What do I need to drive a car in Japan?

by GoWithGuide travel specialist

In Japan, traveling to the countryside could prove very difficult due to the lack of trains and public transportation. For those cases, hiring a car is the best option.
But how can you hire a car in Japan? Do you need a special permit? Which countries can get the permit. I will help you with these questions in this article.

IDP - International Driving Permit in Japan

You will need a special permit to drive in Japan. Foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of one year, even if the permit is valid for a longer period.

International driving permits are not issued in Japan and you should obtain yours from your home country in advance. The permits are usually issued through your country's National Automobile Association for a small fee.

It is important to note that Japan only accepts the International Driving Permit based on the 1949 Geneva Convention.

Countries that are part of the 1949 Geneva Convention

The current parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention are listed below. These countries issue International Driving Permits.

Asia, Oceania (19) Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Americas (15) Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, United States of America, Venezuela

Europe (36) Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of San Marino, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Vatican City (Holy See)

Middle East, Africa (32) Algeria, Barbados, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Israel, Jordan, Kingdom of Lesotho, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Republic of South Africa, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Syria, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe

For more information about the convention, the types of car you can drive and more, please check this link.

How to make the international Driving Permit

Although it may seem complicated, it is quite simple to make your IDP and it is recommended for people who want to drive in Japan. Also, driving in Japan is not as difficult as one would imagine due to the English hand and the language. The roads are friendly, organized and simple to navigate.

In the USA, the IDP is issued by the American Automobile Association and the National Automobile Club, please check their websites to learn how to take your permit in USA. It costs around U$15 to make, so it is quite cheap.

It is important to note that foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of one year, even if the IDP is valid for a longer period. After one year, you must return to your country before being legally able to drive in Japan again.

My country is not part of the 1949 Geneva Convention

Some countries, such as France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Monaco don't issue the IDP based on the 1949 Geneva Convention.
But not all hope is lost. If you are from one of these countries, you can instead obtain an official Japanese translation of your driver's license.  A translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF - website in japanese) or some of the respective countries' embassies or consulates in Japan.
This is due to a special agreement between Japan and those countries that allow the foreign drivers to drive under this condition.

That is all you need to know to decide if you want to hire a car in Japan and I hope this article has helped answer your questions. Please do not hesitate to contact Triplelights for anything you may need regarding your trip to Japan.