How to rent a car in Japan

Driving in Japan is one of the best ways to visit places off the beaten track. Despite the excellent public transport in Japan, some places are only accessible by car.

Renting a car in another country is not easy. You have to consider where to get the car, if your driver’s license works and a few other things. Not to mention making you remember to drive on the left!

Don’t worry, here we cover all the basics you need to know about renting a car in Japan, so you can explore whatever your heart desires.

License and Registration

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

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

Many travelers opt for a so-called international driver’s license. This is something you can obtain in your country of residence before you travel.

A few things to keep in mind about the international driver’s license:

  • It must be obtained in your home country (from places such as the Department of Motor Vehicles in the US or the Post Office in the UK).
  • It costs a small fee to get it
  • You must hold a valid driving 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 returning to Japan).

While the international driver’s license is available to travelers from countries such as the UK, Canada, the US and Australia, not every country can use it. Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department website for more information.

However, the nationals of some countries (such as Germany, France and Switzerland) can drive in Japan with their home certificate and a Japanese translation. Check the list of applicable countries here.

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

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