How I got my Japanese Drivers License

Published on December 4 2017
Posted by: Kyle
Segment: tips

Getting a Japanese License

Getting a Japanese Drivers License is kind of easy (not completely easy). In the attempt to research more information about the process (because some companies may or may not know this and pass the information along to you), here is what I have found to help others that are looking to obtain their own Japanese Drivers License:

The Paperwork (and overview)

If you have a valid foreign license (not just IDP):

From 24 pre-approved countries* (or Massachusetts or Washington states):
  • Get a translation from JAF (3500 yen) - not required, but helpful
  • You may need to take a written test and vision test at your prefectural driving center

If you have a valid foreign license from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Monaco or Taiwan, all you need is a translation of your license, and you can drive legally in Japan! (See

*List of pre-approved countries:

Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Taiwan, United Kingdom
From other countries (including USA, non-MA or WA):
  • Get translation from JAF (see link to the left)
  • Submit paperwork at regional driver's license office

    • Residence card
    • Passport
    • Certificate of Residence (from City Hall - 300 yen; if you renewed your residence card, you'll need a new certificate)
    • Photo (3x2.5cm)
  • Take written (10 T/F questions) and vision (directional, colors) tests; schedule driving test (~1 month out, mainly waiting)
  • Test material may differ between branches/prefectures
  • Take driving test
  • Pay registration fee (up to 5500 for passing; 2200 for not, +1 month) for the "rental" and the processing
  • The driving test is not to test your "driving ability," but instead, to test your knowledge of the test (which is a bit backward); it may depend on the location
  • Quick Pointers:

    • Left turn: hug the curb
    • Right turn: wide as possible
    • Don't hit the poles
    • Don't run over the road markers (triangles)
    • Blinker on in advance

If you do NOT have a valid foreign license:

You will need to attend Driving School [自動車教習所 Jidōsha kyōshūjo] for ~2 months [easily 200,000¥]

Got it? Good. Let's move on

Here is an example of the Driving Test in Chiba (Location: Makuhari; 2017)
Driving Course; Chiba Version - 2017

The Actual Driving Test

Although the driving test varies by prefecture, this guide should give you a good idea about how to prepare for it and what to expect (the below lists are for the Chiba driving test; other prefectures may operate differently):

Don't expect to pass on your first try.
Learn the 3 C's: the course, the car, and the concept

Before the test:

  • You'll have to travel to your prefecture Driving License Center to take the test - it cannot be done at a local driving school.
  • If you have done independent research online, some resources may say to make the test "as uncomfortable as possible," braking and accelerating very harshly to make sure that the instructor "knows what you are doing". This is not recommended, but it may be in some prefectures. The best advice: drive like you normally would (safely), with the exception of over-exaggerating your expressions to look.
  • Don't expect to pass on your first try. Learn the 3 C's: the course, the car, and the concept. The average expat's time to pass the test is 2.5 tries.
  • On test day (if it's your first time), visit the Driver's License center about an hour before your test. The course will be open to test takers to "walk" the course. This way, you can get more familiar with the course layout, how wide the roads are, and to make sure you know how to drive it when in the car. You have a full hour up to your exam appointment to review the course. Once done, or if time is up, return to the window to tell them you have arrived, and you will be scheduled based on the arrival order.
  • When it is your turn to drive (and not be a passenger), the instructor will call your name and you will need to go to the assigned car with the instructor in it. You may get a passenger with you (the person next in line).

Starting the test:

  • (Although this may not be graded, it is highly recommended) Before you get in the car, check under the car for any obstructions. If you see leaking or any strange items, ask the instructor before you get in.
    1. Check under all sides to make sure you cover all angles, and act like the driver's side of the car is on a busy road, so make sure to look both ways before accessing that part of the car.
  • If you have personal items (bags, additional papers, books, etc), place these in the back of the car. The only thing that you should have with you in the driver's seat is your paperwork that you hand to the instructor
  • Although it may not do much, the best recommendation is to say "ようろうしくおねがいします" (yo ro shi ku o ne ga i shi ma su) as soon as you get into the car, to show respect to the instructor for his/her time and effort.
  • Check to make sure everyone in the car has their seatbelt on before starting the car
  • Become familiar with the location of the Emergency brake, and how to release and set it (as you will release it when starting, and set it when ending)

During the test:

