Life in Japan

Converting to a Japanese Driver’s Licence – Part 1

23 December 2014

There are many, many reasons why I love Japan. Why else did you think I moved here? I could gush on for hours about the things I love. But that’s not the topic at hand today.

This is one of the rare times I ABHOR something in this country. DETEST. OUTRIGHT HATE IT.

As you can tell from the title, it’s about converting my overseas driver’s license to a Japanese one.

It sounds like a straightforward enough thing, right? Take a written test, perhaps a driving test as well.

Yes, most foreigners (except those who come from a select few countries in special agreement with Japan. Unfortunately Singapore is not one of them.) need to take both of those tests.

BUT to even qualify to take those tests… boy do they make sure they make it as painful as possible.

A translation of the driver’s license – Translation services are not provided at the building where you make the conversion application. Instead, you have to travel to the office to get it translated, and there is a grand total of ONE office in the whole of Tokyo. Brilliant stuff, eh? You can also submit the application online, but it will take 1-2 weeks for them to process it.

So here’s my story: I traveled down to the office because I could collect it on that day. I really didn’t want to wait up to 2 weeks. The office closes at 5.30pm and I arrived at about 5pm. The clerk told me that I was “too late” and they couldn’t issue the translation on that day. WHAT! If that’s what you’re going to do then say that applications close at a certain time!

I was told I could either come back the next day, or pay 392 yen (about $4) for them to mail it to me. Ugh. It was cheaper for me to have it mailed so I opted for mail -_-

Did I mention there is also a 3,000 yen ($30) translation fee? 3,000 yen! I can translate what they translated in 5 mins!!!

I wasn’t kidding.


A document from the city office proving my nationality – It seems holding a passport is not proof enough of nationality. I have to travel down to my city office, pay 300 yen for them to issue a piece of paper that states info THAT I TOLD THEM MYSELF IN THE FIRST PLACE.

When we move into/within Japan, we need to register with the city’s office. *I* am the one that fills out the info. With my passport and resident’s card as proof.

Pray tell. WHY is the document from the city office admissible as a reliable source, but not my passport, or my resident’s card – both of which are submitted in my licence application??? For the record, my resident’s card is issued by the Japanese government AND HAS MY NATIONALITY ON IT.

Ugh. Sorry for all the capitalization. I’m getting worked up all over again as I type this. This whole thing is just so illogical it drives me crazy!

The last thing that they are asking for drives me absolutely nuts.

Proof that I’ve stayed in the country for more than 90 days where my license was issued, after it was issued – Reflex question: DOES IT FREAKING MATTER? If I stayed there for 90 days, does it mean I’ll automatically be a perfectly law-abiding and skilful driver? Why the arbitrary number of 90? Why not 30? Or 180? 4830962?

I came to Japan 68 days (2 months and 1 week) after I got my license, which is the reason why I have not been able to drive in Japan all these years.

I have since been back to Singapore for more than 3 weeks – sufficient to make up the remaining 22 days, except the fact that Singaporeans do not require to pass through the immigration officer’s counter when entering Singapore. We can simply scan our passports at the automated gates and we can go on our happy way.

But no immigration officer = no stamp on the passport = NO PROOF I WAS ACTUALLY BACK IN SINGAPORE. FML.

I tried asking for my immigration records from ICA but they declined my request. Why?! Those are MY records! -_-

Therefore, when I went back this past November, I stayed for a month and made sure to get the stamps from the immigration officer. The officers (both when arriving and departing) were so confused when I asked for them to stamp my passport. They looked at me like I was a crazy stamp collector or something -_-

I have chalked up enough days AND have proof to show for it. I made my way down to the centre and confidently submitted my documents.

I arrived at 2.30pm, took a number and waited.

And waited.

An hour later, they called my number. TO SUBMIT DOCUMENTS ONLY.

The wait continued.

At 4.50pm, which was 10 minutes to closing, I was one of the last few people but there was no sign of being called. I went up to ask if they forgot about me. They said no, but it will take a while longer.

