Once you have re-contracted for a second year, one of the most important things that you must do is change your existing driver’s license over to a Japanese license. You MUST change over your license BEFORE your International Driver’s Permit (IDP) expires. Japan immigration law permits an IDP valid for 1 year upon entrance into Japan. After one year, you must be out of the country for three months in order to obtain another valid IDP. *Outer Islanders (including Miyako and Ishigaki/Yaeyama): You must make arrangements to come to Naha to apply for a Japanese license but you will have special privileges that will allow you to finish the process in one day.
The Okinawa Driver’s License Center follows a national regulation regarding changing an international license to a Japanese license. Applicants are not allowed to begin the process until the last month before their International Driver’s Permit (IDP) expires. This is a national law for foreign license applicants and is not within the power of the JET Programme or CLAIR to bypass these procedures. However the process does not require any information regarding your IDP.
Also note that driving is NOT a requirement of the ALT position and therefore all costs and procedures required to obtain a Japanese license is the responsibility of the JET.
Step 1: Translating Your Original License
The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) will translate your license into Japanese. You can either go in person to the office branch in Urasoe City or you can ask for the translation by mail. Please note that if your Driver’s License was issued in Arabic or Russian, or issued from certain countries including the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Thailand, or the Union of Myanmar, you will also need to bring your Alien Registration Card (or send a clear photocopy of both sides of your card). It will take two to three weeks for translation of License issued from these countries.
Open 9am – 5:30pm, Mon – Fri
(1) By Mail (takes roughly 1 week) – Send by registered mail (現金書留 genkin kakitome) the following to the JAF Branch:
- Application form – can be downloaded from the JAF website
- Photocopies of the FRONT and BACK of your Original Driver’s Licence, with the issue date clearly noted
- 3,380 yen (3,000 yen application fee + 380 yen for return postage) Sending by registered mail will allow you to pay this fee at the time of sending.
(2) In Person (translation takes about 1 hour) – Go to the JAF Office Branch in Urasoe City with the following:
Original Driver’s License
If Necessary, your driver’s record
3,000 yen processing fee
Directions to JAF Okinawa: The JAF office is just south of the Nishihara Iriguchi intersection where the 38 crosses the 241. Directions to Nishihara Iriguchi (西原入口):
- From the 58: At the (Gusukuma) 城間 intersection (near the Pizza House restaurant), turn onto Sun Park Road (サンパークロード) towards Ahacha (安波茶).Go straight (Route 38 will adjoin), pass over the 330. You will pass the Urasoe City Hall (浦添市役所)on your right, the Urasoe Police Station (浦添警察署) and the Urasoe Fire Station (浦添消防署) on your left, and the former JAF office on the left. After going down part of a steep hill, at the Nishihara Iriguchi (西原入口) intersection turn right on the 241 toward Ishimine (石嶺).
- From the 330 (north): going north: Just shy of a kilometer past the first tunnel, exit to the left for the Koei intersection. Turn right on the 241 to go past Barclays Court. Continue straight on the 241 for about two kilometers. Pass straight through the Nishihara Iriguchi intersection.
- From the expressway: Exit at the Nishihara interchange, pay your toll, and take the road to the left to merge with the 330 southbound. Continue the next directions.
- From the 330 going south: After the Nishihara interchange with the expressway, exit to the left for the Koei intersection. Turn left on the 241 to go past Barclays Court. Continue straight on the 241 for about two kilometers. Pass straight through the Nishihara Iriguchi intersection.
- From the Nishihara Iriguchi intersection: Going south on the 241, go up the hill. After the first traffic light (with a Family Mart on the left), you should notice the JAF office on the right by the tow trucks parked in front.
Step 2: Application Process
The only place that will transfer a foreign license to a Japanese license in Okinawa is the Okinawa Driver’s License Center (沖縄県運転免許課 Okinawa-ken Unten Menkyo-ka) that relocated to Toyosaki, near the Ashinibanaa Outlet Mall by Tomiton in January 2011. The application process should only take the morning but it may take the full day if you arrive late. The Licensing Center has also requested that all forms be turned in between 8:30am ~ 11:00am (Monday through Friday) as it takes some time to process.
