Automotive rental, trading and export – Japan

Japanese Driver’s Licence


You can drive in Japan on an international driving permit and it is probably a good idea to bring one when you come to Japan. In my case, you could only have it issued in person. This is only valid for a year however, so before the permit expires its a good idea to start the licence translation process in order to ensure a smooth procedure. I have heard some instances of IDPs being renewed, however I am not so sure of the details – seems like Americans may be able to renew them. Either way, I highly recommend getting your official Japanese driver’s license as soon as possible, even if you aren’t driving. There are financial benefits in saving on insurance, once you have had your license accident / penalty free for 5 years. Once your IDP expires, its time to thinking about obtaining the Japanese license. Left handed driving nationals, head to the translation section. Right hand side drivers, will have to undergo the test.


1. Translating your license to a Japanese driver’s license.
2. Getting a Japanese driver’s license from scratch.
3. License renewal.
4. Renewing an expired license.

Japanese Driver’s License Translation

Drivers from left hand drive countries, you luck out in this department! You can translate your home countries’ licence to the Japanese driver’s licence, with little worry involved (comparatively)!! I did this process a long time ago, so if there’s something you feel is missing, I would appreciate if you get in touch and let me know, through social media at the top of the page!

Allow up to a month for the whole translation process. In order to translate your licence you will need to present the following documents to your nearest licencing center:

  • Your passport (with entry and departure stamps to show you’ve driven abroad for more than 3 months*)
  • Your international driving permit.
  • Your foreign residence card.
  • A valid licence from your country.
  • An official translation of your licence – 3000yen (official means you’ll have to get it translated by the licencing centers local JAF office, which is often in a different location – click here for a list of approved offices).
  • A recent photo (They may take it for you – passport style 3cm x 2cm).
  • Licencing office fees – 4000 yen.

The whole process will cost about 7000 yen in fees.


First of all, in the interest of saving time, make a booking with the driver’s licensing center and tell them you want to translate your license. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to collect all the necessary documents. I would allow at least 3 weeks. The most most time consuming items to obtain would be the license translation and letter from your embassy, if you need it. 

 Next, you will need to acquire a translation of your home license from an approved JAF office. This should take no more than half an hour, so you go get a cup of coffee then come back and pick it up, or your can have it delivered to your home address, which will take a few extra days.

With a booking made and all the documents collected, head to the licencing center, where they will interview you. They will ask you pretty standard questions related to driving such as “how long have you been driving?” or “when did you get your license?” They’ll also ask you what the licensing procedure is in your country. This may continue for 15-20 minutes. Once the interview is done, they will your photo and may check your eye sight (they didn’t check mine). After a short time, it is all over and you have your new Japanese driver’s license with very little worries!

Getting a Japanese driver’s license from scratch

As I haven’t done this one, I don’t feel qualified to write about this process. I am working on a guide with some Americans who are undergoing the process currently – Check back soon!

Japanese Driver’s Licence Renewal


After driving in Japan for a few years, you may happen to notice that your licence expires rather sooner than in your home country. More likely, a strange slip of paper will come in the mail around the time of your birthday. This is the testing center’s helpful reminder that you need to renew your licence and it looks like this.

You need to renew it every three years in Japan. This is a pretty simple process and costs 4000 yen in fees.  No reservation is required, so you can go in anyday. Offices usually open at around 9 am and tend to be pretty efficient. You can also go to some police stations to have it done, but you’ll need to take a 3cm x 2.4cm  recent picture with you and often its more of a hassle finding the right time or place.

You’ll need: 

1. Your current license.

2. Your hanko

3. 4000 yen + photo fees if you have them taken there.

4. Your glasses, contacts will be rejected.

5. Your foreigner’s card.


1. Head down to the license center. Usually starting at 9 am. Be early to be on the safe side – particularly on weekends.

2.  As you queue up, staff will check your postcard and current license. They may take it to make a photocopy.

3. You will put in your license pin number and will have to fill in a medical self assessment, return these to the counter when finished.

4. Next up on the counter tour is payment.

5. Eye check up – A circle with a hole appears. Where’s the hole, up, down, left, right. cake.

6.  Wait for the lectures to begin. Your name will be called and you’ll likely be given a chip after you submit your documents to the person who calls your name. The chip colour will correspond to the lecture you need to take.

Which lecture you sit depends on your license.

Blue license – 2 hours.

Green license – 1 hour.

Green with violations on your license – 2 hours.

Gold license – 30 minutes

Once the lecture ends, make sure you have your slip stamped.

7. Follow their directions to the next area – almost done! Wait around in the area and they’ll then bring your license out to you.

8. Visit the little electronic kiosk to update your pin number if you wish and confirm your details.

9. Boom, see you in 3-5 years!

This process is pretty simple and following the tracks created by the snaking lines will pretty much get you through this process, but as always the licensing staff are super helpful, so if your unsure of the next step ask them.


Expired Japanese Driver’s Licence Renewal

If less than six months has transpired since expiry, it is not necessary to start from scratch again, you can apply for a new one quite easily, albeit not as easily as simply renewing one that is shortly due to expire. You will need to go to your local licence testing center.

What you will need:
– your old licence.
– your gaikokujin torokusho (alien registration certificate)
– a 3cm by 2.4cm photograph – however you can have it taken at the center for 500yen.
– about 6,000 yen all up.
– like the regular renewal process, you’ll need to sit through the safety lecture so allow 3 hours.

I renewed my licence in Nagano, so perhaps it wasn’t as busy as it would have been else where. I arrived at 8.20am as i had heard the lines were horrendous. However I finished my paperwork and forms within ten minutes after touring the counters, so I felt like I wasted half an hour just sitting around. Though I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The whole process was very well advised and the staff were friendly and helpful.

The process:

1. First of all I asked them where I needed to go for licence renewal after expiry. This was the pretty much the hardest step. Initially I was sent to the wrong counter. I guess my Japanese failed me, but it was a big deal as I was promptly redirected.

2. I was sent on a tour of the counters, which took little time and I had to fill in a few minor documents and pay the fees.

3. I then had my eyes tested and as I didn’t bring a photograph, I paid them to take one for me.

4. After collecting stamps and forms, I returned to the first counter I initially visited. They gave me a slip of paper and I was then told to have a seat and wait. I waited thirty minutes. I was among the last to be summoned and the group of us was told off for letting our licensing expire and warned that our licenses would start from year 1 again (Though in the end I was issued the next level license, so I am not sure what happened there).

5. After our little talk with the police officer, we headed upstairs to the lecture, which consisted of 2x one hour sessions. Try not to fall asleep through the man repeating what was written in the safety manual. You’ll also see a video and some driver related statistics. At the end I took a self assessment test. It included questions like “have you ever eaten while driving?” or “have you ever nodded off at the wheel?”. Mostly to make you consider your abilities and judgement I imagine, as we didn’t have to submit it.

6. After the lecture, make sure the presenter stamps your slip ask where to head to next.

7. Lastly pass your slip to an office lady. In my case she scampered off behind her desk and returned about 10 minutes later, presenting me with my new license!

8. She suggested I log into the kiosk and check out my personal details registered to the license and update my number.

As always at the license center, the staff were super helpful and pretty much made it impossible for me to mess it up. After my experience, I feel like you could almost go in, point at the date and grunt like a cave man – and you’ll be back on the road within a few hours.