International Driving Permit for Japan: Your Essential Guide

Thinking of driving in Japan or going street karting? Well, unfortunately, your national driver’s license won’t be enough. You will also need an International Driving Permit for Japan.

I’ve lived a considerable amount of time in Japan, including on its roads, in its rental car agencies (when taking domestic vacations ), and dealing with the joys of Japanese bureaucracy. In the process, I’ve also secured a Japanese driver’s licence.

In the forthcoming sections of this article, I’ll look at the need for an International Driving Permit in Japan and explain what it looks like, how it works and how to get one. 

For those of you looking to stay longer in Japan, I’ll also guide you through getting a Japanese driving licence. And to wrap things up, there’s a section dedicated to handy FAQs.

Now let’s ‘drive’ into it. Dad joke intended 🙂

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Car Rental in Japan - Use Coupon Code K49O12 to get a 1,000 Yen Discount
  • Easy comparison of multiple car rental provider options using ToCoo!
  • Use coupon code K49O12 to get your 1,000 yen discount
  • ToCoo! is a local Japanese car comparison site that has the most options available
  • Clear description of included protection and excess
  • Good cancellation options
  • Child seats, GPS, electronic toll cards, second driver and more are available as add-ons

Do I Need an International Driving Permit to Drive in Japan?

In this section, we’ll first set things straight: there’s no such thing as an ‘International Drivers Licence.’ Then, we’ll look into the history of the International Driving Permit and clarify which documents you’ll need to drive in Japan legally.

International Drivers License Japan

Though many people search for “International Drivers License Japan” online, such a document doesn’t exist. Instead, you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP). This document certifies you have a valid driver’s licence from your home country.

Beware of scams offering counterfeit documents marketed as ‘International Drivers Licences.’ For example, online sellers falsely claim to provide legitimate ‘international driving permits or licenses.’

These fake permits may advertise benefits like a digital format and a validity of 3 years. However, under the 1949 United Nations Convention on International Road Traffic, IDPs are never digital and are valid for 12 months. Using a fake ‘International Licence’ can lead to legal complications and wastes your money.

History of the International Driving Permit

An international convention created the International Driving Permit to help drivers travel internationally without licensing issues.  

There are three international conventions about IDPs (1926, 1949 and 1968), but if you’re interested in driving in Japan, focus on the 1949 Geneva Convention. Japan only recognises the IDP format from this Convention. 

Countries that the IDP is valid in - Extract from IDP
Countries that the IDP is valid in – Extract from IDP

Japan doesn’t accept IDPs from the 1968 convention. Using one might cause issues if you’re trying to rent a car, go street karting or if the police stop you.

What Documents Do You Need to Drive in Japan

Just showing your home country’s driver’s licence won’t be enough for Japanese police. If you only show your licence, you may as well be holding up a random piece of plastic with an embedded photo.

They’ll need to see your International Driving Permit (IDP) too. Always have your IDP (following the 1949 Geneva Convention format) and your home driver’s licence on hand when driving in Japan.

Motorcycle Policemen (Shirobai) on Expressway
Motorcycle Policemen (Shirobai) on Expressway

Understanding the International Driving Permit

The International Driving Permit (IDP) is not a standalone licence. It’s a document that complements the driver’s licence from your home country. It acts as a bridge, translating your original driving licence into a globally recognised format.

It translates your licence into nine languages, ensuring it can be understood in many countries worldwide, including Japan.

Japanese language section of the IDP
Japanese language section of the IDP

Japan requires most foreign drivers to have their home country’s licence and an IDP. There are some exceptions to this, which we’ll explain further on.

Appearance and Contents

An IDP resembles a passport-style booklet, primarily translating your native licence details into multiple languages. The front shows the date and place of issue and issuing authority. It contains your name, address, date of birth and address.

Front and back of an Australian International Driving Permit
Front and back of an International Driving Permit issued in Australia

It also displays your photo and signature and indicates what classifications of vehicles you can drive.

Vehicles for which the permit is valid - Extract from IDP
Vehicles categories – Extract from IDP
Vehicles for which this permit is valid for
Vehicles for which this particular IDP is valid for

This ensures that local officials can understand your driving qualifications, whether you’re in Japan or another participating country.

Validity of the International Driving Permit

An International Driving Permit is valid for one year from its issue date. For example, in the image three above, the IDP is valid for one year from 23 March 2023.

