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Japanese Driver's License FAQ
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Japanese Driver's License FAQ

Pancake Pancake 6 min read

Read how to convert Malayian driving license to Japanese driver's license here.

Can't I use my International Driver's License instead of converting my driving license?

International Driver's License is only valid for the first year of your long term stay in Japan. This is reset if you leave Japan for at least 90 days. If you plan on driving in Japan after that you'll need to get a Japanese driver's license. Don't be like this guy!

I heard license conversion is really hard, what about doing it from scratch?

You may have seen countless stories on Reddit and Twitter stating that the practical test is so hard that people with years of driving experience could not pass the test.

As an alternative, you could start from scratch by enrolling into a driving school. Fee ranges from ¥200,000 up to ¥500,000, depending on the location of the school (city = more expensive) and type of course (normal or camp 合宿 gasshuku). For camp-style courses you would attend a 2 weeks course which would require you to stay at the school. Camp-style courses are popular among college students who attend over summer break. In addition, if you complete the camp-style course,` you could be exempted from the practical test.

However, I recommend converting your license instead of starting from stratch as it is wayyyy cheaper (I only spent ~¥30,000) and each retake attempt is only ¥4,000.

I'm not planning to get a car in Japan, is it even worth getting a Japanese driver's license?

Even if you don't own a car, renting one is still pretty easy which makes having a Japanese driver's license on hand very useful for whenever you need a car. If you live in any of the major cities, car sharing services such as Times Car Share or Careco have rental stations all over the place. Unlike traditional car rentals, you can rent a car anytime through their respective apps.

Also, you can use your Japanese driver's license as an ID. If you're uncomfortable showing your residence card, driver's license can be a great alternative as an ID.

Can I use my Japanese driver's license instead of my Malaysian one in other countries?

Similar to Malaysia, you can apply for an international driving permit (IDP) for your Japanese driver's license at your nearest police station or driver's license center (運転免許センター untenmenkyo center). You will need to bring your Japanese driver's license, 5cm x 4cm passport photo, inkan and ¥2,400.

When does my Japanese driver's license expire?

You can renew your Japanese driver's license 1 month before your birthday until 1 month after your birthday. Your Japanese driver's license will expire a month after your birthday, so be sure to renew your license by then. When the expiry date is approaching, the police station will sent you a postcard to remind you. Hence, it is important that you update your address when you move at the nearest police station of your new place.

Be sure to renew your Japanese driver's license before it expires; you'll need to restart the conversion process from scratch if you forget!

What if I cannot come back in time for my Japanese driver's license renewal?

According to the National Police Agency's website, you could still renew your Japanese driver's license if it has not expired for more than 6 months and you can show proof that you were abroad. You can still renew licenses that are not expired for more than 3 years if you have extraordinary circumstances. Check the National Police Agency's website for more details.

How do I renew my Japanese driver's license?

You need the following documents:

  • Japanese Driver's License
  • Renewal Notice Postcard
  • Residence Card 在留カード

If it is your first renewal, you must do it at the driver's license center (運転免許センター untenmenkyo center). For subsequent renewals you can still do it in a driver's license renewal center (運転免許更新センター untenmennkyo-koushin center) or designated police stations. For a full list of venues where you can renew, visit the prefectural police website of the prefecture you reside. For Tokyo residents, you can refer to this website.

Unlike Malaysia where renewing is just paperwork, you'll need to attend a short talk as well. The talk costs money so be sure to bring sufficient cash.

In Malaysia, there's the normal license and probationary (P) license. Is there something similar in Japan?

Gold driver's license. Shiny!

In Japan, there are 3 types of license, each differentiated by the color on the expiry date:

  • Green: For new drivers
  • Blue: For normal drivers
  • Gold: For drivers that have not been involved in accidents or committed any traffic related offense for at least 5 years

Depending on the type of license you have, the validity of the license varies. Typically your license would last for 3 years, and your license could be valid up to 5 years if you have a gold license.

In addition, the renewal course typically takes around an hour, but could be longer/shorter depending on the type of license you have. For gold license holders, you are exempted from attending the renewal course, and can even renew your license at any police station.

After converting my license, do I need to use a P sticker or something similar in Japan?

Car with a 初心者マーク displayed on the back

The Japanese equivalent of a P sticker is called a 初心者マーク shoshinsha mark, denoted by this symbol: 🔰. Similar to Malaysia, you are required to display this symbol on the front and back of your vehicle for the first year of getting your license. You may still use it after that to inform other drivers that you are still inexperienced.

For those who did license conversion and had their original license for more than a year, you are exempted from displaying the sticker.

If you're unsure, check the back of your driver's license and look for the stamp that says 「初心者表記免除」

What type of vehicles can I drive in Japan?

In most cases, you would be eligible to drive vehicles that are equivalent to what you can drive in Malaysia. For a class D license (think normal cars), you will be able to drive cars, as well as any kei vehicle (vehicles with yellow plates), including kei trucks. However, in Japan if you can drive cars, you can also drive scooters (also known as 原付 gentsuki) with engines no larger than 50cc.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

If you want to ride scooters, be sure to look up on how to operate one, as well as on how to do a hook turn (二段階右折 nidankai-usetsu).

Urban mobility, electric scooter brands. Gothenburg, Sweden.
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson / Unsplash

In addition, you can also ride e-scooters. E-scooters are considered as vehicles in Japan and they require number plates, turn indicators, side mirrors, and even a horn in order for them to be street legal. If you're interested in trying them out and happen to be around central Tokyo, Luup, a ride sharing service is offering e-scooters for rent.

How much does it cost to convert your license?

Cost breakdown is as follows:

  • Eye test + Written test: ¥2,550
  • Practical test (1st attempt): ¥1,450
  • Practical test (subsequent attempts): ¥4,000
  • License issuance: ¥2,050
  • Driving lessons: ¥8,740/50mins

In total, I spent a bit less than ¥30,000 for the whole process, excluding commuting expenses.

Is my Malaysian Driving License still valid once I convert it to a Japanese one?

Yes. Both of these license are separate so you can still use your Malaysian driving license. (Although if you plan to convert in a different country, the Japanese one seems to be accepted in more countries...)

Do I still need to renew my Malaysian Driving License once I convert it to a Japanese one?

Yes, since both are considered separate licenses you'll need to manage them both at the same time.

Can I use my driver's license as my ID?

Unlike Malaysia, Japan does not have an official ID that everyone must carry around. Driver's License is the de facto official ID for Japanese people. For foreigners, you could still use your Japanese driver's license as your ID, but for most official businesses (eg. at the ward office) you would still need to show your residence card (regardless, you are still required to carry your residence card at all times as a foreigner).

Personally, I prefer to use my driver's license as my ID as it contains less information about myself.