There is only one staff member responsible for handling foreign license transfers (外免切替担当さんgaimen kirikae tantou-san), so please call ahead and confirm that the staff member is available on the day that you plan to go to the License Center. The phone number is 098-851-1000.If you are unable to make it during the morning hours (8:30 ~ 11:00 AM), please call ahead and inform the Center. Please be aware that there may not be any English speakers available to assist over the phone or at the Center so it may be helpful to go with a Japanese speaker.
From the Naha Bus Terminal, you can take Bus number 55, 56, 88, or 98. You will need to get off at the Michi no Eki Toyosaki (道の駅豊崎) stop.
- The passport is used as a means to verify that, for at least three months, you have lived in the country where your license was issued. However, in order for it to be considered adequate proof, it will need to have the necessary stamps showing the exact dates of entry and departure from that country. Many US States do NOT stamp US passports and thus, some US ALTs may NOT be able to use their passport as adequate proof. In that case, other official documentation may be used (ie. tax forms, college transcripts, etc.), as long as they display the exact dates of entry and departure from the country where the license was issued. This can be the most strenuous part of the process as it can be difficult to prove you were at home during the necessary time. Take care to leave enough time to get documents from home if need be. I would recommend against saying you have an old passport, by the way. Once the clerk hears this, he will demand to see it as it will make his life easier. But finding it at home and waiting for it to arrive could take some time. Try to use school documents or tax returns instead.
Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証明書 Gaikokujin Touroku Shoumeisho)
Certification of Residence (登録原票記載自己証明書 Touroku Genpyo Kisai-Jiko Shoumeisho)
Can be obtained from your town office/city hall for about 300円
Valid Driver’s License from your home country. – please be sure that the Issue Date on your license is dated AT LEAST 3 months prior to your entry to Japan (ie. If you were in Group A, the issued date on your original license should be before the end of April of your arrival year).
If your license does not show a date of issue or if the date of issue is less than 3 months prior to entering Japan due to license renewal, you will need to obtain a driving record (driver’s record – a judiciary document stating when your license was first issued) that shows the original issue date of your license. You may obtain this record from the Department of Motor Vehicles in your home state/territory.
- An Official Translation of your home countries driver’s license from JAF, for example.
- If you also have a driving record/driver’s record, you must have this translated as well.
- NOTE: If you are transferring more than one type of license (ex. Driving and Motorcycle), you need two separate sets of paperwork for each including translation, pictures, and residence certificate.
- Two identical photos (3cm x 2.4cm). This can be obtained inside the licensing.
- 5,000円 (depending on your citizenship and license type, the processing fee will vary, but is usually 2,400yen. Canadian license transfers are 4,500円).
- With all of the necessary documents, go to Desk #10 and submit all of the required documents to the staff member handling foreign licence transfers (外免切替担当さん Gaimen Kirikae Tantou-san). You will fill out two question sheets about your health and driving history. You will also pick out two sets of four digit PIN codes for your new ID card. They can be the same numbers, twice.
- Once your name has been called (or someone will approach you), you will be given a small bundle of papers and instructed to go to the Counter #6 Most likely the clerk will walk you there himself.
- Immediately after, you will pay the license application fee of 2,400 yen (normal licence). Depending on the type of license you are applying for (as well as the country of the original license), the fee may be more expensive
- After paying, you will be instructed to go to the eye test next to Counter #10
- After passing the eye exam, head to Counter #2 to do the final paperwork. You will also receive a copy of your written test confirmation which will allow you to take the written test.
- If you are from a country that does not need to take the written test (see list below,) you will be signed up for the next available mandatory safety lecture and then be told to have your photo taken. See below for further instructions and information on the mandatory lecture.
- If you are from a country where you must take the written test, you will then be instructed to come back the next Wednesday at 10:30 AM to Counter #9 to register to take the written test.
- Eye Exam
- They will first ask you if you know Japanese (in Japanese), although some clerks know English and will let you take the test in English
- Know how to say “up (上, Ue), down (下, Shita), left (左, Hidari), right (右, Migi), red (赤, Aka), blue (青, Ao), yellow (黄色, Kiiro).
