How to apply new or convert the existing Drivers’ licence in Tokyo?

A step by step process

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Japan is popularly known for its advanced lifestyle and for their progressive economy, the country attracts significant chunk of people travelling for tourism or relocation.

In such case, obtaining driver’s licence is one of main process one needs to complete after relocation. One have to either apply for a new Driver’s licence or convert an existing driver’s license in Tokyo. Well, here is a piece of useful information on how Indian citizens with plans to travel abroad can either apply for a new Driver’s License or renew it.  An Indian citizen planning to travel abroad and drive a car or motorbike in a foreign country can obtain an International Driving Licence or International Driving Permit (IDP) from the local RTO office. International Driving License is a translated copy of the original driver’s Licence that is issued by State transport licensing authority in India. In all states of India, International Driving License is issued by the concerned RTO office or Motor Vehicle Department.

With an international driver’s License, an Indian can rent or drive vehicles in foreign lands as Japan and Hong Kong upon their visit in the country. All foreign nationals visiting these countries are also requested to apply for valid International Driver’s License. In this article, we look at the procedure for obtaining an International Driving Licence in India. In order to drive legally in Japan, one must have either an International Driving Permit (IDP) in the Geneva Convention format (no translation needed) or a foreign driver’s license issued by one of the countries under bilateral agreements with Japan (certified translation required) or a Japanese driver’s license. However must switch over to a Japanese driving license.

Herein we present our research about the two types of international driving permits- countries with bilateral driver’s license agreements with Japan, besides how to convert your foreign driver’s license to a Japanese driver’s license. 

When it comes to converting your international driving license, there are two major international road traffic treaties that most countries are signatories of: the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Vienna Convention (1968). Both the international treaties encompass the licensing system, road signs, and ethical provisions for driving a motor vehicle in most countries worldwide. Japan ratified the Geneva Convention treaty in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, joining more than 100 signatory countries. However, it did not sign the Vienna Convention, which currently has around 70 signatory countries.

These treaties stipulate that IDPs will be mutually recognized with countries under the same treaty. Therefore, only IDPs under the Geneva Convention are valid in Japan. 

The prime difference between the two types is the validity period of the permits. Permits under the Geneva Convention expire a year after the issued date, whereas permits under the Vienna Convention expire in three years from date of issuance.  With a Geneva Convention IDP, you can drive in Japan for up to a year from the date of landing in the country or one year after the issue date of the IDP, whichever is shorter. 

However, when the question comes of using foreign driver’s license in Japan, some countries have entered bilateral agreements to ensure travellers’ and residents’ convenience. These bilateral agreements make domestic licenses valid between partnered countries. Japan has this type of bilateral agreement with 7 countries that have driving license systems that are on par with Japanese standards. Namely, these countries are Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, Estonia and Taiwan

With a foreign license from a bilateral agreement country, you can drive in Japan for up to a year from the date of landing here or one year after the issue date, whichever is shorter. The only requirement is to carry a certified translation of the license when you drive. 

3-points to check your driving status in Japan 

While driving in Japan one has to keep a check on the following.

  • Your IDP is issued by a country under the Geneva Convention in the format indicated by the said treaty.
  • Or your foreign driving license is issued by Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, Estonia, or Taiwan.
  • The IDP or foreign driving license does not exceed the period of validity. 
  • You have stayed abroad for more than 3 months prior to entering Japan with your IDP.

Even if your license does not comply with the above points, you can still drive in Japan—so long as you convert your valid foreign driver’s license to a Japanese license through the process- gaimen kirikae, which consists of verifying your documents, plus an aptitude, written, and driving test.

However, certain countries are exempted from taking the written and driving test

During the license conversion process, license holders must take an aptitude, written, and practical driving test. However, the lucky license holders from the following 28 countries and 5 states are exempted from taking the written and driving tests during the license conversion process: 

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the following USA states Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Washington. 

License holders from all other countries must complete all the steps in the following section. 

Step-by-step how to convert your license to a Japanese driving license

For converting your International Driving Permit process only applies to valid driver’s licenses. One  must be 18 years of age or over, and must be able to prove that is a regular citizen of the country that issued the license for at least 3 months (90 days) in total after obtaining (or receiving) the license. It is mandatory for the applicant to be 16 years of age or older for a standard motorcycle license, 20 years of age or older for a medium-sized license, and 21 years of age or older for a large-sized vehicle.

