In order to drive while living in Japan, you will need to have either an International Driver’s Permit, or a Japanese driving license.
International Drivers Permits
Most foreign people new to Miyazaki will already have driver’s licenses from their home countries when they set foot in Japan. Mostly, these are not valid unless paired with an International Drivers Permit (IDP). You will need an IDP to drive a motor vehicle in Miyazaki; if you didn’t bring one with you, get one as soon as possible, otherwise you will have to go the extra mile – literally – and get a Japanese driver’s license. Not easy. The IDP is not a substitute for a license; you must carry your valid home country’s driver’s license in addition to the permit whenever you are driving.
NOTE: By agreement, an International Driver’s Permit is valid for approximately twelve months from the date of issue, not the date you entered the country.
Ways to get a Japanese license
If you want to keep driving after your IDP expires (i.e. if you plan to stay in Japan for more than a year), you will need to get a Japanese driving license. If you win the nationality lottery (see below), you only have to fill out some forms and pay a fee to ‘exchange’ your license for a Japanese one. If you did not win the nationality lottery, you will have to take the written and practical driving tests to get one.
‘Exchanging’ your license
If you hold a driver’s license in your home country then it is possible to convert a current foreign license to a Japanese one. If you are a citizen of one of the following countries or US states, then this process is relatively simple:
Europe: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The United States: Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington State
Elsewhere: Australia, Canada, Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan.
Taking the Condensed Driving Exam
If your home country is not one of those listed above, you must pass the eye-test, a 10-question multiple choice test, and take a condensed test for a Japanese driver’s license. We say condensed because you only need to memorize two fairly straightforward driving routes, instead of the required 20+ maps that the full Japanese license requires.
For more details about taking the driving exam, please visit our page here.
‘Exchanging’ a SOFA sponsored license
If you hold a driver’s license granted through the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Japan (aka a military-sponsored driving license), it is possible to exchange it for a Japanese driver’s license. This is not a process the Miyazaki License Center is very familiar with, so they will most likely be very confused when you ask, but it can be done. Just keep asking about it. You will still need to process the required paperwork and take a vision test as anyone else would, but will not be required to take a written or practical test (which means you don’t need to worry about taking driving lessons!).
Processing your license
Now that you know your options, you can make your appointment! License Centers can process licenses for foreigners on Mondays through Thursdays, 1:00PM to 4:00PM. There are three Drivers License Centers in Miyazaki Prefecture: Miyazaki City (map), Miyakonojyo (map), and Nobeoka (map). If you are only exchanging your license, you can go to any center. However, if you are taking the driving exam, you can only apply at the Miyazaki City center.
* As of 2017, Miyazaki is enforcing a rule that those who hold an IDP can’t schedule the license transfer paperwork appointment until one month before their IDP expires. Prefectural ALTs should also bring a JTE with them for the appointment. This does not count as nenkyuu for the JTE.
On the day of your appointment, be sure to bring along:
- Residence Card (zairyuu card)
- a certificate of residence registration, obtained within the last six months (obtainable at City Halls)
- Valid foreign driver’s license – you must have had this license for at least three months before coming to Japan. You will need to prove when the license was issued. This means either bringing an old license (if possible), or a letter from your local DMV stating when your were first granted a license.
- Translation of foreign driver’s license – you can get this at the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), who have an office in Miyazaki City (map). The Miyazaki office is only a service counter; they do not perform the translations same-day. Your documents will be sent to the office in Fukuoka and then sent back when they are completed, so please plan accordingly. Alternatively, you can send the documents directly to Fukuoka and save yourself a trip to Miyazaki City. The translation process can take anywhere from a couple days to a week or so. If you have any other auto-related needs, the JAF website is very convenient, and also in English.
- Two photographs – 3 x 2.4 cm, taken within the last 6 months
- a small processing fee (usually under 3000 yen)
The license center will give you some paperwork to fill out and then ask you to return between Monday and Friday between 8:30AM and 9:00AM, in order to administer any applicable tests and issue your license.