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License Transfer Guide

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After arrival

If you have had a valid drivers license in your home country and an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from AAA, or similar organization, you will be able to drive in Japan. This is valid only one year from your date of arrival. You may not obtain one for your second year if you wish to continue driving. Your visa and dates of entry/exit will be evaluated in the event you encounter the police, so don’t risk driving without a valid license.


  • You must have been present in your home country for at least 3 months with your valid license to be eligible.
  • You must have had your license for a full year before you can be eligible.

Suggested Timeline for Obtaining a License

August – Arrival
December – Gather all of the necessary paperwork
January/February – Begin your practice lessons
March/April – Interview
April – Do written and eye tests; Take the first course test
April-June – Continue driving course tests
August – (Year 2) Expiration of IDP

Necessary Paperwork

  • License translation from the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF)
  • Current license and a color copy (front & back)
  • IDP and a color copy
  • Resident Card and a color copy (front & back)
  • Passport and color copies of the following:
    • Information Page
    • Visa
  • Two 3cm x 2.5cm photographs
  • Drivers record (most recent state/province)
  • Proof of residence
    • This is to prove you were present in your country for at least 3 months after receiving your license. Here is a list of possible items:
      • University enrollment verification (This can usually be obtained online for free)
      • Immigration Record
      • Pay stubs
      • Bills
      • Lease information from rental property or vehicle
  • Hanko

Step by Step License Transfer

On the road in Japan there are many more obstacles than in North America and some other countries. While some may complain about the fussy nature of the testers and the process, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Many are not used to bikers, mopeds, and other small vehicles on the road that are not bound by the same laws as cars and trucks. They can dart in and out of traffic and show up right next to you without you realizing.
  • In rural areas and cities the roads can be very small; pedestrians and other vehicles are present when you least expect them.
  • Even though the speed limit is “slow” it is still fast enough to kill someone.
  • A personal rant worth hearing:
I have been behind the wheel for more than 10 years and driven across the US multiple times. I’ve been in cities as large as New York in downtown Manhattan, to San Francisco’s Castro during Pride. I’ve driven the long straight roads through the deserts, over the Rocky Mountains, and many of the mid-sized cities of the Mid-West. I was still not prepared for what Japan had to throw at me when I started driving here.
Cycling frequently, I have had plenty of close calls and one accident. After being hit and going over my handlebars, a whole new experience behind the wheel began. The awareness you need to be a safe driver in Japan is probably more intense than in your home country. I appreciate how strict the process is because I don’t almost get run over on a weekly basis while cycling. So, before you complain about this process, understand that the officers at the testing center are not only trying to ensure the safety of drivers and numerous pedestrians, but also from you ruining your life in Japan. The penalties and fines that you receive from an accident will financially cripple you. Bear all of this in mind when you get discouraged during the process.


With all of the above information in mind, you must understand that there are very specific processes to checking your mirrors, making turns, and signaling. If you plan on going and taking the test without having practiced with an instructor, you aren’t going to pass (unless you have been struck by lightning or won the lottery recently... Then you could try). The center recommends practicing for at least 4 hours. This will get you acquainted with the 3 courses, only one of which you will drive for your test.

Get in touch with an instructor and schedule time with them. Some of them will be booked for a few weeks so make sure to get in your request well beforehand. Also be prepared to get up early...

  • Jocelino Makino (¥5000/hr) 090-1846-1966 or 090-7728-2128 for his wife who speaks English.
  • Sonoda 090-8848-7293
  • Tahara – 090-1553-2743 Popular choice. ¥6000 per hour and you must book 2 hours. Go with a friend. (Japanese Only)
  • Yamaguchi 090-1255-9003
  • Yoda 090-8816-7580

NOTE: If you have any recommendations or any of the above people are no longer active, please notify the YETI Team as soon as you can.

Step 2: License Translation

1. Fill out the Application for Translation

  • If you are from a state that issues stickers for address changes and your license is damaged or the ink has rubbed off take your driver’s record to confirm.