Below is a step by step outline to convert your foreign driver’s license to a Japanese driver’s license. 

Step 1. Get your license translated into Japanese.

To translate a license into Japanese one can approach respective country’s embassy or consulate in Japan, by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), or by other services authorized by the National Police Agency. JAF will translate your document for 3,500 yen (includes stamp fee for mailing license back). This will take approximately 2 weeks to complete. For details from JAF, check here.

Step 2. Submit required documents.

Once an applicant completes step 1, submit the following required documents to the Driver’s License Centre in respective city.

  1. A valid foreign driver’s license.
  2. Japanese translation of the license.
  3. Current and expired Japanese driver’s license(s), if any.
  4. An official copy of your “jumin-hyo” or Certificate of Residence, indicating the “honseki” or registered domicile, or nationality (in case you are a medium-to-long-term resident in Japan under obligation of resident registration).*Photocopies are not accepted. 
  5. Passport* or other form of official ID. 
  6. A document to prove that the address where you are staying is the one you fill in the application form.
  7. A document that proves that you had stayed in the country or region where you obtained the license for a total of three months or more since you obtained it (e.g., passport).*Please bring all of your passports, including expired ones.
  8. Applicant’s photograph for application form (3cm×2.4cm).

Once you submit all the necessary documents, the documents will be verified. Each prefecture’s Driving License Centre will have a different waiting period. 

For example, in Akita, the process of verifying documents can take up to 10 days, after which the centre gets in touch with you to make an appointment for aptitude, written, and driving tests outlined in Steps 3 to 5. 

In Samezu, Tokyo, the document verification is done on the same day as the aptitude and written test. If you pass the written test, you are then allowed to book your driving test. The Samezu location is a popular centre for taking driving tests, so the current wait time (as of the writing of this article) is 4 months between passing the written test and taking the driving test. 

Other tips specifically regarding the Samezu location: 

  • The “writing” test to assess basic understanding of Japanese traffic rules is done on computers.
  • Samezu opens at 8:30 A.M., and there are long queues to get in. Get there early and be one of the first in the queue if you’re short on time.
  • Expect to wait after the initial application until you get interviewed and documents screened.

Basically, even though the order of the steps remains the same throughout Japan, the timeline and waiting process between each step will vary from prefecture to prefecture. Call and confirm. 

Step 3. An aptitude (hearing and eyesight) test.

If the examiners find no fault in the documents and your answers, you will take an aptitude test and then a written test. If you are not confident in your Japanese skills, you may want to have a friend or a colleague accompany you as an interpreter for the whole process. For the eyesight test, you must have 0.7 or better (for both eyes) and 0.3 or better (for each eye).

Step 4. A written test to assess your knowledge of traffic rules.

The written test will check to see if you understand essential traffic rules. The general consensus from past takers of this test: If you don’t study beforehand, you won’t pass on your first try. JAF offers textbooks in many languages available for purchase.

The test itself is multiple-choice (answering either true or false), and you must answer at least 7 out of 10 questions correctly to pass. You can take the test in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, and, of course, Japanese. 

Step 5. A practical driving test.

After you have successfully completed the written test, next up is your driving test. 

Steps 2 through 4 can be completed within the same day at certain centres. But some license centres require you to book all appointments in advance or sometimes all tests must be held on different days, depending on the region or prefecture. 

The test is conducted on a predetermined course set up on the premises, and some centres may allow you to practice driving the car before your test. There are some clear dos and don’ts and different techniques to pass the test. For example, exaggerated pointing, looking, and vocalizing to show you are checking all potential dangers. 

According to the inquiries we made, an interpreter is not allowed in the car during the driving test. Therefore, you’ll want to do thorough research on the test itself beforehand. Additionally, based on past experiences shared by expats, consider hiring an instructor for a 2-hour crash course, which will greatly increase your chances of passing.

Step 6. Receive your Japanese driving license.

Certain centers are unable to issue the driver’s license on the same day. Therefore, it is recommended that you call the center in advance to determine when you can pick up your driving license. 

The following are the costs involved in the gaimen kirikae procedure.

  • Obtaining a certificate of residence: 300 yen
  • Issuance of translation: 3,500 yen (when issued by JAF)
  • Driving test fee: 2,550 yen *for standard car
  • Issuance fee: 2,050 yen

If you fail the driving test, you must pay the examination fee of 2,550 yen for every additional try.

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