Foreigner driving in Japan

Because of urban traffic congestion, driving within Japan's major cities is not recommended for foreign visitors. However, driving on main roads between cities is a viable alternative to public transportation. Visitors who intend to drive in Japan should note the following:

  • On main roads most major destinations are sign-posted in English. In rural areas this may not be the case. If you are planning to drive in more remote areas, it is advisable to purchase a reliable English-Japanese road atlas before you depart. Companies such as Shobunsha and Kodansha publish these atlases.
  • Driving in Japan is on the left.
  • Parking can be difficult to find in some urban centres.
  • An International Driving Permit is required.
  • Tolls are levied on expressways and other major routes. Toll charges will depend on how far you wish to travel and which roads you intend to take. Example: Tolls for one route from Tokyo to Kyoto cost approximately ¥4,770.

The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) publishes an English guide to driving in Japan called "Rules of the Road". These are available at JAF offices throughout Japan. For further information go to the JAF web site or contact the International Affairs Department of JAF on Tel. +81 (0)3 3436 2811 /Fax. + 81 (0)3 3588 6055.

A Metropolitan Expressway map in English is available within Japan from the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation:

Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation
Nittochi Bldg 9F
1-4-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 100-8930
Tel. (03) 3539 9259
Fax. (03) 3503 7678

International Driving Permit

If you wish to drive a car while in Japan, you must obtain an International Driving Permit prior to departure. You will also need to be in possession of your national license while driving in Japan.

International Driving Permits are generally issued by the national automobile association in your country. Some countries, such as Germany & Switzerland, do not have a reciprocal agreement with Japan to honour the permits. Please check with your automobile association when applying.

(From http://www.seejapan.co.uk/transport/road/driving.html)

Vehicle Rental

You can rent and drive a car when you have International Driving Permit in Japan.


Rental prices may vary from company to company. Average rates for 24 hours rental with unlimited mileage are as follows:



Sub-compact (1000-1300cc)

5,000 - 11,100

Compact (1500-1800cc)

9,000 - 13,500

Intermediate (2000cc)

14,000 - 30,000

Standard (3000cc)

29,500 - 31,000

Fuel costs

The above rental charges do not include fuel costs. Fuel in Japan costs around 100~160 yen per litre.

Rental Companies

Companies offering vehicle rental at various locations throughout Japan include:

Japaren Co., Ltd
4th Fl Ogikubo Kangyo Bldg
202 Amanuma 3-chome
Suginami-ku 167-8578
Tel. (03) 5397 8811
Fax. (03) 5397 8816
Reservations outside Japan can be made through Avis.

Mazda Rent-A-Lease
2-12 Takadanobaba
Shinjuku-ku 169-0075
Tel. (03) 5286 0740
Fax. (03) 5292 0236

Nippon Rent-A-Car
5-5 Kamiyama-cho
Tel. (03) 3468 7126
Fax. (03) 3485 7105

Reservations outside Japan should be made through National Car Rental.

Toyota Rent-A Lease
3rd Floor, Q Dan Bldg
12-1 Fujimi 1-chome
Chiyoda-ku 102-0071
Tel. (03) 3264 0100
Fax. (03) 3239 0857

UK - Tel 0800 181 181

UK- Tel. 0870 90 77 300

UK - Tel. 08708 448844


Car Tax

A car tax bill will be sent to people who owned cars on April 1, to be paid by May 31. You can pay the tax at the tax office or at your local bank. It is also possible to set up a direct payment from your bank account that will come into effect the year following your application.

Taxes on Yellow Plate Cars, Motorcycles, Scooters

Tax on light vehicles is charged to the person who owned the vehicle on April 1 of any given year. Once you register a car, you will receive notification of your tax obligations on a yearly basis, and you will be expected to pay the tax in May ever year. Make sure to register and deregister your car properly, so the bill goes to the correct person.

Procedures for Yellow Plate Cars, Motorcycles, Scooters

Procedures for regular cars are dealt with by the prefectural government. Procedures for light vehicles (including motorcycles and scooters) are handled by the city.Make sure to register and deregister your car properly, so your bills and notices go to the correct person.


In Japan, every car owner must be insured in accordance with the Japanese law (compulsory insurance). You are recommended to insure yourself further for more indemnity. You can take out an optional insurance at any private insurance company.

