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Guide to Japan and Teaching English in Japan

January 07, 2009

Entry into Japan

Visas can be incredibly frustrating. Japan's immigration office is legendary even amongst bureaucracies. They really like you to fit clearly into one of their categories (working, working holiday, student, cultural activities), yet loathe to reveal exactly what the criteria actually are. Perhaps the greatest point in favour of conversation schools and Japanese-language schools is that they will usually take care of this mess for you.

What is a Visa?
You are now probably asking yourself, "What is a visa?". According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs a visa can be stated as, "a recommendation that a foreigner should be allowed to enter Japan". In other words, it is a kind of certificate (actually officially refered to as "status of residence") issued by the ambassador or consulate verifying that the foreigner's passport is genuine and valid and that the application for a stay in Japan for the purpose and period indicated on the visa has been deemed appropriate. If you plan to come to Japan you must first decide whether you intend on a short-term or long-term stay in order to decide what visa you will need to apply for.

Short-term Visas
If you plan to come to Japan for a short-term period you will require a Temporary Visitor's Visa. A Temporary Visitor's Visa gives you permission to engage in the following activities:

Sightseeing; recreation; sports; visiting relatives, friends, or acquaintances; visiting a sick person; attending a wedding or funeral ceremony; participating in athletic tournaments, contests, etc. as an amateur; business purposes (such as market research, business liaison, business consultations, signing a contract, or providing after-sale service for imported machinery); inspecting or visiting plants, trade fairs, etc.; attending lectures, explanatory meetings, etc.; academic surveys or research presentations; religious pilgrimages or visits; friendship visits to sister cities, sister schools, etc.; or other similar activities during a short period of stay in Japan.

With a Temporary Visitor's Visa you are allowed to remain in Japan for a period (for most nationalities) of 90 days! In order to obtain this visa you will require the following material:

1. A ticket for boarding an airplane or a vessel to leave Japan, or a written guarantee issued by a transport company.
2. A valid passport which enables the foreign national concerned to enter foreign countries out of Japan.
3. Documents certifying that the person concerned can defray all expenses incurred during the stay in Japan.

You are not permitted to engage in work on a Temporary Visitor's Visa! If you plan to start work while on this type of visa you will need to "Request for a change of status of residence". This is a long, worrisome, complicated process that will require the help of the organization you plan to work for. In essence applying for a change in residency status is applying for a long-term visa.

Long-term Visas
If you wish to enter Japan for work or study, you will be required to apply for a diplomatic visa, official visa, working visa, general visa, or specified visa. Naturally, foreigners who enter Japan having acquired a working visa are able to work in Japan. Typical types of employment include the long-term assignment to Japan of foreign company personnel; employment in Japanese companies to make use of the foreigner's knowledge of other countries; entertainment activities, such as concerts, theater, and sports; and educational activities, such as foreign-language teaching.

It is also possible to get permission for long-term stays for some activities that meet certain criteria, such as Japanese university or college education or company training, although work is not permitted in these cases. Permission for long-term residence in Japan is also granted in the case of spouses of Japanese nationals and others who settle in Japan. For more information on what documents are required for each type of visa please visit Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site.

When applying for a visa for the above-mentioned activities, it is advisable to apply beforehand for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE, see below). If you submit a visa application to an embassy or consulate together with a COE, you will be able to obtain a visa in a shorter time than applicants without such a certificate. You will require the help of the organization willing to hire you as the application for the COE is to be made in Japan only!

Foreigners can apply for a visa without such a certificate at an embassy or consulate in the case of long-term stays also. But if the purpose of the stay is work, the application documents might be forwarded to a regional immigration authority in Japan for screening. In this case applicants are advised to leave plenty of time for their application to be processed.

Certificate of Eligibility
A Certificate of Eligibility is issued before a visa application by a regional immigration authority under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. It acts as evidence that the applicant fulfills various conditions of the Immigration Control Act, including those certifying that the activity in which the foreigner wishes to engage in Japan is valid and comes under a status of residence (excluding Temporary Visitor Status).

