Posts Tagged ‘visa’

Japan visa change of status and extension

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

If you are moving to a job which requires a different residency status from your current one, you will need to file a change of status application with immigration. This post talks about my experience of changing my ‘designated activities’ status (working holiday visa) to a ‘specialist in humanities / international services’ status. There is also information about extending your period of stay.

The most common changes for typical readers of my site would be ‘instructor’ to ‘specialist in humanities’ (or vise versa), ‘designated activities’ to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities (for WHV people who are staying longer), and ‘temporary visitor’ status to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities’.

By far the most common one will be changing between ‘instructor’ and ‘specialist in humanities’ as the English teaching statuses are split into two. If you work at public school you will have an ‘instructor’ status, and if you work at a private conversation company (e.g. an eikaiwa) you will have a ‘specialist in humanities’.

Although the post is mainly about changing status, I’ll include information about making period of stay extension applications as that follows a similar process.

Making the application

To change your residence status you will first need a company willing to sponsor the change. In other words you will need to have a job offer from a company.

You will then need the correct paper work. You official process for a change of status of residence is detailed on the immigration website here, and you can also find the extension process details here.

If you look at the link in this section for both the change of status and extension, you’ll see that the main difference between the two is that for an extension you have to provide ‘Documents certifying an annual income and tax payment’ whereas for the change of status you don’t. This makes the change of status simpler for you as you don’t have to go to city hall to get those tax certificates.

The paper work listed for a change of status to ‘specialist in humanities’ listed on this page is:

  1. Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.
  2. Materials showing the business substance of the recipient organization.
  3. A diploma or certificate of graduation with a major in the subject regarding the activity of the person concerned, and documents certifying his or her professional career.
  4. Documents certifying the activity, the duration, position and the remuneration of the person concerned.

Here is the paper work I actually needed.

  • The application form for a change of status (for applicant)
  • Application form for change of status (for organisation)
  • Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.

The first two are from this ‘Application for Change of Status of Residence’ PDF linked from the change of status page. That is 4 sides of A4, and pretty easy to fill in. You’d probably fill in the ‘applicant’ part and your company would fill in the ‘organisation’ part.

Maybe these 4 sheets of paper satisfied parts 2 and 4 of the list of required documents above for my application? Or it could be that Tokyo immigration is quite relaxed?

The ‘copies of company registration/profit and loss…’ consisted of a single sheet of photocopied A4 paper which listed the company name, gave a few details of the company profit, and had the company seal on it (photocopied – not an original seal).

And that was all I needed – 5 sheets of single sided A4 paper. The list of documents does mention needing a degree certificate, but I was never asked for mine.

Of course you need your passport and alien registration card as well.

Making the application

To apply I went to the Tokyo immigration centre which is located on an island near Tennozu Isle Station. There is a detailed description of how to get to the centre on the ‘Way Way in JAPAN! ’ blog. Or if you want the short version find the blue bridge near the station, and if you look North East you will see the Tokyo immigration building (highlighted in red).

tokyo immigration bureau

I went just before the Golden Week holiday, they were obviously expecting a lot of people as they had signs up asking people to avoid making any applications at this time if they could wait. I went in anyway, and headed upstairs to the application counter.

There was first a 10 minute queue to be seen by someone who had a quick scan of my documents. She seemed happy that I had the correct ones so she gave me a numbered ticket. It was about 2:45pm and I was given number 580. There were hundreds of other people in this area of the building. The current number on the screen was 325, so there were 250 tickets to go before mine!

It is good that they do a quick screening of your forms and documents before issuing you a ticket, as it would be terrible to wait for ages for your number to be called, only to find out that you are missing something obvious.

I had plenty of time so I had a walk around, and bought and ate some food. I was able to calculate the rate at which they were getting though the tickets. They had all 6 counters fully staffed and were getting through about 1 ticket per minute.

At 4pm they stop issuing new tickets for applications, but they will keep calling up the numbers until they have serviced all the tickets.

After about 3 hours 25 minutes my number was called! I handed in my forms, passport and alien registration card.

The lady on the counter gave me a postcard, and told me to write my address on it.

After I had done that she told me to sit down. After nearly 10 minutes (I saw her discussing something with another employee) she called me back up. She had stamped one of the pages in my passport with an ‘Application’ stamp, and had stapled in a leaflet explaining what happens next.

period of stay change of status leaflet

Here is the text of it:

A judgment on your application for change of status of residence will be made approximately within a month. Please be advised that it may take more time depending on a case.
When no notice is given after 30 days of the expiration of your period of stay, please visit the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, and confirm the status of your application before 40 days have passed since the expiration date.
(Note) Those who applied for change of status of residence may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of your period of stay, even if a judgement on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

I only had about five weeks left of my current residency status, so I was keen to know how long it would take to get my results. The lady though it might be about three weeks, but she said it could take longer.

