Teaching English in Japan: Everything You Need to Know

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About Teaching in Japan

Japan is an incredible place to live and work (browse ESL jobs in Japan here).

Every year the thousands of people who teach English in Japan and are immersed in one of the most culturally-rich countries on earth, afforded highly competitive salaries and benefits, and surrounded by some of the most striking cities and landscapes in Asia.

The best part is that in addition to having one of the most appealing ESL environments in the world, Japan also has an extremely low barrier to entry for interested teachers.  While some veterans might claim that teachers had it better a decade ago, the truth is that there are ample job opportunities that allow educators to experience life on this island nation for a year or more.

From Tokyo to Nara, nearly anyone you speak to that’s teaching English in Japan will have something positive to say.  Some consider Japan the experience of a lifetime while others are simply stopping by for a year contract, but what they all seem to agree on is that Japan is one of the most unique places to teach in the world.

Not sold on Japan?  Check out the rest of our country guides here!


Requirements to Teach in Japan

Unlike many countries popular with ESL teachers, the requirements to teach in Japan are quite mild.  In fact, there are only 2 things the government looks for when deciding whether or not you are eligible for a visa.

Schools and employers, on the other hand, are a different story and tend to be a bit more demanding when screening applicants.  You can also expect even more variation across different school types, something we will discuss in greater detail below.

First, let’s look at the bare minimum teach English in Japan requirements.


What the Government Requires

  • Bachelor’s degree in any major
  • Native speaker

That’s it – not too bad, right?

Let’s look at each teaching requirements individually:


Bachelor’s Degree

Your bachelor’s degree should be from a 3- or 4-year university depending on where you’re from and can be in any discipline.  If you have an associate’s degree you are going to find it very difficult to find a teaching job as you only qualify for one type of visa.


Native Speaker

Unsurprisingly, Japan wants teachers with a strong command of the English language to educate their students.  It will be easier for you to land a job if you hold a passport from a native speaking country, but there are also two provisions for those who don’t that make it easier to meet the requirements to teach in Japan:

  • 10+ years of education in an English-speaking school
  • 3 years of teaching ESL

This means that if you were educated in an English-speaking school system or have previous experience teaching English, you are still able to teach in Japan.

Now, let’s take a look some teaching requirements that schools might require in addition to these:


What the Schools Want

  • Background Check
  • A Maximum Age
  • Teaching Experience

Background Check

Unlike Korea, background checks are not yet a requirement to teach in Japan (unless you are applying for the JET Program).  However, more and more employers are asking for some sort of check and many teachers expect that it will soon be mandatory.  Reports vary but for not most applicants say a basic online or local check will suffice for most employers (note: the JET Program requires a national check like the FBI).


A Maximum Age

While not specifically stated by the government, older applicants will find it harder to get a job the closer they get to Japan’s retirement age of 60.  After 60 it’s still possible to get a job, but you will likely need to search much harder unless you have connections.


Teaching Experience

In almost all cases, teaching experience is preferred but not required.  This means preference will be given to applicants with a TEFL certificate but it will not prevent you meeting the basic requirements for schools in Japan.


Requirements to Teach in Japan by School

All jobs were not created equal in Japan and it’s worth spending a bit of time looking at the teaching requirements generally associated with the different types of schools.

Private Schools (EIKAIWA)

The requirements to teach in an EIKAIWA in Japan are generally the most varied of all the school types.  Due to being privately owned and operated, these schools are free to be creative with their requirements, but in the interest of staying competitive they almost never ask for more than the basics:

  • Native Speaker
  • Bachelor’s Degree


Public School (ATL)

The requirements to teach at a public school in Japan are very similar to those of a private school, but due to the popularity of such positions the schools are much more selective.  What this means is that in order to land an ALT position in a good location you are going to need the basics plus:

  • TEFL or ESL certificate OR
  • Teaching experience

It is not impossible to get a public school job without these, but you will have a much easier time with at least one under your belt.



Universities are the most selective employers in Japan and as such their requirements go beyond being a freshly-graduated native speaker.  Expect quality university positions to require the basic requirements in addition to:

  • A master’s degree in a related subject
  • Teaching experience or high-level certification (like a CELTA)


Teaching Salaries in Japan

Teaching salaries in Japan won’t make you rich (save some money by bringing the essentials from home – check out our Packing Guide for Japan) but they will allow you to live comfortably in one of the most intriguing countries in the world.  Japan is consistently one of the top places for ESL teachers due to their competitive salaries, attractive benefits, and standard of living for both residents and visitors.


How much can you make teaching in Japan?

The average salary for Japanese ESL instructors is 250,000 yen, or about $2200 USD.  There is no shortage of teaching jobs in Japan and some teachers stand to make quite a bit more than that depending on their school and experience.