- If you cannot memorize these directions and colors in Japanese, gestures are okay and the tester will most likely know the colors in English
- The eye exam uses the Landolt C Chart. One square on the grid will be highlighted and you will have to tell the tester which direction the break in the circle is facing (up,down, left, right). You will do this for each eye
- Next, you will be shown 2 lights of varying color and you will have to indicate which color is on the top, and which color is on the bottom – you will do this twice
For Outer Islanders:
- You must call ahead and to inform the Driver’s License Center when you are coming.
- You will have to come in and process your application on Wednesday morning in order to be able to take the Written Test and the Practical Skills Test (if applicable) on the same day
- If you are coming from Miyako or Ishigaki/Yaeyama, and you fail the Practical Skills Test, you will be allowed to re-take the test at your local testing center.
Countries Exempt from the Written & Practical Tests
- Once your application is processed but before you take your photo, you will have to make an appointment to sit through a thirty minute lecture about “safety driving” before receiving your Japanese license. If you process your application later in the day, you may not be able to sit through the lecture given that day as space is given on a first-come-first-served basis. You will then have to reschedule to come back another day to finish the process
- When you take your photo, you will be given a slip of paper with your name and PIN code on it. Take this, as well as your confirmation for the lecture you are due to attend, upstairs to the lecture room.
- Attend the 30 minute lecture (All in Japanese, do not fall asleep!) and you will be given your new license at the end of the lecture. The lecture runs four times a day, twice before and twice after lunch.
- Outer Islanders who are exempt from the tests will be able to register to take the 30 minute lecture the same day to receive their license, so long as you call ahead and process everything early that day.
- Afterwards, left of the doors to enter and exit, near the Safe Driving Center, is a ID checking machine. If you place your license on it and enter your PIN code, it will confirm your identity. You should do this to be sure of your license before leaving the building.
Citizens from countries not mentioned above
You will need to take both, the written exam and practical driving skills test. Be sure to keep all paperwork you received after you have completed the application process. These will become necessary when taking the Written and Practical Driving Skills Test.
Step 3: Written Test
The written test is offered only on Wednesdays from 11AM. – You must have completed the Application process by Tuesday, before being able to take the Written Test. The fee for the written test is 2,650yen per test (if you fail, you will have to pay this fee again to retake the test).
- Written test confirmation certificate
- All paperwork you received during the application process.
- Arrive before 11AM and submit paperwork and appointment slip to Counter #5
- They will then tell you to go the waiting area until you are called. The written test will be administered on the second floor in the adjacent building.
- You will then need to complete some simple paperwork. The test proctor will ask whether you want to take the Practical Skills Test in an automatic or manual vehicle (to categorize you for the Practical Skills Test)
- You will receive a numbered test voucher
- They will mark the test as soon as you finish and hand it in. If you pass, the proctor will stamp your paperwork. Return to Counter #5 (main building) to schedule an appointment for the Practical Skills Test
The Written Test
- The written test itself is 10 relatively easy True/False questions and takes about 15 minutes to complete
- Each question is 10 points and a score of 70 is necessary to pass.
- As traffic signs differ from country to country, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with common traffic signs in Japan. (Please refer to you JET Diary for a list of Japanese traffic signs and what they mean.
- Some example questions are:
- “It is always acceptable to make a right turn during a red light.” ( False)
- “The stoplight is green, but a policeman located in the intersection is giving you a stop hand signal. You should ignore the stoplight and obey the policeman.” (True)
- “Approaching a pedestrian crosswalk with pedestrians crossing or getting ready to cross, you should slow down, stop before reaching the intersection (or at the stop line) and give the pedestrians the right of way.” (True)
- “You should not park or stop at anytime on this street.” (True)
- “Automobiles and mopeds are not allowed on this street.” (True)
“It is okay to take sleeping pills or have a little bit of alcohol and then drive.” (False)
“You must always contact the police in the case of an accident.” (True)
Step 4: Practical Driving Skills Test
The Practical Skills Test is only offered on Wednesdays and Fridays. Appointments are done on a first-come-first-serve basis. You may have to wait a week to a month in order to schedule an appointment for the test.
- 1,600 yen – Vehicle Rental Fee (per test appointment)
- 2,050 yen – Registration Fee (per test appointment)
- 2,400 yen – Processing Fee (if you past the test)
What To Wear:
- Wear comfortable clothing (nothing too loose – it may get caught in the door or handle)
- Wear shoes – avoid open-toed sandals and high heels
Taking the Test:
- Sign in for the test starts at 1 PM.
