Three options for foreigners to drive a motor vehicle in Japan


photo by lan Brltton

Thanks to the well-developed public transport systems, privately owned cars and motor bikes sometimes become useless in the city life of Japan. Trains and buses can be better options to go to sightseeing destinations that attracts many tourists. However, if you go camping or skiing and have to take loads of things, or you want to get away from a busy city and enjoy the countryside, you definitely want to drive there! But one thing that might concern you is; what do you do with a driving license in Japan? Don’t worry, you can drive a car in Japan if you are a foreign driving license holder.


Drive with an IDP issued under the convention at Geneva

Japan is one of the contracting countries of the International Convention relative to Road Traffic (aka the convention at Geneva). International driving permits (IDPs) issued by contracting countries and conforming to the model contained in the convention at Geneva are valid in Japan. You are allowed to drive equivalent or similar model of vehicles permitted under your foreign driving license in Japan without complicated applications after your arrival in Japan. IDPs are not exactly equivalent to Japanese driving licenses, but this is the best option for tourists who stay in Japan for a short period of time.


  1. IDPs are valid for 12months from the day of your arrival in Japan, or until your foreign license expires if it expires within 12months, whichever comes earlier. 
  2. Japan has only concluded the convention at Geneva. IDPs issued by countries that have contracted only the convention at Vienna are invalid in Japan
  3. A IDPs is not driving license in its own right. You must carry your original foreign driving license with it. 

Contracting countries of the convention at Geneva

Iceland, Guatemala, Togo, Venezuela, Ireland, Cote d’Ivoire, Commonwealth of Dominica, Peru, U.S.A, Republic of the Congo, Trinidad and Tobago, Belgium, UAE, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Botswana, Algeria, San Marino, Poland, Nigeria, Argentine, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Portugal, Albania, Jamaica, Niger, Madagascar, Israel, Georgia, Malawi, Italy, Syria, New Zealand, Mali, India, Singapore, Norway, Malta, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Malaysia, U.K., Sweden, Vatican, South Africa, Ecuador, Spain, Papua New Guinea, Monaco, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Morocco, Australia, Slovak Republic, Barbados, Jordan, Austria, Senegal, Hungary, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Serbia, Bangladesh, Laos, Ghana, Thailand, Fiji, Luxembourg, Canada, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Romania, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Finland, Rwanda, Cyprus, Central African Republic, France, Lesotho, Cuba, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Greece, Chile, Burkina Faso, Russia, Kyrgyz Republic, Denmark, Benin, Hong Kong, Macao, Japan


Drive with a foreign driving license accompanied with Japanese translation

Driving licenses issued by Switzerland, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Slovenia and Monaco are valid in Japan only if accompanied with a Japanese translation made by JAF. If you have a license issued by those seven countries and did not obtain IDP in the country, this is the best option for you.


  1. You are permitted to drive for 12 months from the day of your arrival in Japan, or until your foreign driving license expires if it expires within 12 months, whichever comes earlier. 
  2. A translation made by JAF must be attached to your foreign license. 

Authorized translator is available from:



Drive with a Japanese driving license converted from a foreign license

If you are staying in Japan for 3months or more and have registered your residential address with the municipal office, you can convert your valid foreign driving license to a Japanese license at a driver’s license center in your area. You are required to pass knowledge test and driving skills test. Tests are available in English at some of the centers. Also, if you have a driving license issued by one of those 24 exam-exempt countries and a region, you will be exempt from the knowledge test and driving skills test to convert the license. This is the best option for people who will stay in Japan for one year or longer.


  1. You must prove that you have stayed in the country or region where you obtained the license for a total of 3months or more since the license was issued
  2. You must have your residential address registered with the municipal office
  3. You will need to pass knowledge test and driving skills test
  4. You will be permitted to drive equivalent type of vehicles as permitted under your foreign license

Required documents

  • An application form (inquire a driver’s license center in your area)
  • Health check questionnaire form (available from a driver’s license center)
  • Photograph of applicant x 1 (this can be taken at a driver’s license center)
  • An official copy of “jumin-hyo” showing your registered domicile, or passport if you are not subject to the Basic Resident Registration Act
  • Health insurance card, Basic Resident Register card or Resident card (to present)
  • Your foreign driving license (International Driving Permit is NOT accepted)
  • A Japanese translation of your foreign driving license (inquire the embassy or consulate-general of your country in Japan, or JAF for a translation service)
  • A document showing that you stayed in the country or region where you obtained the license for a total of 3month or more: e.g. passport
  • Fees (inquire a driver’s license center in your area)

Exam-exempt countries (24 countries and a region)

Iceland, Ireland, Maryland of U.S.A, U.K., Italy, Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Republic of Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Monaco and Taiwan


Safe driving!

Traveling by train or bus is great fun, of course. Enjoying fantastic views from a car seat while driving is also such a great entertainment too! Other than driving for leisure, you might be required to drive for your job. In any cases, make sure you obtain an appropriate driving license to enjoy driving within Japan. Don’t forget to wear your seatbelt!


Related Article:
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Driving tips in Japan: General roads
Driving tips in Japan: Toll roads
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Driving tips in Japan: Traffic ticket
Unlimited use of expressways! Japan Expressway Pass for foreign tourists
Touring Japan by car: Rental-car guide for tourists
Best for driving trip! Regional expressway passes
Stuck on the road? Call JAF for roadside assistance
If you are buying a car in Japan: Guide to Japanese car insurance
What are insured? Check this before hiring a car in Japan
Japanese people no longer into owning cars? Car sharing in Japan
BRRR-lliant holiday in Japan! Rental motor bike
Comfortable camping in winter! Renting campervan in Japan
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あきらことほ Kotoho Akira

Living outside Japan for a good many years, I often rediscover nice little things about this country every time I return here. I would be more than happy if this column may help you find your "nice little things about Japan"!

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