Compulsory Insurance (jidousha songai baisho sekinin hoken or jibaiseki hoken) is government-mandated, third-party automobile liability insurance. This insurance provides basic injury coverage for all mopeds, motorized bikes, and cars. Owners of vehicles under 250cc (motor-ized bikes and light 2-wheeled vehicles), which are not required to undergo the required motor vehicle safety inspections, need to make sure that their insurance policy hasn't expired. www.jibai.jp (in Japanese)

Extra Accident Insurance

This insurance provides an allowance to subscribers who are hospitalized and/or killed due to a traffic accident. Drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists are eligible, but payments are only for people involved in traffic accidents involving cars.

Traffic Accidents

If anyone is injured, dial 119 to call an ambulance. Move the involved vehicles to a safe place in order to prevent further accidents and to avoid obstructing traffic and then protect the scene with reflectors or flares. Call 110 for help and directions. Contact your insurance company.

Before the police officer comes, obtain the following information from other drivers involved:

  • License number
  • Driver's license number
  • Address
  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses if any

Advice about Traffic Accidents

Are you worried about what will happen if you are involved in a traffic accident? Have you been involved in an accident and you are not sure about your options? If you would like to talk to someone about your concerns, the experts at the Traffic Accident Counselling Office will be happy to talk to you. A lawyer is available on an appointment basis in somewhere.

Registration of Motor Vehicles - Changing Ownership (meigi henkou)

Registration of Motor Vehicles - Changing Ownership (meigi henkou)

When you buy or are given a motor vehicle with a number or license plate on it, a change of ownership registration must be done, in person, within 15 days. You will need:

  • Application form (approximately 100 yen)
  • Revenue stamp form (500yen)
  • Transfer deed (stamped with the seller's registered stamp (jitsu-in) or signed if a Signature Certificate is used)
  • Stamp or Seal Certificates ( Inkan-shomei ) of the old and new owners (released within three months, if you have a registered stamp, or Signature Certificate)
  • Registered Stamps or Seals ( Jitsu-in ) or Signatures
  • Certificate of Automobile Inspection, "Shaken" (must be valid)
  • Letter of Proxy signed or stamped by seller and the buyer (if necessary)
  • Certificate of Parking (available at the police station or car dealer, released within one month, applied for by the buyer)
  • Certificate of the new user's address (e.g. Certificate on Registered Matters, in case the user and the owner are different)
  • Certificate of Automobile Liability Insurance

A Certificate of Change (e.g. Certificate on Registered Matters) is necessary when the car owner's addresses or names are different between the Certificate of Automobile Inspection and the Stamp or Seal Certificate. In the case of move-in from other Inspection and Registration Office areas, the car is necessary in order to change the license or number plate (1,520 yen). You should notify the Automobile Liability Insurance Company of the changes after you register with Tsuchiura Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration Office.

Please inquire in other cases than buying and selling or if you have not reached the age of majority.

Changing Address or Name of Owner

When your address or name changes, you are required to register within 15 days of the change. You will need:

  • Application form (approximately 100 yen)
  • Revenue stamp form (350 yen)
  • Certificate of Change (e.g. Certificate on Registered Matters before and after the change)
  • Certification of the new user's address when the user changes (e.g. Certificate on Registered Matters)
  • Certificate of Automobile Inspection, Shaken
  • Letter of Proxy (if necessary)
  • Certificate of Parking (available at Police station or car dealer, released within 1 month, applied by the car user when address changes.)
  • Certificate of Automobile Liability Insurance.
  • Stamp or Seal, or Signature

In the case of move-in from other Inspection and Registration Office areas, you will need to replace the plates. This will require bringing the car to the office and paying the fee (1,520yen). You should notify the Automobile Liability Insurance Company of the changes after you register with the Tsuchiura Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration Office.

Deregistration and Disposal of Vehicle

When your motor vehicle is to be disposed of, you must register within 15 days of disposal. You will need:

  • Application form (approximately 100 yen)
  • Revenue stamp form (350 yen)
  • Stamp or Seal Certificate (Inkan-shomei) of the owner (released within three months, if you have a registered stamp), or Signature Certificate
  • Stamp or Seal, or Signature
  • Certificate of Automobile Inspection (shaken (If you cannot hand in this certificate, you must submit a letter explaining why.)
  • License Plates (If you cannot hand in the license plates, you must submit a letter explaining why.)
  • Certificate of Auto Disposal
  • Letter of Proxy (if necessary)

The Certificate of Auto Deregistration is necessary for you to use the car again.

Driving in Japan

Driving rules are particular to each country, so be careful to learn the local rules of the road before you start driving. In particular, pay attention to the fact that cars drive on the left-side of the road and that no turns can be made on a red light.

