Driving test tough to dodge if your license lapses

A.M. has a big problem. Having had a driver’s license for over 30 years, he got busy and suddenly discovered that it had expired — more than a year ago!

“When I went in to the driver’s license office, I was told that I have to take my driving test all over again to obtain a new license. I’m too old for this. What can I do?”

There is a way but it’s a bit complicated, with each application considered case by case. (Basically the Japanese licensing system is designed to “encourage” you to go to driving school.) Useful websites to turn to for help are: and

In A.M.’s case, “I forgot” will not be regarded as a good enough reason to justify dodging the test. Some excuses, however, are acceptable, such as sickness, being overseas or having been unable for whatever reason to leave your home, etc. In any of these situations, you are supposed to go to the licensing office within a month of being able to get out of the house or hospital, or after returning from overseas.

Generally, if you can produce some proof, such as a doctor’s letter or testimony from someone who can confirm your situation, or a passport entry showing you have returned to Japan less than a month ago, the renewal of your expired license will be considered.

But there is another way, and one that A.M. may well find works in his situation.

A license for driving in Japan can be restored providing you have a valid foreign driving license. The process will not be completely painless: You have to take a basic driving test, but the test is much simpler than the standard exam and you are sure to pass it easily.

To summarize, unless you can provide a good reason for your license having expired over six months ago, or you have a foreign license, then yup, you have to start from scratch!

A final piece of advice: It always helps to take a Japanese friend, colleague or family member with you when you go to plead your case.

Readers, do you have experience of exchanging your driver’s license? Taking the test in Japan? Please let us know so we can pass on the knowledge.

Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide ( Ken Joseph directs the Japan Helpline at and (0570) 000-911. Send queries, problems and posers to

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