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Is it possible to rent a car in Japan with a Swedish drivers license? What is the traffic like? I figure that there is not much use in driving in the Tokyo or Osaka areas. What are the options for combining public transport with car rental. (To get into the countryside.)

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As a foreigner in Japan, if you want to drive, you have two options available to you:

International Driving Permits

Foreigners can drive in Japan with a recognized international driving permit for up to one year after entering the country. Recognized international driving permits must be obtained in your home country, usually through the national automobile association, before you leave for Japan.

Japan recognizes only international driving permits which are based on the Geneva Convention of 1949. A few countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Taiwan, however, issue international driving permits which are based on different conventions. Those permits are not valid in Japan.

Instead, holders of a driver's license from one of the above mentioned six countries can drive in Japan for up to one year with an official Japanese translation of their driver's license from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or their respective country's embassy or consulate in Japan. People from other countries, whose international driving permits are not recognized by Japan, must obtain a Japanese driver's license in order to drive in Japan.

A Japanese driver's license is required for all drivers who stay in Japan for more than one year. Only if you leave Japan for more than three consecutive months are you again allowed to use an international driving permit.

Japanese Driver's Licenses

Japan has concluded agreements with more than twenty countries to ease the process of acquiring a Japanese license for holders of a valid driver's license of one of these countries. Among the countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

If you hold a valid driver's license from one of these countries, you can get a Japanese license without taking a written or practical exam. All you need to do is go to the local license center with an official translation of your license, take an eye test, and prove that you lived at least three months in the license issuing country after receiving your license.

If you have a driver's license from a country which has not concluded an agreement with Japan yet, such as the United States, China or Brazil, you will have to take a written and practical exam in order to obtain a Japanese driver's license. This process typically takes several attempts, even for experienced drivers.

Source

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"International Driving Permits" are one of those weird things in life right? I've never, ever, ever needed one - except once in greece or something (WTF?) someone asked for one, so I just walked to the car rental place next door; or you'll hear from friends who bizarrely were asked to show one in some situation. –  Joe Blow Aug 29 at 10:45

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