To drive legally in Japan, you must hold either a valid International Driving Permit (preferably but not essentially accompanied by your New Zealand driver licence), or a Japanese driver licence. You cannot drive legally in Japan with a New Zealand driver licence on its own, regardless of whether it is accompanied by a Japanese translation or not.
International Driving Permits (IDPs)
IDPs are valid for twelve months from the date of issue. However, you may only drive on an IDP for the first twelve months after you arrive in Japan. After you have been in Japan for twelve months, or the IDP period has expired, you will need to apply for a Japanese driver licence if you wish to continue driving. An IDP sent to you from overseas or issued afresh on a trip outside Japan will not be recognised after you have spent more than one year in Japan.
An IDP sent to you from overseas is still a valid form of driver licence, but the twelve month period of validity will be from the landing date in Japan shown on your Japanese Resident Card and not the date on the IDP.
You do not need to have an IDP translated into Japanese.
Note that unless the Class A (motorcycle) category on your IDP is also validated, you cannot legally ride even a moped or scooter of any type on Japanese roads on the basis of having a Class B (car) category validation on its own.
This information is mentioned as a general guide only. For authoritative advice, please refer to the information provided on the Metropolitan Police Department's(external link) website.
For further information on IDPs, including how to have one sent to you from New Zealand, please see the New Zealand Automobile Association(external link) website.
Obtaining a Japanese Driver Licence
Holders of full New Zealand driver licences can obtain a Japanese driver licence without the need to undergo practical or written testing. Holders of restricted New Zealand driver licences may also be able to, although this is at the discretion of the local licencing centre in the area where they reside. Application will involve a visit to your local driver licencing centre (the international section of your local city office should be able to inform you of the licencing centre nearest you). A simple eye test will be carried out at the issuing centre as part of the application. Basic English may be spoken at the larger issuing centres, however if you cannot speak Japanese you may wish to consider going with someone who can assist you.
You should check with the licencing centre in advance about what you will need to take with you.
Generally, the following will be required:
- Completed application form (available at the licencing centre)
- Application fee
- Japanese Resident Card
- Maximum of 2 passport-sized photographs approximately 3cm high x 2.4cm wide
- Your New Zealand driver licence
- Prescription glasses/lenses if you need them, for the eye test
- An official Japanese translation of your New Zealand driver licence issued by the Japan Automobile Federation(external link).
- Where your New Zealand licence lists two or more classes of vehicles eg car and motorcycle, an official document such as a Certificate of Particulars obtained from the New Zealand Transport Agency(external link) will be required which states not only the original issue date of the licence but also the dates you were licensed in each class.
- Evidence that you have spent a total of at least three months in New Zealand since the original issue date of your New Zealand licence:
- Original issue date - this may not be shown on your photo licence if it was issued before 16 January 2006. If not, you can obtain a Certificate of Particulars showing the date from the New Zealand Transport Agency(external link).
- Evidence of period spent in New Zealand since licence issue date - check with your local driver licensing centre to see if it will accept documentation which indicates time spent in New Zealand such as immigration stamps in your passport, employer letters, school/university course attendance records, tax statements, etc. If you are unable to obtain such documents or they will not be accepted, you can request a listing of your New Zealand entry and departure records from Immigration New Zealand(external link).