Cell Phones and Driving

From Nov 1, 2004, it has become illegal to talk on a cell phone, write mail, check mail, or even have your phone in your hand while driving. If you are caught doing any of these things, you will be fined and have at least one point taken off your license.

Driver Symbols

There are symbols that represent certain kinds of drivers in Japan.

  • New drivers have to display the green and yellow beginner symbol (shoshinsha mark), also known as the young leaf symbol (wakaba mark).
  • Elderly drivers have to display the orange and yellow welfare symbol (fukushi mark), also known as the maple leaf symbol (momiji mark).
  • You have probably seen the accessibility symbol in various places around Tsukuba. Drivers with disabilities may display the blue and white wheelchair symbol (kurima isu mark), or the disabilities symbol, also know as the clover symbol (yotsuba mark). Public buildings such as city hall offices and hospitals display this symbol along with some private enterprises such as supermarkets. Whenever you see this mark on a parking space, it means that the space is reserved for people with disabilities. Be a considerate driver and leave these spaces open for the people who need them. Keep in mind that even though the symbol shows a person in a wheelchair, it is meant to indicate all people with disabilities. People with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, are also allowed to park in those spots. You may not be able to see a person's disability, so please be sensitive to drivers who park there.

If you notice that a driver has one of these marks, please be a considerate driver and treat them with special care. Do not tailgate (follow too closely) or change lanes suddenly.

Protect Your Car

Be careful not to leave anything in your car that might be tempting to a thief, like a bag, a wallet, or bank cards, especially when leaving your car overnight on the roadside or in a little-used parking lot. Thieves will break the glass or destroy the locks to try to get at your valuables. This happens most often from 10pm to 4am. Also, it is not safe to leave your car running and unlocked outside a convenience store or in front of your house. Crimes involving idling cars are increasing. To protect yourself: don't park illegally, lock your doors and close your windows completely, use anti-theft devices, and don't leave valuables in your car.

Information related to Driver's Licenses in Japan

Driver's Licenses

There are three ways for a foreigner to obtain permission to drive in Japan.

  • Hold a license from a designated country in addition to an International Driver's License (this combination of licenses can only be used for one year from entry into Japan on a particular visa)
  • Hold a license from a designated country and have it transfered to a Japanese license
  • Acquire a Japanese license by taking the written and practical tests

If you don't have a valid foreign driver's license, you are required to attend a driving school to complete a set course of instruction (knowledge, skills, and aptitude) and then pass an examination at a license office. There are some school provide lessons in English. Also, the knowledge test can be taken in English in several test center. Obtaining a driver's license in Japan is a time consuming and expensive procedure (costing approximately 100,000~300,000 yen depending on the school).

International Driver's License

International Driver's Licenses issued by any of the countries admitted to the Geneva Treaty on the 12th of April, 1995 are recognized for use in Japan. However, by Japanese law, the holder of an ordinary driver's license is not permitted to drive unless he or she is eighteen years or older. An International Driver's License is valid in Japan for one year from the date of issue or one year from the date of entry into Japan, whichever comes first. However, in the case that you reenter Japan within 3 months after you leave, you can drive for one year from not the date of your re-entry but the date of your first entry. You can't renew an International Driver's License in Japan. Only your home country can renew one. However, even if your home country sends you the renewed International Driver's License, it is valid for only one year from the date of your entry to Japan.

Drivers with German, Swiss or French licenses do not need an International Driver's License to drive in Japan. If you carry your license with a Japanese translation done by The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), or your country's embassy or consulate then you are permitted to drive for one year.

Getting a Japanese driver's license if you already have a license from your home country

The following conditions must all be met to apply for a Japanese driver's license.

(1) You must have a valid foreign driver's license.

(2) You must have stayed in the country where you obtained the driver's license for at least 3 months, commencing from the date of issue of the license. If the date of issue is not on your driver's license, you must bring a certificate of the date of issue. If you cannot prove your 3 months stay from the date of renewal, you must bring your old license or certificate of renewal.

(3) You must submit your application to somewhere live in and you have an Alien registration card issued from a public office.

(4) Your visa must be valid.

Things you must bring with you when you apply:

(1) A valid foreign driver's license. (If no date of issue on the license, you need a certificate of the date of issue.)

(2) A translation of your driver's license by the embassy. (If the embassy won't translate it, you can apply to Japan Automobile Federation for the translation: 029-244-7211) (Only those certified translations issued by the embassy of your country or the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF www.jaf.or.jp) will be accepted.)

(3) Alien Registration Card.

(4) Passport (If you have more than one passport, bring all of them.)

