Day to Day Life, Useful Information

Guide to Japanese License Exchange

Ever since coming to Japan I have been thinking about exchanging my Canadian license for a Japanese one. There are several practical reasons for this. The main one being that as a resident of Japan, I cannot drive without one. I don’t need to drive in Tokyo but there are a lot of places in Japan that aren’t practical to visit without a car. A less important reason is that I am not a Canadian resident anymore – I can’t renew my Canadian license when it expires. Hence the need for a new license.

I finally went to get my license this week, in the middle of a nine day holiday. What a great chance! Expect for I have a nine day holiday because it’s Obon – a period every August where the deceased are said to come back to visit their families. The Licensing Center was so crowded. I had to wait for eight hours…but I have a Japanese license now! So, I thought I would take the time to explain the process to anyone else that wants a Japanese license. I didn’t take any pictures though, so please bear with me.

What Do You Need?

There are several places to find this list, but I will also write it here for the sake of simplicity. As well, the rules change depending on your country of origin. Canada is included in a group of around 30 countries that there is an exemption in place. Meaning you do not have to take a written test or practical test to switch to a Japanese license. This list is meant specifically for Canadians but could be helpful for those from other exempt regions as well. Here is what I needed to take to the Licensing Center:

  • A valid foreign driver’s license
  • Translation of the license (done by the J.A.F or your embassy)
  • Proof of residency where you were licensed (usually old passports)
  • A copy of your juminhyo showing your nationality
  • One photo (3×2.4cm), plus extras if you apply for more than one class
  • Japanese driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Passport or other official I.D.
  • Fee of ¥4,600 for an ordinary motor vehicle license

Proving Residency

It’s not a long list but it is very important to properly prepare all of the forms. Arguably the most important being proof of residence. I believe my passport was enough for this but that isn’t always the case. If your passport cannot prove your residency, you must prepare other documents. Tax receipts, utility bills, and pay slips appear to work well for this. I’ve also heard that university transcripts also work. I brought some tax documents with me just in case. There is nothing worse than waiting for hours and being rejected.

Proof of Licensing

Also important to note that you will need some kind of driving record if your license as previously expired – usually a driver abstract. I had to do this too. In Nova Scotia, they collect your old card when you renew. That being said, the driver abstract has a lot of information you don’t need. In Nova Scotia, you can also apply for a Certified Letter. This letter only includes the information you request – namely license issuance information. You have to print a PDF application and mail it in, so plan for that if it’s something that you need. I had to do this. The Certified Letter is also cheaper (only $13.20!) and I believe it came in registered mail. This is also going to help make sure you don’t get designated as a new driver in Japan!

The Process

Exchanging your license is actually a fairly simple process – it can just be extremely long. If you are a resident of Tokyo, there are three different Licensing Center’s to choose from. You can go to Fuchu Driver’s License Center, Samezu, or Koto. They all accept applications from 8:30AM – 11:00AM and 1:00PM – 3:00PM. According to the staff at Samezu, going to Koto is faster because they only process explanations from exempt countries. I would just go to whichever is the closest to your house since you have to go early in the morning either way. If you go in the afternoon you will likely need to make a second trip. I arrived at 7:45AM and left at around 4PM. At least the Samezu Driver’s License Center as a cafeteria open for lunch! The flow goes something like this:

  • Get in line for Foreign License Exchange (外国免許の切替). They check your license and residence card and give you an application.
  • Fill out the application. Wait to be called up again.
  • Hand in documents for inspection. The counter staff makes sure you have everything. If you CANNOT speak Japanese, bring a translator with you. You will need to explain certain documents.
  • Then you wait. Forever.
  • Number is called and they tell you if you passed inspection or not. I passed but I am confident that they will tell you why if you don’t.
  • Pay fee and go get eyes tested. If you can’t pass, you don’t get a refund.
  • Get in the Foreign License Exchange Line when finished.
  • Make passwords for your license at machine. Do not lose the slip they are printed on or throw it away.
  • Wait more. Go get your picture taken.
  • Wait for license will all other people. This can take awhile. It includes Japanese renewals too.
  • Go home.

Final Thoughts

Getting your license can be extremely beneficial to life in Japan. There are many jobs that require you to have a license. There’s also the benefit of having government I.D. that is not your resident card. You can also go on even more vacations if you have a Japanese license! I haven’t driven in probably six years but I’m pretty excited to have a new license. Of course, I don’t plan on driving anywhere in Tokyo and I am going to have to learn how to drive on the other side of the road…but it will certainly be a great adventure! Looking forward to it!

If you have any questions or need clarification, please comment below. I’d love to help you out and will reply as soon as I can!





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