There is lots of official and unofficial information about visas for Japan. The aim of this page is to share a bit of my *unofficial* knowledge on the subject, and help you to understand the official guidelines (i.e. the information issued by the Japan immigration, and Japanese embassies).
Always trust the official information rather than unofficial information (don’t trust me for example), but be aware that sometimes there is a difference between the ‘official’ information, and what is actually possible :)
What is a visa?
A visa for Japan allows you to be given a specific status of residence in Japan at the airport – as long as immigration allows you to enter the country. Which they probably will as you have a visa and so have already been checked out by the Japanese government. There’s no guarantee though, even with a visa you can be sent back home after reaching the airport in Japan.
This is what a visa looks like when stuck inside a passport.
Do I need a visa to come to Japan?
This depends on what you want to do in Japan and what country you are from. If you are just coming for a holiday and are from a Western country then you probably don’t need a visa. If you are coming to start a pre-arranged job then you will.
If you come to Japan as a tourist under the visa waiver scheme you will get a ‘temporary visitor’ status of residence. If you are in Japan on the visa waiver scheme your ‘temporary visitor’ status isn’t a visa – you never had a visa! That’s the whole point of the ‘visa waiver’. Here is the landing permission stamp for a temporary visitor.
So when most people say they have a touist visa, they usually don’t… unless they are from a country that requires them to get an actual tourist visa before visiting. In which case they get a temporary visitor visa before going to Japan which then gives them a temporary visitor status of residence.
How can I get a visa?
Again the official information at http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/ is a good place to start, but I’ll give you a summary. Here are some of the main types of visa.
- Work visa – you will need an employer in Japan to sponsor your work visa. They will file much of the paper work for you, but you will have some paper work to do as well. Your visa will give you permission to work in a specific industry (e.g. in the public school system, as an engineer etc). Even though you need sponsorship from one company the visa does not tie you to that company, only to the particular industry for which it is granted.
- Working holiday visa – if you are young enough and from one of the countries that has a reciprocal working holiday visa scheme with Japan then you may be able to get this type of visa which allows you to stay in Japan for an extended time and work with no employer sponsorship necessary. If you qualify for this visa it is a great scheme as it gives you a large amount of flexibility in who you work for, what type of work you do, and how long you can work. This is one of the most relaxed visas you can get for Japan. I wrote about my experiences of getting on on my working holiday visa for Japan page.
- Student visa – if you are going to study in Japan your college / University can arrange your student visa, which gives you the potential to do a small amount of work if you get permission.
- Medical stay visa – you can get permission to stay in Japan for extended medical procedures – you’ll of course have to have the money to afford the treatment.
There is a list of all 27 types of visa, along with basic explanations on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage.
The Embassy of Japan in the UK has more detailed explanations of some of the 27 visa types.
How long will my visa be valid for?
The visa is valid between the dates printed on the visa (which should be glued in your passport). It will be invalidated the momement you enter Japan*. The immigration inspector will stamp a big ‘USED’ on it (see the visa photo above) to highlight that you visa is no longer valid!
* Unless you have a multiple entry visa which some business travellers are able to obtain, or a transit visa. Note a multiple entry visa is not the same as having a normal single entry visa which a multiple re-entry stamp. So if you are coming to Japan to do a normal job (such as teaching English) put the multiple entry visa out of your mind – you won’t need or get one. You’ll have to buy your re-entry permit once you get in the country.
My visa says ‘For stay of 1 year’ but it is only valid for three months. Why?
The dates refer to different things. The visa validity is the time period of when you must enter Japan. The ‘For stay of x years’ is how many years you can stay in Japan from the day you enter the country.
But if my visa is now invalid how can I stay in Japan?
Because as well as invalidating your visa the immigration inspector will put a ‘Landing permission’ sticker in your passport stating your residence status, and the validity of your residence status. The example landing permission sticker below says that the status is ‘designated activities’ (which you get if you enter on a working holiday visa) and the validity is one year from sometime in 2010, to sometime in 2011.
It is this residence status that allows you to live, work and stay in Japan. The visa just allows you to get the residence status.
This is where people get confused, and why they find it hard to understand the official infoarmtion. If you understand the difference a visa and a residence status you should be able to understand the official information from immigration.
If the residence status if the important thing, why does everyone keep referring to visas?
Because visa is a nice short word whereas talking about landing permissions and residence statuses is more convoluted.
Most employers, people on the street, and the contributers to Japan discussion forums will talk about visas when they may be referring to either visas or residence statuses.
There’s nothing wrong with referring to your residence status as a visa to employers, friends and family as it makes it easier for them to understand. If you talk about your residence status they’ll probably just get confused.
But when you want to understand the official immigration guidance it is very useful to understand the difference.
Can I come to Japan without a visa and find a job?
Officially no. But people do this all the time.
The main advice I’d give you if you want to follow this route is: don’t whatever you do tell immigration at the airport that you are coming to Japan to look for a job! They might send you straight back. Tell them that you are here on holiday, make sure you have a return / onward plane ticket to keep them happy, and then try to find a job once you are in.
If I come to Japan without a visa and am offered a job do I have to leave the country to get my visa?
