How to move to Japan: step by step guide
Your full guide on moving to Japan from the US.
Japan is a country that's proved fascinating for foreigners ever since opening up to the world over 150 years ago. With a unique culture, and burgeoning economy, it's a perfect place for expats who want to work hard, play hard, and get a taste of a really unique way of life. Many large international companies are based out of Japan and draw in international talent on a regular basis.
If you’re ready for a new experience and are thinking that life in Japan might suit you, then you need to make sure your paperwork is all in order. In all likelihood, if you intend to work or start your own business while you’re in Japan, you'll need some form of permit to do so legally.
Ready to get started? Read this guide to getting a Japanese work visa.
Your first priority should be to figure out if you need a work permit at all. In some cases, depending on your nationality and the role you’re going to take on, a permit might not be necessary.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs manages migration into Japan and their website contains plenty of useful information related to all stages of applying for a visa.
Although there are over seventy countries whose citizens benefit from visa free entry to Japan, if you want to carry out paid work while you’re there, you're probably going to have to get a specific permit. There are many variations on the visa types that are available, most of which mean you need to have a defined job offer before you apply. In this case, your employer can help you navigate the local requirements before you complete your application at your local Japanese embassy.
There are many different visa types for working in Japan which vary slightly according to the job you intend to do. The options are set out on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, but basically mean that you might be able to apply for a working visa for your specific profession (in the case of specialist skilled workers, journalists, artists and so on), or a visa designed for highly qualified professionals.
If you’re planning on taking the highly qualified professional route then you'll have to score above a threshold on the points based assessment system operated by the immigration authorities. The visas issued under this route are split according to work type - for example technical roles or academic pursuits, and you can input your details to check your likely points score on the immigration website.
Whichever visa type you choose you'll have to apply for your work visa at your local Japanese embassy before you travel to Japan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has a helpful flowchart which explains the actions needed to be completed by yourself and your prospective employer in order to get your work visa.
You’ll have to submit your documents at the local embassy and might be invited for an interview or required to provide more supporting evidence depending on your circumstances. Once your visa is issued you'll have three months to enter Japan. You can find your local Japanese embassy here. It’s also a good idea to check their processes in advance. Some embassies, for example, will require an appointment while others work on a first come, first served basis.
If your visa application is straightforward and you have submitted all the correct documents including a certificate of eligibility from your employer, then your visa will be prepared at your local embassy in only a few days. Average waiting times in this case are under 5 days - however, if you don't have the certificate of eligibility or the application isn't complete, then you can expect your visa to take several months to sort out.
There are visa fees to pay when you receive your documents (although these charges aren't levied if your application is turned down). However, these vary depending on where you apply and are made in the local currency there. Some nationalities also have exemptions in place meaning that visas are free. Check the price and arrangements in advance when you make your appointment to submit your documents. Some embassies have very specific processes, such as the Japanese embassy in New York, which will accept only exact amounts, payable in USD cash.
It’s possible to have an agent help you make your application for a Japanese working visa but your employer should also help with the Japanese end of the process. If you do choose to use an agent for any stage of the application, make sure you use someone who is recommended for the service they provide and that you know exactly what you’re paying for.
The documents you need will be confirmed by your local embassy, as there are some variants depending on your nationality and the type of visa you’re applying for. Regardless of the visa type you can expect to need:
Visa application form (if you’re from Russia, CIS countries or Georgia you need to submit two visa application forms)
One passport type photograph (again, if you’re from Russia, CIS countries or Georgia you’ll need to submit two photographs)
Original and copy of a certificate of eligibility, which is issued by a regional immigration authority and confirms your score on the points based immigration system
The certificate of eligibility can be sorted out by proxy, for example, by your prospective employer in Japan. If you’re planning on working for yourself you can apply for this as an individual applicant or have an agent help you.This certificate is used to confirm that the activity you intend to do isn't illegal and there's no bar to you entering Japan.
Japan has working holiday arrangements with various countries which means that visas can be issued to live and work in Japan for up to a year. The applicant must fulfil certain criteria, including usually being under the age of 30, and a citizen of the specified countries which include Canada, New Zealand, the UK, France and Germany. For a full list, check out the working holiday visa page online.
If you’re not able to apply for this visa route then the role you’re going to do might be covered under the skilled labour visa. This applies for people travelling to work in specific roles like as a sports trainer (if you’re thinking of teaching skiing at one of the many resorts, for example), as an entertainer or in a skilled hospitality role such as a sommelier. Visas aren't usually granted for unskilled roles, even for the short term, so you'll need to investigate your options before making any plans.
Getting advice from a local immigration lawyer or agency might help you find the right way to get a visa based on your specific circumstances.
A temporary visitor visa can be issued if you’re travelling to Japan to research a new business idea, sign contracts or do other work which isn't directly remunerated.
This might be used in some circumstances while you apply for a certificate of eligibility to allow you to get a longer term entrepreneur or investor visa. Alternatively, a Business Manager Visa, which can be issued for four months, could be used. However, it might be best to apply for your certificate of eligibility before going to Japan, as the application process can be lengthy and you don’t want to risk overstaying your visa.
Applying for a certificate of eligibility for yourself (as opposed to having an established employer do so for you), and then completing the required admin for the full permit, can be a complex and time consuming process. There are therefore many agencies who can help you with the legalities and formalities of both setting up your business and receiving all of the required paperwork to be able to trade legally.
Although the exact requirements vary depending on the way you approach the situation, to get a visa to work as an entrepreneur you'll need to provide evidence such as proof of a business address in Japan, a business plan, investment details and evidence you will provide local employment.
If you have a visa under the highly skilled professional route then you can also apply for your spouse and dependant children to join you in Japan. In this case they can be issued a residence permit for up to five years. You may also be able to apply for other family members, such as your (or your spouse’s) parents if they're coming to take care of their grandchildren. These visas are issued for shorter periods of time - only six to 12 months.
Another possibility is to apply for a residence visa under the general visa option for your dependant family members. If you’re unsure which route is best then your local embassy should be able to advise you.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has a vast amount of information for new arrivals in Japan, available across several different languages. You can find out more about living in Japan and also learn about how to integrate and even deal with any emergencies that might arise.
How can I move money to Japan from my bank account abroad?
To get the most of your money in Japan, you'll want to open a bank account in Japan, which you can do before you arrive.
Once you send money either to or from Japan, consider using a money conversion service like Wise to avoid unfair exchange rates. There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another you’ll get the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not only that, but Wise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, further saving you money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.
If your trip is short or opening a bank account in Japan isn't an option, you can always withdraw money from your foreign account using an ATM there. Just keep in mind it'll be more favourable to agree to be charged in the local currency, not your home currency.
Regardless of when you start your new job abroad, it should be fairly straightforward to get yourself a visa if you follow the right steps. The most important part is just to make sure to enjoy your new adventure. Before you go, or whilst you're there, a language learning app like busuu can help you improve your Japanese.
Your full guide on moving to Japan from the US.
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