my place in japan

How to move into Japan

Hitting the Road! Driving in Japan part 2

Ahoy there!
Last article, we shared information about the IDP and how driving works for most Japanese natives.  This time, we cut into the nitty gritty of how to get through the barriers that block one's path towards getting a Japanese driver's license.

What you need to acquire your Japanese driver’s license

If your International Driving Permit (IDP) is once expired, or you are willing to start driving in Japan, then you will need to acquire a Japanese driver’s license at your prefectural license center.  In order to obtain the Japanese driver’s license, you have to prepare the following documents or items. Please remember that if you missed even one single document, the license center will not issue the license for you.  This means you will waste the whole day and need to reschedule the date to come back again to apply for the license!  So it is important that you double or triple check before you are going to the license center.

1.  Current driver’s license in your home country as well as all of your expired driver’s licenses (if you have them, you need to bring them to the center). Do your best to find them since they often only accept the actual license. (Yes the ones with holes punched in them!)

2.  Current International Driving Permit (if you have one right now)

3.  Passport – they need to confirm by checking your embarkation/disembarkation (ED) record in your passport.  What this means is that they need to check ED stamps in your passport so that they can confirm that you were actually living in your home country after you obtained your driver’s license (and it is not being expired as of now) in your home country.

4.  Any documentation to prove that you were living in your home country for at least 3 months after obtaining your current driver’s license in your home country.  For example, a letter from your college/university/company/embassy, your paycheck, and any other official documents stating your period of stay in your home country can be valid documents.  So those documents must have the dates that you were actually living in your home country for at least 3 months.

***You must be careful to choose exactly what type of documentation is valid for the license center.  Remember that any types of bank items/documents like bank book or bank record, and car insurance certificate in your home country are NOT VALID because you can be out of country while having your bank account or car insurance in your home country.

5.  Translated document of your current driver’s license in your home country.  Please remember that the translation must be completed only by the JAF (Japanese Automobile Foundation) Translation Office.  Each prefecture has a JAF Translation Office, and you find it on internet (Just type “JAF translation”), and their website will show up in English and some other languages.  Please note that you have to get your license translated by JAF before you go to the license center, and it costs approximately 3,000 yen for the translation. Click below for JAF’s website in English, and you can learn more about it.

6.  Residence Certificate (commonly known as the “Juminhyo” in Japanese).  Residence certificate or Juminhyo is an official document issued by your local city/town hall.  This certificate is to certify that you are being officially registered in your particular city, town, or village.  Please be careful that your nationality must be described in your Juminhyo.  So when you go to the city/town hall to acquire your Juminhyo (residence certificate), please make sure you ask the hall staff to describe your nationality in your Juminhyo.

7.  Photo (your head and shoulders) with the size of 3 cm x 2.4 cm (you must use the photo which was taken within 6 months).  You can usually find a photo machine around supermarkets, convenience stores, home centers, or shopping malls, and it roughly costs from 500 yen to 1,000 yen.  However, each license center usually has a photo machine in the building, so in case that you forgot to bring it with you, you can still get your photo at the license center.

8.  Issuance Fee.  You will have to pay roughly about 5,000 yen for the license center to officially issue your Japanese license.

9.  Expired Japanese driver’s license.  This is only for those who had the Japanese driver’s license (expired one) in the past, then it needs to be brought to bring it to the license center as well.

Once again, if you fail to bring even a single document from that list, then the license center will not issue the Japanese driver’s license for you and turn you back out the door until you have them.  So make sure to double or triple check before you go there. Please click below for a link of a license center of one prefecture as an example.

Taking a written and driving tests in Japan

  Depending on which country you are from, you may or may not have to take the written and driving tests at the license center.  Let me tell you, this is the most painful and stressful part that you have to go through, especially the driving test.  And you should expect that you might not pass the driving test for at least one, two, or even 3 or more times.  Uniquely, each prefecture has a different score system; therefore, some prefectures let you pass the test pretty easily while other prefectures are very severe about it.  So you will need to spend a fair amount of time to study for the written test and more time to study and practice for the driving test (many of foreign people say that the written test is fairly easy to pass, but the driving test is very difficult to pass).  Especially for the driving test, you have to drive in a precise manner as the Japanese instructor wants you to drive on the roads like how to use a turn signal, keeping far enough to the left or the right side of the lane before making a turn, checking the rear-view mirror, side mirrors, blind spots, all other visible directions, watch for oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, bikers, motorcycles, and make turns in an appropriate manner.  

  Luckily, nowadays, you can search for “how to pass driving test in Japan” through the internet or social media such as YouTube.  So I highly recommend that you spend a significant amount of time to study for the written test and practice driving before taking the driving test.  Moreover, as one of the options, you can also go to one of your nearest driving school to take some driving lessons (it costs roughly about 20,000 yen or more for admission fee and 2-3 driving lessons) so that the school instructor can teach you how to drive properly at the time of the driving test at the license center.

Car insurance

Currently in Japan, there is an increasing number of overseas drivers getting in serious car accidents, and it is becoming a big issue.  Even for the Japanese, it is a scary moment when they get in car accidents, especially if someone gets injured or even dies. That’s why you need to have a car insurance.  In Japan, most people have voluntary insurance in addition to compulsory automobile liability insurance so that they can pay less whenever they get in a car accident, especially causing injury or death.  There are many Japanese automobile companies with different types of insurance plans, and there are some insurance companies which can provide service in English. You can search on the internet (just type “automobile insurance in japan”).

  Although there are lots of hoops to jump through, it doesn't have to be the worst situation in the world if you are aware of what is coming.  Get those documents and make sure to put in the proper amount of time to study and practice and you can do it too.  Hopefully this article gave you some insight on how to make that happen.  Feel free to let us know what you think by shooting an e-mail to us at!

 Set sail to a new life, may ships take you on the seas, through the skies, and over the land towards my place in Japan.

Until next time, from all of of here at take care!

Kei & Phil