How it works
There are some lucky countries and citizens of them that will be able to drive in Japan with little or no requirement to take a test, as you can swap your country’s driving license and have a Japanese driving license alongside this.
For example, if you are a citizen of the United Kingdom and a resident in Japan, you can very easily go to the JAF (Japanese Automobile Federation) and receive a Japanese driving license. The whole process is very quick. You will just be required to have an eye test, exchange some documentation (probably an hour or two of waiting, as well) and then you will receive a license on the spot. No manual posting of the license either, this is all done whilst you are in the building. More information on switching can be found on this page. It’s worth a read prior to your visit to the centre. Ensure that, when swapping your document, you fill out the correct application forms, bring your original driving license, passport, photograph and also a photocopy of your Japanese residence card.
How the process roughly works
Exchanging your driving license for a Japanese license
- Arrive at the JAF centre. There are several of them all across Tokyo.
- On arrival, obtain a translation of your driving license (both the photocard and the counterpart, if you have one). This costs no more than 3000 yen and is done manually by the staff at JAF. If you’re lucky, they will also give you some documentation on how to get around the licensing centre building.
- Take a trip the nearest Driver’s License Office. There will be a signed area for exchange of license, head towards that counter.
- Hand over the required documents. That will include your passport, country’s driving license and counterpart, alien registration card (gaijin card), a passport photo for your license and of course the translation received from JAF.
- Then comes the slightly tricky part. You will be required to visit several different areas, firstly the payment booth who will confirm you’ve paid. An eye test will be required at a separate station, this is normally the last phase of the process. Finally, you will receive a stamp and a voucher. Then there is another station for approval and authentication of your documentation. Then, a chance for yet another photograph for the JAF’s internal database. Finally, you will reach the last point of call, which normally includes a lengthy wait, where you will receive your license.
All in all, that’s a day in itself, perhaps 3-4 hours if you are lucky, 5 if you’re not.
Once you are complete and have received your license, or in fact you have ensured you have your IDP, you can legally drive in Japan.