Updated February 28, 2024

How To Get a Driver’s License in Japan


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Expats in Japan will tell you there are a few stages of integrating into the country. These include finding a permanent place to live, getting permanent residence, and for many, being able to drive a car.

Even if integration isn’t the goal, a lot of tourists from Western countries (especially the U.S. and Canada where cars are much more popular) still seek the freedom you get by having a car. 

Because of this, one of the most common topics among foreigners is how to get a driver’s license, or whether you can drive in Japan with a foreign driver’s license.

In this post, I’ll tell you all you need to know about how to get a driver’s license in Japan and how to ace Japan’s driving test. I’ll also explain if it’s possible to convert a driver’s license in Japan, so let’s get going.

Do You Need a Driver’s License in Japan as a Foreigner?

Of course, everyone needs a valid driver’s license to be able to drive in Japan, and this includes foreigners too.

As one would expect, getting a driver’s license is harder in Japan than in most other countries. After all, Japanese people care a great deal about obeying rules. Also, the culture of not inconveniencing others means everyone has to be stellar drivers on the road.

This is why Japan driving test is notoriously hard, and passing the test involves multiple tries for many. What’s more, the paperwork and the cost associated with getting a license can get a bit overwhelming if you’re not the patient type.

This is the part you may want to pause, and consider other options if driving isn’t absolutely essential to you. For instance, I recently wrote about electric scooters in Japan, which is a delightfully convenient way to get around town if that’s all you need.

That said, if you already have a license or an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) obtained abroad, you might not need to go through the process of obtaining a license in Japan under certain conditions.

How to Convert Driver’s Licenses in Japan

If you already have a driver’s license issued in another country, converting your existing license is your best option to start driving in Japan right away and hassle-free.

Hassle-free may not be the correct way to put it, as there’s still a process attached that involves applications and forms, but lucky for you, I’ve already done the research.

If you want to convert your existing license to a valid one in Japan, your go-to resource is the Japan Automobile Federation’s (JAF) website

Not only is this where you’ll find the application forms to convert your license, but the website also offers documentation regarding how to drive in Japan as a foreigner, as well as tips about bringing vehicles to Japan and what to do in case of road emergencies.

On the JAF website, you can easily find all of the documents and requirements, but here’s what you need to be eligible for the conversion:

  • A valid driver’s license

  • Residency in the issuing country for at least three months after obtaining the said license

If both conditions are met, you can start preparing. The application should be submitted at your nearest JAF office (or “Driver’s License Center”) in your prefecture. 


What Documents Do I Need To Convert My Existing License?

In addition to the application form, which you can download from the official JAF website, you’ll need to apply for an official translation of your driver’s license, which JAF also provides. You can apply for it online, mail your application to a local branch, or apply at a branch directly if the first two options aren’t available to you.

An important thing to point out here is that if your original license is in a non-latin alphabet, or it has vague descriptions that aren’t comparable to similar documents issued by other countries, you’ll also have to get a document that explains the information presented on your license, which can be obtained from your country of origin or its embassy in Japan.

For more information on the translation of your original license, you can check out the official guide by JAF. Here are all the other documents you need for your application:

  • A photograph of the applicant in 3 cm x 2.4 cm format

  • An official copy of “jumin-hyo” or your passport if you’re not registered as a resident

  • Your Residence Card, My Number Card, and National Health Insurance Card

  • Your original driver’s license

  • Documents proving your three-month stay in the issuing country after the license was obtained (passport stamps, for instance)

Other than these, you’ll have to pay a processing fee, and you need to contact your local branch to find the exact amount. The official translation of your license, on the other hand, usually costs around 3,000 JPY.

Do I Need To Take Japan’s Driving Test If I’m Applying To Convert My License?

When having your license converted in Japan, whether you need to take any driving tests depends entirely on where you obtained your original license from. 

To be precise, if you’ve obtained your license from any of the following countries, you likely won’t have to take a driving test or a written exam: 

  • Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States (specifically Hawaii/Washington/Maryland).

Those who hold a license from one of these countries are only required to take an eye exam to prove they have healthy vision. Although it doesn’t take too long for the license to be issued, be prepared to come by the next day as they may not give your license to you on the spot.

If your license wasn’t issued by one of these countries, you’ll have to take a written test that’s comprised of 10 questions and a practical driving test, which I’ll explain in more detail shortly.