- Go to Counter #5 – they will direct you to the Fees Processing Center to pay the test vehicle rental fee (1600 yen) and the test registration fee (2050 yen)
- Return to Counter #5 with the stamped formed. You will be directed to the waiting room (downstairs from where the written test was administered)
- Attendance will be taken and everyone will be assigned an order in which they will take the test
- You will sit in the backseat of the car to watch the person ahead of you take the test
- This will allow you to view the course and see what the person ahead is doing
- After the end of the person’s test, you will be asked to leave the car while the examiner explains whether or not the test-taker has passed and what they were marked down for
- Once that person exits the car, wait for the signal from the examiner before entering the car.
- Remember that you are being scored as you approach and enter the car
The person after you will also enter the car and sit in the back seat while you take your test.
If you fail the test, you must wait a minimum of 10 days before re-taking the test.
Making an appointment or rescheduling is not possible over the phone and must be done in person. You will have to pay a processing fee even if you fail the test.
- If you pass the test, report to Counter #1 and pay a License Processing Fee of 3,100yen at the Fees Processing Center.
- Report to Counter #10 to take your picture for your License (remember, Japanese-style means no smiling).
- You will receive a paper slip with a number on it. You must keep this paper in order to pick up your license.
- You must then report to the Driver Safety Education Center for a one hour lecture.
- After the lecture, the proctor will call out each person’s number. Write your name on the piece of paper and give it to the proctor to receive your license.
- As you exit the room, license holders can be purchased for 1000 yen. Please remember that this is optional. (Proceeds go towards promoting driver safety programs in Okinawa)
Ishigaki/Yaeyama and Miyako JETs who fail the Practical Skills Test must take all the paperwork back with them. You can then schedule to re-take the Practical Skills Test at your local Driver’s Licensing Center. Other Outer Islanders must re-take the test in Naha.
Practical Driving Skills Test: Automatic
Be sure that you are familiar with the course before taking the test. The tester will tell when and where to turn, but it helps to know beforehand. Be sure to follow these tips exactly, and over-exaggerate them to let the tester know that you are doing them, especially the directions for “Approaching the Vehicle”.
Approaching the Vehicle
- Check in front, behind, and underneath the vehicle for children/people.
Entering the Vehicle
- Check all traffic, especially from the rear of the vehicle.
- After getting into the vehicle, ensure that nothing is in the way before shutting the door.
Adjusting the Seat
- Adjust the seat so that your knees are slightly bent when your foot is on the pedals.
- Adjust the seat so that your elbows are slightly bent when your hands are on the steering wheel.
- Fasten your seatbelt (check for twisting of the belt)
Starting the Engine
- Step on the brake pedal.
- Visually check the position of the gas pedal.
- Visually check the handbrake.
- Visually check that the gearshift lever is in the “P” position.
- Step on the brake pedal.
- Start the engine.
- Step on the brake pedal.
- Visually check that the gearshift lever is in the correct position (“D” or “R”).
- Release the handbrake.
- Signal your departure.
- Check traffic in all directions (using your mirrors also).
- Lightly step on the gas pedal.
- Release the gas pedal slowly to slow down.
- Lightly step on the brake and increase pressure until you reach the required degree of braking.
- On slippery road surfaces, step on the brake several times.
- The tester will ask you to bring the car’s speed up to 40 km/hour.
- Step on the gas pedal and get the car up to that speed as quickly as you can (the tester is timing you).
- You will be asked to repeat this on the second straightaway.
- As you approach the curve, check your mirrors and your blind spot (the tester calls checking your blind spot “sidechecking”).
- Take your foot off of the gas pedal.
- As you take the curve, pump the brake pedal 2-3 times with medium pressure.
- Once you have left the curve, put your foot back on the gas pedal and continue driving.
- Drive slowly along the side of your lane that corresponds to your turn (right side for right turn, left side for left turn).
- Lightly step on your brakes.
- Signal about 30 meters before the place where you will turn.
- Check traffic by checking your rear view mirror, side mirror, and blind spot.
Stopping at Stop Signs and Stoplights
- Brake properly (see “Braking” section).
