Preparing the Required Documents for your Driver’s License Test
In most places, the Driver’s License testing process is a two-day affair, on top of the time that you need to get all of your documents in order in advance. If you work a regular 9-5 (+overtime, since this is Japan) job, plan in advance to miss at least two days through the application process. You should be able to prepare most of your documents on the weekend or outside of work hours.
One other point of caution: You are very unlikely to encounter English-speaking staff at any stage of the paperwork, practice, or testing phases of the license application, so if you are not confident in speaking Japanese, this would also be a good time to arrange for a Japanese-speaking friend to help you. I will note the areas below and in subsequent articles where a Japanese speaker will be required.
List of Required Documents
When you call the license center to make a reservation, they will likely give you a list over the phone of required documents, but those instructions are going to be in Japanese, and some of these documents may require some time to prepare, so I will list them below:
- Valid foreign license from your home country.
Make sure it has not expired! Additionally, if you have renewed your license several times over your driving career and still have the old licenses, plan to bring those, as well, just in case (you do not need translations of them).
- Japanese translation of your license. Must be performed by JAF.
JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) is everywhere. Google JAF and your city name, and you’re sure to find an office. They have translation templates for most countries’ licenses, so even if they cannot speak English, they can translate your license. Japanese speaker required: you can call and make a reservation for your translation, or just walk in. I made a reservation and they completed my translation in about half an hour.
- Certificate of Residence Registration. (住民票, juminhyo)
Important: This is a change from our original guide. You used to be able to show up with just your Alien Registration Card, but since the new Residence Cards don’t contain all the information that the ARC used to, you will need a paper juminhyo issued by your city hall or branch office.
Your passport will be used both for ID and to make sure that you spent at least 3 months in the country where you earned your license after earning it. This is to prevent people from going on vacation and picking up a license there in order to circumvent Japan’s horrendous and expensive driver’s licensing process. If you have renewed your passport since arriving in Japan, bring both the old and new one!
- Photo: 3 cm high by 2.4 cm wide, ID style.
If you can’t get this exact size from a photo booth, trim it down before going to the license center.
Note: This photo will not actually be used on your license, they will take another one at the testing facility for that.
- Additional documents:
You must prove that you spent at least three months in your home country after initially earning your license. Normally, your passport and license are enough to show this, but if you have renewed either one recently, you may need additional documentation. For example, I had not spent three months in the US since renewing my license, so I had to bring my License History document from the RMV to prove that I had originally earned my license 10 years earlier. Applying for that document and waiting for it to reach Japan took several weeks.
Chinese nationals will also need their national ID card.
- I recommend a good book as well, since you’ll have a lot of time to kill over your two days at the license center. And have a snack or bento, too.
- Cash: Refer to your prefecture’s licensing site for the current rates. The document review fee in Kyoto was ¥2200 as of the time of this posting. (Plus ¥1550 for testing and ¥2050 for license issuance.)
Important: You will not get any of these documents back, and you should never trust the bureaucracy to not lose your paperwork. So, be sure to make a copy of everything important before going to the license center. (You will, of course, get your license and passport back).
Please also double-check the requirements on your prefecture’s License Center website. If your prefecture does not have an English page, you can refer to the Kyoto License Center website for an example.
Making your Reservation
Japanese speaker required: Day One of the license testing process is by reservation, only, and consists of the document review and written knowledge test. In Kyoto, at least, you have to call on a weekday between 4-5 pm to make your reservation (075-631-5181 ex. 414), but please refer to your prefecture’s license center for specific details. I have never heard of a day being “full”, but if you run in to that situation, please leave a comment and I will amend the guide!
The Center should explain to you the list of required documents again, so please listen carefully and make sure that they have no unique requirements.
Getting to the License Center (Kyoto Only):
I have never seen or heard of a Driver’s License Center in Japan that wasn’t in some heinously inconvenient place and nearly impossible to access if you didn’t already have a license and car. If you’re driving on an international license, more power to you. If you’re in Kyoto and need to get to the License Center by public transportation, here’s how to do it (please note that bus and train schedules are subject to change, so plan to arrive early. That’s why you brought a book, right?):
From Kyoto station, take the Karasuma subway line (convenient) or the Kintetsu line (cheap) to Takeda Station (竹田駅). Any number 2 bus from this station (South 2 or South Special 2) will take you towards the License Center. However, the 特南2号線 buses do not stop at the License Center, itself. You will have to get out at Hizume-guchi (樋爪口) and walk about five minutes.
From the Hizume-guchi bus stop, go in the direction of the bus’ travel until the T intersection. Turn left, then immediately right. Following this road, you will pass another bus stop, where the 2 bus does not stop, then follow the left fork rather than crossing the drainage canal.