It seems that every year, at least one JET gets in trouble for driving illegally. You can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP), but there are a few things to pay attention to:
- Make sure that you have a legit International Driving Permit.
One JET obtained her IDP through a company over the Internet, and she thought she was driving perfectly legal until she got pulled over for speeding. If you don't want to be interrogated and have to explain that you were tricked into buying a fake license, make sure yours is real. There is usually a national automobile association that is authorized to issue IDPs (for example in the USA, the only place to my knowledge where you can get it is AAA).
- Make sure you have the right license
In Japan, different vehicles require different licenses, and your IDP will list what kinds of vehicles you are allowed to drive. For example, to drive a car in Japan your IDP has to include "Category B: Passenger Cars," and to drive a motorcyle it has to include "Category A: Motorcycles." Check your IDP and make sure you have the correct permit in your license before you start driving.
- Watch the expiration date.
Thinking of taking a road trip with some friends? Make sure your IDP doesn't expire before the trip ends. (Unless you wouldn't mind asking a friend to pick you up in Shikoku.)
- Check when you entered Japan.
Even if your IDP hasn't expired, or you've renewed it through the mail, once you've been in Japan for a year you can no longer use it. If you will remain in Japan a second year and you want to keep driving, you must get a Japanese driver's license.
Driving In Japan (Source: US Embassy)
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