The Certificate of Eligibility has the advantage of reducing the time required to obtain a visa and complete immigration procedures, since a foreigner in possession of such a certificate can probably acquire a visa at an embassy or consulate without any inquiries being made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, by showing the certificate to the immigration officer, obtain landing permission more easily.

Please note, however, that even if a foreigner possesses a Certificate of Eligibility, an embassy or consulate will not issue a visa in certain circumstances. - For example, if there has been a change in the situation since the issue of the certificate (such as the company that was planning to hire the foreigner decided not to because of business difficulties) or if it becomes evident that the documents submitted to obtain the certificate were false. For more details concerning the acquisition of a Certificate of Eligibility and the time required, please inquire at the nearest regional immigration authority.

Working Holiday Visas
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Korea, France, Germany and the UK between the ages of 18 and 30 (25 for the UK) can apply for a working holiday visa. This visa allows a six month stay and two six-month extensions. The visa's aim is to enable young people to travel extensively during their stay and for this reason employment is supposed to be part time or temporary, although in practice, many people work full time.

A working holiday visa is much easier to obtain than a proper visa and is popular with the Japanese employers as it can save them a great deal of inconvenience. Applicants must have the equivalent of $2000.00 in funds and an onward ticket from Japan, or $3000.00 in funds without the ticket. For further information, contact a Japanese Consulate in your country or see the MOFA web site.

Customs allowances include the usual tobacco products, three 760 ml bottles of alcoholic beverages, 57 grams of perfume and gifts and souvenirs up to a value of 200,000 YEN or its equivalent. If you're a vodka or beer drinker there's no need to bring alcohol with you as these items are cheap and available everywhere (even on streets in vending machines for your convenience).

Alien Registration Card
Anyone, and this includes tourists, who stays for more than 90 days is required to obtain an Alien Registration Card. This card can be obtained at the municipal office of the city, town or ward in which you're living. Moving to another area requires that you re-register within 14 days. You will need your passport, two recent 4 x 3 cm photographs, and a completed application form (available at the office). If your official period of stay in Japan is valid for more than one year you will may also be fingerprinted.

Your Alien Registration Card contains the following information: Your name, your nationality and home state, the place and date of your birth, your passport number, when you first landed, your address in Japan, the name of your householder, your relationship to the householder, your visa status, your occupation, and the name of you sponsoring company or institution and its address.

If any of the variables in this list change, you must report back to your city or ward office within 2 weeks with necessary paper work to make the change. You must carry you Alien Registration Card at all times as the police can stop you and ask to see the card. If you don't have the card, you will be taken back to the station and will have to wait there until someone fetches it for you.

Extension of Stay
So you're just starting to have fun when -whammo!- your visa is about to expire. All conditions being equal you can apply for an extension of your period of stay. If you studies are not yet finished, wanting to stay longer to complete them is definitely a valid reason. If you would simply like to stay and continue working at your current job, that is also a valid reason. Of course permission can be denied, but if you've paid your taxes and/or dutifully attended your classes, there should be no problem.

In general, Japan's immigration laws are relaxing in relation to skilled workers, so occasionally some requirements are waived. This also depends on your and/or your sponsor's record with immigration. Students or teachers at small, unknown schools always get the most grief.

If you leave the country within your allocated period of stay without a reentry permit, you will forfeit your visa. There is an immigration office at the airport, but you really have to bow and scrape to get them to issue you a reentry, and you certainly should not make it a habit. Reentries come in 2 kinds - singles and multiples.

If you think you will leave the country at least twice within your period of stay, then a multiple is the way to go. It costs double but gives you unlimited reentry. Reentry permits are valid for one-year, so to get the maximum value, you should apply for a reentry on the day you pick up your visa. Applications are available at all immigration offices throughout Japan. When you leave the country, you will need to fill out an embarkation/disembarkation card, half of which will be stapled into your passport. Don't lose it!

And Finally
Expect the unexpected and be prepared. Don't ever rely on only one source of information when it comes to visas, entry, passports and Japan. Think of the worst scenario, because in Japan, Murphy's law rules!

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