What happens if I get caught driving without a valid license?
You should always ensure you have your license when driving a car in Japan. In the case that you are caught driving without a valid license you will face strict punishments according to Japanese law. This article will describe the punishments you could face if you find yourself in such a situation. Especially take note of the International Driver’s Permit (IDP) holders section in the case that you are a foreigner living in Japan, as there is relevant information you should be aware of if you are a foreign driver in Japan.
Unlicensed driving punishment
Driving without a driver’s license in Japan is punishable by imprisonment with work for no more than 3 years or a fine of no more than 500,000 yen. This applies to a person who drives a vehicle or streetcar without obtaining the relevant license, including if said person’s license is suspended, or without holding the relevant International Driving Permit or license.
International Driver’s Permit holders
Before 2002, an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) could be renewed repeatedly and used in Japan, with a valid overseas license, instead of formally applying for a Japanese driver’s license. Now, the IDP is only valid within your first year in Japan. After that, you must convert it to a Japanese license or you will face large fines.
Despite the IDP being valid for one year, foreign residents of Japan are expected to convert to or obtain a Japanese driver’s license as soon as possible. Persons using an IDP who are residents in Japan can be subject to fines or arrest. However, the definition of resident does not rest solely on your visa status or length of stay in Japan and is rather decided by the police.
License point system in Japan
The licenses in Japan work on a point system. Your license can be suspended or revoked if you collect too many points on your license due to doing something wrong. For example, you will receive 25 license violation points for unlicensed driving. To learn more about how the point system works and the various violations, click here.
Contact an English-speaking lawyer
If you’ve been caught driving without a license in Japan, then you will need to contact an English-speaking lawyer who can help you navigate the legal process. A lawyer will be able to lessen fines and potential jail time, making this an invaluable resource for someone facing charges for unlicensed driving.
This page is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice.