If you decide to stay in Japan for longer than a year, you will need to get a Japanese drivers license. A renewal of your international license is not allowed. The international license is valid for one year and is calculated from your original date of entry into Japan (trips home don't count).
While some extremely kind schools/BOEs may grant you special leave to take care of getting your Japanese driver's license, most people end up using a few days worth of precious nenkyu. Getting your license is a three step process:

A. Have your foreign license translated to Japanese.
B. Go in to the Traffic Bureau to fill out some forms, turn in some papers, take some physical exams, and take a written test.
C. Take a driving test.

Some of this process is country specific, and not everyone has to do all three steps, so let’s start with the information that pertains to everyone.

Translate Your LicenseEdit

There are two ways to do this, in person or through the mail, however it’s best to do it through the mail (現金書留 genkin kakitome) as it is very easy, doesn't require Japanese ability, and you don’t have to take nenkyu. The translation costs 3000 yen plus postage. You should receive the translation after 1-3 weeks. The instructions can be found on the Japan Auto Federation website here:
Requirements to qualify for a translation: A valid driver's license that is dated at least 3 months before you arrived in Japan.

If your license is dated less than 3 months prior to your entry date then you need proof that you had a license before those 3 months. For example, if your license was renewed right before you came then you need to get a photocopy of your old license or contact whoever issued your license to get proof.

What to Send:
1. The completed application form. It can be filled out in romaji. The form is located on the JAF website.
2. A photocopy of the front and back of your license. A4 size
3. A photocopy of the front and back of your Residency Card. A4 size
4. ¥3290 in cash. Yes, you really do mail them cash.

JAF Wakayama Branch
640-3 Kozaika Wakayama-shi Wakayama 〒641-0007

Go to the Traffic BureauEdit

Head down to the Driver's Licensing Center in Wakayama-shi, taking the following items with you. Be ready to spend the whole day there, and be warned that there are no English speakers and everything is written in Japanese only (take a Japanese person with you if you can)

  • Passport
  • 2,400 yen
  • Personal Seal
  • Ballpoint pen
  • One Passport-Sized Photo (3cm x 2.4 cm) (maybe not needed anymore)
  • Residency Card
  • Home Country License
  • JAF license translation

At the traffic center you will have to fill out some forms and take a few physical tests and then a written test. The written test is nothing to worry about. It can be taken in English, it’s true/false, and you must score at least 7 out of 10 to pass. There are a few sample tests available online (they’re not great but they’re a start):

Find out whether or not you must take a written and/or practical (i.e. driving) test. This depends on where you got your driver's license. If you have a license from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, then lucky you, because you don't need to take the test. Wait around a few more hours, sit through a Japan Motor Safety Association presentation, then pick up your license.

Those unlucky souls from America, South Africa, the Caribbean, etc must take a written and practical test (there may be other exceptions, so make sure to confirm this yourself by calling the Driver's License Center ahead of time.) Click here for more information and maps of the driving test.

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