Getting a Japanese driving licence

I recently got my full Japanese driving licence. I already had a UK driving licence; so much of the information here will be specific for people who have UK driving licences. For example with a UK licence you don’t have to do a physical driving test, whereas I know that if you have an American driving licence you do.

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Also I got my licence in Takamatsu – the procedure will vary in other parts of the country.

Translation of my British driving licence

To start with I needed a translation of my British driving licence. You can get one of these for ¥3000 from your local JAF (Japan automobile federation) office.

The procedure is pretty simple; you turn up – no appointment was necessary, fill in a simple form (name, address, telephone number), and give them your driving licence. They only needed my photocard, they didn’t need the paper counterpart. They then took about 30 minutes to copy the relevant information from the photocard to a standard form on one or two pieces of A4 paper.

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After that you should just check the details on the translation form are correct. One thing I noticed is that the licence expiry date they put on the translation form is the photocard expiry date, which is usually very different from the expiry date of your driving licence.

There is more detailed information on the JAF website.

Japan driving licence interview

This is the stage which could vary a lot depending on where you are from. With my UK driving licence I was only required to be interviewed – I didn’t need to take a driving test.

I had to get the appointment booked in advance at the Kagawa driving licence centre which is a 25 minute walk North of Kozai station (one stop to the West of Takamatsu main station).

The interview was going to be in Japanese so I took a friend along to translate for me. Once at the driving licence centre I was seen by a lady who spent over an hour asking me many question about how I learnt to drive and my driving experience. Here is a selection of questions that my friend and I were asked at both of our interviews.

  • How did you apply for your provisional licence?
  • Where did you apply for your provisional licence?
  • How much did it cost?
  • When did you apply?
  • Did you need to do a test to get the provisional licence?
  • Did you need an eye test?
  • Did you have to see a doctor to get the provisional licence? (They seemed very suspicious about the fact that we can just get a provisional licence with no kind of testing!)
  • How did you learn to drive?
  • Who taught you?
  • Were they qualified instructors?
  • How many lessons did you do? How long were the lessons?
  • What cars did you drive?
  • Did you learn on a manual or automatic?
  • Have you driven an automatic? (in Japan they mainly seem to drive automatics)
  • What side of the road did you drive on?
  • What manouvers did you learn?
  • How did you learn the rules of the road? (theory)
  • Was there a test?
  • How many questions?
  • What was the pass mark? What did you score?
  • When did you do your driving test?
  • When / how did you apply for your driving test?
  • Who tested you?
  • What car did you drive for the test?
  • What did you do on the test?
  • How long was the test?
  • Did you pass? (if not expect similar questioning on your other test attempts)
  • Have you ever been caught speeding?
  • Have you driven in Japan?

I’d left my paper counter part back in the UK, and she did ask about it, but she seemed to accept that the photocard was sufficient. To be safe it is probably best if you bring your paper counterpart along with you as well, in case they insist on it.

And even more questions which I don’t remember! But hopefully this gives you an idea of the style. Once it was finished I was told that they’d phone within a week to tell me if I’d passed. If so I’d have to go back to the driving licence centre for an eye test and to pay. There was no charge to be interviewed.

Getting my Japanese driving licence

A week later I was told that I passed the interview so I was asked to go back to the centre the next week before 2pm.

After I got there and checked in at reception a man collected me. I had to verify my details on another form. And I had to choose two 4 digit pin codes (both could be the same). I’m guessing you might need them one day to prove you are the licence holder so note them down. He also checked my foreigner registration card and UK driving licence. And he took my UK driving licence translation (I didn’t get to keep it).

Then I given two A4 forms and had to go to a counter to buy revenue stamps for them at a cost of ¥5000. The lady behind the counter put the correct stamps on the correct forms. I also had to put my name and address on both of these pieces of paper.

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Next I had to get photos from a photo booth. It printed out a sheet with two large photos and two small photos.

The man found me and we went back into the office. He put one of the small photos on a form, and the other three photos were mine to keep.

Then he took me upstairs for the quickest eye test I’ve ever done. In a small room was an eye testing machine and an operator. There were two types of test. The first was a Landolt C test where you are shown circles with a bit missing. I had to look through a window in the machine at a grid of these circles which were different sizes. The operator would light up one of the circles and I had to say whether the missing bit is on the top, left, bottom, or right. He let me say the answers in English. There were about 5 or 6 of these circles that he lit up. Some are quite small.

The next test was a colour blindness test. Using the same machine he would light up two colours. I had to say what the colours were. E.g. red and green. Orange and red. Again he let me give the answers in English.

The whole sequence of boths test can only have taken about 30 seconds. I got what I believe is a very good score!

The the man who had been acomponying me took me to another counter where I had to hand in the form which my mini-photo on it. He then left me while they processed the form.

About 10 minutes later they gave me a print out which I had to check. The Katakana version of my name was spelt wrong so they had to make a correction (I think the man’s handwriting hadn’t been very clear).

With the corrected form I then had to go to another area where another man took a photo of me using a fixed digital camera.

After this it was back downstairs to the waiting area.

Another 5 minutes later the man who had been making sure I went to the right places came out with my licence. I just had to sign for it and then I could leave with my brand new laminated Japanese driving licence.

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Total time taken – about 3 hours (45mins for translation, 1.25 hours for interview, 1 hour for photos, eye test and getting licence).
Total cost – ¥8000 (¥3000 for translation and ¥5000 for licence application).

Changing the address on your Japanese driving licence

If you move then you have to get the address on your driving licence changed. You have to do this within two weeks. In order to change your driving licence address you will first have to change the address on your alien registration card at your local government office.

