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A Guide to Visa Types and Work Permits in Japan

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  • Edmund Taylor

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If you are coming to the Land of the Rising Sun for anything other than tourism, one of the main requirements to apply for a Japan visa is the Certificate of Eligibility (COE). This certificate is the first step in the Japan visa and application process because it states that the applicant is legally able to come to Japan—whether that be for work, family, or another qualifying reason. You will need to apply for and receive this certificate before arriving in Japan. Likewise, despite what you may expect, you will start the process of applying for your Japanese residence card (“green card”) at the airport when you first arrive in the island country.

The cost of Japanese visas stays relatively the same no matter the type of visa you are applying for. The price changes dependent only if you prefer a single or multiple entry visa. Likewise, Japan visa requirements all largely demand a university degree and COE, but depending on the type of work you will be doing you may need to submit a portfolio of work or other supporting materials.

Those interested in permanent residency will need to look into Japan’s immigration point system. This system scores applicants based on their academic achievements, work experience, and other qualifying factors. Expats who score high have a better chance of qualifying for permanent residence in as soon as one to five years.

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Work Permits and Employment-Based Visas

The type of work permit or employment visa you need in Japan will be dependent on the type of work that you do. Japan has nearly 30 different work and long-term visas for expats to apply for based on their job and reason for moving to Japan.

Types of Work Visas You can Apply for

  • Artist
  • Business manager
  • Engineer/specialist in humanities/international services
  • Entertainer
  • Instructor
  • Intra-company transferee
  • Journalist
  • Legal/accounting services
  • Medical services
  • Nursing care
  • Professor
  • Religious activities
  • Researcher
  • Skilled labor
  • Technical intern training

The length of time each permit allows an expat to remain in Japan varies dependent both on the permit you are applying for and your individual needs and circumstances. For most permits listed above, the length of time can be anywhere from three months to one to five years. No work visa is valid for more than five years.

Specified Skilled Worker Visa

In addition to the above work visa categories, Japan’s government also recently introduced the specified skills visa (tokutei ginou, 特定技能). Split into two types, this visa is meant to encourage foreign workers to come to Japan and fill employment gaps in certain labor sectors. In total, the government hopes this visa will attract around 500,000 new foreign workers to Japan by 2025.

Specified Skills Visa 1-SSV1

Applicants applying for this visa must pass a Japanese language test as well as technical exams. Your level of Japanese proficiency will depend upon the job you will be working, but you may be required to pass up to an N4 level.

Skilled workers applying for this visa will work in the following areas:

  • agriculture
  • materials processing
  • nursing care
  • shipbuilding
  • restaurants
  • airport ground handling and aircraft maintenance
  • food and beverage
  • hotels
  • industrial machinery
  • electronics and electric machinery
  • building cleaning
  • construction
  • vehicle maintenance
  • fishery

This visa is only valid for one year and renewable for up to five years. Workers are not able to bring their families with them. If a worker wants to remain in Japan for longer than five years or wants their family to join them, they can apply for the Visa 2-SSV2.

Specified Skills Visa 2-SSV2

Unlike the Visa 1-SSV1, this visa can be renewed indefinitely and visa holders may bring their family to Japan. Currently, workers living and working in Japan on Visa 1-SSV1 can apply for this visa only after achieving higher levels of specialization in their field.

Japan Work Visa Requirements

While specific requirements may fluctuate from visa to visa, these are the general requirements you will need when applying for a work permit in Japan:

  • an offer of employment from a Japanese company
  • your passport
  • visa application form
  • photograph
  • Certificate of Eligibility

Given the type of visa you are applying for, you may also need to provide a CV and your original university degrees or certificates.

Certificate of Eligibility

The Certificate of Eligibility is an important document when applying for any Japanese work visa. This certificate is issued by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. You can submit this form either in person at a Japanese consulate or embassy in another country, or you can mail it.

Requirements to submit the certificate include:

  • completed application form;
  • passport-sized photograph;
  • filled out and stamped return envelope.

You will also be asked for extra documentation dependent on the type of work visa you are applying for. For example, those applying for a researcher visa will be asked to provide the following:

  • material showing the outline of the recipient organization
  • diploma, CV, and other documents certifying your career position
  • documentation certifying the activity, its duration, position, and remuneration

Engineers will need to show:

  • copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization;
  • materials showing the business substance of the recipient organization;
  • diploma or a certificate of graduation with a major in the subject regarding the activity for the visa being applied for;
  • documents certifying your professional career;
  • documents certifying the activity, its duration, position, and the remuneration.

For a complete list of documents required for each Japan work permit visa application form, see the government’s website.