I then aksed about what would happen if my current residence status expired before I got my result. I don’t think she understood my questions, even after I tried to rephrase it three times. And I didn’t understand any of her answers. Don’t expect the immigration staff to speak good English. If you need English help before or after applying there is a help centre on the ground floor with staff that have a higher level of English.

Later when I got home I tried to decode the leaflet. I worked out that it meant that you could stay for up to two months beyond the expiry of your current period of stay *if* you were still waiting for a result. But that if you don’t get any result within 30 days of your period of stay expiring, you should visit them before 40 days have expired since the end of expiry of your residence status.

And very importantly – it stated that overstaying by one day from this two month grace period would cause you to become an illegal resident. Comment 1 on my Japan visa FAQ page will give you an idea of the kind of trouble you can get yourself in if you try overstaying by even one day.

Here is some official information about the special exception to the period of stay from immigration.

Application for extension of period of stay leaflet

If you are applying for an extension at Tokyo immigration here is the text of the leaflet that they are currently stapling into passports.

A judgment on your application for extension of period of stay will be made within the following period unless any special notice is given by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. Make sure to visit the office of the Bureau within the specified period. Please contact the Inspection Coordination Department of the Bureau if you cannot do so.
Please bring your (1) passport and (2) foreign resident registration card with you when you visit the office. A fee of 4,000 yen is required when your application is permitted.
Period of visit:
From **/** (month/day)
To **/** (month/day)
(Note) Those who applied for extension of period of stay may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of you period of stay, even if a judgment on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

The dates given are about a month from the day you apply. The ‘special notice’ refers to them sending you the postcard that you filled in. So if you get the postcard you have to visit them before the date on the postcard. If you don’t get the postcard then you have to visit them between the dates on the leaflet.

They’ve made the English in these leaflets way more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps they should ask some of those native English speakers in the waiting room to help them rewrite it in simple English.


After making the application you then have to wait. I’ve found that the expected processing times they tell you at immigration are usually the worst case times. There is a good chance that it will be done in about two weeks or less. A friend of mine went to Tokyo immigration late in the morning on Monday, and got the notification card on Saturday – less than a week!

You (probably) don’t need to worry about whether they will grant your change of status/application. If they accepted your documents, and you have a sponsoring company who wants you to work then your request should be granted.

Receiving the postcard

About three weeks later the postcard arrived! It would probably have only taken two weeks if it were not for the Golden Week holiday. Here is my postcard. As they had ticked the box to get ¥4000 of revenue stamps I was pretty sure that I had been granted the change of status.

japan visa notification postcard

If there is a problem with your application they’ll send you a letter asking for more information, or scribble something on the postcard, rather than ticking one of the revenue stamp boxes.

Visiting immigration again

I went back to Tennozu Isle Station, and walked to immigration again. I started queuing from 8:15am, and they opened the doors at 8:30am. First I went to the Family Mart on the ground floor to buy my revenue stamp.

4000 yen revenue stamp

I then went upstairs to the permission stamp counter. I waited in the short queue, handed over my passport and postcard, and was given a numbered ticket. The queue to get your numbered ticket opens at 8:30am, but they don’t start calling up numbers until 9:00am.

At about 9:15am my number was called. The lady handed my passport to me and showed me the page showing that my change of status had been granted and that I had been given a three year period of stay. They must have been feeling generous!

The application stamp in the passport had been marked as ‘USED’.

change of status application stamp japan

And here is a photo of a change of status sticker, as well as an extension sticker.

japan change of status extension permit

If you change your status the one year/three year new residence status starts from the day you collect your sticker. If you have applied for an extension to your current status the one/three year extension starts from the end of your current period of stay.

With my change of status granted I went back down to the Family Mart, bought another revenue stamp and went back upstairs to get my Japan re-entry permit (¥3000 for a single and ¥6000 for a multiple).

One year or three years?

A lot of people want to know how to get a three year residency status rather than a one year one. There are all kinds of theories floating around on the internet such as:

  • You need to have been granted several one year periods of stay before getting a three year one.
  • They want to wait for evidence of a history of having paid all your taxes before granting it.
  • The company you work for may play a factor.
  • The country you come from may influence the decision.
  • It depends on whether the immigration official is having a good day or a bad day.
  • They roll a dice and randomly select what to give you!
  • It depends on which immigration bureau handles your request.
  • The type of job you are doing makes a difference.
  • It depends on whether you tick the one or three year box on your application.

The truth may be in there somewhere, but no one really knows. For obvious reasons their criteria for deciding what length of stay to grant are secret.

I can however say that it is not always necessary to have been granted several one year periods of stay, or to have paid taxes before getting a three year period of stay.

I spent only one year in the country on a WHV (and I did no work – therefore paid no taxes – it was a pure holiday), and I was granted a three year period of stay with my very first application.

