Do I Need an International Drivers License in Japan?
The short answer is no. However, if you do not have a work or resident visa for Japan you will need one if you want to rent a car or drive on the streets in Japan. As a tourist you most likely will not need a tourist visa. If you leave the metropolitan area and don’t have public transit or you want to do the Mario Kart rides you will need the IDL.
In the U.S. there are only two agencies that are allowed to issue international drivers licenses by the Department of State. They are AAA, and AATA, anyone else offering an IDP to a U.S. citizen or resident is breaking the law and the license is not valid and won’t be recognized in Japan. To get an IDP you need two passport size photo’s and to fill out an application. You can mail this to either organization with the appropriate fee and they will process and send you back your IDP. However, most AAA offices will issue one in office, and will take your photo for you. Which means you can get your IDP in under 15 minutes from walking in if they are not busy.
I Only want to ride Mario Kart do I really need an IDP?
Yes you really do. The Mario Kart shops will not let you drive a Mario Kart without one. This is because Mario Karts are licenses street vehicles in Japan and ride on the street. You are will be following all traffic laws while riding the kart. If you show up and don’t have your IDP you will not be allowed to ride, and they will send reminders to you in the days before your appointment reminding you of this.
I have Driven in the UK or Australia Without a IDP why Can’t I in Japan?
Each country is their own sovereign entity and while technically you need an IDP to drive outside of the U.S. most countries recognize state drivers licenses as valid. Japan does not. To drive in Japan you must fall into one of the following categories:
- Tourist Visa with IDP (What you will be under)
- Resident with Japanese Drivers License. (I’ve heard the test is hard to pass)
- U.S. Military stationed in Japan with a SOFA License. (If you can get it, it’s the best as it can’t be revoked).
What else do I need to Know?
Not much else. An IDP is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. The Date of Issue can be in the future, I recommend setting it 1 week before you leave for your trip. You can’t use an IDP in the U.S. only outside the U.S. Don’t lose it, keep it with your passport as you can’t get one issued in Japan you will need to apply for one and have it sent to you in Japan and expect it to take a few weeks.