To legally drive in Japan, your own country’s license is not enough. You must also have a valid and accepted International Drivers License with “Geneva Convention 1949 September 19th” written in it (see list at the end of this document). If your country is not listed below, you may not legally drive in Japan. You must obtain a Japanese license.
Similarly, if you have already driven for one year with an international license, or have lived in Japan for any length of time prior to wanting to drive in Japan, you must obtain a Japanese license to continue driving legally. The only exception is if you have been out of the country for a full 3 months, as proven by your passport stamps, and come back to Japan with an International Driver’s License. If you have been away, in your home country, for a full 3 months, you may again use an international driver’s license. But if it is even 1 day short then you are driving illegally.
If you wish to (or think you might) drive a car during your stay in Japan:
Check to confirm your country is listed in the Geneva Convention listings.
- Make sure you have a current driver’s license with you from your home country (it should be valid for the entire period that you will be in Japan).
- Obtain an International Driver’s License from your own country’s automobile association. This license is reasonable and easy to obtain in your home country but once you arrive in Japan it is nearly impossible to obtain.
- This license is valid for one year only. Although an international driver’s license can be reissued, you need to prove with your passport that you have stayed more than 3 months in your home country. If you cannot prove that, your international driver’s license will not be regarded as a valid one in Japan. In this case, you must obtain a Japanese license after you have been in Japan for one year, in order to continue driving.
- Similarly, if you have lived in Japan for ANY length of time, you must be away for a full 3 months before your international driver’s license will be valid and legal in Japan.
- Please confirm with the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in your country whether or not the combination of your country’s license and the International Driver’s License issued in your country is acceptable in Japan.
How to obtain the Japanese Driving License with your home country Driving License
This is necessary if any one of the following is true for you:
- Your country’s international license is not recognized in Japan (see above for details)
- If you are driving with a combination of your country license and recognized international license and one or both are going to expire.
- If you have already been in Japan for one year using your country license and international license
If you have already lived in Japan, leave the country for less than 3 months, then return wanting to drive here.
To obtain a Japanese Driver license, you must go to the testing site Jidousha Shikenjo that has jurisdiction over the area in which you have been registered as a foreigner (assuming that you have your Gaijin Toroku Shomeisho=Certificate of Alien Registration). For IUJ this is located in Seirou Machi, outside of Niigata City.
You will need:
- A valid home country license and a photocopy of it
- a certified translation of it (available from JAF for a fee Tel.025-284-7656
- a certificate of alien registration (NOT the Alien Registration card itself, but a certificate that you have one which is available at the Town Hall. It is called Gaikokujin Toroku Genpyou Kisai Jikou Shoumesho
- a passport showing at least 3 months of time in your country during the same period as your license shows valid.
- two recent photographs (3 cm x 2.5 cm – obtainable on the spot).
- a Japanese speaking friend unless you are nearly bi-lingual
- a reservation for an interview at the License Center in Niigata (see below)
- an International Driver’s license that is recognized by Japan
Steps to Obtain a Japanese License:
Employ one of your Japanese friends as an English-Japanese bilingual interpreter to call the following Central Driving License Office in Niigata City in Japanese and make you an appointment:
聖籠町運転免許センター “Unten Menkyo Center” in Seiroumachi Town, Niigata City (Tel: 025-256-1212)
When making your appointment:
- Confirm the documents you need to bring to the interview such as passport, International License (if applicable) alien registration card, alien registration certificate, and so forth.
- How much money you should bring.
After making your reservation and confirming documentation, be sure to keep your appointment, and take all necessary items with you.
How to get to the Niigata Licensing Center
- Option 1
By “Shinkansen”: IUJ (IUJ bus or taxi) → Urasa Station-(Shinkansen) → Niigata Station
→ Walk to Bandai Bus Terminal outside Niigata Station and catch the express bus bound for Seiroumachi Unten Menkyo Center.
- Option 2
Using Local train: IUJ (IUJ bus or taxi) → Urasa Station (local train) → Nagaoka Station →
→ Walk inside Nagaoka Station to Nagaoka-Eki Bus Terminal outside Nagaoka Station and catch the express bus bound for Niigata Station → Walk inside of Niigata Station to Bandai Bus Terminal outside Niigata Station and catch the express bus bound for Seiroumachi Unten Menkyo Center.