2. Get a color copy of your Residence Card and your Driver’s License (front & back). 3. Take everything, along with a ¥3000 processing fee, to the Japanese Automobile Federation:

JAF Yamanashi Headquarters
400-0854 730-1 Nakakogawara-cho
Kofu-shi Yamanashi
JAF 山梨支部

Alternatively you may submit this by post. More information to come.

The Driving License Division

After step 2, everything takes place here:

Yamanashi Prefectural Government Police Headquarters: Driving License Division
825 Shimotakasuna, Minami Alps, Yamanashi 400-0202
402-0202 南アルプス市下高砂825番地
Telephone: 055(285)0533

The easiest access is by car or bus from Kofu Station.

Step 3: Interview

After you have obtained your translation you are ready for your interview! You will need to take someone who is fluent in Japanese with you. Ask a friend, your employer, or a coworker. While it isn’t absolutely necessary it helps you to look legitimate and it will make the interview process easier and faster.

They workers will go over your submitted application materials:

  • License Translation
  • IDP
  • Passport, license, residence card, visa, and their copies
  • Driver’s record and other supporting materials
    • (See Necessary Paperwork)

You will be asked questions about these materials to confirm you aren’t lying. If you do not have all of them, don’t go! You will most likely fail if you do not have all of the required information. In addition they will be asking about your experience driving so they can confirm that you have had suitable training and experience to drive on Japanese roads. This will take anywhere from 30-60+ minutes.

Here are some questions that you should be prepared for:

  • How long have you been driving?
  • Where did you learn to drive?
  • When you practiced driving, who was it with?
  • What kind of car did you learn to drive in?
  • What color was it?
  • How much did the driving course cost?
  • Did you or your parents pay for it?
  • When did you receive your permit?
  • When did you receive your license?
  • How much did it cost to get your license?
  • How long did you go to driving school?
  • How long were the classes?
  • When you practiced, how long was the session?
  • When you practiced, was there a teacher in the car?
  • When you practiced, where did you practice? (course/open road)
  • Did you take a test to get your license?
  • How many questions was it?
  • How long did it take?
  • Did you pass? How many times did you take it?
  • How long is your license good for?
  • Have you been driving in Japan?
  • How long have you been driving in Japan?
  • Have you had any accidents in Japan or your home country?
  • Have you been pulled over by the police?
  • Do you have a motorcycle license?
  • When did you get your first passport?
  • How old were you when you received your first passport?
  • Where did you get your first passport?
  • When does it expire?
  • Where have you travelled overseas? How long and where?

“I don’t remember,” is an acceptable answer, so use it instead of lying.

Two points about the process:

1. There are many complaints about the interviewing process. Please, take a moment to consider how easy it is to get a fake identification card before you judge the officers at the testing center.

2. A motor vehicle is deadly machinery hence why this process is not taken lightly. They are trusting your word that your documents are real and you have experience, so bear with the interviewers and understand that they are trying to ensure that you are a viable candidate for a license transfer.

Step 4: Testing

Depending on the schedule, you may be able to do testing on the same day as your interview. For testing, it isn’t very necessary to have a translator. You may get by with very basic Japanese.


Your written exam will consist of 10 questions. You can take this exam in English. A binder containing the questions in Japanese and English will be handed to you with an answer sheet. The answer sheet will have the numbers of the questions you are supposed to answer.

Look at the corresponding questions and you will answer with ○ for True and × for False. The passing score is 70% and it will be graded on the spot.

Please use this website as a study guide.

Eye Exams

There are two eye exams that you will have to take. One will be for vision and the other will be for color.

Visual Acuity: This test involves a black circle with a portion removed. It is shaped like the capital letter C. The proctor will then ask you which part of the circle has been removed. For example, the one that appears as letter C will have the gap on the right side. The proper answer will be right/migi/みぎ/右. If you wear glasses you will be first asked to take them off and asked about a series. Then, again, you will repeat it with your glasses on.