International Driver’s Permit Japan

An International Driver’s Permit, or IDP, is issued by a long list of countries as part of an international treaty. This permit allows you to legally drive in Japan without applying for conversion or a new license.

However, the IDP isn’t without limitations, as it offers a short-term solution. You’re only allowed to drive in Japan for one year with your IDP, and after that, you’ll need to get a Japanese license. 

Of course, you can work around this by leaving Japan for at least three months before reentering, which resets the one-year period, but this may not be worth the hassle.

Also, keep in mind that only those who obtained their International Driver’s Permits from countries that signed the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic can use it in Japan. IDPs issued according to other treaties, like the Vienna Convention, aren’t valid in Japan in this regard.

What’s more, despite being a signee of the said treaty, it’s important to note that IDPs issued by certain European countries, like Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, Estonia, and Switzerland, as well as Taiwan in Asia, need to carry an official translation of their documents in order to drive legally in Japan.

Getting a Driver’s License in Japan From Scratch

If you don’t have a driver’s license issued in your country, or an IDP, as I explained above, you’ll need to apply for a brand new driver’s license, just like Japanese people do when they first get their licenses.

Keep in mind, however, that Japan takes driving seriously, and you may need to take the tests multiple times before you pass. What’s important to remember here is that you’re in a place that takes people’s lives and safety seriously. So, don’t be frustrated if you don’t pass the first time.

Overall, the process of getting your license is very similar to converting your license, but with the addition of a learner’s permit requirement. You can obtain this at any driving school by taking classes and passing a test.

After this, you’ll be issued a learner’s permit, which is valid for 6 months, and you’ll have to convert it to a license similar to the conversion process I explained previously.

Japan’s Driving Test and Exam

In your journey to obtain your Japanese driver’s license, the test for road safety and traffic laws is your first hurdle to overcome. Passing it requires scoring at least 45 out of 50 points in total. 

Once you pass this initial written exam, the next step is to take the driving test, which I’d like to clarify a few things about.

First off, avoid the pitfall of treating the written exam as the main event and neglecting to prepare for the practical part. Most people do this thinking that’s the easy part, but that’s not really the case.

In fact, it’s the part where most people fail.

The things you’ll be tested for in the exam usually have nothing to do with how you drive in real life. For instance, driving in a tight S shape and keeping an exact (to the centimeter) distance from a sidewalk while you park, are all usual components of the test. 

For this, I strongly recommend going to a training center and taking at least one practice drive that’s similar to the real thing.

Finally, before getting your learner’s permit, you also need to take a 3-month course on first aid and show a certificate that’s no older than three months to prove it.


How Much Does it Cost To Get a Driver’s License in Japan?

Before I conclude here, the final thing I’d like to explain is how much the process will cost you.

If you have a license and are getting it converted, the most significant cost you’re looking at is the fee for the translation of the original license, which costs around 3,000 JPY.

If you’re starting from scratch, getting a driver’s license is bound to cost more. Here are the usual costs attached.

To obtain a driver's license, you have two options. You can either commute to a driving school, which will cost approximately 300,000 to 400,000 yen, or you can choose a training camp-type driving school and stay overnight for about 2 weeks.

This option will not only shorten the time it takes to get your license, but it will also cost less, starting from 200,000 yen and capping at 400,000 yen.

The next step is getting your learner’s permit. There’s an initial examination fee of 2,900 JPY, and you also need to pay an additional 1,450 JPY as a test vehicle fee. Once you pass the test, to get your learner’s permit issued, you’ll have to pay an issuance fee of 1,150 JPY.

As for the actual driver’s license, the fees attached are as follows: an examination fee, which is 2,550 JPY, a test vehicle usage fee of 800 JPY, and finally, a license issuance fee which costs 2,050 JPY.

Keep in mind that if you fail, you’ll be charged again for the examination fee and test vehicle usage for both the learner’s permit and the actual license. 

Finally, when the time comes to renew your license, which is valid for 5 years, you’ll also have to pay a renewal fee of around 3,000 JPY.

You can check the most up-to-date information on the official Metropolitan Police website to get the exact details about the whole process and the fees.

While this is it for driver’s licenses, if you’re into winter sports, check out the destinations introduced in our post on the best snowboarding and skiing resorts in Japan.


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.