(5) 2 photos (3 cm x 2.4 cm).

(6) International Driver's License (If you have one).

(7) Fee: regular car license 4,150~4600 yen(cash only)

(8) Japanese driver's license (If you have any type or an expired one).

You must take two tests: a test about traffic rules (in Japanese, English, Chinese, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, Spanish and Persian/ 10 questionspass the test when 7 questions is right); a driving test on a course. Then you will have your eyesight tested. If you can meet all the above mentioned conditions and bring all the above mentioned items, and pass traffic rules and driving tests, a license will be issued.

In some cases, you can be exempted from the above two tests (e.g. depending on the country that issued your driver's license). Please call test center located in your living place to learn which nationalities are exempt.

Where you can get a certificate related to driving in Japan?

Japan Safe Driving Center provide service on issuing certificate related to driving in Japan.
The Center issues a certificate of traffic accidents on behalf of police, using the information of the
police. The certificate enables one involved in a traffic accident to get the proper compensation.
The Center issues a certificate of driving record, cumulative points, and driver's license history at a
driver's request.
It also issues a certificate at a driver's request which proves one has had no traffic
accident or offense. The Center grants the SD Card as a sign of a safe driver when one doesn't have a traffic accident or
offense on the driving record certificate.
The Center hold training courses in Central Training School for Safe Driving in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki
Prefecture. People can learn the danger of driving and safe driving techniques there.
The Center conducts the research and study of safe driving.
The results are used as data in administrative organs as well as in driving schools for driver's
education. They are also used for the management of safe driving in companies.
The Center writes to people who will get suspension of driver's license or administrative punishment. It
also writes to people who are about to get the punishment.
For example, it writes to people who have already 4 or 5 points, in order to encourage safe driving.

List of English Automobile Driving School in Japan

List of Automobile Driving School in Japan where provide training courses in English:

1. Japan Driver's License

3Koyama Driving School


5English Language Driving School of Long Standing

6Koby's Driving School


License - Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How long can I drive in Japan using an international driving permit ?
A. You can drive legally for a maximum of 12 months after your entry into Japan. If you leave Japan for 3 consecutive months, the clock starts again. Your international driving should not be expired during the 12 months.

Q. Who actually needs to get a Japanese Driver`s License
A. Anybody who currently has a valid driver`s license issued in their home country, who wants to legally drive in Japan, who currently does not have a Japanese Driver`s Licence; who is planning to live in Japan for a period of greater than 12 months; who does not have the opportunity to spend more than 93 consecutive days in their home country each 12 month period.

Q. So, I don't need to apply for a license until I have been in Japan for 12 months?
A. If you receive a traffic infringement while you are driving on your International Driving Permit, it is the general understanding that you pay the fine and can then forget about it. The truth is, the police record this infringement against your name and once you pass your driving test when converting to a Japanese license, you may be told that your new license is automatically suspended for up to 2 years. A minor traffic offense may lead to a big problem in the future if you do not obtain a Japanese license early. This includes simple parking tickets.

Q. Do both your Full Serve and Self Serve programs offer your driving test simulation training tool?
A. Yes, for those who have licenses issued in countries that require a road test, our one of a kind road test simulation training tool, which will teach you exactly what you need to know to pass the road test in your city on your first attempt, is available to you in both our Full Serve and Self Serve programs. Please refer to our Service Areas page to confirm that we have developed this tool for the test center in your area. Even if you live in an area which we have not developed a training tool specific to the road test course that you will need to take your road test on, you will still find our training tools helpful as from our experience it is very similar aspects which are being tested on each course.

Q. Which Nationalities are required to take a written and road test?
A. Requirements for a road test is not based on your Nationality but rather which country your licensed was issued in. The easiest way for us to answer this question is to let you know in which countries of issue licenses are not required to take a written or road test. People with licenses issued from the following countries are not required to take a written or road test to convert their home country issued driver`s license into Japanese driver`s licenses: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Korea. Keeping this answer focused on the majority of the nationalities that make up our client base, people from the U.S., South Africa, China and Brazil are required to take both a written and road test. As well as those from Africa, Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Q. I am an American citizen and I lived in Japan 12 years ago. At that time I simply showed my U.S. license and was handed a Japanese Driver`s license. There were not any tests. What is different now ? Why can I not just do the same thing that I did 12 years ago?
A. A long long time ago, U.S. Citizens did not need to take a written or road test. This is true, but no longer so. The good news is that if you still have your expired Japanese driver`s license which may be able to renew.

