How to rent a car in Japan

Driving in Japan is one of the best ways to visit places off the beaten track. Even with Japan’s great public transportation, some places are only accessible by car.

Renting a car in another country is no walk in the park. You have to consider where to get the car, whether your license will work and a few other things. Not to mention remember to drive on the left!

Don’t worry, here we’ll cover all the basics you need to know about renting a car in Japan so you can explore as much as you want.

License and registration

Check if you can explore Japan with your license. Photo: iStock / SzymonBartosz

One thing you need to think about before you go to Japan is your license.

Many travelers opt for something called an International Driving Permit. This is something you can get in your country of residence before you travel.

A few things to keep in mind about the International Driving Permit:

  • This should be obtained from your home country (from places like the US Department of Motor Vehicles or the UK Post Office).
  • It has a nominal cost to obtain
  • You must have a valid driver’s license in your home country.
  • The international driving license is valid for one year from the date of issue.
  • You must have spent three months outside of Japan for it to be valid (this part is only relevant for those re-entering Japan)

While the International Driving Permit is available to those traveling from places like the UK, Canada, the US and Australia, not all countries can use it. See the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website for more information.

However, nationals of some countries (such as Germany, France and Switzerland) can drive in Japan with a residence permit and a Japanese translation. See the list of applicable countries here.

Finally, it is also possible to convert your driver’s license from home for use in Japan. Depending on the country you got your license in, you may only be able to take the written test, but other countries require the full driving test. This is a good option if you will be in Japan for the medium to long term.

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