Everything You Need To Know
If you are wanting to visit Japan short-term, most countries have an agreement with the Japanese government that allows you to stay up to 90 days. If you want to stay longer than that, you will need a visa. At first glance, the visa process seems confusing and complex, but don’t worry, I’m here to clear things up for you. Keep in mind that I am not an official representative of Japanese immigration and you should therefore double check with your local consulate for the most current information regarding the visa process.
Types of Japanese Visas
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website lists several visa types based on duration of stay, but for this article I will assume that you are interested in staying in Japan long-term. For long-term stays, there are several categories of visas. All of these visas follow the point-based system.
There is a special work visa for skilled professionals. The “Highly Skilled Foreign Professional Visa” is reserved for people who have highly specialized skills, such as that is determined by the new Japanese immigration point-based system. Points are awarded according to your educational and professional background, and for this particular visa you will need 70 points or more. This visa is still a work visa, so you will need an employer to sponsor you, but it comes with a few advantages over a regular work visa: faster processing times, a 5-year visa from the outset, (which means a faster track to permanent residency) the possibility of a spouse being able to work full-time, the possibility of bringing parents to Japan, and the possibility of operating a related business while also working.
Regular work visas have several sub-categories, depending on the type of work. The Professor visa is for those who plan to teach in universities, while the Instructor visa is for those who plan to teach in the public school districts (if you are an ALT, you will want this visa type). A Specialist in Humanities visa is for those who will teach in the private sector, for example, at an Eikawa. This is also the same visa type for Engineers, and people working in the field of international services. The above visas are the most common visa types for foreigners coming to Japan who plan to teach. Other work visas include the Artist visa, (for artists who are coming to Japan to create a form of art) the Entertainer visa, (for entertainers who plan to perform in Japan) the Religious Activities visa, the Journalist visa, the Business Manager visa, the Legal Accounting Services visa, the Medical Services visa, the Researcher visa, the Intra-Company Transferee visa, and the Skilled Laborer visa.
General visas include the Cultural Activities visa, (internships or cultural studies) the Student visa, (for studying anything other than cultural studies) the Training visa, (for example, government training) the Dependent visa, (for spouse and children only) and the Technical Intern Training visa.
Specialized visas include the Spouse or Child of a Japanese National visa, the Spouse of a Permanent Resident visa, the Long-Term Resident visa, (if you have Japanese ancestry, etc.) the Designated Activities visa, (privately employed by diplomats, etc.) and another Designated Activities visa (recreational). There is also a Diplomatic visa, and and Official visa. There is also the little-known Medical Visa, for people needing to have medical treatment in Japan.
Which one should you choose?
So now that you’ve seen the list of visa types, which one should you choose? The answer depends on what activities you have planned in Japan. Most people enter Japan either on a student visa or as an English teacher, on a work visa.
Student visas are the easiest to get approved – all you need is your passport, a school to enroll you, and a statement from your bank showing that you have money for tuition and financial support during your school term. Many people who have had trouble getting work visas approved enter Japan on a student visa and then find work sponsorship while in the country. It is perfectly legal to search for work in this way, but keep in mind that it is illegal to engage in any work activity while still under a student visa status. Once you’ve found an employer, you’ll need to convert to a work visa before making a wage or engaging in any work activities. Fortunately, you can convert your visa without leaving the country.
Work visas are a little more difficult, but not as difficult as some claim. It is a common and wide-spread myth that a four-year degree is required for a Japanese work visa.It takes only a close reading of the Japanese immigration documents to see that “a degree” is the only requirement for a work visa, and not any specific length of degree. This means that, if you can convince Japanese immigration that you have the necessary training and experience, you could be approved for a work visa while holding only only a two-year degree. I know this for a fact, because I entered Japan for the first time with only a a two year degree (and plenty of documentation that showed my extensive volunteer teaching experience). Shortly after entering Japan, my four-year degree was awarded, but I was approved for a work visa with only a copy of my associate’s degree. On a case-by-case basis, Japanese immigration will consider anyone who holds a degree.