  • Don't overthink things; if you do, you can make easy, stupid mistakes (such as forgetting to put on your seatbelt) that could result in an instant fail
  • When driving, make sure you're as far right in the lane as possible, driving about a 10cm buffer between you and the curb/line. When turning left, navigate the car to the left side of the lane, and be as far left as possible. The point here (and when turning left) is to prevent anything (bikes, mopeds, etc) from sneaking up on you and zooming between you and the curb
  • Always keep your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 - don't deviate unless turning on your wipers or signal
  • Your turn signal should be on during 95% of the course. During straightaways, it is not needed, but if you will be turning within the next 10-30 seconds, it is highly recommended (even if you are going through the crank or the S-curve - keep it on even though it may turn off due to the wheel turning)
  • 20kph is the set course speed. You will need to get up to 40kph during the long stretch, so accelerate quickly, but safely (the instructor may tell you to go to 40kph right before the straight portion). Meanwhile, always maintain 20kph during the rest of the course.
  • While you may do the course flawlessly, there are a few things that are instant fails, and will usually have the instructor end the exam at that spot and make you return to the gate immediately:
    1. Running a curb with a tire (any duration)
    2. Hitting one of the vertical barrier poles (any speed, any direction)
    3. (Some testing locations) Exaggerating too much when braking or accelerating
    4. Running the stoplight
    5. Not avoiding the obstacle (usually designated by cones)
    6. Stopping too far after the line
    7. Forgetting your seatbelt
    8. Forgetting a portion of the course
    9. Crashing with another vehicle/pedestrian on the course
    10. Not following directions
  • If the instructor fails you for something, just agree and take the test again later (aka: don't argue with the instructor; for example: if the instructor says you went too fast, even though you know you went exactly 40kph, just accept it and move on)
  • Others may be taking their driving tests with you on the same course; this could be other cars (Automatic or Manual), small trucks, large trucks, semi's, busses, or just about anything. Motorcycles have their own separate course, so you won't have to worry about them.
  • Always slow down for crosswalks, as you never know who could be crossing (on the course, or at the gate). People may not look out for you, so you'd better look out for them
  • Sometimes, the instructor may tell you something to do that's different than what is on the test (for example: turning at a different area than you expect). Therefore, make sure to know left (ひだり; hi da ri) and right (みぎ; mi gi) in Japanese, and your numbers, as each turn has its own number (for example: "ようんじゅうにばんのみぎにおねがいします" (yo n ju u ni ba n no mi gi ni o ne ga i shi ma su) - "Right at Number 42, please"). Not all instructors are fluent (or have much experience) in English.
    1. If you need something repeated, don't feel bad. You can say "mo u i chi do, o ne ga i shi ma su" ("one more time, please").
    2. Once you understand what the instructor said (such as the direction and number), some instructors like it if you confirm what was said. For example:
      • Instructor: "ごばんをください" (go ba n, (w)o ku da sa i) - "Number 5, please"
      • You: "はい、ごばんです" (ha i, go ba n de s[u]) - "Yes, number 5."
  • (This may vary between prefectures, but) You should get 3 "backups" per obstacle. This means that if you think that you won't make the next turn, you are allowed to backup. To do so, you must do the following:
    1. Say "ごめんなさい" (go me n na sa i) to apologize for the infraction
    2. Put the car in reverse
    3. Check your mirrors on both sides, and behind (both sides)
    4. Keep both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2
    5. Turn your head all the way around and look back, checking your mirrors constantly
    6. Back up slowly (making sure not to hit the curb or a vertical pole)
    7. Once completed, check your mirrors once more, put the car in drive, and pull forward slowly, until you successfully clear the obstacle (or if not, repeat the reversing process from (a))

Ending the test:

  • When the test is over, and you've pulled into the appropriate gate and stopped at the appropriate number, put the car in park, apply the emergency brake, and then turn the key off.
  • Say "ありがとうございました" - "a ri ga to u go za i ma shi ta" to the instructor, thanking him for the time

After the test:

At the end of the test, one of two things will happen:
  1. You will receive your paperwork back, which means that you didn't pass. You will need to go to the Appointment window and schedule your next exam, then pay the fee for the "rental" and you can leave. Re-study for the test and prepare yourself for the next exam date (you only need to re-take the driving portion, you don't need to re-take the written or vision tests)
  2. You won't get your paperwork back, which means they are keeping it for processing. This also means you passed! Congrats! Pay for the "rental", and then wait.

(Regardless of what happens, don't forget any personal items that you may have put in the car during your test)

Once you pass, it may be a little confusing as to figure out what to do, since you won't have any paperwork, and the officers will leave you alone. The Driver's License office may empty out of people, leaving you alone or with just a few people. Don't worry - the office usually surges around 8:30am and 1:00pm for people, so if you are alone at 3:30pm, it's okay.

The officers will want to verify your paperwork, and then call you up to the window to discuss a few items - they'll usually point these things out on paper, speaking Japanese. You will need to create a "secret number" (for some reason), which will need to be 4 digits long.

Later, you'll be called into a different room to process your paperwork; this is to just verify your name, address, and additional information (especially if you have a middle name - that isn't common among Japanese, so they may be confused as to what order your name is in). Afterwards (and after more waiting), you'll have your photo taken.

After more waiting, you should receive your license. Congrats!

(Make sure to take photos of the front and back and send it to your company)

This guide is still a Work In Progress, so as others take the test(s) and learn new things, it will be added here to assist others.

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments below or contact us, and we'll answer them as best we can.


Many FAQ's have been asked during our own experience or others, so here's a list of FAQ's to help you:
If I have a valid foreign license, and I get a Japanese license, does that mean that my foreign license is no longer valid?
No, your foreign license is still valid up until its expiration date. The Japanese license just allows you to drive in Japan along with your foreign license.
How long do I have to have my foreign license before I can apply for a Japanese license?
You should have it for at least 90 days prior to applying for a Japanese license
What kind of license can I apply for?
Most of the time, 99% of people will have a standard "Car" license (depending on the license level). Your foreign license should allow you to driver a standard <10 passenger car. If you want to upgrade to a truck, bus, or anything bigger, you'll need to have the valid license type, or go through driving school for it.