How To Successfully Switch Your US Driver’s License to Japan


Do you have a Driver’s license from your home country and want to know if, or how you can obtain one in Japan? But unsure of the process? Well, continue reading and I will tell you what you need to know.

Can I switch my license to a Japanese one?

Firstly, you need to have a valid US driver’s license. Without one, you will not be able to switch. The “issued date” on the license needs to be at least 6 months old prior to you being in Japan.  In other words, you HAVE to be driving in your home country for at least 6 Prior to coming to Japan. This is the requirement needed for the Japanese DMV, to prove that you are an experienced driver back in your home country, therefore, are familiar with the basic road rules.

If your license has expired, you need to go back to the states and renew it, as there is no other way around it if you’re taking the cheaper route (more explanation later!). I also need to mention that if you need to renew your US license, HOLD ON TO YOUR EXPIRED LICENSE! the newly issued license will have a completely new issued date from the old one. I’m not sure if all the DMVs in the states are the same or not, but I had to tell the DMV clerk that I’ve lost my license. I knew they were probably going to take my expired license, and that would beat the purpose of my travel back to the states for the renewal.

If you don’t already own a US driver’s license but you still want to drive in Japan, don’t worry! There is a second solution. Attending a Japanese driving school! This is the only other way I know to obtain a Japanese license. The process is longer, and it is also the more expensive option. You will be practicing Japanese road rules with other students, in Japanese. Yes, that means you need to know Japanese!.

Below, I’ve listed items you’ll need to provide at the Japanese DMV, as well as other useful information you may need.

What do you need?

These are the documents you’ll need to provide to the Japanese DMV:

Home country’s driver’s license: Do not bring a photocopy version, the DMV will need to see the original card. PLUS, an official translated document of the driver’s license, into Japanese.

Passport: Do not bring a photocopy version, the DMV will need to see the original booklet.

Japanese residency card: Again, you’ll need to provide the official copy.

Get your foreign license officially translated into Japanese:


Where you can switch?

The DMV is the only place to go to change a driver’s license.  One can be easily located via google Maps, yahoo Maps, etc.


What kind of tests you must take in order to switch?

There is a Three-part test everyone must take and have to pass.

Knowledge test:

Basic knowledge of Japan road. Familiarize yourself with how to read road signs, speed limits, etc. There are books available to purchase at bookstores and through the internet.  The knowledge test is in written form and consists of “True” or “False” answers. Before the test begins, you can request the test to be in English.

I recommend this book:

Vision test:

Once you’ve passed the first test, you will be prompted to take the eye exam. Before they begin, the examiner will ask a couple of simple questions, “Do you wear glasses?”, etc.  It’s fairly straightforward; you look through a binocular and read what you see on the other side.  For this test, you are required to read out the hiragana syllables to the examiner.

Road test:

At last, the most important part of the whole test! This is the last stage before obtaining your Japan Driver’s license. This is the part of the test where everyone is nervous. There is a higher chance of failing on the first, second, and even on the third try until you pass, so don’t beat yourself over it!. The examiner provides you with the car and the course map, which you have to remember because it is your map telling you every turn and stop on the road (think of it as a cheat sheet). The driving course outside the DMV building. You have to wait for your name to be called before you can start the test.

If you pass:

Once you’re done taking the road test, your driving instructor will let you know right away whether you passed or failed. IF there are other drivers also taking the test, the instructor may also choose to announce the results once everyone is finished.
After the results are announced, you go and wait in the lounge for further instructions with the I.D processing.

If you fail:

If you happen to fail the road test, the instructor will give further information on what you need to do to possibly pass in the future. The waiting lounge is where you’ll be able to reschedule for a re-test.

My experience

From my experience, It wasn’t too bad. I passed the knowledge test on the first try, using the English version.  The vision test was also a breeze and didn’t take longer than 5-10 minutes for the whole process.
As for the driving test, I FAILED on my first trial. It wasn’t really my fault because the driving instructor out of nowhere asked if I would like to take the test right then. Originally, you are given the option to schedule the driving test. I was given a map of the road I would be driving and tried to familiarize myself with it, as best as I could, but still failed. I knew I would fail considering it would be my first time EVER driving in Japan. Passed the second time though.

In summary, the process can be as long and as annoying as in any other country. If you fail the first, second, third, or even fourth time, don’t beat yourself over it! I knew many Japanese people who passed it on their fourth or fifth try!.



I lived in the east coast part of America all my life and now living in Japan. There are many interesting things to do on a daily and I want to share what I can.