>> Need to learn how to drive? Stayed tuned for part 2 next week! <<
For those looking to step off Japan’s famous public transport network and hit the roads, you may encounter a few speed bumps on the way to doing so. SO I’ll try to explain the process as succinctly as I can.
International Driving Permit
To start off with, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is all you’ll need to get behind the wheel. Americans can apply for an IDP at a AAA office and Brits can do so at a post office before coming to Japan. However, as of 2002 an IDP only allows you to drive in Japan for one year; if you live in Japan longer than that you’ll need to go through the process of converting it to a Japanese license.
It should also be noted that individuals with licenses from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, Estonia and Taiwan will need a Japanese translation alongside their original license to legally drive. A translation can be obtained from the Japanese Automobile Federation, foreign embassies or consular offices in Japan.
Once you decide to convert your license to a Japanese one you’ll need to prepare a few documents ahead of time. First, you’ll need to get an official translation of your current driver’s license. As mentioned above this can be done at a JAF office or by mail.
To apply for the translation you will need to download, print and complete the form from the JAF website as well as submit your original driver’s license (and a photocopy of your residence card if your license is written in Arabic or Russian) and 3000JPY for the issuance fee. Applications by mail can be done by sending in the same documents as well as an extra 500JPY for the return postage.
Next you’ll need a proof of residence in the form of a Juminhyou (住民票) which can be obtained from your nearest city hall for a small fee. And last but not least you’ll need proof that you have resided in the country where you obtained your license for 3 or more months after obtaining it (bring expired licenses and passports if needed) and the things you might expect such as residence card, passport and some cash for fees that come up.
Finally, obtaining your Japanese license can be done at a driving examination center (運転免許試験場) in the prefecture where you currently reside. Drivers from a number of countries that have reciprocal agreements with Japan can obtain a driver’s license in Japan without much trouble. These countries include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. Residents of these countries, plus Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington states, can obtain a Japanese license with just an eye test and that’s that!
Residents of other countries, including most of the USA, will have to go through a slightly more laborious process of taking a written and practical test in order to get a Japanese license. The practical test will be scheduled about a month after passing the written test. While waiting for the test day, you might consider attending a 1-day brush up driving course at a driving school.
As a Brit I can’t comment on the difficulty of these too much but from what I’ve heard from my American friends, the written test is a basic 10 question true or false quiz; the practical test is where things get a little bit more difficult. Most people who take the practical test bemoan the fact that they’re not really being tested on their driving skill but more on their ability to follow the rules to a tee.
Most have to take the test a few times before passing. Some general advice is to be polite to your examiner, meticulously check everything, and finally be prepared to wait a long time as with a lot of these things in Japan, bureaucracy takes over and you’ll be waiting between every step of the process. Once all is said and done you’re ready to get your Japanese license and take to the road!
Software developer working in Japan.
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