Lose ends

Don’t forget to get your alien registration card updated at your local city office within two weeks of being granted your change of status / extension. They will write the new details on the back of the card, and then put a clear holographic security sticker over the writing.

alien registration card updated

Teaching English in Japan FAQ

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Teaching English in Japan is a popular job for people who want to experience life in Japan for at least a year. This FAQ is made up of a mixture of 1st hand and 2nd hand information. Feel free to add your questions or corrections in the comments section.

teaching in japan

What qualifications to I need to be an English teacher in Japan?

The main one is to have a bachelor’s university degree*. This is needed to satisfy Japan’s visa sponsorship requirements.

* Unless – you qualify for a working holiday visa, in which case you probably don’t need a degree (but the requirements for a WHV vary from country to country, so you’ll have to check).

Many sites on the internet write that you need a ‘four year bachelors’ degree – but this isn’t true. What you need is a completed bachelors degree, the length of which may vary depending on what you studied and in which country you did your studies. For example in the UK we often spend 3 years on a bachelors degree, whereas the same subject may take 4 years in America.

The second main ‘qualification’ you’ll need is to be a native English speaker, although some companies don’t even that – some are happy if you can call yourself a ‘natual’ English speaker.

Do I need a teaching qualification?

No. Some companies will prefer it, some may even require it, but there are plenty that are happy to employ you with no teaching qualification.

Do I need teaching experience to teach English in Japan?

Again it is not necessary – but it would help if you have it. Some companies will insist on experience, others prefer people with no experience so they can more easily train them using their own teaching methods.

Do I need to speak Japanese?

No! English is usually learnt best if there is no Japanese used in the classroom. Unfortunately many Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) can barely speak any English so teach much of their classes in Japanese or Katakana. This is why the government needs so many ALTs – so that the kids can get exposed to real English. And also why conversation schools are so popular.

Japanese speaking ability will however be useful for talking to Japanese teachers/staff in the school, and it will make your Japan life easier in general.

Where can I teach English in Japan?

Most people teach in one of these places:

  • Public schools – for children aged 6-18. You will be employed by an ALT dispatch company or the JET scheme and then assigned to the school rather than applying to the school directly for work.
  • Eikaiwa – private English conversation school for all ages, from kids to adults.

But it is also possible to find jobs at:

  • Kindergarten – 3-6 year olds.
  • Private schools
  • University
  • Juku – private cram schools for kids. English classes here are usually taught by Japanese teachers, but a (very) small number of Juku’s employ native speakers.
  • Private tuition – in coffee shops and cafés for example. You won’t get a visa to do this though, so this is something you can only do in addition to you visa sponsored job.

Which teaching companies can I apply to?

Here is a summary of some of the larger companies. If you need visa sponsorship then the larger companies are your best bet. Many of them will also help you with housing if necessary. If you are already in Japan, with permission to work, then you could apply to smaller companies as well.

ALT jobs

  • JET – the government scheme. Good pay and benefits, but a very long application process. 35 hours per week. ¥3,600,000 per year (¥300,000 per month).
  • Interac – one of the largest private ALT dispatch company with positions all over Japan. ¥230,000-¥250,000 per month.
  • Altia Central – ALT dispatch
  • Heart – ALT dispatch, mostly in Kanto.
  • RCS – ALT dispatch in Kanto. ¥210,000-¥240,000 per month.

Conversation school jobs

  • ECC – 50% kids, 50% adults, group classes. Mostly in Kanto, Kinki, and Chubu. Good holidays, and shorter hours than many similar Eikaiwas. 29.5 hour work week. ¥252,000 per month.
  • Aeon – one of the largest conversation schools in Japan. Mix of adult and kids group classes. 38 hour work week. ¥270,000 per month.
  • Gaba – 1:1 English teaching for adults (some kids teaching opportunities as well). You can pick exactly when you want to work. Pay starts at ¥1500 per 40 minute class with a 5 minute break between classes. You only get paid for classes which are booked by the students.
  • Amity – children’s English group classes. Owned by Aeon. 40 hour work week. ¥285,000 per month.
  • Berlitz – Adults and kids classes. They have a mix of full time and part time contracts available.
  • Shane English School – teaches British English in the Tokyo area to group classes. ¥245,000 per month
  • Peppy Kids Club – kids group classes. ¥250,000/month.
  • Epion – collection of juku schools mainly in the Osaka and Kyoto area. Kids group classes. ¥200,000 if doing 5 days per week.
  • Nova – When Nova and GEOS when bust, many of their locations were bought by G.communication, which via Jibun Mirai Kyoiku is still using the Nova brand to sell classes. 8 40 minute group classes per day, 5 days a week. ¥273,000/month.

University jobs

  • Westgate – 3-5 month teaching contracts at Japanese University or college.

