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Guide to Japan and Teaching English in Japan

Michael Chan Former ELT News editor Michael Chan wrote this comprehensive guide to teaching English in Japan. It covers just about any question you might have, from the kind of qualifications you need to the differences between the different kinds of schools.

This resource is aimed at those interested in pursuing a teaching career in Japan. We welcome further additions and comments to this page. If there is information you cannot find in this guide - post your query on the Message Board or contact ELT News using our contact form

January 04, 2009

Getting a visa

According to Japanese immigration law, any foreign national who wants to work in Japan must have a "status of residence" that allows them to do so. A quick read through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site (see link below) reveals that, while the term commonly used for this is "work visa", that isn't actually the correct official term. But as the site then goes to use the word "visa" and for ease of understanding, we use the term in this guide.

Getting a work visa in Japan may require more work, expense, and time, than getting the job!

Anyone considering coming to Japan is strongly advised to refer to the MoFA web site. Details change and may vary depending on the citizenship of the applicant. Officially, it is recommended that you get a Certificate of Eligibility, which is basically a check to see that you meet the immigration requirements. It generally makes the visa application a smoother process.

The visa for the vast majority of English teachers is the working visa. It used to be issued for only one year at a time, but recently three-year visas have been issued. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency about this. To get the visa you'll need to:

* have a bachelor's degree in any discipline (though the official line is that it should be related to their job).
* have a Japanese company or resident willing to sponsor you. In most cases, it will be the company that is offering the teaching position.
* make the visa application at a Japanese consulate outside Japan.

There is a small paradox. The school is in Japan, yet the visa application has to made from abroad. It is not unreasonable for schools to have at least a face-to-face interview before they consider whether to hire a teacher or not. So in theory, you'll need to come to Japan, have the interview, leave the country, make the application from another country, and return to Japan again! Some companies cover the expense of the foriegn trip, usually to a neighboring country such as South Korea, but this is less common in these economically hard times. Again, the rules vary and some applicants can complete the entire process in Japan.

Applicants from several contries, including the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, can go for the working holiday visa. This visa is easier to obtain but applicants must show proof of US$2000 or the equivalent for living expenses for their initial stay in Japan. There are 2 basic options for the job hunter: have everything arranged at the home country before arrival to Japan, or take a big leap and fly to Japan and go job hunting on a tourist visa. The latter route is not officially endorsed but immigration authorities tend to turn a blind eye in most cases.

Further Reference
A guide to Japanese visas - Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Web site

Working holiday visa - Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Web site

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