In some cases, the work visa can be issued without the Certificate of Eligibility, but an applicant may have to provide extra paperwork and the processing time could take longer. In other cases, a visa cannot be issued without this certificate. Either way, it is best that applicants obtain this certificate. The only expats who are able to receive a visa swiftly without a Certificate of Eligibility are intra-company transferees who work for stock exchange-listed companies.

Japan Visa Cost

The cost for a work visa in Japan depends both on the type of visa you are applying for, your nationality, and whether you want a single- or multiple-entry. A single-entry visa means that you must consult immigration officials (and may be subject to a fee) every time you wish to leave and re-enter Japan. A multiple-entry means you may come and go as you please.

In general, a single-entry visa will be about 3,000 JPY (30 USD). A multiple-entry visa is 6,000 JPY (60 USD).

Other Visas

If you are interested in a business visa or family visa, you can read more about them in the sections below. Business visas are the same as self-employment visas. Family visas are also called dependent visas.

Self-Employment Visas

Expats interested in a self-employment visa in Japan will need to apply for an investor or business visa. This is a self-sponsorship visa for individuals interested in establishing their own business in Japan rather than working for a Japanese company.

While this type of visa and work opportunity does provide for greater flexibility when living in Japan, the visa application process is difficult. Japan has a strong work culture with employees remaining loyal to one company throughout their entire careers, and employees are often seen as extended family members. Expats interested in being self-employed in Japan should prepare themselves for a difficult road as well as an assumed Japanese societal assumption that they are not serious, dedicated workers.

Japan Self-Employment Visas: Requirements

Because there is no self-employment visa in Japan, you will instead need to establish a business to support yourself. There are a few ways foreigners can do this. The first is by entering Japan on a work visa through a Japanese company, remaining in Japan for a year and building up a network to eventually start your business.

For some expats, this is an ideal way to become self-employed in Japan because many Japanese companies will sponsor your visa even if you only work contractually for them. It is also possible to start your business this way and then apply for an investor visa as someone who is starting a brand-new company in Japan.

If starting your own business from scratch, you will need to apply for the investor visa with the following:

  • proof of a 500,000 JPY (4,600 USD) investment
  • business plan
  • copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss
  • material showing the number of full-time staff (you will need at least one other full-time staff member in addition to yourself)
  • copies of resident cards or registration certificate and documents regarding wage payments of the staff
  • proof of an official business office
  • proof of investment amounts
  • your Japanese residence card
  • proof you have paid regular income and residence tax

Another way to apply for an investor visa is by applying with a company that is already established. For a company to be considered already established, it will need to be at least three years old. You will then need to submit the following along with the application form, which can be found on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

  • proof that you earn at least 250,000 JPY (2,300 USD) per year (keep in mind that the more you earn, the better your chances are of getting the visa);
  • monthly bank statements;
  • invoices from previous clients;
  • signed contracts from previous clients;
  • proof of income tax contributions;
  • official office address.

No matter which of the two investor options you decide to apply with, you will also need a university degree as well as any applicable certificates for the field in which you will be working.

Self-Employment Visa Cost

Just as with the other work visas, the cost of a self-sponsored business/investor visa will range between 3,000–6,000 JPY (30–60 USD) depending on whether you want a single- or multiple-entry visa.

Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

Knowing how to apply for a temporary or permanent residence visa in Japan first depends on how long you intend to stay. For short-term stays for tourism or business purposes, nationals of certain countries can enter Japan visa-free for anywhere between 15 to 90 days. You can find this complete list of countries on Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

The requirements and fees for a temporary resident permit vary depending on your nationality. For all nationalities, you will at least need to show your passport, arrival card, and customs declaration form (given to you in the plane; read more below) upon arrival into Japan. Many nationals from around the globe can arrive temporarily without paying a fee but check with your consulate to be sure. If you have to pay a fee, it should only be between 1,000 to 2,000 JPY (10–20 USD). For most expats, your application for a temporary residence permit will be made at the airport upon your arrival.

For some nationalities, it is possible to renew your short-term stay for an extra 90 days by either applying at a local government office or leaving Japan and immediately returning. However, for most expats wishing to live and work in Japan for longer than three months, you will need a long-term visa.

How to Obtain Residency in Japan

If you want to know how to get permanent residency in Japan, you will need to start by obtaining a long-term residency visa. To do this, you must start the application process before arriving in Japan. If you enter Japan on a tourist visa and take up employment, you will still need to leave the country and start the application from abroad. You cannot change a tourist visa to a long-term or working visa. However, once you have a long-term visa, it is possible to change or alter its status.

