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How to drive in Japan

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Though Japan has terrific public transportation services within the cities, once you hit the more rural areas it becomes a pain to get anywhere without a car and thus being able to drive is often a necessity. Driving in Japan may be quite a different experience from driving in your home country.

The speed limits are all in km rather than miles and drivers drive on the left side of the road with cars having the steering wheel on the right side. Roads are often well maintained, however Japan has a lot of narrow roads which can be difficult to manoeuvre in! There are also many cyclists in Japan (especially in the cities), so you must be aware of both cyclists and other cars on the road! So, if driving in Japan sounds like it's for you then let’s look at the different options available to be able to drive in Japan.

International Drivers Licence (IDL)

For expatriates from countries who have signed the 1949 Geneva Protocol on Road Signs and Signals, you will be able to drive in Japan with an international drivers licence for up to one year. If your home country has not signed the Geneva Protocol your IDL will be invalid in Japan and you will instead have to apply for a Japanese drivers licence or go without driving. There are also a few countries where, even though they have not signed the Geneva Protocol, natives of these countries can drive for one year in Japan after obtaining a translation of their official drivers licence from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or from your national embassy in Japan.

International drivers licences can be applied for in your home country only and you cannot apply for one once in Japan. It must also be noted that if you want to reapply for a new IDL you cannot do so unless you first return to your home country for a minimum of 3 months. For more information on IDL’s or to apply online, visit the IDL Service website.

Japanese Drivers Licence

If you are a native of a country whose international licence is not authorised in Japan or are a permanent resident/foreigner in Japan for more than one year then you will need to acquire a Japanese drivers licence.

Natives of certain countries (United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand and more) have bilateral agreements with Japan meaning that they are able to more easily acquire a Japanese licence (to find out if your country has bilateral agreements with Japan please contact your local Japan embassy). If you are from one of these countries, you are able to acquire the licence without taking the practical or written test. All that is needed is proof of a valid licence held for at least 3 months in your home country, a translation of the licence, your passport and to take a simple eye/physical test. After this your Japanese drivers licence will be issued, usually on the same day.

Natives of countries who do not have bilateral agreements with Japan (United States, Brazil, China etc) have it slightly harder and must take both the written and physical drivers test in Japan. As the tests are quite difficult for even experienced drivers, it can take more than one attempt to pass!

Costs of Driving in Japan

Driving and owning a car in Japan can also be quite expensive. With things like gas, parking, car maintenance to consider as well as the big cost of buying a car it gets quite costly. Gas costs (as of July 2017) average around ¥128 per litre with parking prices starting at ¥100 per 15-30 minutes (although in more rural areas free parking can often be found). Cars in Japan must have a safety inspection check every 2 years and this typically costs anything from ¥100,000-¥250,000. Automobile tax is also necessary when owning a vehicle in Japan and costs around ¥10,000-¥50,000 per year. So if you do decide to drive in Japan be prepared for the many expenses that come with it!

  Useful links:

Japan Automobile Federation

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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Member since 01 June 2008
Small earth, Mauritius
1 Comment
aciara14
aciara14
7 years ago

Most countries that issue International Driving Permits are acceptable when driving in Japan with a IDP. These only last a year from which they are issued, NOT a year from the day you enter Japan. Also, Americans and a few other nationalities will have to have their driver's license translated AND take a written and driver's test. Other nationalities are exempt from the driver's test because they have similar laws and an agreement with Japan. In the U.S., driving laws vary by state, and so Japan and the U.S. have not come to any kind of agreement.

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