- Option 3
Using a friend’s car: IUJ → Koide Inter-Change (IC) along route 17 (Express Highway)
→ Niigata Nishi IC → and get on the By-Pass road heading North → keep driving until you see the road sign of “Seoroumachi (聖籠町)” and then be ready to get off the By-Pass road → As soon as you see the road sign of “Driving License Center (運転免許センター) Unten Menkyo Center”, you get off the By-Pass road to the local road bound Seiroumachi Unten Menkyo Center by following the road signs.
After the initial interview with the Central License Office in Seiroumachi Driving License Center, they will most likely instruct IUJers to go to The Branch Office of Nagaoka Unten Menkyo Center for follow up visits.
長岡運転免許試験場 “Nagaoka Unten Menkyo Shiken Jou” (Tel: 0258-22-1050)
How to get to the Nagaoka Center:
- Option 1
Use public transportation:
IUJ → Urasa Station (Local Train) → Miyauchi Station → Taxi (or walk) → Nagaoka Unten Menkyo Shikenjou.
- Option 2
Have a friend drive you:
IUJ → to Seven Eleven Convenience Store in front of Urasa Station
→ Turn right at the shop to get on route 17
→ Drive along Route 17 all the way towards Nagaoka City (approximately one hour)
→ When you see JR Echigo-Takiya Station on the right hand side, you will see the road branching off point ahead shortly. Choose the left hand side FLAT road instead of the up-rising slope road
→ Turn left after a few minutes of drive through the FLAT road. Follow the road signs of Nagaoka Unten Menkyo Center. See the map
Take the tests
At the site you will be required to take a written exam, a driving test on their course, and a simple eye examination consisting of reading charts and a test for color blindness. For information on the tests, please see Japan Driver’s License.
Note: It is very unusual to be able to pass the driving test on your first or even second attempt. Please be prepared for this and stay patient with the process.
Note on Translation Services:
If any official translation* (documentation) is required prior to the Interview Test you can contact your own Embassy Office in Tokyo OR the nearest branch office of the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) Office: phone No. 03-6833-9100 or 025-284-7656 (English available) Fees apply
For more details about JAF, please see JAF (Japan Automobile Federation).
* OSS is not in a position to provide any interpreter/translation service for driving License matters since IUJ’s translation is not officially accepted by the police in any Driving License Center.
Invalid Country License?
If your country license becomes invalid (expires) you cannot follow the above procedures. Instead you must obtain a license in the same way a Japanese national does: take courses, exams (all in Japanese) and pay lots of money.
List of Geneva Conference Member countries
There are 91 member countries listed as of April, 1st 2002.
Iceland, Ireland, America, Algeria, Argentina, Albania, England, Israel, Italia, India, Uganda, Equator, Egypt, Australia, Austria, Holland, Ghana, Canada, Korea, Cambodia, Cyprus, Cuba, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala, Georgia, Ivory Coast, Congo, Zaire, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Syria Arab, Singapore, Sweden, Spain, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Senegal, Former Soviet Union, Thailand, Czech, Central Africa, Tunisia, Chile, Denmark, Togo, Dominica, Trinidad Tobago, Turkey, Namibia, Niger, New Zeeland, Norway, Haiti, Vatican, Papua New Guinean, Paraguay, Barbados, Hungary, Bangladesh, Fiji, Philippines, Finland, France, Bulgaria, Benin, Venezuela, Peru, Belgium, Botswana, Poland, Portugal, Madagascar, Malawi, Chile, Marta, Malaysia, South-Africa, Monaco, Morocco, Jordan-Hashemite, Laos, Luxembourg, Romania, Rwanda, Lesotho, Lebanon, Russia, Yugoslavia, Japan.
* Provisionary accepted to join the Geneva Conference Member are as follows.
Ukraine of former Soviet Union, Kazak, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Estonia, Latonia, Lithonia, Bosnia-Former Yugoslavia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia
Foreign Drivers with either Swiss or German or French Driver’s National License, can drive in Japan for one year after landing in Japan with the condition that he or she has the official Japanese translation attached on such License.
For further information or confirmation please refer to NIA (Niigata City International Exchange Foundation )’s helpful site.