Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting a Japanese License: Foreign License Conversion

If you used to drive in your home country, you may be eligible to "convert" your license into a Japanese driver's license using a process called 外国免許切替 (gaikoku menkyo kirikae), often abbreviated to 外免切替. There are a lot of good guides about this online, which we highly recommend you check out.

But in addition to linking these resources, we've compiled our own bullet points and special tips regarding the 外免切替 process. To start off, here are some common questions and answers about the 外免切替 process:

  • First of all, you need a driver's license issued by another country to complete this process. If you don't already have a driver's license in some country, you have to get your license the same way Japanese people do.
  • Second, you must have lived in the country that issued your driver's license for at least 90 full days since the license was issued. This is to prevent Japanese people from getting a foreign license while on vacation, then returning to Japan and converting it.
  • If you have had your license for at least 90 days, but actually have very little driving experience, you are still eligible to convert it. However, without driving experience, you may find it hard to pass the Japanese driving test if you are required to take it.
  • Japan accepts 外免切替 applications for licenses from most countries around the world. But, licenses written in Arabic or Russian, or licenses issued by some countries, including the Republic of Korea, Kingdom of Thailand, or Union of Myanmar may be required to submit extra supporting documentation during the process.
General FAQ
  • Although this process is called "Foreign License Conversion" in Japanese, it doesn't require you to surrender the license issued in your home country. You won't lose your old license, and this process has nothing to do with your continued ability to drive at home.
  • The 外免切替 process is handled by your regional driver's licensing authority. Be careful! This part is confusing at first. Check out a list of prefectural driving centers to find yours; it may be as much as three hours away from you by bus or train. But, licensing centers able to handle foreign license conversion are strictly regulated by the government. The JAF and your local police station can not convert your license!
  • Yes, this process is necessary if you've lived in Japan more than one consecutive year.You can't indefinitely use an International Driving Permit in Japan.
  • It might take you a while to get your license because of waiting lists or failed tests. So, don't wait until a few weeks before you'll need it. Start with at least two or three months in advance.
  • Depending on the nationality of the license you're trying to convert, you may have to take a theory test and a driving test in Japan, or you may only have to take the theory test. The driving test is what most people are complaining about when they say it's tough to get a license in Japan.
Ready to go?
  • If you've checked out the information on this page and are ready to go, check out the "Steps to Converting a Foreign License" post in our AccessJ Driving Guide.

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