The best list of teaching job adverts is on the GaijinPot jobs page.

I read on [some Japan forum] that [English teaching company X] is terrible

It is interesting to read about other people’s experiences, but read them with caution – some companies are of course better than others, and there will always be people who have good experiences and others who have bad experiences at the same company. Of course the ones who have bad experiences are a lot louder and post about their experiences a lot more.

Also remember that some of the companies are much bigger than others. Just because companyX has 5 times more complaints than companyY doesn’t mean it is any worse. If it is 10 times the size then it may be much better on average!

What can I expect at the interview?

You will probably be asked in advance to prepare a 5-10 minute lesson. The interviewer or the other interviewees (if this is a group recruitment session) will pretend to be the students. You may well on the day be asked to prepare another short lesson with only 5-10 minutes notice. If you are applying to teach adults and kids they may want you to do a lesson for each. They want to see enthusiasm, clear simple English, and especially for the kids you will need to do lots of hand/body gestures to explain your lesson.

Some companies will give you a written test on grammar, spelling, and lesson planning.

And there will certainly be a face to face interview where they will want to know about your motivation for going to Japan, and for teaching there.

If you are being recruited from abroad they will always want to make sure that you aren’t going to get culture shock after a week in the country, quit, and go home. If you have been to Japan before, or spent time in other foreign countries you may have an advantage.

What factors should I consider?

Here are the two main questions you should consider:

  • Do you want to teach in a public school, or conversation school?
  • Do you want to teach kids, adults or both?

Having answers to these questions will very quickly narrow down the companies you will apply to.

How do I get a visa to teach in Japan?

You will either need a company to sponsor you, or get a working holiday visa. In order to get them to sponsor a visa for you they will have to offer you a job.

There are two types of company sponsored visa for teachers.

  • Instructor visa – for teachers at elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.
  • Specialist in humanities/International Services – for conversation school teachers.

Unfortunately having two types of visa makes it harder to switch jobs in Japan. For example it is easy to move from one eikaiwa to another as the visa type (more accurately residence status) stays the same, but to move from public school to an eikaiwa would require your new employer to change your residence status, which is extra paper work for them.

There is more information about visas on my Japan Visa FAQ page.

What are the different types of public school like in Japan?

It is hard to answer as there is so much variation. Like anywhere else there are good schools and bad schools, good kids and bad kids, and good Japanese teachers and bad Japanese teachers.

Here are a few generalisations though.

  • Elementary school – the kids will be very lively, enthusiastic and not shy to give answers in class. At this age they will respect the teacher so it should be possible to control them.
  • Junior high – during the first year of Junior high the kids will probably still have much of their elementary school enthusiasm in them, but by the 2nd and 3rd year their enthusiasm and willingness to learn will probably decline as the Japanese school system wears them down. Many schools will still have great kids, but some schools will have many kids that the teachers can’t (or won’t) control. Some of the kids in these schools may well cause trouble for you (refusal to work / insults) especially if you are female.
  • Senior high – May be better or worse than Junior high, depending on how academic the kids are. If it is a good school, and many of the kids want to do English at university it could be great. If they have long since lost interest in English it could be a nightmare.

On average children from the country side in Japan will be better behaved than city children.

Class sizes can be up to 40 children in Tokyo or other big cities. At country side schools, or more academic schools the classes may be smaller, or may be split into two for better learning.

Aren’t Japanese children some of the best behaved in the world?

Yes – they are probably better behaved than children from most other countries. The problem is that at public schools there is (usually) no proper discipline system. i.e. no detention, no lines, no sending kids out of the class, and no shouting at the kids.

Many JTE are unable to control badly behaved kids. This isn’t a problem in most schools where the kids are fairly well behaved, but if you get one of those schools with badly behaved kids and weak JTEs you may be in for a rough ride. You may be forced to try to discipline them yourselves, even if that isn’t officially your job.

This open letter to the Minister of Education on the Japan Times gives an example of the problems that some ALTs face.

If I ended up with a class of badly behaved kids and a powerless JTE what do I do?

Here’s some options:

  • Inform your ALT dispatch company of the problem and get their advice.
  • Raise your voice to scare the kids into behaving (Japanese teachers don’t usually shout at the kids as it shows a loss of control, but sometimes it is better to short than to let the classroom turn into a zoo).
  • Convince the JTE to take a more active role in disciplining the kids – e.g. have them sit or stand next to the worst ones.
  • Get any trouble makers to appologise to you. Either in class or ask their home room teacher (form teacher) to have them come to the staff room to see you at lunch time.
  • Speak to their home room teacher and get them to talk to the problem child.
  • Speak to the sports coach of the child – often the badly behaved ones are the sporty kids (e.g. the baseball boys), and their sports coach may be the only teacher they respect.