If you are coming to Japan to teach English, you will likely choose the Instructor visa or the Specialist in Humanities visa, unless you plan to teach at the University level. Which visa you choose will depend on the type of position for which you are hired. If you are hired for an ALT position (Assistant Language Teacher) by a company like Interac or Altia, then you will be using the Instructor visa, because you will be working in the public sector. If you work for an Eikawa (English Conversation School) like AEON or NOVA, then you will be using the Specialist in Humanities visa, since you will be working in the private sector. If you have a master’s degree and have been hired to teach at the University level, then you’ll need the Professor visa.
The Visa Application Process
The visa application process is not as complex as it first seems. After deciding which visa you need, simply download the visa application form from your local consulate’s website, and fill it out. The instructions are on the form, and they are pretty straight-forward. If you are applying for a work visa, you’ll need your valid passport, a completed application, a copy of your degree, two 45x35mm size photos, (not 2×2 inches) and your company sponsorship (they will fill out some forms for immigration). Most companies do most of the paperwork and legwork for you, so you just need to fill out a few forms, give the company a copy of your degree, and provide them with the photos. In some rare cases, you might need a Letter of Guarantee. Your company will send everything off to immigration, and after a week or so (times vary) you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility.
It is a similar process for student visas, (and other visa types) except that your guarantor is a school rather than a company. In the case of a student visa, you would apply to the school, get accepted, fill out your forms, print out a bank statement showing you have the necessary funds, take your photos, provide transcripts and a copy of your passport, then send everything off to the school – who would then submit everything to immigration for you. After a short while, you would receive a Certificate of Eligibility, just like a work visa applicant.
A Certificate of Eligibility “… is issued after the Minister of Justice examines whether or not the activities that a foreigner wishing to enter Japan intends to carry out within the country meet the conditions of landing (the requirements of: relevance of status of residence / compatibility with landing criteria) and acknowledges that said activities met said conditions” (Japanese Ministry of Justice). In essence, a Certificate of Eligibility gets the longer approval process out of the way. Immigration checks everything to make sure that you meet the requirements for a visa approval, and sends you a form to prove your eligibility. You then take this form to your local Japanese consulate and apply for the visa in person. Since the approval is essentially already done, as long as you don’t reveal additional information at the interview that would disqualify you from a visa, you are finished. The consulate will issue your visa, and you will be able to legally enter Japan. Of course, immigration officials at the airport in Japan reserve the right to deny you entry despite the fact that you hold a visa, but if you have done everything properly, this is not at all likely to happen. Also, keep in mind that your Certificate of Eligibility is only valid for three months from the date of issuance. This means that you need to enter Japan within three months of receiving your COE. This process is the same for all visa types. First you apply for a COE, then go get your visa, then enter Japan within three months.
A note on the passport validity dates: It has been brought to my attention that almost no one seems to understand Japan’s rules regarding passport validity and how that relates to the visa process, so the topic needs to be addressed. Other countries will allow someone to enter the country even if their passport is about to expire, as long as it has X amount of validity left on the passport. For example, a country might note that, even though you intend to stay six months, your passport is only valid for four months (and therefore the validity does not cover your entire intended length of stay) but they will nevertheless allow you to enter, because you fulfill the minimum validity requirement. For most countries, that period is somewhere around three months. So in the example above, if a person intended to stay six months but had a passport that was only valid for four months, (not covering the intended length of stay) yet their passport validity was more than three months, (the minimum validity accepted for entry) they would still be allowed to enter the country (immigration assumes that they will renew their passport while inside the country). This is not the case in Japan, despite what people will tell you.
Japanese immigration rules demand that your passport be valid for your entire length of intended stay. This can be verified with Japanese immigration, and it clearly states this on the consulate websites and likely on your country’s Department of State website (as evidenced above). This means that, if your visa is for five years and therefore your intended length of stay is five years, you need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least five years. Whether or not this rule is enforced on the ground I do not know, but I’d argue that it’s not worth the risk to show up with a passport that is valid for less time than your intended length of stay – or you risk being denied entry, despite having a valid visa.
So there you have it: a quick run-down of the Japanese visa types and the Japanese visa process. If you have questions, feel free to leave me a comment. I might write more detailed posts in the future regarding the photos and forms, but this should get you started, for now. Happy Travels, and Welcome to Japan! 日本へようこそ！
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs: http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/index.html