Each prefecture in Japan has different rules and requirements for driver licensing. For the most accurate information please contact the licensing center in your area directly. You can find your local center by clicking this link, where we have prepared a list for you.
Foreign license conversion in Japan can be divided generally into two groups, depending on what country issued the foreign license.
Please note that this article may or may not be fully updated, but it should be generally correct. If you want the most updated information on this topic, you should jump right now to japandriverslicense.com that site will be fully updated basically all the time.
The first group includes license holders able to convert their foreign licenses directly to a Japanese license. For this group, conversion is a shorter bureaucratic paperwork process that takes a couple of weeks and one to two visits to the License Center. If your license was issued in one of these countries;
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] )
If the license is valid (not expired, etc.), and you can prove residency in that country for a minimum of 3 months after license issuance you are not required to take either the written test or road test to convert your license.
The second group includes license holders who require both a written and a driving test in order to get a Japanese driver’s license.
Valid foreign license holders from countries not listed above who can prove a minimum of 3 months residency in the country that issued the license, after it was issued, may be allowed to convert their license only after filing paperwork, taking a short written test, and passing a driving test on an enclosed course at the Testing Center in your prefecture.
Now that you have determined what group you are in, let’s take a look at the process using this flowchart:
Now that you have the overall picture, let’s go a little deeper.
To start the process, both groups of license holders need to obtain an official translation of their foreign driver’s license from an approved source. This is most commonly done through the Japan Auto Federation (JAF). We can coordinate this translation for you as part of our paid services. If you are interested in purchasing this, or any of our other services, please see our website.
After you obtain your official translation, you must go to the Licensing Center that serves your area with, at least the following (each area has slightly different requirements and procedures):
The application procedure at each License Center varies; but they all inspect your documents to make sure that you have lived in the country that issued your license for at least three months after your license was issued, and that all of your documentation is up-to-date and complete. There may be other steps required. Contact your local center for information!
Standard eye test; you should point in the direction that the arrow is pointing (your local center may be different but probably not). Once you pass the eye exam:
The written test for license conversion is much simpler than the test given to people getting their first license. The test itself is available in English; however, the instruction session just prior to the test will most likely be in Japanese. The main point of the Japanese explanation to understand is that in Japan X means false and O means true, and that when you have completed the test you may leave the room (again, your local center may be different). The best way to study for the test is to read the Japan Auto Federations book, in English, “Rules of the Road.”
Read more about the written test, or take a practice test here
Once you pass the eye exam and written test, you will be scheduled for your driving test. The test is not usually given on the same day you apply; you will probably have to come back to the testing center. Most likely; it will be a testing block period, rather than a specific time. You may be able to change this schedule on the spot or over the phone later. You will usually also receive a map of the driving course, which you will be required to drive from memory on test day. If the chance is offered, take the opportunity to walk the driving course before you leave, it will help you to memorize it.
Read more about the driving test here
If you do not speak Japanese it may be difficult to get through these steps, and but not impossible. Most centers require that you bring someone with you who can speak Japanese.
Depending on the driving center, you may be required to pay an additional car rental fee. Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting. When your turn comes, you will be required to get in the car and drive the prescribed course with an examiner, who will speak only in Japanese. It is necessary to memorize all the turns and elements of the course in advance as you will not receive instructions from the proctor.
If you make a “major” mistake you will fail on the spot. Whether or not you passed, you will be instructed to go inside and wait for the results with the other test takers. If you were not successful, you’ll be given a paper with your next scheduled opportunity to try again. If you are successful, you should receive your new license that day. This will entail paying more fees, getting your picture taken, and filling out forms.
Read more about taking the driving test, or see our guide to common street signs in Japan here.