You will however have to be careful if trying to deal with these issues directly – this may well go against the contract between the ALT dispatch company and the board of education.

How do I get a job at public school?

You should either apply to one of the ALT (assistant languate teacher) dispatch companies such as Interac, or apply to the government JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) scheme.

Most ALTs are assigned to schools via one of these routes rather than being employed by the school directly.

The school year if from April to the following March, so much of the recruitment is for jobs starting in April. However recruitment does happen at other times of the year to replace teachers who have left.

Will I teach my own classes, or will I be team teaching?

It all depends on which ALT dispatch company you work for, the school, the teachers, the age of the kids, your teaching ability, and the contract between the dispatch company and the boards of education. You will probably fall into one of these categories, or somewhere inbetween.

  • Full responsibility for teaching – you will plan the lessons, and run the entire class from start to end without any input from the Japanese English Teacher (JTE). Their only role will be to handle discipline and safety issues.
  • Team teaching – you and the teacher may jointly plan the lesson in advance, and will both teach it together.
  • Human tape recorder – The JTE will teach the class and you will be called on once in a while to give the correct pronunciation of some words or phrases.

Here are some generalisations, but individual experiences will greatly vary.

  • Elementary schools often involve team teaching, and Japanese may be used for parts of the class.
  • ALTs from private dispatch companies will probably have full responsibility for teaching the class for junior / senior high.
  • JETs may well be team teaching for junior / senior high.

What is the English level of the Japanese students and teachers like?

In general, very poor. Japan consistently comes out near the bottom of world English proficiency surveys. For example by looking at the 2010 data of the TOEFL tests you can see that Japanese native speakers are near the bottom of the list, only beating speakers of languages such as Bambaria, Kikuyu, Khmer, Kurdish, Lao, Uighar and Wolof.

When compared to ‘English as a foreign language’ (EFL) speakers from developed countries the Japanese are pretty much at the bottom. Their English skills are below other East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Of course Japanese is a very different language from English, but then so is Chinese and Korean, and these other countries are higher on the English league tables, despite not being as rich (per person).

Here’s a summary of some of the factors that contribute to the poor English speaking ability of the Japanese:

  • Many Japanese people aren’t interested in learning English. They have no plans to ever leave the country, or even their own prefecture, and don’t plan to make any English speaking friends.
  • Japanese is a very different language to English in terms of pronunciation, and grammar rules.
  • The way it is taught at schools by the JTEs is very borning, relying on grammar and translation rather than practical speaking and conversation.
  • JTEs often teach English using Katakana, so the children are taught the wrong pronunciation for words from the very start.
  • JTEs often give the kids the answers and expect them to remember, rather than asking questions and making them think for themselves.
  • Most Japanese people have very little interaction with foreigners, and so don’t have many opportunities to use any English they may have.
  • The average English level of the JTEs is low for the factors above, and also because many of them haven’t done a full English degree at University level. To become an English teacher they do a mixture of English modules and teaching modules. The mixture depends on what level they want to teach at (for example to teach at senior high school requires a higher amount of English modules than teaching at junior high). The total amount of English they are doing is less than foreign language teachers of other countries would do. For example to be a French teacher in the UK you would do a 4 year French degree, spending one of these years in France, and then do a one year teaching qualification after completing your French degree.
  • Many Japanese people (and also many JTEs!) have never been to an English speaking country. Even at senior high school you will find many JTEs who have never spent time in an English speaking country – even for a quick holiday.

What is an Eikaiwa?

An eikaiwa is a private English conversation school. You could be teaching adults, kids, or more usually both. In general you will teach group classes of up to 8 students, but you may be doing 1:1 classes as well.

Eikaiwa usually have standardised lesson plans and teaching methods that they want you to follow.

You will be teaching mostly in the evenings and weekends as this is when the kids, and business people are out of school/work. There will probably be afternoon classes for house wives and students.

This cartoon on YouTube has a funny (but maybe quite accurate) depiction of some of the characters you might meet in lower level English classes.

A Day in the Life – English Conversation School in Japan

And this mini-series on YouTube gives a humerous perspective on life in an Eikaiwa.

OMG! Best Eikaiwa Ever! part 1 (there are 4 parts)

And finally you may want to watch this 8 part series called ‘English Teachers‘. A bigger budget mini-series about life in a fictional eikaiwa.

How can I get a teaching job in Tokyo?

First remember that Japan isn’t all about Tokyo. In fact many people have amazing experiences in other cities, or country side area. In the country side you’ll find that people are friendlier, the kids are better behaved, and you’ll get to see more of the real Japan.

But if you really want to come to Tokyo then your best bet might be an Eikaiwa or ALT dispatch company that specialises in the Tokyo area (see the list above). Even then Tokyo is large so don’t expect to be in a Yamanote line location.

