For those of you living in Japan, you may be considering getting a driving license so that you can go on that long awaited dream road trip to Hokkaido cruising along gorgeous lilac lavender fields? I know I did!
I decided to write this article because in order to convert my Singapore driving license to a Japanese one, I had gone through days and days of worries and uncertainties, so I hope that this complete guide will ease some of your anxiety for this rather complex procedure. Note that for some of you lucky b***ards here from a list of certain countries (such as part of USA, UK, some European countries, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, etc), you are exempted from both the knowledge test and driving test and can have your license converted pretty easily. *jelly* :’) However many of us from ASEAN countries including Singapore and Malaysia are required to go through the entire process.
First of all, a little background story about my intention for the conversion.
I had been holding a Malaysian driving license all my life until I moved to Singapore, and converted it to a Singapore equivalent. In March 2020, I moved to Tokyo when the pandemic hit, and as you know, you are required to drive in Japan with an international license, which you could easily apply from your country before visiting Japan. However, mine has expired, so I haven’t been able to drive in Japan. What’s even more worrying was that in May 2021, I realized that my Singapore driving license itself was expiring this December! Seeing how highly unlikely for me to return to Singapore to renew my driving license, the only way for me to still retain the qualification to maneuver a road vehicle without being sent to the prison a is to convert it into a Japanese driving license. And I did! And boy was it an anxious months-long affair.
Note that once your existing foreign license has expired, you are required to enroll in a driving school from ground zero, which is a very, very tedious, time consuming and expensive process in Japan. So, I had about half a year to have my license converted before being disqualified into a complete noob all over again.
Well, the thing is that converting your foreign license is not so much a straightforward process, even though it is a much, much simplified version compared to acquiring a fresh one from the start.
The procedure of converting a foreign driving license into a Japanese one is called “Gaimen Kirikae” (外免切替), short for “Gaikokumenkyosho Kirikae” (外国免許証切り替え), namely, foreign license conversion.