Carrying an international driving permit in Japan allows you to experience the country in a unique way. Driving is an immersive experience that requires attention from all of your senses. Therefore, experiencing a foreign land from the driver’s seat will enable to see the country through a completely new perspective. An international drivers license grants you the privilege of driving in another country as if it were your own, providing a totally immersive experience.

International driving permits can be easily acquired because they only require a completed application, current drivers license, valid photos and payment. Unlike a driver’s license, you do not have to pass any tests or courses to receive one. However, you must be conscious of the rules of the road in another country even if you were not given an exam or prepared to drive there. Continue reading below to learn about driving and obtaining an IDP in Japan.

What is a Japanese International Driving Permit?

An international driving permit temporarily transfers your U.S. driving privileges to another country. There are more than 150 countries that accept and issue international drivers licenses. They allow foreigners to drive within their borders alongside their own citizens. For those still questioning “what is IDP”: it is a permit that allows foreign travelers to drive in another country that also accepts IDPs.

You must first have a valid state-issued US drivers license to qualify for an international driving permit. These permits are cannot be used in place of a valid ID or license. They only translate the information on your existing U.S. license to another language—Japanese in this case—and confirm that you have completed your most recent drivers license renewal.  

When is an international drivers license necessary in Japan?

An international drivers license in Japan is necessary if you are planning an extended trip and will need your own transportation. Because Japan is one of the approved international driving permit countries, it is easy to get a permit to drive and use it anywhere around the country.

Driving your own car will be especially useful in smaller cities and towns in Japan’s countryside. While there is no minimum amount of time that you must be in a foreign country to be approved for an international driving permit, it is best to skip the process unless your stay will be several months to a year. It might be easy to get a permit but driving and car rental rules in Japan may make it difficult to actually drive.

How do I get a Japanese International Driving Permit?

An international driving permit for Japan can easily be acquired in person at an American Automobile Association (AAA) or American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) office. The drivers license office, or DMV, is not authorized to issue these permits.

The first step in attaining an AAA international driving permit is filling out an application. It can be printed from the AAA or AATA websites or completed in person. The AAA international drivers license fee is typically $20, unless you want to pay for an expedited process.

You must also provide two identical 2×2 inch photos and your drivers license. If you are mailing in your application, you can send a photocopy of the front and back of your license instead of submitting a hard copy.

How long do International Driving Permits last in Japan?

International driving permits in Japan are valid for up to 12 months. Japan only allows foreign travelers to drive within their borders for one year. Unlike driving in the USA with a foreign license which is allowed for a maximum of three months, foreign drivers can only operate a vehicle if they possess an international driving permit. It is highly advised that travelers also carry their valid US drivers license alongside their AAA international drivers license.

Where can I get a Japanese International Driving Permit?

An international driving permit is easily found online or in person at an AAA or AATA office. While you can find the application for an International drivers license online, you cannot submit it online. Applications must be mailed to an office or submitted in person. This is because the AAA and AATA require hard copies of your two photos.

If you are curious about where to get an international drivers license while you are already abroad, one of the best places to inquire is a U.S. Embassy. While an embassy cannot process your application, the officials there can guide you in the right direction. Regardless, you will have to mail your international drivers license application back to the United States with the corresponding documents and payment.   

Tips for Avoiding International Drivers License Fraud

After learning the answer to the question, “do I need an international driver’s license to drive in Japan?” travelers seek out authorities able to issue them. Many get confused about how to get an international driver’s license especially if there are unauthorized companies and people offering these permit services.

The only private companies in the US authorized to issue IDPs are the AAA and AATA. Any other entity claiming to offer this permit is fraudulent. Using international drivers license in the USA as an ID card or driver’s license is unlawful. An IDP does not give you driving privileges so you can face fines and potentially an arrest.  

Driving Rules in Japan

Once you have your international drivers permit in Japan you can start taking advantage of your freedom to traverse cities and towns. While the Japanese drive on the left side of the road with the driver’s seat on the right-hand side of the car, driving signs and rules are similar to American rules.

Furthermore, there are certain differences in terms of right of way, courtesy and road rule flexibility. For instance:

  • Left turns have the right of way instead of right turns.
  • No turns are allowed at red lights.
  • In Japan, it is common for drivers to drive through yellow and the first few moments of red lights.

While driving with an IDP, you must be aware of these rules, otherwise, you can incur penalties. Despite these behaviors, drivers in Japan tend to be considerate and respectful of one another on the road.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.