A working holiday visa for Japan will allow you to holiday in Japan for up to a year. You will be allowed to work to fund your holiday (for example by teaching English). But of course you don’t have to work if you already have enough money for your whole holiday.
I’m applied from the UK so my advice is UK centric, but the scheme operates in a similar way in other countries where it is available – at the time of writing this includes Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and others. The Japan Association for Working Holiday Makers has a complete list of eligible countries.
If applying from the UK you’ll want to read the guidance from the Embassy of Japan in the UK.
There are a few unofficial links giving good general advice. This one from Guillaume Erard has a great account of what he did to apply for the Japan working holiday visa. This YouTube video is also a good watch.
As there is good information out there, I’m going to add extra information that I have, rather than just repeating what has already been said.
The Japan visa application form
You need to fill in the standard Japan Visa application form. There isn’t a separate form for a working holiday visa. It isn’t quite clear from the website but the form you need is this one.
For purpose of journey I put ‘Holiday (working holiday visa application)’.
For route of present journey I filled in all three parts. It doesn’t matter if your change your port of entry, date of entry, or flight later on. I think they just want to make sure you know you are trying to go to Japan!
In the passport section I circled ‘ordinary’.
For the ‘guarantor or reference’ I put the name and address of the friend I was going to stay with. Exactly the same as what I put in the ‘where / who are you going to stay with’ section above it.
I glued a 45x35mm passport style photo into the photo space on the form.
For this I produced a cut down version of my CV. I didn’t think they’d want the same level of detail a recruiter would want, so I made it fit on a single side of A4 – with a bit of space to spare!
I started with the basics – name, address, email, telephone number. I put a run down of my jobs and responsibilities. There was a section with my qualifications, and a final section talking about hobbies.
This was by far the most difficult part of the application to do. It is made more difficult by the almost complete lack of guidance on the Japan embassy website.
In order to write a good itinerary I decided to plan the whole year out. The where, when, what, and how much. I looked at tourist information for where I wanted to go, planned it out on an Excel calendar, and worked out a budget on another Excel spreadsheet.
This I then condensed into a single side of A4. I’ve heard that other people such as Guillaume Erard have had to re-write their itineraries in the Embassy as theirs were too long. Mine was more detailed than his but they were fine with the first version I gave them. When I went to hand it in I had actually brought an even shorter version with me just in case!
I believe what they are looking for is that you are serious about having a holiday in Japan and have done some planning. They aren’t interested in exactly what you are doing. There is no reason why you can’t change you plans later – you don’t have to stick to the itinerary. What I think they want to filter out is people who are just going to go to Japan, stay in one place, and work full time, instead of having a holiday.
The written reason
For this I again stuck to a single side of A4 paper. I’m sure they are very busy in the Embassy and don’t want to read any life stories.
I wrote about what a good time I’d had on my previous visit to Japan, and about what I wanted to do if I was given a visa to spend longer there.
I’m guessing they want to see some genuine interest in going to Japan. Again this part of the application is probably there to dissuade people who just want to work full time from applying.
They want to see evidence that you have enough to get started in Japan (and get back to your home country). If you apply from the UK they’ll want three months worth of original bank statements showing a certain level of cash.
This is a pain for anyone who has swapped to paperless statements. Fortunately I knew I wanted to apply over three months before I needed to so I switched back to paper statements.
Going to the Japan Embassy in London to make the application
Having got all the necessary material together I headed off to the Japan Embassy which is opposite Green Park.
Outside the embassy is a security contractor. You’ll have to tell him or her why you want to go inside. You might have to show some ID or your application forms to get in.
You’ll then go through airport style security. Any bags will be x-rayed and you’ll need to go through a metal detector. So don’t bring unnecessary metal with you unless you enjoy being scanned in more detail!
Then you go up the stairs to a little counter. There was a Japanese lady behind the glass and I told her I wanted to hand in my working holiday visa application. She asked to see the visa form. She didn’t want to check it – she just wanted to make sure I’d filled in the right form before going through.
She told me to go through the glass doors and press the bottom green button on the ticket machine at the end of the room.