Color Vision: This test involves looking at two lights, one situated above the other. They will light up blue(ao/あお/青), yellow(kiiro/きいろ/黄色), and red(aka/あか/赤). You will be asked what color one of the lights is, the top (ue/うえ/上) or the bottom (shita/した/下). After every answer they will change and you will be asked about 10 – 20 times.

NOTE: If you are colorblind this test will most likely cause an issue. You should notify the proctor if you are having trouble and they will take you back to the interview room and present you with color prints. You will then be asked if you know what color it is and what exactly it means.

  • The correct answers are as follows
    • Blue is okay to go
    • Yellow is stop
    • Red is stop

Driving: Practical Exam

If you are from a country that has a reciprocal agreement with Japan you will not have to take this test.

Countries that must take the practical driver’s test:

  • United States
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Philippines
  • If you live in another country that must please let the YETI Team know.

The practical test happens in 7 stages:

Stage 1: The testing period for foreigners begins around 2:00pm but you must arrive around 1:30. If there is a long wait you might not begin till 3:00, so be prepared.

If it is your first time the officer will hand you a form to fill out for testing. After you fill it out return it to the counter. It will be stamped and then you will have to pay the testing fee at the window to your left. It is about ¥2200.

Next you will proceed to the person sitting at the desk by the door and pay the course usage fee which is ¥1650. You will receive a small yellow receipt from the worker that will need to be presented to your proctor after the purchase. These fees will have to be paid every time you test.

Stage 2: You will be called up to the main counter to review your paperwork and sort out your testing order. The first person will select the course by randomly choosing a ball from the mystery box.

Stage 3: You all will go downstairs to the course and wait for your proctor. They will pull up and the first person will get in and the second will ride in the back with them. You will ride with the person before you and drive with the person after you.

Stage 4: Your turn! When it is time to take your practical test, you will present your grade sheet and the yellow receipt to the proctor. Then you will be told to start.

Stage 5: The first part of the test is a practice run through half the course and you will return to the original starting spot.

Stage 6: The second part is the actual test. You will drive the selected course (A, B, or C) and be graded. Take a look at the courses here.

Stage 7: You will return to the waiting room and wait for your results. They will again call you to the main counter where you will hear if you passed or not. Even if you pass the test, the officers will FIRST tell you what you did wrong, and then break the good/bad news to you. If you failed, you can reschedule right after the officer has finished talking to all of the test-takers. If you passed, you will be told to wait and then the officer will then give you a mini-orientation of what vehicles you can drive with your license and what other things you should expect as a new license holder. Afterwards, the officer will take you to the first floor.

  • NOTE: They will not directly show you your score sheet or tell your grade unless you ask.
    • Tips:
      • Completely stop at a stop sign and count 1-1,000; 2-1,000; 3-1,000 before even starting your checks.
      • When crossing an intersection the proper way to look is left, right, left. If you are from a country that drives on the right side, we are used to the opposite.
      • Keep an eye to your speed as best as you can, but don’t be over worried about it because that can also deduct points.
      • When checking your side mirrors before turning the proper order is rear view, side mirror, and then the blind spot in your windows. This way you know if anything is approaching and don’t miss it in your blind spot first.
      • Remain calm. If you seem to be frantically checking your mirrors the proctor will think that you are paying attention too much.
      • Say what you are doing as you are driving. This helps the proctor know what you are doing because they can’t always see where you are checking or what your limbs are doing.
      • Be polite and cool headed. It is easier for the proctor to remember someone who was rude or bitchy, so don’t make a reputation for yourself there.
      • Dress well. It shows respect for yourself and for the people working at the license center.

Step 5: After the Tests

Once you pass the tests, you will be able to go downstairs and get your license. You will first pay the licensure fee (about ¥1500) to the cashier. Then they will take some time to check out your paperwork at the counter to the left. After that is finished your picture will be taken and then you will wait for it to print. Once the license is printed they will call you up to the counter and give it to you and explain when it will expire and when you can renew.

お疲れ様!Take your new license and go celebrate!

...But not by drinking and driving... That is a big NO-NO.