Most Tokyoites don’t need a car for day-to-day life. However, whether you want to take the kids camping, fit your Nitori purchases in the back of a four-seater, or need to drive for work, learning to drive in Japan can really come in handy. For expats with disabilities or who are carers, a car might be a necessity not a luxury. It can also be fun to whip out your Japanese driving license instead of your residence card as ID to win maximum integration points. If you want to get on the road, this is what you need to do.
International Driving Permits
If you only need to drive in Japan for a short while, getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your own country can be a good option. IDPs will allow you to drive in Japan for up to 12 months. However, if you want to drive in Japan long term, purchase a vehicle or have more flexibility in the cars you can rent, you should probably get an actual Japanese license.
Obtaining a Japanese Driving License
The good news: many foreign nationals can drive in Japan without taking the practical driving test. I was thrilled to discover that I could convert my British driving license to a Japanese one with minimal time and money. After doing this, I have a standard Japanese driving license that is identical to what a Japanese person would have after taking the test in their own country.
There are some nationalities who don’t even have to do the conversion process. If you are from Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland or Taiwan, you can drive in Japan indefinitely with a valid driving license from your country and an official translation of said license. The translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation. However, you will have to carry the translation around with you every time you drive so you may prefer to convert your license in the end.
If you have a driving license issued in the above countries as well as Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, State of Maryland (USA) or State of Washington (USA) you may convert your license to a Japanese one without taking the practical test, thanks to bilateral agreements with Japan.
Those who cannot convert their licenses should skip the next section and head to “Taking the Test.”
Converting your license