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What’s Required To Be Able To Drive In Okinawa

Driving in Okinawa – A guide for tourists and foreigners

This applies to driving in Japan in general

Please note that it’s advisable to obtain additional insurance coverage when booking your car. If you have any issues while driving in Japan it can be very difficult without insurance.

So you want to drive in Japan, but are still unsure about whether you can do it or not? You have come to the right place!

But before we begin, I just want to say that you are making an excellent choice!

Driving in Japan is fun and safe with many wonderful roads to drive on. Okinawa is also one of these places with a spectacular coastline that circumnavigates the Island. You will see vivid blue and wonderful green ocean colors and be surrounded by fabulous scenery as you drive around.

Note that there is an expressway in Okinawa which is a toll system. You will need a credit card or cash (Japanese Yen)

Now let’s dive right into what’s required!

Driving requirements

To drive in Japan there are a couple of requirements you must meet:

  • Must be at least 20 years of age for our rental company but 18 to legally drive in Japan
  • Must have a valid Driver’s License or Translation (more on that next)

Acquiring International Driving Permits and Japanese Licenses

You will fall under one of two categories:
1. Short-term stay (tourists, people on business trips, etc.)
2. Long-term residents.

Case 1: Short-term Stay / International Driving Permit

For travelers temporarily visiting Japan, you will either be required to bring an International Driving Permit (IDP) under the Geneva Convention of 1949, or a driver’s license from your own country with a valid legal translation of your license. The required materials will vary depending on your country of domicile, so be sure to check the lists below!

Please read in detail. We are not responsible if you have not headed this information.

Countries requiring an International Driving Permit:

 AsiaAustralia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Hong Kong(China), India, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand 
 Europe Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, 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)
 North America Canada, United States of America
 South America Argentina, Barbados,  Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Dominica, Trinidad, and Tobago,  Venezuela
 Africa/Middle East Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte 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

Countries requiring Driver’s License from a country of domicile + Legal Translation:

 Asia Taiwan
 Europe Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Monaco

Case 2: Long-term Stay / Acquiring a Japanese License

For those residing in Japan and are planning to stay long-term, you get to go through the process of acquiring your very own Japanese Driver’s License! You may start out by following Case 1 (International Driving Permit), however, those are only valid for one year. It is also illegal to return to your home country to renew your IDP and then return to Japan and use it again. The IDP is not a replacement for a permanent license.

Those of you who reside in Japan will fall into an additional two different cases. If you happen to be from one of many special countries or regions, you will be exempted from taking the written and driving examinations (Luckily, I happened to be from one of these!). If you are not from one of these places, however, I extend my sympathy as it’s going to be a difficult process.

Let’s start with Case 1: Countries and regions exempted from the Driving Examination

If you have a driver’s license from one of these areas, you are eligible for a direct exchange of your license:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, or USA (only Maryland [from Jan 2016] or Washington State [from Jan 2017])

That’s about all there is to say on this subject.

Happy driving in Okinawa