Once the IDP has expired, foreigners are expected to exchange their license for a Japanese permit. Leaving the country and returning at a later date does not extend the original period of validity unless you are gone for more than three months. Not following the law is considered a serious offence, punishable anything from a fine to possible deportation.
Some countries do not qualify for a valid IDP (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Taiwan) and require instead an official translation to be attached to your driving license. This translation can only be delivered in Japan by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or your embassy and is only valid for a year.
Nationals of twenty-four countries, including Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, benefit from a special agreement regarding the exchange of their driving license. These countries are considered to have a record in traffic safety equivalent to that of Japan’s, allowing for a simplified procedure.
Requirements for a Japanese driver's license
Citizens of exchange agreement countries can head to any Driver’s License Centre with the following documents, and their license will be issued within the hour (provided they pass the eye examination):
- A valid foreign driver’s license
- A Japanese translation of the foreign driver’s license (delivered by the JAF or your embassy)
- Proof that you resided in the country of your driver's license for three months after obtaining it
- Resident card (jumin-hyo) with your permanent address or a Certificate of Alien Registration
- Past Japanese drivers licenses (if any)
- Application form
If your country’s license is not recognised by the Japanese government, you will need to pass the Japanese driving test in order to be allowed to drive in Japan.
The test itself consists of a written examination of 10 questions, and you must answer at least 7 correctly in order to move on to the practical exam. As in many countries, passing the practical examination takes several attempts, even if you are an experienced driver. The entirety of the examination will be carried out in Japanese. As such, non-speakers cannot expect to pass.
Any driver of any age will first be given a three-year provisional license (green-line), which must be renewed after this period, to be exchanged for a blue- or gold-line license – attesting of the driver’s quality.