How to get a driver’s license in Japan?
Can an overseas license be used in Japan?
There are 2.63 million foreigners residing in Japan and the number is still on the rise. Trains and buses are commonly used in Japan for transportation, but the most popular way must be cars.
On the other hand, is it possible for a foreigner to drive in Japan if he/she has a driver's license in his / her home country?
We will introduce how foreigners obtain a driver's license in Japan in this article.
Just as a Japanese driver's license cannot be used overseas, an overseas driver's license is also not valid in Japan. The main reasons include differences in traffic rules, differences between right-hand traffic and left-hand traffic, and differences in road signs.
How to get a driver's license in Japan?
There are two main ways for foreigners to obtain a driver's license in Japan:
➀In the cases that you do not obtain a Japanese driver’s license
One way to drive a car in Japan without obtaining a Japanese driver's license is to obtain a driver's license overseas and then switch to a Japanese license.
In this case, it is necessary to satisfy the following conditions.
・ Obtained driver's license is valid
・ Have stayed in the country where you have obtained a driver's license for at least 3 months
・ Have a resident card in the area you want to switch to
・ Visa is valid
When switching your driver's license in Japan, an examination is required, but be aware that it may be exempted depending on the country you acquired. A driver's license is also as powerful as an ID card, so it’s necessary to change your license in the area where you live.
The following countries are exempted from testing when switching.
・Only need eyesight test
Iceland, Ireland, United States (Maryland and Washington only), UK, Italy, Australia, Austria, Netherlands, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand , Norway, Hungary, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Monaco, Luxembourg, Taiwan
・Written test, driving skill and vision test
Countries not listed above, such as the United States (except Maryland and Washington), Hong Kong, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, etc.
②In the cases that you obtain a Japanese driver’s license
On the other hand, those who have not obtained a driver's license overseas will be the same as Japanese. You can either go to a driving school and take a subject examination at the driver's license examination center, or you can take a subject and practical exam directly at the driver's license examination place and pass.
It is cheaper to take the subject and practical test directly at the driver's license test center, but due to language and Japanese traffic rules, most foreigners go to driving schools to obtain a driver's license. There are schools that offer short-term training camps. It is not so difficult for Japanese to obtain a driver's license. However, foreigners may have language problems, so it’s important to carefully choose a good school.
Schools that can provide foreign language support
There are 12 schools which can provide foreign language support right now:
・Kanagawa: Koyama Driving School (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Tottori: 米子自動車学校 (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Shizuoka: セイブ自動車学校 (Portuguese) http://www.kenseibu.co.jp/portugal.html
・Tokyo: コヤマドライビングスクール石神井 (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Tokyo: コヤマドライビングスクール二子玉 (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Tokyo: コヤマドライコヤマドライビングスクール秋津 (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Tokyo: 武蔵鏡自動車教習所 (English) https://musasisakai-ds.co.jp/
・Tokushima: 海部自動車学校 (Chinese) https://kaifu-ds.co.jp/information/20170524.php
・Tokyo: コヤマドライコヤマドライビングスクール成城 (English) https://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm
・Fukushima: 城野自動車学校 (Chinese) http://www.jschool-web.com/
・Aichi: 中部日本自動車学校 (English) http://www.e-chubu.jp/eng/
・Hokkaido: 麻生自動車学校 (Chinese) http://www.asabu.co.jp/accessmap/explanation/
As you can see, there are not many multilingual schools for foreigners. Tokyo / Fukuoka / Hokkaido are most likely because Tokyo has a large population and Fukuoka / Hokkaido has many international and Chinese students.
Documents necessary for foreigners to obtain a driver's license
➀In the cases that you do not obtain a Japanese driver’s license(When switching license from overseas license)
・ Application form
・ Photograph (3 × 2.4cm) × 2
・ One copy of resident's card showing your permanent address (nationality) (copy not allowed)
・ Residence card, passport, etc.
・ Valid foreign license
・ Translations of foreign licenses (Embassy, consulate consular or translated by JAF, etc.)
・ After obtaining a foreign license, a certification showing that you have stayed for at least 3 months in the country you acquired (passport, entry / exit records issued by the Ministry of Justice, etc.)
・ Interpreter (if you cannot speak Japanese)
②In the cases that you obtain a Japanese driver’s license
・ Copy of resident's card (within 6 months from date of issue)
・ Documents to prove your identity (passport, residence card, special permanent resident certificate, etc.)
The subject test is in English or Japanese?
When a foreigner takes an examination in Japan, is it in English or Japanese? No matter how much driving skills they have, it’s impossible to pass the exam without understanding the meanings of the problems.
Foreigners can of course take tests in Japanese, but there are places in each prefecture where you can take the test in a foreign language.
Most places support three languages: English, Chinese, and Portuguese. Currently, other languages are not supported. Be careful that some languages are not supported depending on the prefecture. Make sure you know in advance which language is supported in your living area.
In addition, these 3 languages are available as choices in these 2 types: first-class driver's license and regular provisional license. The moped license is divided into places that do not support other than English.
Anyone who wants to get a second-class driver's license for work, such as a bus or taxi driver, needs to take an academic test in Japanese.
If you do not understand Japanese well, it is difficult for foreigners to obtain a driver's license in Japan. Because it takes time and money to go to a driving school, many people obtain a driver's license overseas and switch it in Japan.
However, when switching from overseas licenses, there are conditions that must be met.
Also, if you obtain a driver's license in Japan, you will need to study and acquire it because writing tests will be difficult if you cannot read or write in either English or Chinese. Although it depends on the region, there are many people who want to have a private car as they live for a long time, and there are many cases where a driver's license is required for work. It's a good idea to look for schools that can be used by people who don't speak Japanese.