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Requirements & Visa Information For (Teaching English) In Japan 2014

What do you need to work in Japan and how can you get a visa?

What are the minimum requirements for teaching in Japan

There are two minimum requirements that most institutions will require for teaching in Japan and that’s a degree (well or ten years experience) and being a native English speaker.

Some positions will allow degree substitutes, for example JET will allow a three year teacher training certificate instead, but it's pretty similar to a degree in everything but name.

Authors Note: The degree (or 10 years experience) is a visa requirement. As far as I can tell the native English requirement is one that is put in place by the companies rather than the government as a visa requirement.

Onto the visa situation.

There are two main paths to working in Japan:

  1. Work Visa: Stay in your own country, get a company to sponsor you and come in on a work visa.
  2. Working holiday Visa: Apply for a working holiday visa and come over and work on that.

There’s also the two grey areas of changing visas:

  1. Enter on a tourist visa, search for work, then switch to a working visa.
  2. Enter on a working holiday visa, start working, switch to a work visa if you decide to stay.

We’ll cover the top two questions first.

How to get a Japanese work visa

There are different categories of work visas and most teachers will have one of the following:

  • Instructor Visa: This allows you to work in public institutions like elementary schools, high schools etc.
  • Specialist in Humanities Visa: This allows you to work in private institutions and companies, i.e. eikawas, business English teaching etc.

Aside from allowing you to work in different places, there’s no difference between the two kinds of work visa. They're both valid for 1 year or 3 years.

The process should go like this:

Step 1: Get a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).

According to the MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the guys who deal with all the visa stuff), the COE helps speed up the visa process and it’s possible to get a work visa without one, however in practice it’s pretty much mandatory.

When you've been hired, your employer will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for you. You’ll probably have to send them copies of documents to prove your background. They'll then post it over to you.

In very specific cases where you’re already in Japan then it is possible to apply for it yourself at an immigration office, but that’s beyond this article.

Step 2: You’ll then head to your local embassy to apply for a visa.

You’ll generally need:

  1. Passport
  2. Visa Application Form
  3. A photograph
  4. Certificate of Eligibility

It’s slightly different if you’re Chinese, Russian or from a NIS country.

Different embassies may also have slightly different requirements so it's worth checking with your local embassy before you arrive.

Step 3: Pick up your documents and enter Japan.

The time it takes to process your visa varies from country to country. The Japanese embassy in the UK says it’ll normally take 5 business days.

Go to pick-up your visa when it’s ready and they’ll give you back your original COE.

When you enter Japan, immigration will keep your COE and you’ll get a stamped passport along with your residents card if you arrive at Tokyo (Narita and Haneda Airport), Nagoya (Centrair Airport) or Osaka (Kansai Airport).

If you arrive somewhere else it'll be posted to you after you complete step 4.

Step 4: Apply for Resident Registration at your local government office

Immigration will then keep your COE and give you your stamped passport.

Within 14 days you’ll need to go your local government office to be registered as a resident. Japanese immigration have a section of their website which describes the process here. It's quite simple and you'll usually just have to go down to a local government office with your passport, two 4.5cm - 3.5cm photos and fill in some forms.

How to get a Japanese working holiday visa

Step 1: Be the right nationality

Working holiday visas aren't available for all countries. At the moment you can only get them if you're from:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • The Republic of Korea
  • France
  • Germany
  • The United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Hong Kong
  • Norway

Step 2: Meet all the other requirements.

The requirements change slightly depending which country you’re from, but generally they’re:

  • Be between 18 – 30
  • Intend to go for a working holiday.
  • Have a valid passport
  • Have enough money to buy a return ticket (or already have one)
  • Have enough money to support yourself while you’re there (it’s usually at least $2000)
  • Have no criminal record and be healthy.
  • Never have applied for a working holiday visa before (it’s a one time thing)

The official MOFA page for a working holiday is here and it’s really clear.

There's also a nice blog post that’s worth recommending that goes through the details on all the different documents you’ll need like the itinerary etc. Click here to read it.

And remember a working visa only gets you in and out once. If you’re going to leave and come back you need to get a re-entry permit from your local immigration office.

Like people on the work visa, you'll also be given a resident's card (depending on where you arrive) and will have to go and register yourself at the local municipal office.

How to change a tourist visa to a working visa in Japan

Welcome to the first of the grey areas.

Why do this? Why not just get a work visa?

Why not take the easy option? Find a company to sponsor you abroad and come over on a work visa?

The problem is it’s far easier to get a job and search for jobs if you’re already in Japan. A reasonable number of the Japanese job adverts will require people applying to be in Japan. This then forces people into coming over outside of the ideal visa situation.

One important thing to be aware of is often adverts are looking for people who are in Japan and ready for work. If you're on a tourist visa you're in Japan, but you could still be up to two months away from being ready to work. Sometimes companies don’t want to wait the 1 -2 months it takes to get a visa processed and are looking for people who already have a working visa for Japan.

Let’s briefly cover what’s not grey. You can’t work on a tourist visa. It’s illegal don’t do it.

The greyer area is coming over to search for work on a tourist visa and then switching to a work visa.

It’s technically frowned upon to enter the country on a tourist visa to look for work. Of course this simply means that people don’t declare it. When they then find work, it brings them to the next question.

Do I have to leave Japan to change my visa?

No you don't. The line on this isn't always particularly clear, some of the embassy and government websites say that if you come in on a tourist visa, you’ll need to leave Japan and then come back in on a work visa. Others don't.

To get a first hand source of information I got in touch with the Embassy of Canada in Japan, who in turn got in touch with the Japan Immigration Information Centre and confirmed that you can change your visa status in Japan.

There's a catch here because the process can take up to a month and a half or longer. A tourist visa is only 90 days so it's possible for tourist visa to run out while you're waiting for your work visa; in that case you'd have to leave Japan and return on another tourist visa while you wait for the work visa to be processed (South Korea is a common choice for Japanese visa runs).

To do this you use the same process you would use to change the type of your work visa, it's bureaucratically named a “Change of Status of Residence”.

The process involves going to your local immigration office and submitting an “Application for Change of Status of Residence”. The Japanese Immigration website again has an excellent page describing what you’ll need to do this.

And as you’re transferring to a work visa you'll usually be asked for a certificate of eligibility in addition to everything mentioned above.

How to change a working holiday visa to a working visa in Japan

This is the same as changing a tourist visa to work visa which we described above, the process is the same and you can switch inside Japan.

Do you have to change visas when changing jobs?

Remember we mentioned two kinds of visa? Well if you change jobs you might also have to change visas. Usually this is if you change from teaching in a public school to a private one (ALT to eikaiwa).

Teaching in a public school requires an instructor work visa, whereas working in an eikaiwa requires a Specialist in humanities work visa.

The process for switching is really simple. You'll need submit an “Application for Change of Status of Residence”. The ministry of education has an excellent page which describes what you'll need, how long it takes etc.

Changing visas when you change jobs

And the ever reliable Japan Guy has an article walking you through how he changed his own visa status when changing employers from eikaiwa to ALT. Click here to read it.

Image Attribution:

"The Japanese embassy on Piccadilly in London" by Alex.muller is licensed under CC BY 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike. Photo has been cropped.
"Japanese Visa" by Paul Davidson is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped.

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