Also, your driver’s licence can not expire during your trip to Japan. If the driver’s licence has a shorter duration than the IDP, the shortest time is the one that applies. 

Exceptions to the International Driving Permit

Not all countries require an IDP to drive in Japan. Citizens of Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, and Taiwan can legally drive in Japan using the Japanese translation of their native licence. 

Another exception is US armed forces personnel, who can obtain a special licence recognised in Japan. The licence is known as USFJ Form 4EJ. The USFJ Form 4EJ is the only driver’s licence valid for use in Japan by US Forces personnel operating privately owned or “SOFA Registered” vehicles.

Difference Between the IDP and International Licences

No “International Driving Licence Japan” exists. The International Driving Permit serves as a universal translation of your native licence. For Japan, aside from the exceptions mentioned, the combination of an IDP and your original licence is required for legal driving.

Limitations of the IDP

The IDP is a translation tool, not a licence in its own right. You must present your IDP and original driver’s licence in Japan when asked.

Extract from IDP explaining it's for translation purposes only
Extract from IDP explaining it’s for translation purposes only

Obtaining an International Driving Permit for Japan

Only appointed authorities can issue an International Driving Permit. While they are different between different countries, they must be recognised by the government. It won’t be valid if you try to get an IDP from a business that is not the appointed authority.

To apply for an International Driving Permit, you must go to the relevant local authority in your country issuing the IDP and provide the required documentation. The documentation usually required is a photo, the application form, a copy of your driver’s licence, and the application fee. 

Where can I get an International Driving Permit that I can use in Japan?

Since the International Driving Permit is issued by the national authorities of the countries that are part of the UN Geneva Treaty of 1949, the procedure differs in each country. 

The authorities issuing driver’s licences (such as the police or other organisations that handle driver’s licences, like the Department of Motor Vehicles in the USA) will know where you should go to get an International Driving Permit. 

For your country, the local automobile club or the authority issuing your driver’s licence is the best starting point. 

In some countries, IDP can be issued in different formats (according to the 1949 Geneva Convention or according to the 1968 Vienna Convention). 

Some countries may issue IDPs in entirely different formats, so you must ensure that the IDP you receive is based on the 1949 Convention. 

Here are instructions for some common visitor nations to Japan. 

United States of America

In the US, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is the only organisation allowed to issue International Driving Permits. You can apply for it in person or by email.

You must complete an IDP application and provide your current US driver’s licence (or photocopy of both sides if applying by mail) and two passport-sized photos. You then need to pay a fee of US$ 20.

Read more at AAA International Driving Permits.

Australia 

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) issues the International Driving Permit in Australia. The AAA is the peak organisation representing Australia’s motoring clubs, such as the NRMA, RACV, RACQ, etc.

You can apply online or in one of the motoring club offices. You must bring or provide the same things as everywhere else: A passport-sized photo, application form, driver’s licence (or a copy if you apply via mail), and the application fee of AU$ 49 (plus postage). 

Read more at the Australian Automobile Association International Driving Permits.

United Kingdom

You apply for your International Driving Permit at the post office in the United Kingdom. 

You must show a valid Great Britain (GB) or Northern Ireland driving licence to get an IDP. You may also get an IDP if your driving licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, or the Isle of Man.

In addition to your driving licence, you must have a standard passport photograph and valid passport as proof of identification (if presenting an older paper version of your driving licence). 

Then you need to pay the £5.50 application fee and wait for the International Driving Permit to arrive (in the mail). You can also get it directly over the counter.

Read more at Post Office UK International Driving Permit.

Canada

The Canadian Automobile Association is responsible for issuing International Driving Permits in Canada. You can apply at one of their offices in person or via mail. The fee is 30 CAD. 

Read more at International Driving Permit – CAA National.

Singapore

In Singapore, you go to the Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS), which issues IDP. You can apply for the International driving permit online or in person at their offices. 

You must show your current driver’s licence and identity card and provide a clear passport-sized photograph. The AAS can take the photo if you apply for the IDP at an AAS office. You must complete an application form and pay the 20 SGD fee. 

Read more at AAS IDP Carnet.

Other Countries

If you’re from a country I didn’t mention above, use the search bar on the International Driving Permit website to find out the process for your country.

I tested out the search bar for a wide range of countries, and overall, it works well, but for a small number of countries, it doesn’t direct correctly.