5pm. I was literally the last person in the entire place. Even the last staff member at the counter walked to the back room.

This is the part where an animated leaf gets blown across the screen.

5.10pm. It was finally my turn.

As he walked out, I saw why he was talking so long. He had a sheet of paper on which he drew out a detailed timeline of my travels. When I was in Singapore, when I was overseas. It’s crazy.

Basically what he told me was: We need you to prove that you were in Singapore from the time you got your license to the time you left for Japan.

Now, let’s process that again.

They want me to prove I was, indeed, in Singapore.

I sputtered in disbelief. Just how crazy will they get?

HALLO EXCUSE ME. YOU MAD?! I’m a Singaporean, holding a Singapore passport. If there is no mark on my passport indicating that I’m out of Singapore, then surely I’m IN Singapore?

But he refused to buy it, all because of one single day in August where my family decided to drive over to Malaysia for a day trip. There were Malaysian entry and departure stamps on my passport, but none from Singapore, so he was all like “I can’t be sure you went back to Singapore.”

When I explained how Singaporeans don’t need stamps when entering Singapore, he pointed to my latest November stamps and said “But you have them here!”

I had to take a deep breath and hold myself back from losing my temper. I explained I deliberately took them for purposes of applying for this (turning-out-to-be-a-bloody-huge-hassle) conversion.

He was like “Hmmm. But that doesn’t prove you’re in Singapore.”

He asked me to furnish a document as evidence. Something issued by the city office (I told him “No such thing in Singapore”, unlike paper-crazy Japan, I added in my head), salary slips, letter from employer, etc.


Am I applying for a house loan? Am I registering to adopt a child? Am I applying to gain access to some super high security prison?

It’s just a freaking driver’s license!!! And back to my initial question, why the eff does it matter how long I stayed in the country?!!

In the end I wasted 3 hours, returning with nothing but 一肚子气 (a belly of anger). I was texting Fu and he called me when he learned what had happened. I was ranting and raving over the phone as I paced the area. I think I must have looked quite mad. But that’s ok. Because I was, and because there was NO ONE LEFT ANYWAY.

I’ve always hated their obsession with paperwork. Something that can be completed in a few minutes online sometimes takes days instead because we have to travel here and there to get “official documents”, fill out stupid forms and queue endlessly. For all the efficiency and technology that Japanese are famous for all around the world, this is one incredibly archaic aspect that still remains deeply entrenched in their system. Probably because removing it will put many paper shufflers out of jobs. And where will they find new work if there are no more papers left to be pushed around?

I am incredibly frustrated by this application process, but I WILL clench my teeth and still go ahead with it because they cannot stop me from appreciating the things I DO like about Japan – going for drives and traveling to new places in Japan. Yes, I can let Fu drive instead, but for long distances, it’s much safer if we share the load. Besides, I have no wish to become one of those people that have a licence but forget how to drive or become scared of driving.

I’ve already printed 2012 salary contributions from CPF, printed a mini essay in Japanese on what CPF is, drew up a timeline of my own with another mini essay in Japanese detailing the stamp-no-stamp-on-passport issue.

Fully armed and going to battle tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Read about Part 2 (& 3 & 4)

Read about the actual test day (and how I passed on the first try!)


  • Reply 2015 Goals • tripleRIN 9 January 2015 at 12:19 am

    […] from my trip to Singapore in December and immediately went to apply for it (read horrendous story here and […]

  • Reply Converting to a Japanese Driver’s Licence – Part 2 (+ 3 + 4) • tripleRIN 15 January 2015 at 6:36 pm

    […] 22 DEC – Went to the Metropolitan Police Department to convert my driver’s licence, as detailed in this post. […]

  • Reply Ahmad Izzar 30 November 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Any new advice to get license in japan now?im from Singapore and this time I wanna convert my SG license to JPN license..coming in end of this year..

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