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Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009
A license to drive: Readers take the wheel
By ANGELA JEFFS
Japan resident Dee wrote in our last column that she had lost her U.K. driving license and couldn't get a new one from the British licensing authority because she is no longer living in the country.
Many U.K. rental companies refuse to accept the piece of paper that gives her entitlement to drive, saying they need the "proper license," Dee explained. Here are two responses from readers to Dee's plight.
P.W. from Kashiwazaki, Niigata Pref., says that if she has managed to obtain a new U.K. license (card and document), she ("and any other U.K. readers of your fine newspaper") can easily obtain a Japanese license.
"The U.K. and Japan have signed an agreement whereby nationals of either nation do not need to take the other's driving test," he writes. "We can simply 'swap' one license for the other. This is what I have done, and I now hold both a full U.K. license and a (green) Japanese one." The process is "easy," he adds, but only insofar as you don't have to do the test!
"It can be a bit of a headache, and a little dependent on the (license) officer you get! I unfortunately got one at the end of the day, and he only wanted to go home, rather than deal with a foreigner, but he ended up dragging out the process rather than speeding it up."
P.W. suggests that all readers check to see whether their home nation has an agreement with Japan. "As far as I am aware, most nations that drive on the left are included, whilst the right hand nations are not."
Actually, Japan has concluded such deals with a number of countries that drive on the right, too. Among these are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Spain. The U.S., China and Brazil, however, are not among them.
Next, when you go to the local driving license center, you will need your passport, residency card, your home license, and a copy of your license translated into Japanese (which has to be done by the Japan Auto Federation, or JAF). Also, it is useful if you have proof that you were in your home country for the six months prior to coming to Japan.
"I got copies of my bank statements sent, demonstrating the movement of money in and out of my account. Weirdly, I was also asked to show them my degree as well.
"Still, upon gathering all this, some cash, and a bit of running round the office, I was able to leave the proud owner of a Japanese license! Even though I look like a criminal on the photo!
"It's worth checking to see if you can swap your license in Japan. No test, no international license hassle, and three years before you have to go back and sort it all again!"
For a full list of countries that have agreements with Japan, check out the Web site of Koyama Driving School (www.koyama.co.jp/english/english_01_02.html), which claims to be "the only driving school that offers lessons in English," with branches in Tokyo and Yokohama.
G.M. thinks Dee's problem needs some clarification. He accepts that she did not know that she had to return to her own country annually in order to remain resident in the U.K. and renew her international license, but notes that while she may need to go back to the U.K. to renew her British license, there is no point in returning to renew her International Driving Permit.
"This is because under Japanese law you are only allowed to use an IDP for the first year of your stay in Japan, even if you go home and have another IDP issued. That is, even if the IDP itself says it is valid, you cannot legally use it in Japan if you are in your second (or beyond) year of stay. You have to go out of Japan for three months for a new IDP to become valid."
Second, G.M. confirms, Dee would not need to learn to drive again from scratch, as she feared. "She can convert her U.K. license to a Japanese license with paperwork alone."
"This does depend on the prefecture, the people at the prefectural licensing agency, where the paperwork can be very picky, and most likely is only in Japanese. But the law says it is paperwork only for conversions from the U.K., Australia, N.Z., etc.
"Therefore, if Dee managed to have her U.K. license re-issued, she could convert her license to a Japanese one.
"I have helped about 10 foreigners get Japanese licenses through the Saitama licensing center, and mine in Ibaraki, and I am happy to help with any detailed questions readers may have," he adds.
Readers, get in touch if you have any more queries.