Mt Fuji from Tomei Expressway
Mt Fuji from Tomei Expressway

Translated Licences Required for Specific Countries.

If you have a driver’s licence from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, or Taiwan, you can’t use an International Driving Permit to drive in Japan. People from these countries can’t use an IDP because your countries aren’t signatories to the 1949 Geneva Convention

This means that you need to get an authorised translation of your licence. 

Once you have the Japanese translation of your licence (from an approved entity), you must carry it with your home country licence to drive in Japan. 

Here’s how to get a Japanese translation. The primary approved entities for license translation are:

  • The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF)
  • The license issuing authority or the embassy or consulate of the issuing country in Japan. For example, the German Embassy in Japan.
  • Taiwan-Japan Relations Association for Taiwanese license
  • Another possibility for people with a German licence is to use a translation service through the ADAC. More on this later.

Here’s some more information for each of these translation options.

Japan Automobile Federation

The Japan Automobile Federation provides a translation service that offers official translation. 

You have to apply through the online service of the Japan Automobile Federation to get your licence translated. You can only use the translation service once you are in Japan. You can’t apply from another country. However, you can ask a proxy who is in Japan to act on your behalf. 

When applying, you must provide image data of the front and back of your valid foreign driver’s license. You can only pay with a credit card. Debit cards and prepaid cards can’t be used.

You can also apply by mail but not from overseas, or you can contact the nearest JAF branch office.

The translation costs 4000 yen and takes about two weeks. You will be sent a print number/reference number once the translation is complete. 

You must then print it out at a 7-11 convenience store. You print the licence translation through a multi-copy machine at 7-11. Select print, then netprint. After that, you enter the reference number and pay 20 yen per page for printing your translation.

The downside with this option is that you can only use this service when in Japan, and it takes one to two weeks. If you only visit Japan briefly but want to drive, using the JAF translation service may not meet your needs. However, if you have a contact in Japan, they could arrange the translation before you arrive.

License Issuing Authority or Your Embassy/Consulate in Japan

Some embassies and consulates in Japan may offer a translation service. If you are considering this option, check with your local embassy or consulate in Japan.

However, even if they offer this service, it may be cheaper and simpler to apply through the JAF.

Japan-Taiwan Relations Association

Taiwan has no embassy, so you must go to the Japan-Taiwan Relations Association if you’re from Taiwan. As with trying to use an embassy or consulate, it may be easier and cheaper to apply through the JAF.

The German Automobile Federation (ADAC)

If you hold a German licence, getting it translated through the ADAC may be possible. They offer a translation service. Also, a document from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department indicates that the ADAC is an authority allowed to translate a licence. 

However, the JAF webpage on valid licences doesn’t mention them as an entity that can translate a driver’s licence. Do further research before using this option for a translation.

Validity of Translated Licences

The translation remains valid until the translated driver’s license expires or there are changes or renewals to the translated license’s information.

Converting to a Japanese Licence for Long-Term Stays in Japan 

If you plan to stay in Japan for a longer time, you will eventually need to convert your national driver’s licence to a Japanese driver’s licence (called a ‘Gaimen Kirikae’.) 

I’ve provided a detailed overview for getting a Japanese licence. You can find further information in this document from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

Conditions

To do this, you must be able to meet the following conditions:

  • The foreign driver’s license must be valid. For example, an expired licence can’t be transferred.
  • Prove that you stayed in the issuing country for at least three months in total after obtaining the licence.

Translated Licence

If you meet these conditions, you must first get your licence translated. You can use any method mentioned in the previous section, even if you aren’t from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Monaco, or Taiwan.

Go to a Driver’s Licence Centre with the Required Documents

Once your licence is translated, you must go to the Driver’s Licence Centre of your area’s prefectural police department. For example, here are the Licence Centres in Tokyo. You have to make the application yourself, and you can’t make a reservation for an appointment.

To make things easier, you should bring an interpreter if you can’t speak Japanese.

Here are the documents you need to take to the Licence Centre to transfer your licence:

  • Valid foreign driver’s licence.
  • The Japanese translation of your foreign licence.
  • An official copy of your Certificate of Residence (Jumin-hyo) indicating your registered domicile (Honseki).
  • Passport or other official ID.
  • Document, ID, etc., that proves you have stayed in the licence-issuing country for a total of three months or more since you obtained your license. This could be your passport. 
  • An application form.
  • Your photograph (3cm x 2.4 cm) for the application form.
  • There may be further documents depending on your home country or licence status.

