One thing I wanted to do for the longest time was to switch my Czech driving license for a Japanese one. The only thing preventing me from doing so was my enormous laziness and not being completely sure what is required.

Well, nearly losing my wallet earlier this week (in which my Czech driving license resides) scared me enough to finally overcome the laziness and find out how to undergo the entire process.

What you’ll need

  • Driving license (duh 🤪)
  • Driving license Japanese translation
  • Passport
  • Residence card or マイナンバーカード card with an IC chip (not just the notification card)
  • Residence registration
  • Photo

Step 1: driving license translation

First things first, let’s start with the driving license translation (or at least that’s how I started, so you have no option but to follow my footprints 👣). You have two options here, the translation can either be provided by your embassy or by JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). I recommend going the JAF route as it’s quick, cheap and you can bet that their opening hours beat any embassy’s opening hours. Furthermore, JAF has offices all around Japan, which surely isn’t the case for your country’s embassy.

Start by looking up your nearest JAF office (in the case of Tokyo, it’s 東京都港区芝2丁目2−17) and visit them while grabbing your driving license, filled in application and ¥3000. If you want, you can also fill the application directly in the JAF office, of course; furthermore, if your driving license is written in non-latin letters, you may be required to present your residence card.

Depending on the JAF office size, congestion and a current star alignment, your translation will be either done in ~2 hours 🎉 or next work day. Pick up your translation when it’s ready and move to the next step!

Step 2: residence registration

No, this is not the same thing as your residence card, but you probably know that already because you needed to show this document to your employer. Visit your local city ward office (or service counter) – you can find its location by searching for “yourCityName 市役所” (city hall) or “yourCityName 住民票” (Jūmin-hyō, that’s the name of the document you want). Don’t forget to bring your residence card and ¥300 fee. Tell the clerk that you want Jūmin-hyō for the purpose of obtaining a driving license, fill in a short form, wait a few minutes and you’re done.

Alternatively, if you were not lazy like me and applied for a マイナンバーカード when you received the paper (notification) version of マイナンバー, you can visit any convenience store and print the 住民票 yourself.

Step 3: photo

You’re nearly there! The last piece of paper you’re going to need will have your face plastered all over it – of course, I’m talking about the passport photo. The easiest way to obtain it is to find a Ki-re-i booth, they’re frequently located around train stations and you can search for the nearest booth online 📸. The photo dimensions should be 30×24 mm. And if you still don’t have マイナンバーカード with an IC chip, you can apparently apply straight from some of the booths.

Step 4: Japanese driving license!

Visit your local Driving License Center (unfortunately, I don’t think these are open on weekends) and apply for a license switch! It’s recommended to bring someone who can speak well Japanese with you, but I’ll be attempting to undergo this step on my own next week, wish me luck! 🤞 I managed to do it with my limited communication skills so perhaps you can as well.

Of course, you’re going to need a plethora of items with you: original driving license, translated driving license from step 1, passport (to verify the “3 month condition”, see below), residency registration from step 2, residency card, photo from step 3 (this is required even though they will take another photo of you at the License Center – any sort of logic escapes me here) and money to pay an application fee (¥2550 for a car license, ¥1500 for moped license, ¥2050 for an issuance fee, ¥200 for listing multiple vehicle types on one license – I ended up paying ¥4600, likely a combination of ¥2550 + ¥2050).

At this point, our steps will diverge based on which country issued your original driving license, because some licenses holders are exempt from taking written & driving examination. See “caveat 2” below for more information.

A word of warning: be prepared to wait. A lot. In fact, take a half-day off if you can. The license exchange counter at Samezu Driving License Center opens at 8:30 but the building itself can be entered at 8:00, so arriving shortly before that pays off as you can be the first person in the queue at the counter. I’m not sure if the process differs by Driving License Centers, but for me, it looked roughly like this:

  • Wait ~30 minutes for the exchange counter to open
  • Have the worker check the presence of all required documents for 2 minutes (I already had my exchange request form filled in, otherwise I’d be asked to fill it in while waiting)
  • Wait for 30-120 minutes (depending on the amount of people ahead of you – that’s why I strongly recommend arriving early in the morning)
  • Give another worker all of your documents for the real check (not joking)
  • Wait for 60-90 minutes while your documents are thoroughly examined
  • Pay for the license issuance
  • Go to a different counter to undergo an eye test (~10 minutes)
  • Then return back to the original counter, only to be told to wait until called again (40 minutes)
  • After being called, you are told that you’re now eligible to go to yet another counter (yey) where they’ll take a photograph of you
  • Get a photo (~10 minutes)
  • Go to yet another counter to wait for final license issuance (60+ minutes)

All in all, prepare to spend at least five hours by doing nothing but waiting ☠️

Caveat 1: the “3-month condition”

You must be able to prove that you stayed in your home country for 3 months after obtaining your license – typically by showing your passport, or if your passport can’t clearly indicate this, then by having your country’s embassy verify this condition.

This condition originally scared me because while I originally got my license in 11/2013, I had my license renewed in 2/2018 just before coming to Japan in 4/2018, and I was not sure which date is used for counting the three months. Fortunately, it’s the date of first receiving your license, provided your licenses shows this date clearly. As far as I know, all licenses list the original dates on the back.

Caveat 2: which country do you come from?

Depending on your country of origin (country of issuance ❓), you might have to take a written test (proving your knowledge of traffic rules) and a driving test – or you might be exempted of taking these tests, and simply required to undergo an eyesight test. Currently (January 2019), owners of driving licenses originating from the following countries and states are exempted from taking the two tests:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Kingdom of Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, USA (Hawaii, Maryland and Washington only), Taiwan

Slovaks, learn to drive properly and you might be exempted in the future as well 🤣

Well, that’s about it! Were you able to switch your driving license as well? Let me know in the comments!