Getting a Drivers License in Japan

June 18th, 2010By Category: Travel

As a foreigner the process of getting a drivers license can be tedious but worth it when you consider the cost of driving school in Japan can run over 300,000yen. International licenses are alright to use in Japan, but technically if you are living here you should have a Japanese license. Here is a run-through of the steps needed to get the license for anyone based in Tokyo.

Day 1: Translating the license

The first thing you have to do is go to the JAF, the Japanese Automobile Federation. You need to go to one of their offices to have your license translated – an alternative can also be arranged by mail. Either way will cost you 3000yen. One of the additional requirements for changing your license to a Japanese one is that you have to be able to prove that you’ve been driving in your home country for 6 months before coming to Japan.

Day 2: Submitting the Paper Work

So one morning I headed to the DMV in Samezu. Samezu is an old style town and the area near the station comprises of small and windy streets where the buildings bunch together. These are the things I had to bring: – my passport – my US license – the translation of my US license – my foreign ID card – copies of the front and back to my US license and foreign ID card – and money (about 5000yen).


I got there around 9:30am and submitted my paperwork. The building is 3 floors with a course in the back. Very different from the DMV in the US. I headed up to the license exchange section, submitted my paper work and waited. After confirming some details and signing some papers I headed down to the first floor to get a picture taken for the form and then took the vision test. It consisted of looking at circles that have the sides, top, or bottom open, and then a color blind check.

From there I headed back upstairs to pay the 2400yen fee and take the knowledge test. The knowledge test is made up of 10 questions and taken on a touch screen computer. After that it is back downstairs to reserve a place in the practical driving test. Unfortunately, you can’t do it the same day unless you call in advance. If you are British, Canadian or Australian, you don’t need to take the test. The pic below is the paperwork you receive while at the test center.

Day 3: The Driving Test

I brought my paperwork to the test center in Samezu and checked in. All the foreigners are put in a group since we are all changing from a foreign license to a Japanese license.



The course is a little different from the Japanese course in that it’s simpler – 6 months of driving experience in your own country is a prior requirement. After an explanation from the instructor we each took turns driving a 2004 Lancer through the course.



If you want a license that allows you to drive manual transmission you have to take the test on a manual car. You get to ride in the back for the test of the person taking it before you to get a feel for the track. If you don’t pass you get a yellow slip are told what you did wrong and then you can schedule to retake the test once more.

Useful Links: Driving School in English in JapanJapan Automobile Federation

Author of this article

Mark Frank

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  • Chad Brick says:

    You “actually” failed the first time? I’ve never met a foreigner who didn’t. In fact, here in Tochigi, I have never encountered ANYONE with less than four failures before passing. The most is twenty two. Last time I was there (my first failure), all fifteen people taking the test failed. The Japanese driving test is the second most ridiculous government idiocy I have ever encountered, only being beaten (in fact, utterly crushed) by American immigration control.

    Let’s see. If you have anything resembling a 9-5 job, you have to take one day off just to get your papers checked here in Tochigi, and a second to take the eye, written, and driving test. You always have to check in by ten and won’t be finished until three, so your day is shot. Of course, every time you fail, that’s another day of vacation stolen from you, as you have to be there (“there” being at the driving center, literally as far as possible from Tochigi’s major cities) from 10 am to 3 pm, even though the driving test takes only 10-15 minutes.

    Converting a US license to a Japanese one implies about 10000-20000 yen in application fees, twice that in private lessons, and a week off work – if you are lucky! In contrast, my Japanese wife got her Ohio license in half an hour on a weeknight for $25 with only an eye exam. We’ve also lived in Michigan, where if she had not had an Ohio license, she would have been required to take the driving test, but that can be done on weekends and pretty much everyone passes if they are at all an experienced driver (it is for weeding out 16 year olds that aren’t ready, not screwing people).

    Japan really needs to reform this system. Any test which the majority of experienced drivers are failing repeatedly is a broken test, and testing times should be arranged for minimization of hassles for regular workers, not maximization.

  • Theory Test says:

    useful article came out for new driver. Even in United Kingdome, driving rules
    are very tough. But we have to agree that all rules are made for safety. I’m
    still learning safe driving rules online
    and other website. 

  • Medicamentquestion says:

    Check out the podcast episode about driving…. it’s #44 of The Japanofiles Podcast. Lots of people’s experiences with the road test

  • Iain Maloney says:

    It’s not just Europeans who don’t need to take the driving or written test. Countries like Australia where they also drive on the left are exempt. All you need is the paperwork and an eye / colourblindness test.

  • ProvisionalDrivingLicence says:

    Thanks for helping people.

  • Sabatkebrenda37 says:

    Thanks for the nice blog

    What is the cost of making a legal driving license.

  • Kaz says:

    Could someone tell me about the period of time (for how many months) you have to stay in the country in which you get the license?
    In here it says for more than 6 months after getting your license but I have found some websites that say for more than 3 months. Thank you!

  • Jdmtyler says:

    so is the knowledge test in english??? and do they have a drivers handbook in english so we know the japanese rules of the road?

  • Markfrank says:

    Yeah, it's $25

  • Markfrank says:

    it's $25

  • duceduc™ says:

    Yes, I think is like $40.

  • Tatsuya_us says:

    Is there extra fees to retake the driving test?

  • Pierro says:

    Actually if you come from a European country you don't have to take any test, just go with your country's license and ask for a Japanese license.

  • duceduc™ says:

    Foreigners are very fortunate to have an easier process of getting their Japanese license by converting their international drivers license. If you qualify with the list above, I do encourage you to do it. The fee is cheap and the process from filing your paperwork to taking the test can be done in one day with early time appointment.

    Key things to remember. The courses are design to fail students. It is tricky with bushes that acts like a wall on corners and the streets are small. Don't let that discourage you; however. If you know the rules to Japan driving laws and follow them during the test, you can pass. In addition, the driving test will be held in Japanese only to be fair for everyone. All you need to reminder is the number systems (1-80 I think), left, right, words. The instructor will call out the number and tells you to turn left or right.

    I actually failed the first time, but I retook the test the following week and I passed. I failed because I went over the right arrow marker when I was making the right turn and I turn on the wipers instead of the blinkers. 😛


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