Created for expats living in Japan

How to Renew Your Japanese Driving License

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.

License Type and Validity Period

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.

Green License

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.

Blue License

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.

Gold License

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. 

How Traffic Violations Affect Your License

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.

Renewing Your Japanese Driver’s 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.

Where to Renew It

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.

What You Will Need

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.

What to Do Once You’re There

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.

On The Mandatory Traffic Safety Lectures

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 and 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 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.

Collecting Your New License 

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!

Stay on Top of Renewing Your Japanese Driver’s License

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.