Then you will need to go to the driving licence centre at a main police station to change the driving licence address. You may also be able to change the address at a standalone driving license centre (but I’m not certain about this).

You need to go to a proper police station – they can’t change the address at the police koban boxes that you see all over the country. At my local police station there was a separate entrance for the driving licence centre. It was open during office hours 9:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. You have to fill in a simple form and show your alien registration card.

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Then they print your new address on the back of your driving licence in the box above (the photo was taken before I changed my address) and your licence is now up to date again.

14 Comments on “Getting a Japanese driving licence”

  1. Hey,

    Cheers for the informative post! I am thinking about doing this too, but I have a question about the expiry date of the Japanese driving license. Is it at all related to the expiry date of your foreign driving licence? If not, do you mind if I ask how long your Japanese licence is valid for from the issue date?



  2. Hi Jason. My Japanese driving licence expiry is not linked to the expiry of my UK driving licence or photo card. In fact my UK licence photo card expires well before the date on the Japan licence.

    My Japan licence is valid for two years, three months, and eighteen days from the day they gave it to me. I’m not sure how they are figuring out the expiry date. The expiry happens to be exactly one month after my birthday, not sure whether that is coincidence or deliberate. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi,

    Very useful post! Ive got my translation and im moving on to the next step soon of actually getting the licence. On some of the information sheets which they gave me at the translation it says that I should bring a translator for speaking japanese when I come back for the interview but I dont know anyone that could do it for me. I dont know any japanese either, do you think I could try it anyway on my own of would it be a waste of time?


  4. Hi Alan, unless you are lucky and the person at the driving licence centre speaks good English (not likely!) you may have problems there. I see two outcomes – either they will give up on the interview and let you have the licence anyway – or they will tell you to come back with a translator.

    Is there a local international centre near you? Often they are able to offer translation help.

    Your local or prefectural city hall may have some kind of translator service available for foreigners as well.

    For both of these you may have to pay, but the rate may be a lot less than using a professional translator.

    Do you really not know anyone who speaks some Japanese and English? They don’t have to be advanced level, they just have to be good enough to understand the kind of questions I listed above and provide your answers.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Hey,

    Got a translator sorted, my girl friend got friendly with a girl from work so she’s going to help out! I have one other question tho. When you went for that interview and got your licence handed to you was it at the JAF centre? I got my translation at the JAF centre in kanayama so do I just go back there for the interview and licence?

    Thanks for the help man!


  6. Hi Alan, JAF only do the licence translation. You need to go to a government driver’s licence centre to do the interview and get the licence. You’ll probably need to book an appointment in advance for the interview.

    In Japanese these places are called 運転免許センター (pronounced unten menkyo senta). But if you type the kanji into Google Maps then you’ll get listings of loads of private driving schools, which isn’t what you want.

    The test centre’s that you want are run by the police. You could probably find out the location of your nearest one by asking at your local koban (police box). Good luck!

  7. Some very very helpful information you’ve shared here. I just wanted to add one more thing which caught me out. Just before leaving the UK for Japan my UK photocard license was ready for reissue (as it is every 10 years). However, this meant that there were two sets of dates on the card. One set on the back showed the license validity and the set on the front showed the photocard validity. Obviously, the photocard valid from date was just before I left for Japan and this is what was translated. This meant that I would be unable to prove that I had been in the UK for 3 months after this date.

    So, just be really careful to check the license valid from and to dates if it is your second (or more) license and it was reissued just before you came to Japan.

  8. Hi Ben,

    If you haven’t already been to the JAF for your translation, then you should be ok. They will show you a piece of paper with their understanding of the translation. If you see that the dates are wrong, then you should be able to point them to the correct dates on the back of the card. There is a chance they will do it right first time and it was just the place which I went to which did it wrong.

    If you have already been, then you can either go again or take a chance. If you go again, I presume they will make you pay again as they did give you the opportunity to check for mistakes the first time.

    If you take a chance at the driving license centre, then all I can tell you is my experience. They did not throughly check the dates at all. Even though, after I checked again I found that I had been in the UK for a few days over 3 months and was able to prove it with my passport. They didn’t give me any interview either. The most complicated part was paying for stamps!

    I did my license conversion in Tochigi Prefecture, btw.

    Hope that helps? If not, let me know and I’ll see what other advice I can offer.


  9. Thanks Jason. I’ve not applied for the translation yet so with this info I should be ok now. Thanks for the heads up.


  10. Hi, guys. Thanks very much for this posting. I’m told that in Japan the length of your licence depends on your driving record, & that it’s usually three years but if you’ve got a clean history you can get a ‘gold’ licence valid for 5 years or more. Does that apply to us, I wonder?

    My worry was that as I’m inexperienced in Japan in spite of having a long UK licence, they’d make me put the beginner’s ‘leaf’ sticker on the car and start like that.

    Can you offer any info on these points?


  11. Hi Simon, if you read comment two you’ll see that my licence was valid for an odd length of time less than three years (my UK licence was clean btw). I’m sure there is some scheme they use, but I don’t know what it is.

    When I hired a car I never put a ‘leaf’ sticker on it. I haven to admit I’ve no idea what the rules are regarding these stickers.

  12. Right. In yamaguchi it is about the same, except they make you watch a video with their local rules about 20 minutes. The whole process was done in 2 hours from starting the application to getting the license. It was thus much quicker than you explained. This is likely because there is not that many foreigners in the prefecture doing this type of conversion.

    Another tip. If you don’t want to go to JAF, you can send them a fax with your license front and back, go to the post office and send them money. It will cost you an extra 380 yen if you want them to post you the translation. This was quite nice and easy to do.

  13. So, they dont take away your UK license when they issue the Japanese one?

    thanks for the info!

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