- Maintain firm pressure on the brake pedal.
- Be sure to stop the car so that the white stopping line is still visible from inside the car.
- When stopping at a stop sign, come to a complete stop, wait for 3 seconds, check your mirrors, check traffic in both directions, and then proceed.
- When stopping at a stoplight (only if the signal is red), come to a complete stop, wait for the signal to change to green, and then proceed.
- When approaching an intersection with an obstructed view, come to a complete stop before entering the intersection.
- After stopping, slowly pull into the intersection, checking traffic in both directions.
- Once you are sure that traffic is clear, proceed through the intersection cautiously.
- The s-curve is not very difficult. Be sure to follow the directions in the “Turning” section when entering the s-curve.
- Drive slowly and cautiously through the s-curve, checking your mirrors regularly. There is no time limit here.
- Be careful here. If the tires of the car touch the curb at all, you will automatically fail.
- When you reach the end of the s-curve, treat it as a stop sign before proceeding.
- The crank can be difficult, but here are a few tips that may help you. Be sure to follow the directions in the “Turning” section when entering the crank.
- Drive slowly and cautiously through the crank, checking your mirrors regularly. There is no time limit here.
- Be careful here. If any part of the car touches one of the vertical posts, you will fail automatically. If you get into a tough spot on this part of the course, you are allowed to put the car into reverse one time.
- When you reach the end of the crank, treat it as a stop sign before proceeding.
- Lightly step on the brakes.
- Signal with your indicator.
- Check your mirrors and your blind spot.
- Pull into the parking space.
- Step on the brake pedal firmly. When you brake completely that is considered your stop and you can’t move further up.
- Make sure that the front bumper of the car is perfectly lined up with the numbered sign of your parking spot.
- When the car has come to a complete stop, set the hand brake.
- Put the gearshift lever into the “P” position.
Leaving the Vehicle
Set the hand brake.
Put the gearshift lever in the “P” position.
Turn off the engine.
Check traffic by checking your rear view mirror, side mirror, and blind spot.
Open the door slightly to check if the area is clear.
Open the door slowly.
Exit the vehicle.
Driving Schools in Okinawa
The best way to pass the Practical Driver’s Skills Test is to sign up for classes. Many driving schools around Okinawa offer hourly lessons to assist you with passing the test. Here is a list of certified driving schools around Okinawa:
Nakijin Driving School
Nakijin-mura, Aza-Nakasone 997
Nago Driving School
Nago-shi. Miyazato 7-24-37
Kitaoka Driving School
Uruma-shi, Aza-Konbu 1841-22
Agena Driving School
(Mr. Yagi Seiken – speaks ENG)
Uruma-shi, Aza-Oota 30
Koza Driving School
Okinawa-shi, Matsumoto 7-18-22
Kawabata Driving School
Okinawa-shi, Minamitoubaru 1-22-1
Kadena Driving School
Yomitan-son, Aza-Sobe 1512
Ginowan Driving School
Ginowan-shi, Aza-Sekidou 82
Dai-Ni Naminoue Driving
Urasoe-shi, Serikyaku 1-5-1
Naminoue Driving School
Naha-shi, Tsuji 3-1-1
Tsukazan Driving School
Haebaru-cho, Aza-Tsukazan 593-1
Baten Driving School
Nanjo-shi, Sashiki, Aza-Tsuhako 509-1
Itoman Driving School
Itoman-shi, Aza_Itoman 2278
Miwa Driving School
Miyakojima-shi, Taira, Aza-Shimozato 1104
Yaeyama Driving School
Ishigaki-shi, Aza-Maezato 109
Futenma Driving School
Kitanakagusuku-son, Aza-Ooshiro 480
Miike Driving School
Okinawa-shi, Aza-Ikehara 2165
Makiminato Driving School
Urasoe-shi, Makiminato 5-10-1
Ameku Driving School
Naha-shi, Aza-Ameku 1044
Tsubogawa Driving School
Tomigusuku-shi, Aza-Nakachi 225
Miyako Driving School
Miyakojima-shi, Taira, Aza-Nishizato 1334
There is also a website that JETs nationwide have helped create to assist those who want more information regarding the Foreign License Transfer process. The website is http://www.supermelf.com/japan/ajetdrivingbook/index.htm.