Eikaiwas: 200,000 – 250,000

Eikaiwas are private institutions or language schools and tend to cater to students looking for extra help.  From a teaching perspective, they are also the most common job available and have teaching requirements that are fairly easy to meet. A word of caution, though – eikaiwas usually operate in the afternoons, evenings, and on weekends in order to attract students outside of normal school hours.


Public Schools: 200,000 – 280,000

Public school teachers in Japan are called “ALTs” or Assistant Language Teachers and while their salaries are similar to those of eikaiwa teachers, their hours differ greatly.  Public school teachers can expect to work normal school hours (meaning no weekends) and those working for the government-sponsored JET program stand to earn a bit more than other ATL teachers (though the application process is more strenuous).


Universities: 300,000 – 600,000

If you’re qualified to teach university in Japan you can earn a salary that dwarfs all other school types.  Couple that with low hours and top-notch benefits and it’s not hard to see why these are some of the most desirable jobs in Japan.


International Schools: 250,000 – 600,00

Legitimate international school jobs are scarce in Japan, partly because of the size of the country but also because they are so appealing most teachers stick around for a bit.  Assuming you meet the requirements, it’s easy to pull down an above-average salary in addition to benefits like discounted or free tuition for your kids.

Be forewarned, though – lots of these jobs are passed down through networking so don’t be surprised if you have to work harder than usual to land an interview.


Private Tutoring – 3,000/hour

Private tutoring gigs are just as prevalent in Japan as other countries and industrious teachers can expect to land them without much effort.  If you can establish a good location and schedule, the hourly rate makes it easy to pad your normal salary.


Benefits for ESL Teachers in Japan

As I mentioned earlier, the teaching salaries in Japan are not the only appealing thing about working there – their benefits are often quite competitive as well.  Most teachers can expect perks ranging from the expected (end of contract bonus) to the “wow – that’s awesome” (discounted or free tuition).



Let’s start with what’s not included in most contracts – housing.  For some reason, Japanese employers have not joined other ESL schools in offering their teachers a free apartment.  Instead, what they usually offer is assistance finding a place to live or access to apartments at a set rate so teachers know how much to expect to pay in rent (usually around 50,000 yen).  For teachers used to having an apartment provided as is typical in Korea and China, this is something to consider.



Unlike housing, bonuses are as synonymous with ESL teaching as lesson plans and at the very least teachers in Japan can expect an end-of-contract bonus (usually equivalent to one month’s salary).  Some teachers are also eligible for additional bonuses related to performance, retention, and recruitment that can really enhance their monthly teaching salaries.



Getting to and from Japan is not cheap and teachers can breath easier knowing that most schools will reimburse their airfare.  While some will take it on to your first paycheck, others will make you complete your contract before paying out (to reduce the risk of being used as a free ticket to Japan).



Japan is unique in that some eikaiwa jobs require teachers to travel to other language centers and even companies in order to give lessons.  If you are hired for this type of job, expect the company to compensate you for travel expenses.  If they are unwilling to, my suggestion is to consider another employer as the costs of traversing the city can easily eat into your salary (and sanity).


Cost of Living for Teachers in Japan

Teaching salaries in Japan mean nothing without knowing how far your Yen will go once your there.  While it’s impossible to document every cost you may incur during your time in Japan, looking at some of the basic necessities should provide a clearer picture of what you can expect to spend.

The following prices are from Osaka and are meant to serve as an average – things in Tokyo will cost slightly more while smaller cities will be slightly less.


ExpenseJapanese YenUSD
1br Apartment in City75,000$675
Pint of Beer at a Bar350$3
Average Meal for 23,000$27
Bus Ticket200$1.75



Source: Numbeo // Prices as of March 2017


How much can you save as a teacher in Japan?

Saving money as a teacher in Japan is completely dependent on your lifestyle – some teachers are able to put away half of their paycheck or more while others choose to live basically check to check.  If you go into teaching in Japan with a frugal mindset it is very easy to live and eat like a local and save at least 50% of your salary.  If you want to travel, go out, and eat western food all the time (there is nothing wrong with that), expect your Yen to go fast but to have a ton of awesome memories instead.

The Visa Process for Teaching in Japan

The process for applying and obtaining a work visa in Japan is a straightforward process and generally much easier for teachers to navigate than those of surrounding countries.  Your work visa type will vary depending on where you want to work, but the requirements are generally the same across the board with more specialized institutions like universities requiring a few more things.

Do you need a visa to work and teach in Japan?

Unless you are a Japanese national then yes, you will need a dedicated work visa in order to teach legally in Japan.  This visa will link you and your employer and while there are ways to transfer both visas and jobs, it’s more common to work for one employer for the duration of your contract.