No you don’t. You don’t even need a visa – you need to change your residency status.
There is some old information that keeps being repeated on internet forums that you have to do something called a ‘visa run’ to South Korea to get permission to work. You don’t. The change of status can be done from within Japan.
All you need is for immigration to change your status of residence from temporary visitor, to one of the statuses that allows work.
As you aren’t officially supposed to be looking for work on a temporary visitor permit they have a special disclaimer in the ‘change of status’ rules. It says that a change of status from a temporary visitor status will only be allowed if due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’.
Fortunately for the large number of people who do this every year, getting an English teaching job whilst in Japan appears to satisfy their ‘unavoidable circumstances’ criteria.
How can I extend my visa?
You can’t. It is invalidated by immigration when you enter the country.
But you can extend or change your residence status which will allow you to be in the country for longer.
If you are staying in the same job or same industry your employer will have to give you the paper work to allow you to file an ‘application for extension of period of stay’.
If you are starting a job in a different industry from that which your residence status allows you to work your new employer will have to give you the paper work to allow you to file an ‘application for change of status of residence’.
Here are the passport stamps for successful change of status, and extension applications.
Can I stay in Japan while my application is being processed?
You may end up in a situation where you current permission to stay in the country is about to expire, and you are just about to submit your application for a change of status, or extension.
As processing can take 2-3 weeks, or sometimes more, you may be worried about being left in a state of limbo whilst you wait for the results.
Fortunately the amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that were passed in 2009 clarrify the situation. You’ll see that a special excemption has been put in place that allows you a two month grace period beyond your current period of stay expiration if you have to wait for a result.
The information on that page is a bit basic, but when you make the application (change of status / extension), you will get an ‘Application’ stamp in your passport with a reference number.
They should also staple in (or give you) a sheet of paper with some information. This piece of paper states that you can stay beyond your period of stay if you are waiting for a result, but that you must contact immigration if you haven’t had your notification within a certain time. It also makes it clear that this two month period is a hard deadline. If you were to stay for two months and one day without getting a result you are now an illegal resident and subject to deportation!
My period of stay expires on 4th May, can I leave on the 5th May?
Yes – But only if you want to be regarded as an illegal resident, banned for re-entering the country for five years, and possibly be interrogated, jailed or fined.
Don’t overstay by even a day – it is not worth it!
My landing permission says I can stay until the 5th July 2011, but my alien registration card expires in 2015. Can I stay until 2015?
No! The date that counts is the one on your latest landing permission / status change / extension sticker that is in your passport. The expiry date on your alien registration card is the date when you need to renew the card, and does not have anything to do with your permission to stay in Japan.
I have accidently overstayed in Japan, what do I do?
If you want to avoid being deported you should hand your self into immigration and tell them you want to leave voluntarily. They have the option to allow you to leave with a ‘departure order’ rather than being deported. Read their information on departure orders carefully to understand the consequences.
And read up about the deportation process so you know what the other option is.
Can my employer cancel my visa / residence status?
If you are still in your own country, have accepted a job, and have submitted the visa application then your employer can cancel the visa application.
If you have entered the country and got your landing permission then there is nothing your employer can do to cancel your residence status.
As you have your landing permission you can work for whoever you want (subject to the conditions of your status of residence).
Your employer can not cancel your issued landing permit / status of residence. Only immigration can cancel your residence status.
I have six months left before my residence status expires. Do I have to work?
If you have a normal work visa then you aren’t officially supposed to be unemployed for more than three months. Immigration can technically invite you in for an interview and cancel your residence status. However I don’t know how often they actually do this.
See the question “I heard that my status of residence would not be revoked even if I fail to engage in my intended activity relating to my status of residence for three months because of “justifiable reason.” It is true?” on this page.
If you have a working holiday visa then don’t worry. You don’t have to work at all. You can just have a holiday for the entire duration of your stay. The permission to work with the WHV is there to support your holiday. If you don’t need the money then you can just relax.
What is a re-entry permit?
If you want to leave Japan without cancelling your status of residence (and losing your right to work) you’ll need a re-entry permit.
Information about the application procedure is here:
It can be issued on the day, and it will take about 30 minutes as long as there isn’t a huge queue! You can either buy a single re-entry permit, or a multiple re-entry permit. I wrote about getting a re-entry permit here.
Where can I find information about coming to Japan to study?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a good website about studying in Japan. Here is a direct link to the immigration part.
Where can I find more about the working holiday visa?
You can read my own working holiday visa account, but a good general resource is the official Japan Association of Working Holiday Makers page. It has links to all the individual Japan embassies where you can get country specific information about the programme.
Is the information on this page accurate?
I’m not guaranteeing anything. You should use your own judgement.
However as I have provided (where possible) links to official Japan government sources you can read the accurate official information yourself and make up your own mind.
Useful official links
Official visa information – http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/
Study in Japan – http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/
Working holiday – http://www.jawhm.or.jp/eng/
Good general info from the Japan embassy to the US – http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/english/html/travel_and_visa/visa/faq_new.htm
Comments / corrections?
If you have further questions or comments do leave feedback below. I’ll update the article with any corrections or new questions I get.