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Tips for Expats Driving in Sendai

Driving in a new country can be daunting. These tips offer insight into what to expect when driving in Sendai.
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1. Understanding the Driving Rules

Driving in Sendai, like the rest of Japan, is on the left side of the road. The rules are strictly enforced, and you should familiarize yourself with them before getting behind the wheel. Speed limits are generally lower than in many Western countries, and traffic lights may be positioned in different places than you’re used to. Also, be aware that there are many cyclists and pedestrians, so always be vigilant.

2. Car Recommendation

Compact cars are recommended for driving in Sendai due to the narrow roads and limited parking spaces. They are also more fuel-efficient, which can help save on gas costs. However, if you plan to travel outside the city frequently, a larger car may be more comfortable.

3. Parking in Sendai

Finding parking in Sendai can be challenging, especially in the city center. Many people opt to use public transportation instead of driving to avoid the hassle. If you do need to park, be prepared to pay as parking isn’t cheap. Some parking lots charge by the hour, while others have a flat rate.

4. Driving with an International License

Foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for up to one year. However, the IDP must be obtained in your home country before coming to Japan. After one year, you will need to get a Japanese driver’s license.

5. Getting a Japanese Driver’s License

If you have a driver’s license from your home country, you may be able to convert it to a Japanese license. This process involves a written test and possibly a driving test, depending on your home country. If you don’t have a license, you will need to attend a driving school and pass both written and practical exams. The process can be time-consuming and expensive, so it’s worth considering whether you really need to drive.

6. Be Prepared for Traffic

Like any city, Sendai can have heavy traffic, especially during rush hour. Be prepared for this and allow extra time for your journey. Also, be aware that many streets in Sendai are narrow and winding, which can be challenging for those used to driving on wide, straight roads.

7. Use of Navigation Systems

Most cars in Japan come equipped with navigation systems, which can be very helpful for finding your way around. However, these systems are usually in Japanese, so you may need to get a bilingual system or use a navigation app on your phone.

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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