If you are from one of the countries exempt from taking the knowledge test and driving skills test (see the section below), you may receive your Japanese license on the day of your application. 

Tests You Must Take

In addition to providing these documents, you must take and pass a knowledge test, a driving skills test, and an aptitude test (which consists of testing your vision, colour vision, hearing, and motor skills). 

You have to make an appointment in advance for the driving skills test, and can’t take the test on the day you apply.

The good news for drivers who obtained their licenses in the following 29 countries/regions is that you are exempt from the knowledge test and driving skills test: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, The United States of America (States of Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Washington only), and Taiwan.

In addition, if you’re from the State of Indiana in the USA, you will need to do the knowledge test, but you are not required to take a driving skills test.

Fees and Charges

The application is 2550 yen for an ordinary motor vehicle licence. The issuance fee is 2050 yen.

How to Rent a Vehicle using the IDP or Translated Licence

When renting a car in Japan, you must provide four things: Your reservation, your credit card (not a debit card), your national driver’s licence, and your International Driving Permit (IDP). 

As stated earlier in the article, the IDP must be issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention to ensure the correct format for Japan. IDPs issued under the 1926 or 1968 Conventions are not valid in Japan.

Directional traffic lights in Japan
Directional traffic lights in Japan

How to Go Street Karting in Japan using the IDP or Translated Licence

When going street karting in Japan, you must provide your tour booking, your national driver’s licence and your International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP must be issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention to ensure the correct format for Japan. IDPs issued under the 1926 or 1968 Conventions are not valid in Japan.

Check out Tokyo street karting tour options in the below table. You can also check out our detailed article on street karting in Akihabara to learn more about the experience.

Akihabara Street Kart Tour Experience
From $US 57

Akihabara Street Kart Tour Experience

  • Drive a go-kart though Akihabara and central Tokyo while dressed in a costume
  • One or Two Hour Guided Tour Options
  • Your guide will take photos to share later.
Shibuya Street Kart Tour
From $US 96

Shibuya Street Kart Tour

  • One Hour Small Group Tour
  • Drive a go-kart though the Shibuya Crossing while dressed in a costume.
  • Your guide will take photos to share later.
Asakusa Street Kart Tour
From $US 96

Asakusa Street Kart Tour

  • One Hour Small Group Tour
  • Drive a go-kart though Asakusa, near the Tokyo Skytree and northern Tokyo while dressed in a costume.
  • Multiple tour provider options
  • Your guide will take photos to share later.
Shinagawa Street Kart Tour
From $US 136

Shinagawa Street Kart Tour

  • 2-3 Hour Small Group Tour
  • Drive a go-kart though Rainbow Bridge, past Tokyo Tower, Roppongi and Shibuya Crossing while dressed in a costume.
  • Your guide will take photos to share later.
Odaiba Street Kart Tour
From $US 118

Odaiba Street Kart Tour

  • One Hour Small Group Tour
  • Drive a go-kart though Tokyo Bay, over Rainbow Bridge and past Tokyo Tower while dressed in a costume.
  • Your guide will take photos to share later.

Consequences of Not Having the Right Documents

You cannot drive in Japan or go street karting without a valid driver’s licence and IDP (or translation of your driver’s licence if applicable).

If you don’t have the correct official documents and manage to borrow a car (renting won’t be possible), the consequences for yourself and those who lent you the car can be very unpleasant.

Final Thoughts

To be able to drive in Japan, you need a valid driver’s licence. If that is not a Japanese licence, you need a way to prove that your licence is valid. 

That way is the International Driving Permit. 

It is easy to get an IDP in most countries. You do not have to take any training or pass any tests. Just apply and pay the fee, and you can prove that your driving licence is valid in Japan.

Frequently Asked Questions about International Driving Permits for Japan

Car Rental in Japan - Use Coupon Code K49O12 to get a 1,000 Yen Discount
  • Easy comparison of multiple car rental provider options using ToCoo!
  • Use coupon code K49O12 to get your 1,000 yen discount
  • ToCoo! is a local Japanese car comparison site that has the most options available
  • Clear description of included protection and excess
  • Good cancellation options
  • Child seats, GPS, electronic toll cards, second driver and more are available as add-ons
International Driving Permit for Japan - Pinterest Image
International Driving Permit for Japan – Pinterest Image

You may also like:

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group or Discord Server

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.