Which visa do I need?

There are three main types of visas for people looking to teach in Japan with the biggest difference being where each allows you to teach.


Instructor Visa

The Instructor Visa is one of the most common in Japan and allows you to work as an ALT in public institutions like elementary and high schools.  If you are planning on working for the JET Program this is the visa you will need.


Specialist in Humanities Visa

This is another common work visa in Japan and allows you to work for private schools and companies like eikaiwas and business teaching programs.  If you plan to teach with any of the big schools like GABA or AEON, this is likely the work visa you will need.


Working Holiday Visa

Rounding out the types of Japanese work visas available for teachers is the Working Holiday Visa.  Only available residents of certain countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The Republic of Korea, France, Germany, The United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Hong Kong, Norway), this visa is meant for those who want to split their time working and exploring Japan.

This visa is only valid for 6 months (though it can be extended) and applicants need to meet a few other requirements listed here.


Work Visa Requirements

As we discussed earlier, applicants don’t need much to qualify for a Japanese work visa:

  • Be a native English speaker OR have at least 12 years of schooling in English
  • Bachelor’s Degree in any subject

In addition, your school is likely to require the following:

  • At least 2 recent passport size photos
  • A copy of your passport information page (the one with your face on it)
  • A copy of your resume
  • A copy of your degree
  • A certified letter of graduation from your university OR a sealed transcript
  • A copy of your teaching license or certification

How to Get a Work Visa in Japan – the Process Explained

The following is assuming you meet the requirements to teach English in Japan and have already received an offer of employment (if not, make sure to check out our Japan job board).  Once you get this offer, a few things will happen with the end result being a legitimate Japanese work visa getting placed in your passport.

  1. Send required forms and documents to your future school
  2. Your school will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) on your behalf and send it to you
  3. You will convert the CoE to a work visa at your nearest Japanese Consulate or Embassy
  4. You will receive your Status of Residence and Residence Card upon your arrival in Japan


Every school is different but expect to have to produce copies of at least some of the documents listed above.  Your school will use these to secure your CoE on your behalf and prove to the government you meet the requirements to teach in Japan.


Certificate of Eligibility (CoE)

While applicants can handle this on their own if they are in Japan, your school should be willing to apply for a CoE on your behalf.  A Certificate of Eligibility is essentially a form saying where you be working, who you will be working for, and what your job will be.  The CoE is not mandatory to receive a working visa, but it does speed the process up significantly.


Changing the CoE to a Visa

The school will provide you with the CoE and you are expected to use it to apply for the appropriate visa at the nearest consulate or embassy.  Use the form found here and feel free to use a visa service if you don’t live near an embassy or consulate.


Status of Residence and Residence Card

The last step in the process happens once you arrive in Japan – as a temporary resident of Japan (thanks to your work visa), you will receive a residence card that has all your information embedded in a chip.  This is your official identification for your time in Japan and affords you access to all social services.

This card is usually provided at all major arriving airports but if not then you will be required to visit your local government office in order to receive it.


What is the average processing time for a work visa in Japan?

Teachers that are in a hurry to get their work visa should be aware that the entire process can take 1-3 months from application to arrival.  The majority of this is spent on processing your Certificate of Eligibility and very little can be expedited with the exception of turning your CoE to a visa (this can be done in a day if rushed, 3-4 days otherwise).


Common Questions about Teaching in Japan

Can you teach in Japan without a 4-year degree?

No, you cannot legally teach in Japan without a 4-year degree – not having one will limit the type of visa for which you are eligible as well as the jobs for which you qualify.  The lone exception to this is if you have associates, or 2-year degree – see below for the details.


Can you teach with a 2 year (Associate’s) degree in Japan?

Yes, you can, but it won’t be easy.  Japan only gives out a specific type of visa for associate degree holders – the Specialist in Humanities Visa – and it limits the type of work you can do.  Some teachers report being able to teach in an eikaiwa on this visa, but others say they are limited to vague ‘translation’ work.  Consider yourself warned.


Can you teach in Japan with a criminal record?




Can you work on a tourist visa in Japan?

No, it is illegal to work as a tourist in Japan.  There are, however, processes in place that allow tourists to convert their visa to a work one if they find employment in Japan.  Because of this, it is not uncommon for teachers (or travelers) to arrive in Japan as a tourist, find a job, and then change over their visa.


Can you teach in Japan without a TEFL certificate?

Yes, it’s common for teachers to get jobs in Japan without a TEFL or teaching certificate as long as you meet the other requirements.  However, if you plan to stick around Japan for a while or make a career out of teaching English, getting your certificate will open the door to much better positions.

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