With JET you have no choice where you are placed, and with Interac you have a bit more say, but not enough say to insist on Tokyo (unless you are already in Tokyo).

Eikaiwas are a good bet if you insist on being in Tokyo or a big city, as their teaching locations are manly in the cities, near the busy train stations.

Public schools are obviously scattered all around Japan, so if you want to teach in a public school you should try to be more flexible with your location.

If you really want to be in Tokyo you might have the most success if you apply for jobs whilst in Japan. Is this allowed? Technically not – you aren’t supposed to job hunt if you have a temporary visitor permit. But as long as you don’t tell anyone at immigration when you enter the country, and have an onward ticket so they can see you have an intention to leave, you can get away with it.

Will I have to sing and dance for the kids?

If you are teaching elementary level kids then there is almost certain to be some singing, acting, and dancing in your lessons – you may end up becoming what some people refer to as a ‘Gaijin Clown’, whose job is to entertain the kids more than teach them. If you don’t want to do this then stick to teaching older kids or adults.

How has the huge earthquake of March 2011 affected the job situation?

If you are in Tokyo there has not been an easier time (in recent years) to get a teaching job than the months after the earthquake. Many foreigners either quit their jobs and went home, or decided not to renew their contracts. Others who were due to arrive in April decided not to come – the disaster happened very close to the end of the school year, so the timing was terrible for companies that recruit in April-March cycles. I’ve heard the word ‘Flyjin’ used to describe the people who left suddenly.

Many ALT dispatch companies and eikaiwas have been left with severe shortages of teachers, so they have desperately been trying to recruit since. I’ve personally spoken to recruiters at four eikaiwa companies who have told me about their large teacher deficits, and I have heard via a friend that the same situation exists at one of the major ALT dispatch companies.

Obviously to recruit a large number of extra teachers on top of their usual recruitment needs has been very difficult, and they have had to reduce standards to get people in the door.

The recruitment situation is starting to get back to normal as of June/July 2011, but I know that there are still shortages at some companies.

This is the case in Tokyo, so the situation may vary in other parts of the country, especially those directly hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

How will I get a flat / place to live?

Many teaching companies will offer to get you set up up in an individual or shared flat / room / house. They will then deduct the rent from your salary.

The advantage of this is that you don’t have to find a place yourself, and your initial expenses will be less as you probably won’t have to pay deposits / key money etc. The disadvantage is that your place might not be that good, it may be over priced, and if you leave your job your company might evict you.

If you prefer to find your own place you can try the following companies:

  • Sakura House – flats, guest houses and dormitories in Tokyo. They rent exclusively to foreigners.
  • Leopalace21 – they have nearly identical looking small flats all over Japan. They are happy to rent to foreigners, you don’t need a guarantor, they don’t charge key money and they have short term and long term contracts available. If you are signing a long term contract you will however need about three months worth of rent from day one, to cover the first two months of rent, the deposit, and other misc fees. I recommend working out how to use their Japanese site as this will allow you to properly search their range of flats. I have a guide to using the Leopalace Japanese website here.
  • Oakhouse – guest houses in Tokyo and Yokohama for foreigners.
  • Apollo Properties – in Osaka and Nagoya.
  • JTB Homestay – if you want to live with a Japanese family.

Do I have to pay taxes?


There are a variety of different taxes you will have to pay. Income tax will usually be taken straight out of your salary at a rate of 10%.

You will have to have some kind of health insurance.

If you are in the country for over a year you will need to be on one of the government’s health insurance programmes – either the employee health insurance scheme, or the national health insurance (NHI). If you are on the employee health insurance scheme the premiums will be deducted from your salary. If you are on NHI you will have to pay the premiums separately.

The employees insurance combines health and pension. Your employer will contribute 50%. About ¥10,000 will be deducted from your monthly salary for the health insurance and about ¥20,000 for the pension. You can get some of your pension payments back if you leave the country, but you’ll have to do some form filling to get it.

If you sign up to the NHI instead you will end up paying about 10% of your salary after the first year for the health insurance. For the first year you will pay a much smaller amount (about ¥2500-¥4000) as the premiums are based on your previous year’s pay (which would have been 0 as you weren’t in Japan!). If you delay joining the NHI (and you weren’t previously in the employees health insurance scheme) you may have to make up back payments for the time you were uninsured.

If you are on the NHI you are in theory supposed to join the national pension scheme as well – but many foreigners who are only going to be in Japan for a few years don’t bother.

If you are in the country for less than a year you might get away with private health insurance, but with this you’ll have to pay for any bills in cash, and claim it back later which can be a pain. Be aware that if you are on private health insurance and switch to NHI you’ll have to pay the back payments.

And you will have to pay resident’s tax / local tax. This catches many people out as you pay in arrears the year after you have lived somewhere. It could be about 7-9% of your salary and you pay direct to the government via the city office, or bank, in four instalments.

