Do you want to drive in Japan? Most Japanese nationals spend many hours and about ¥300,000 for classes at a driving school to pass the driving test. But if you have a license from another country, it is possible to switch your foreign license to a Japanese driver’s license, called 外国免許切替, or 外免切替 for short. It will take some time and effort to get your license transferred. But if you can follow these steps, you will be able to get your Japanese driver’s license in no time (or after a few tries on the driving test).

Before you go to your local prefectural driving center, research the process.  Japan is the king of details and numerous steps in any application process, so make sure you are familiar with exactly what you will need to do.

Important note regarding your driver’s license: Your license must be current and not expired. You also must have at least 3 months of driving in the country where you obtained the license. You need to be able to prove this with your passport entry and exit dates.

Check your local Prefectural Police Department Driver’s Licensing Center for specific details, but the general process is outlined below.

Get a translation of your foreign driver’s license

Print out the application form here and send it to your local JAF office with a copy of your driver’s license and application fee of ¥3000 plus return shipping of ¥500. Send it by registered postal cash envelope 現金書留. (Note: To send the postal cash envelope, you will need to put your personal stamp印鑑 on the envelope, so take it with you to the post office.)

For certain countries, other documents besides your driver’s license may be required. Check the JAF website for other required documents.

Pre-interview 事前審査(じぜんしんさ)

You will line up near this sign for your pre-interview.

First, make sure you check the times for the pre-interview. Some prefectures require an appointment, others are walk-in only. Most driver’s licensing centers conduct pre-interviews at specific times in the morning or afternoon. If you want to try to complete the entire application process in one day, arrive early in the morning for the pre-interview. If it says 9:30-10:00, arrive by 8:00 or 8:30 to secure your spot in line. Due to COVID precautions, they limit the number of entries per day, so you must arrive early to get a spot.

Bring all of the documents you will need for the pre-interview:

  • Foreign driver’s license
  • Translation of your foreign driver’s license (translated by JAF)
  • Current passport and old passports (to prove that you have driven in the foreign country longer than 3 months)
  • Residence card 在留カード
  • Residential record 住民票 from your local city office, with all information except for MyNumber included
  • 2 photos (3cm x 2.4cm); there is a photo booth at the driver’s license center if needed. Do not smile and do not show teeth.

Move on to the main interview 申請受付

Make sure you know where you need to line up for the interview, and ask someone if you need help.

The main interview usually takes place in the afternoon (i.e. 1:00-1:30pm) but again, check your local driver’s licensing center for specific details. At your pre-interview, the police officer will probably explain to you exactly where you are to go for the application process but double-check your prefecture’s website to make sure.

What to bring to the main interview:

  • Bring all documents from the pre-interview
  • Glasses and hearing aid if applicable
  • Purchase ¥2550 at the driver’s license center in special stamps to pay the application fee.

You will proceed through another examination of the documents, as in the pre-interview. At this point, you will take an eye test. If all of your documents are in order and pass inspection, you can move on to take the written test.

Note: The written and driving test are not required for licenses from certain countries. If you’re from one of those “lucky” countries, you can bypass the written and driving test, but you may have to come back on another day to receive your license. Lucky for you, and enjoy test-free driving!

Be prepared to take the written test

Study the Rules of the Road driver’s manual, which can be purchased from JAF or from Amazon. It is available in several languages. The test is fairly simple and easy to pass, but pay attention to the details of each question.

If you pass the written test, you will then proceed to the driving test.

Be prepared to take the driving test

This is by far the hardest part of getting your driver’s license in Japan. Very few people pass on the first try.

In order to pass, you need to know the course very well. After your pre-interview, you will be informed about a time period to go and “walk the course”. Take advantage of this, as it is vital to know the turns, stops, and various obstacles on the course.

Sample photo of the course. Study this map, and know where you’ll need to slow down, do appropriate head movements for turns, and prepare for the S-Curve and Crank.

The key to the test is not necessarily driving well, but looking both ways before a turn, looking before merging lanes, and slowing down when nearing a crosswalk. Some prefectures will require that you look under the front and back end of the car before you get into the car. It is crucial that you review the details such as your head and eye movements before turns. The test proctor will be watching your head movements very closely. Be sure to acknowledge the proctor when he tells you to turn, such as saying “はい”. Also, make sure to go slowly through the S-curve and Crank, and do not hit the curb. This may immediately fail you. Finally, make sure you look both ways before opening the door at the end of the test. Search YouTube for videos of those with test advice, and if you have an international driver’s license, take some time to practice on the road.

The test can be quite tricky to pass, so unless you’re feeling very confident, I recommend that you take a 2-hour driving class at a local driving school. Some schools offer special courses specifically for 外免切替. This school ( near the Konosu Driver’s Licensing Center (Saitama) offers a two-hour class for about ¥20,000.

Despite the challenges and various details to remember, it is possible to get your Japanese driver’s license. You will just need a bit of patience and perseverance. Good luck, and happy testing!

Other helpful websites:

For general information on the application and testing process.

A site detailing what to know for the driver’s test.

Ogikubo Driving School offers a special driving course for 外免切替. From ¥50,000.