Step One: Certificate of Eligibility

If you have a job offer or are moving to Japan to study, your sponsor should take care of applying for the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for you. This document serves as a preliminary screening process that says you are legally allowed to enter Japan. If you do not have a job offer nor are being sponsored by a school, it is still possible to obtain a COE. Take a look at the Immigration Services Agency of Japan’s website to see what category you may fall into and the documents required to apply for the COE.

Once you have the COE, you will take it to your closest Japanese consulate. Submit the COE along with your passport. Wait times will vary depending on your consulate. You will then receive an entry visa, which you will use when you enter Japan. This entry visa will have an expiry date, which is typically two months from the day you receive your passport back. This is the expiry date in which you need to enter Japan: meaning, you must enter Japan before this date or else the visa will be invalid.

Step Two: Residence Card

Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and want to set sail across the seas, you will arrive in Japan by plane (it is an island after all). On the plane, you will receive a landing card and a customs declaration form. If you do not, be sure to ask for one because these will be needed when going through customs.

These forms are standard. You will be asked to list:

  • your contact information;
  • passport number;
  • origin of departure and final destination;
  • address where you will be staying in Japan;
  • intended length of stay;
  • purpose of stay;
  • any declared goods.

If you do not know the address of where you are staying, you can just list the city or the name of your hotel.

If you are arriving at one of Japan’s major airports, such as Narita, Haneda, Chubu, or Kansai, you will need to join a line that is separate from everyone else queueing for a visa on arrival. It is best to show your COE/entry visa to an airport staff member and have them direct you to the correct area. You will have your fingerprints and photograph taken, and then you will wait for your laminated residence card to be made right there in the airport.

Keep in mind, everyone entering Japan has their fingerprints and photograph taken for security purposes. If you do not receive a laminated card, that means you did not receive your residence card.

In Japan, a residence card is called a zairyu card (在留カード).

Step Three: Register Your Residence

Once you have arrived in Japan, you will have two weeks to register your residence with the local city hall. You will need to do this in the same municipality in which you live, so finding a place to live immediately upon arrival is imperative. However, it is also possible to change your address on your residence card when you move, so registering with a temporary residence is also an option.

When you register, you will do so with the residence card you received at the airport and your passport. The process should take less than an hour.

Once you have completed these steps, you should be issued your long-term visa. For nearly every expat, this visa will need to be tied to a form of employment or as a dependent/family member of a Japanese resident. The length of stay will depend on the visa type, but most will be for somewhere between one to five years.

Long-Term Visa Fee

Your visa fee will depend on whether you want a single- or multiple-entry visa. Single-entry visas will cost 3,000 JPY (30 USD). Multiple-entry will be 6,000 JPY (60 USD).

How to Obtain Permanent Residency in Japan

In recent years, Japan has somewhat loosened its requirements for permanent residency. It used to be that foreigners could only apply for permanent residency status after ten years of continuous living in Japan. Now, expats can apply for permanent residence status as early as one to five years if they meet certain requirements.

These requirements are based on a point system. When completing an application for permanent residence in Japan, you will fill out a form that will score you based on several factors: your profession, years working in your profession, academic qualifications and work achievements, age, licenses and certificates you may hold, and salary. People with high scores will have doctorates, senior-level positions, and/or multiple years of work experience. You can also boost your score by proving knowledge of the Japanese language.

To qualify for permanent residency within one to five years of living in Japan, you will need to score a minimum of 70 points. Those with a score of 80 points or higher are eligible to obtain permanent residency after just one year.

Japan Permanent Resident Visa Requirements

While the length of time you must live in Japan varies based on each individual, these are the general requirements for anyone applying for permanent residence in Japan:

  • proof of no criminal record while residing in Japan;
  • satisfy the requirements of your current visa, whether that means you are still married or employed;
  • proof of adequate financial means;
  • proof that you have contributed to taxes and social security;
  • certificate of residence;
  • proof of income;
  • original passport and a copy;
  • residence card.

Permanent Resident Benefits Japan

One benefit of having permanent residence in Japan is no longer having the need to switch your visa status if you change jobs. You will also no longer be required to renew your visa, although you will still need to renew your residence card every seven years. For those looking to own property in Japan, it will also be easier to get a loan from a Japanese bank.

Spouse Visa

A spouse visa in Japan is the same as a dependent visa or a family visa. Dependent visas include children and other family members that residents can claim as dependents. Spouse visas can be used for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The process to get a spouse visa in Japan is straightforward. Most of the documents required will be ones supporting the Japanese residence status of the sponsoring spouse. Once you have that, the applicant applying for the spousal visa will need the following:

  • certificate of eligibility
  • passport-sized photograph
  • certified copy of family register
  • marriage or birth certificate (if applying as a spouse or child)

The only additional cost included with this visa is a family register. This is usually not more than 500 JPY (7 USD).

There is no such thing as a fiancé visa in Japan.

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