Therefore it is very important that if you are intending to spend several years in Japan you don’t spend all your money as you earn it. In the first year you need to save up so you can afford to pay the tax that you will be charged later on.

Read this tale of despair on GaijinPot for an example of someone who hadn’t planned for his resident’s tax bill!

How long do most people spend in Japan teaching English?

Most people spend between 1 and 3 years in Japan before going home. People either tend to burn up after that, or they enjoy it so much that they move into a management/training role at the teaching company, or sometimes marry a Japanese person and settle.

Japan visa FAQ

Monday, May 30th, 2011

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.

japan visa working holiday

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.

temporary visitor landing permit japan

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 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.

designated activities landing permit japan

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.

japan change of status extension permit

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.

change of status application stamp japan

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.

japan single reentry 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 –
Study in Japan –
Working holiday –
Good general info from the Japan embassy to the US –

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.

Japan re-entry permits and embarkation / disembarkation cards

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

This page is about Japan re-entry permits and the embarkation / disembarkation cards that you have to fill in when you enter and leave the country. Both are closely linked together so I’ve put this information in one larger post, rather than two smaller ones.

Re-entry permits for Japan

If you have a visa (residence status) to be in Japan and wish to make a temporary trip out of Japan you will need to get a re-entry permit in order to re-enter the country without losing your residence status.

japan single reentry permit

If you leave Japan without a re-entry permit then your residence status/period of stay gets automatically cancelled so it is very important to make sure you remember to get your permit.

Note: Re-entry permits only apply if you have a visa for Japan. It does not apply if you are in the country on a visa waiver scheme and have a temporary visitor landing permit. If you have a temporary permit you can just leave the country and when you come back you will get a new temporary permit (as long as immigration let you in that is!).

How to get a re-entry permit for Japan

To get a re-entry permit requires a simple visit to your local immigration office. You can find the official application details and a copy of the application form on the immigration website.

I went to the Takamatsu immigration office where I first had to sign in at the door. Then I went to the 2nd floor to buy a revenue stamp. If you want a single re-entry permit it will cost you ¥3000, or if you want a multiple re-entry permit it will cost ¥6000. I bought a stamp for a single re-entry permit. In Japan they have this system of paying for revenue stamps in a different location to making the application so that no money changes hands when the application is made – this is to stop bribery attempts. The same revenue stamp system applies if you get a Japanese driving licence.

japan revenue stamp for single entry permit

I then went to the 8th floor where the immigration application office is. In there I collected the application form and started filling it in. A man who spoke very limited English gave me a bit of help. I then handed it in along with my alien registration card and passport.

The questions on this form are asked from the point of view of your stay in Japan, which may not be clear from the English translation.

  • ‘Period of Stay’, means how long your period of stay in Japan is (e.g. 1 year), not how long you are going to leave Japan for.
  • ‘Purpose of travel’ question is referring to the purpose of travelling out of Japan, not your purpose for being in Japan. You don’t have to worry about being exact on the expected date of departure and re-entry. They just want a rough idea, it won’t cause you problems with immigration if you change your mind later.
  • ‘Expected destinations’ is where you are planning on travelling outside of Japan.
  • Leave occupation blank if you have no job, and the name in chineese characters can also be left blank unless you have a Kanji version of your name.
  • If you are in the country on a working holiday visa the status of residence is ‘designated activities’.

I had to sign this application form, and also the form onto which the revenue stamp was stuck.

I then had a five minute wait while they processed the application, they then gave me my passport and foreigner card back. My passport now had a re-entry permit stuck in it. The expiration date of the re-entry permit is the expiry date of your current period of stay, or a maximum of three years from today (whichever is earliest).

They also gave me a new embarkation/disembarkation card to use for my trip out of Japan. You’ll need a new one of these cards for each trip out of Japan – you can pick them up at the airport at immigration if you lose yours, or need a new one.

If you change/extend your residence status then any re-entry permit that you already have will be invalidated. Therefore you will need a new one if you want to make a trip out of Japan.

Differences with Tokyo immigration office

Most of you probably won’t be going to the Takamatsu immigration office, more likely you’ll go to the Tokyo one. Here are a few differences.

At the Tokyo office (the one near Shinagawa on the port island) you don’t have to sign in. You buy the revenue stamps from the Family Mart on the 1st floor (or ground floor – if you aren’t used to the Japanese floor numbering system). The re-entry stamp counter is on the 2nd floor, and after handing in the application you’ll be given a numbered ticket so you know when to come up and collect your passport.

Japan embarkation / disembarkation cards

embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners

When you first arrive in Japan you will have to fill in an embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners. It looks like this and will probably be given to you on the plane.

japan embarkation disembarkation card for foreigner

If you don’t get given it on the plane you can pick it up before going through the immigration counter in Japan.

