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.