesitate to ask us anything if you have any questions, I will try to help you as best as possible with what I know. For more information for foreigners living in Japan, you can check these articles as well.

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Written by

From Barcelona to Tokyo. Coffee & Adventure lover🌏☕️ 

I started to like Japan because of the anime, music and doramas, but after my first trip to the country I found what I love the most: traveling around, the culture and history. I have travelled a lot in Japan, but I still have many places to discover that I want to share with you🙋🏼‍♀️ Let’s discover Japan together!


Also, as a foreigner living in Japan for over 6 years I understand what kind of things are difficult when you move here and I want to help other people in the same situation that I have in the past.