It is in two parts. The disembarkation part is on the right, and the embarkation part is on the left separated by some perforations. The disembarkation part refers to your arrival in Japan. The embarkation part is for when you leave Japan for the last time on your current visa or temporary permit.

If you are a tourist you will only ever deal with this type of embarkation / disembarkation card.

Before going through immigration on arrival in Japan you must fully fill in the right side of the card. You can also fill in most of the details on the left side (but leave the flight number blank until you know for sure which flight you are leaving Japan on).

The immigration inspector will detach the right side of the card (the disembarkation part) and will staple the left side into your passport – probably on the same page as your landing permit that states how long you may remain in Japan.

Then when you come to leave Japan the immigration inspector will remove the embarkation part of the card from your passport – which must at that point be fully filled in with your departure flight number.

embarkation / disembarkation card for reentrant

If you leave Japan with a re-entry permit then you will also be filling in this card.

japan embarkation disembarkation card for reentrant

You may note that the embarkation and disembarkation parts are the opposite way round. When leaving Japan with a re-entry permit the immigration inspector takes the right side of this card (the embarkation bit) and staples the disembarkation part into your passport. When you re-enter Japan he takes the left side (the disembarkation part).

When you leave and re-enter Japan on a re-entry permit the embarkation part of your original embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners is not touched. It remains stapled into your passport.


Tourist (no visa)

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<-- Leave Japan – embarkation card for foreigners taken.

Entering Japan with a visa and leaving once

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<-- Leave Japan (cancelling visa/residence) – embarkation card for foreigners taken.

Entering Japan with a visa and leave multiple times

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<-- Leave Japan (cancelling visa/residence) – embarkation card for foreigners taken. If you haven’t picked up the pattern, the disembarkation part of the card is always taken by immigration when you arrive in Japan, and the embarkation part is always taken when you leave Japan.

Alien registration in Japan

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Anyone who stays in Japan for more than 90 days must register as an alien with the local government within 90 days of arriving in the country.

Japan immigration

When I arrived at Osaka Kansai airport on a Japanese working holiday visa I was reminded of the need to register by being given a leaflet about the alien registration process by the man on the immigration counter.

japan alien registration leaflet

A few weeks later I went to my local government office in Takamatsu 高松 with my passport and two passport sized photos. In Takamatsu the counter for alien registration is number 0. I took a ticket and waited my turn – it only took a minute before I was seen.

Unfortunately the man on the counter spoke no English, but fortunately I had brought along my friend who spoke some Japanese.

Filling in the alien registration form

The man went thought the Japan alien registration form with us (you can see and example here. He wanted some parts to be filled in very precisely.

  • Name – This was in the format Surname, First name, Middle name. And in that format too on the back of the passport photos.
  • Name of head of the household – I had to put my own name, even though the flat I was staying in isn’t mine.
  • Relationship with head of household – I had to write ‘Myself’.
  • Occupation – I can’t remember what I put here. I’m not working in Japan, so I think this one was left blank.

Most of the other fields are fairly self explanatory.

After doing a bit of photocopying and other paperwork I was given back my passport with a new stamp in it.

passport stamp for japan alien registration

I was also given a form giving me the dates of when I could collect my alien registration card. This was to be in about two and a half weeks time.

japan alien registration confirmation

If you need to prove your registration before getting the card (to open a Japanese post office bank account for example) you can pay extra to get a proof of registration certificate, but this does cost extra.

Going through the alien registration process needed quite a bit of assistance from the Japanese speaking man so it was good that I took someone with me. If you register in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka there will be a higher chance of finding English speakers in the office.

If you need help with translation the registration office might be able to tell you how to get a translator. In Takamatsu you can arrange to have a free translator from the iPal International Exchange Centre accompany you.

Collecting the alien registration card

Collecting the alien registration card was extremely simple. I just had to go back to the same counter and hand back the dated form that I had been given when I registered.

The man got my card out of a cupboard, and gave it to me, along with a small leaflet with some extra information on what to do if I need to change any information, lose the card, or leave the country.

japan alien registration card

japan alien registration card leaflet

Changing your address

If you move or if any of the other details on your alien registration card change (e.g. getting a new visa / change of status), you will need to get your alien registration card updated within 14 days. You can do this at a local government office by filling in a form and handing in your card. They can usually process the application and update your card in about 20 minutes. They write the updates in the space on the back of the card.

Working holiday visa for Japan – how to get one

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

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.

united kingdom british passport

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.

The CV

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.

Proposed itinerary

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.

Bank statements

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.

embassy of japan in london

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.

japan working holiday visa

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

I bought my Yen from the Thomas Exchange Global foreign currency shop in London, and booked my flight with Finnair (flying from London to Osaka via Helsinki).

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!