Getting a Japanese License!

Let me start off saying that I am happy that I come from one of the magical countries, I mean I am so extremely happy that I am from New Zealand and not the United States. Nothing against the States but getting a Japanese license was so much easier being a Kiwi.

Getting right into it, certain countries have agreements with the Japanese Automobile Federation, and thankfully New Zealand is one of them. There are quite a few lucky countries, and the US isn’t one of them. My poor American friends have to get a Japanese license the old fashioned way and not the slightly quickly, vastly less stressful but still decently stressful way.

Special lucky countries include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. BUT you do need to have had your full license for at least three months before your arrival date in Japan, and you need to prove with your passport that you were in your home country for three consecutive months before you arrived in Japan too. Even if you have had your license for 6 years, they wont believe that you have spent 3 consecutive months in Japan without your passport as proof. If you have recently got a new passport, bring your old one with you to Japan.

Starting off, if you are living in Japan or are moving to Japan you probably have or will soon have an International Drivers Permit (LDP) that lasts one year only. So if you are like me and have decided to stay for longer than a year and need to drive to survive, you will probably have to start the process of getting a Japanese license.

Step 0 – Getting a copy of your licensing history

Technically you do not need this, although some people are asked to bring it to the licensing centre, but I got a copy of my licensing history from the NZ Transport Agency so I could show how long it took to get a full license. This actually really helped me with my application, as the officer wanted to see how long it had taken to get from a learners permit to my eventual full license. For all you Kiwis here’s the link if you want to get a copy for yourself.

Highly recommend getting your licensing history, regardless of where you come from before you leave for Japan, as a just in case measure.

Step 1 – Juuminhyou – Certificate of Residence

First I had to get a copy of my juuminhyou or a Certificate of Residence. If you are on the JET programme you would have been registered on one of your first days in your town at a local branch of the City Council. Also if you aren’t on JET then you should be registered at your city council too, well hopefully. You will need to request a copy, they normally cost around ¥200 -¥300 but you will need to state that this is for getting a driver’s license as some councils have different types of juuminhyou and its just better to be safe than sorry. Just pop into your local city council building and say something along the lines of 運転免許のために、住民票がほしいです  and that should suffice. It takes around 5-10mins to get so it’s not a big deal. I keep a copy of mine at my house in case of emergency because I am a paranoid neurotic person.

Step 2 – Translation of current license

Regardless if you are from a lucky country or not you will need an official translation from the JAF.

Here is a list of branches,

I believe they prefer if you send or take the form into the regional Headquarters for your prefecture. Forms to fill out for this translation and instructions are on this page

Since I am living on the Sea of Japan, hundreds of kilometres away from any major city I posted my form in. To post a form with money you will need to buy a special envelope called “Genkin kakitome futo” from the post office. Fill it out, normally has instructions in English, send it off while you’re at the post office with your ¥3392 and then wait for it to turn up at your house which doesn’t take long at all.

Step 3 – Photos

Get a few passport sized photos and while you’re at it, colour photocopy your home license, passport, zairyuu/residents card. These photos won’t actually be used for your license photo, just for the application.

Step 4 – Figure out where the nearest licensing centre is.

If you live in Hyogo then the Akashi Licensing Centre is where you go. Take a day off work and get to the centre before 9am, figure out that where the lucky countries go. For Akashi, you go in the building and go left passed the long line of Japanese applicants to where you will see a small area with some seats and a notice in English, Chinese and Korea. (I think it was near window number 7 but it’s been a while since I was there, so that might not be the right number). Take a number and wait your turn.

Step 5 – Start the application

Once they call your number you will go through to a small office that normally only has two people working. Give them all your paper work and basically have a huge nervous wait while they take forever to go over it. They will ask questions about the requirements for getting a license, and other various related questions. You will have to fill out a little survey thing, that will ask you if you have ever driven against doctors’ orders or have driven under the influence of alcohol. Unfortunately I had to circle yes for have you been in a driving related accident since arriving in Japan. That added another hour or so of very broken Japanese, trying to explain that I got hit and that I didn’t hit someone. Hopefully you get through this bit fine.

Step 6 – Pay for the license

After you have your time with the officer, they will send you to another window, possibly number 6 to pay around ¥4000. This is the cost of getting your license. Then you need to go back to the same officer and show him that you have paid. He will then set you free from that dreary office with a few pieces of paper that you should not loose and depending on the time, you might have 2 or 3 hours to kill until the next part. Make sure your phone is fully charged and not at 30%… not my brightest moment.

Step 7 – Waiting. Waiting. And more waiting.

Your butt will go numb and you will be bored. I had to wait for 3 hours. It was torture. Bring something to do. You can leave, but the times aren’t set in stone so it can start earlier (pfft not likely) or much much later than you were initially told. There are a few convenience stores close by for getting snacks to get you through the soul crushing. While you wait you will need to find the weird little machines near the front of the building and pick a pin for your license. Keep the printed bit of paper as you need it when getting your photo taken.

Step 8 – Lecture and lining up

After far too long, you, the other successful foreigners and around 100-200 young Japanese people will have to sit through a lecture. Mine took around an hour, about basics of driving. Then you will be called to line up in a strange order where you most likely will be placed at the very end. They will call out a number that is on the forms given to you by the officer earlier. After the line whittles down and you eventually get to the front its photo time! Then after your lovely no-smiling photo you will follow your line around to the front of window 5 (again not sure on correct window numbers, it will be very obvious where you are supposed to go, the massive group you are with will be difficult to miss). There will be a special foreigners/special license line that you will need to join, normally on the very far right. Then they will wait, give a short speech and slowly give out the licenses. Either stamp your inkan or sign and then you are FREE. You now will have wasted a whole day at this depression hell hole but it’s over… until you need to renew your license, like I will in just under 2 years…

Things to bring

  • Home country license
  • Official Translation from JAF of Home country license into Japanese
  • Passport – photocopies will not be accepted
  • Passport sized photos
  • Inkan/hanko/personal stamp
  • Money between ¥5000 – ¥6000
  • Juuminhyou/Certificate of Residence
  • Zairyuu card/Residency card
  • International Drivers Permit
  • Licensing History/Certificate of Particulars
  • Patience, a fully charged cellphone, headphones, snacks – optional but highly recommended

Good luck and safe driving along those crazy narrow roads! 🙂