Holding a driver’s license is a regular part of life in most countries. While this is also true in Japan, there are some rules and regulations which may differ from other countries. If you have a Japanese driver’s license, it is important to keep up with these guidelines and the processes surrounding them. This includes the necessary procedure of renewal. If you forget to renew it, you will lose your license and have to go through the full process of getting a new one. Here we will cover the general process of renewing your license in Japan and what to expect along the way.
If you are planning to switch your foreign driver's license to a Japanese one, please read this article.
There are three main types of driver’s licenses in Japan: green, blue, and gold. These are based predominantly on your experience and driving record.
Your first license is a “green license” and is given to beginner drivers getting their first full license and to foreigners who are transferring to a Japanese license for the first time. It is valid for 3 years. You need to put a beginner's sticker on your vehicle.
The next level is the “blue license”. This license is a general ‘regular’ driver’s license. It is issued after the first renewal of a green license. It is also used for drivers who have received 3 penalty points due to traffic violations. It is also valid for 3 years.
Finally, there is the “gold license,” the highest level of license reserved for ‘excellent drivers.’ This license is for drivers who have had 5 years or more with no traffic violations. It is valid for 5 years.
Renewal of your license must be done within one month before or after your birthday in the relevant year. You will receive a notification when it is time to renew. We will explain this in more detail later.
Violation of traffic rules is taken very seriously in Japan and your license could be significantly affected if you are involved in an accident or receive penalty points. As mentioned, you will move back to or remain in the blue category. The process to renew will also differ from the standard procedure. In extreme cases, you may completely lose your license.
As mentioned before, renewing your driver’s license must be done within the two-month period surrounding your birthday. Shortly before this, you will receive a notification postcard that explains which category you’re in, the procedure you need to follow, and the required documents. This postcard is very important and will be necessary when you go to renew, so make sure to take care of it.
The location where the renewal procedure is to be carried out is indicated on the notification postcard, so be sure to check it in advance. It may differ depending on the lecture you are attending. For example, a gold license holder's lecture and standard lecture can be taken at the police station with jurisdiction however, if it is a first-time to renew your license or if you have committed a traffic violation, the lecture will be held at a Drivers Licensing Center. Please check the notification postcard as the location specified for the lecture depends on your area of residence.
The renewal process can be done with a same-day turnaround at the Drivers Licensing Center or with a month turn-around at your local police office. The licensing center will have longer waiting times but you are able to complete the full process in one day.
To renew your license, you will need your current license, any glasses or contact lenses you use, a pen, your hanko stamp, cash for the renewal fee, and the notification postcard.
When you arrive, you will need to submit your postcard notification and current license. Then there are some forms to fill out and the renewal fee to pay. After this, a short eye examination will be conducted. A photo for your new license will be taken either before or after a mandatory lecture. There is one lecture for each license type.
Now for the lectures that were mentioned above – everyone who is renewing a Japanese driver’s license has to attend a lecture on traffic safety and rules. The lectures differ in length and content based on which license type you have and if you have received any traffic violations.
If you are renewing for the first time or moving from a green license to blue, there is a 2-hour lecture. If you are moving from blue to gold, the lesson is 1 hour. If you are already a gold license holder and will remain so, the lecture is 30 mins. In the case of traffic violations, the lecture is 1-2 hours. The lectures differ based on the teacher in charge but most seem to include watching videos about traffic safety, covering any recent changes to traffic rules, and potentially discussing issues surrounding traffic safety.
After you have checked and confirmed that the details on your license are correct, the final step to renewal is to collect it! If you do this at the police station, the safety lectures might be conducted on a different day and you will have to come back to collect your new license.
It may be necessary to wait while the center is processing them. When it is your turn, you get to collect your license. You will then need to use machines and a PIN code made on the first form you completed on the day to check the license is working correctly and that all your personal details are correct. Finally, you are ready to go!
Renewing a driver’s license is often a tedious yet essential part of life, no matter where you are. While the process may be long, it is necessary to complete it in order to avoid losing it. There are a number of steps in the process for renewal, which we outlined above. These may differ based on your license type and even region, but the fundamentals are all the same. Follow this guide when it’s time for you to renew your Japanese license for a smooth, stress-free experience—we wish you luck!
If you’re interested in more information about driver’s licenses and driving in Japan, check out our other articles here.
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