On doing this I got a numbered ticket. An electronic board above flashes your number up and tells you which counter to go to. I’d only sat down for a minute and my number came up. Efficient!
I went to the counter and a British guy served me. I told him I wanted to hand in my application. I gave him the visa form, the CV, itinerary, written reason, bank statements, and my passport.
He looked through them and re-confirmed a few details such as my intended length of stay, and the fact that I had no criminal record. He also asked about my job plans in Japan.
He signed various bits of the application form, photocopied the bank statements, and then stamped the form.
He gave me back my bank statements and also a receipt for my application and passport (which you have to leave at the embassy). He said to come back one week later to collect the result of my application.
He said that he couldn’t promise anything but everything on my application looked fine.
One week later – do I get a working holiday visa?
Yes! I was in the embassy for less than 10 minutes. I paid my £6 (Update 2010/11/08: this has now gone up to £20) and I got my passport back with the working holiday visa stuck inside.
It was dated from the day they approved the visa which was a few days before I collected it and valid for a year. So from this date I have one year in which to enter Japan.
Yen and flights
Getting into Japan with the working holiday visa
When you arrive at the airport in Japan you need to go into the normal foreigners queue. When you get to the counter you’ll need to give the immigration staff member your passport and immigration (embarkation/disembarkation) card. I handed him the passport with the visa visible, but I’m sure you don’t need to as the fact you have a visa should be on their computer system already.
There is a machine to take the finger prints of your two index fingers, and there is a camera as well which takes your photo.
They can give you a short interview at this point as well. On my previous visit to Japan where I didn’t have a pre-arranged visa (I was just going via the normal tourist visa-waiver scheme) I was asked quite a few questions about what I was doing in Japan and how long I was going to be there.
This time though the guy didn’t ask me anything. He stamped the visa to say ‘USED’. Then he printed off and stuck in a landing permission sticker. This is dated from the day you enter Japan, and expires one years after you enter Japan.
To be clear the validity of your stay in Japan is from entry to Japan. It is not the dates which are in your visa. The dates that are in your visa are the dates between which you can enter Japan, to start your one year stay.
He also removed the disembarkation part of the immigration card, and stapled the embarkation part of the card into the passport. I had left the ‘Flight No.’ part of the embarkation card empty, as I didn’t know what flight I would be getting back to the country at the end of my travels.
Whereas a tourist landing permission sticker gives the status as ‘Temporary Visitor’, the working holiday landing permission sticker says ‘Designated Activities’.
He handed the passport back, and gave me a small leaflet reminding me that I would have to register as an alien within 90 days.
Finally don’t forget the visa is single entry and is marked as ‘USED’ the moment you enter Japan! So don’t even think of making a short break to South Korea, or back home without sorting out a re-entry permit first.
If you leave without a re-entry permit your one year landing permission will be invalidated, and then your only way to re-enter would be under the normal tourist visa waiver scheme. Which they might not let you do if you have already been in the country for a while!
Can I stay in Japan longer than a year?
A one year working holiday visa for British citizens can’t be renewed. However you can get your residence status changed to a normal working residence status from within Japan if a company is willing to give you the necessary paperwork. This will give an automatic extension to your period of stay by one or three years from the day the status change is granted.
There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet about this, much is out of date, and there is a big difference between what embassy/immigration officials might informally tell you, and what can be done if you actually submit the application. It is probably not worth asking anyone if this can be done as they will probably say ‘no’. Definitely don’t ask about this when applying for your working holiday visa, as with the working holiday visa you are only supposed to be intending to stay for a year.
The actual situation that I have found as of 2011 is that you can submit a ‘change of status’ application in Japan before your working holiday visa expires, and this will (if approved) convert your visa to a normal working visa and give you another year (or three) in the country. There is no need to leave the country to get this done. All you need is a company who is willing to sponsor you. I may post more about this topic in a future post.
So if you want to change a working holiday visa into a work visa, don’t ask – just submit the application and it will probably be ok. I managed to get my Working Holiday designated activities residence status changed to a three year Specialist in Humanities a few weeks before it expired so it can be done!