Q. My U.S. license has expired but I have a valid international driving permit. Can I convert this into a Japanese driver's license?
A. No, this is impossible, there is no chance that you can do this. Are you driving now? If so you are driving illegally even if you have only lived in Japan for less than 12 months as your international driving permit is invalid without a valid driver's license. We suggest that you renew your U.S. license as it will be easier to do this than gettting a Japanese driver's license without a valid driver's license issued in your home country.

Q. I am a Canadian and I first heard that there actually is a reciprocal agreement between Canada and Japan. I then heard that Japan was not following this agreement and then I heard that as of February 2003 the agreement is being followed and now Canadians do not need to take a written or road test. Whats going on, eh? Can you provide me with a staight answer on this please ?
A. You are right, there was a reciprocal agreement between Japan and four provinces of Canada. You are also correct that Japan was not following this agreement, however as of February 1st, 2003 Canadians, from all provinces no longer need to take a written or road test to convert their license.

Q. Next week will mark my 12th month in Japan, so I need to get my Japanese license real fast. Can you take me out next week please on Saturday say 4:00 pm after my squash game to get my driver's license? I am an American and so I need to do the road test that evening as well ?
A. No, we cannot. It can be a 2 to 9 week process assuming that you pass your test on the 1st or 2nd attempt. The driving centers are only open Mon to Fri and only take applications for license conversion in the morning or just after lunch depending on city. In most cities the road test must be scheduled on a different day usually 2 to 4 weeks after you apply and your schedule will be set by them depending on city. You will need to collect your documents and to get your license translated and more time if you require supporting documentation from your home country. This is a very bureaucratic process, which makes the immigration center look like an efficient, customer service dreamland. You will need to spend up to 6 hours to apply depending on city. 75% of this time waiting and in lines and then another 5 hours depending on city per each driving test attempt. The test takes 15 min, the other 4 hours and 45 min is waiting time.

Q. I heard that for Japanese citizens the driving course is different each day and you will not know what course you must do your test on. Is this the same for foreigners who are converting their home country license into a Japanese one?
A. What you heard is correct and depending on the city Japanese citizens must also take a road test off the course track on the open road. However for people who are converting their home country's driver's license into a Japanese one, the road test is much more uniform. Some cities have two courses and other minor variations.

Q. Does the road test really test driving ability?
A. Kind of, but not really. It is on a track, with few other cars on the road. It is more like an obstacle course. You need to do certain things at certain places. If you do the right things at the right time you will pass your test. The course has not changed for many years.

Q. I live in Kobe but I heard that the road test in Osaka is easier. Can I take my road test at any center I want?
A. No, you may not. You must apply for license conversion and take the road test at the center of the prefecture or city that is listed on your Alien Registration Card.

Q. My international driving permit is valid for 3 years and I will only be in Japan for 2 years. So why must I go through the hassle to get a Japanese driver`s license?
A. You purchased your 3 year international driving permit online correct? Make sure to read the U.S. Embassy homepage section about fradulent International driving permit sales on the web as real international driving permits are only valid for 1 year. Regardless, the new Japan traffic act states that you can only drive legally using an international driving permit, up to 12 months from your entry date into Japan. Bottom line, you need to obtain a Japanese Driver`s license.

Q. I am a U.S. citizen and I have lived in Japan for 3 years. I am moving back home in 6 weeks. Should I get my Japanese driver`s license?
A. As you most likely would not be able to complete the process in 6 weeks even if you started today, then we suggest that you do not start. You are currently driving illegally and if you continue to do so you are at risk.

Q. I don`t have time to go through the hassle. I am not going to get my Japanese driver`s license. If I get pulled over I will just pretend that I don`t speak any Japanese and will show the police officer my international driving permit. He will not know what the heck it is anyway and will not know how long I have been in Japan and will just let me go, don`t you think?
A. There is a chance, depending on who pulls you over, that you are correct. However, be aware of the following: 1. Your entry date into Japan is printed on your Alien Registration card which he will ask to see. 2. We have been hearing from clients recently who were pulled over for speeding that and were given fines of 200,000 yen for driving illegaly without a valid license so obviously the officer in these cases knew about the law change. 3. and most importantly, our research taught us that if you are in a car accident that your insurance company may not cover the costs of damage to your car if you were driving without a valid Japanese driver`s license. You will be at risk if you do not get your Japanese driver`s license.

Q. Will I need to surrender my home country's driver`s license when I get my Japanese Driver's License?
A. No you will not need to surrender it.


How to get driving licence in Japan?

There are some difficulty for getting a driving licence in Japan. The blog are going to collect related information on the topic.