The Complete Guide to the JET Program in Japan
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About the JET Program in Japan
Founded in 1987 by the government of Japan, JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching program) is a popular teaching program aimed at providing English-speaking teachers to work as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in public schools throughout Japan. While 90% of JETs are ALTs, another role JET offers is that of a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR), where participants assist local government offices in international exchange activities.
JET is aimed at young professionals with an interest in Japanese culture and it promotes grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other countries. Participants are seen as representatives of their home countries, like cultural ambassadors, and play a crucial role in promoting understanding between nations. Since the beginning of the program, there have been more than 66,000 participants from 67 countries around the world.
Requirements for JET applicants include having a bachelor’s degree and citizenship from a participating country, along with a strong interest in Japanese culture. With a competitive salary and benefits like paid roundtrip airfare, a job lined up in advance, great support and a focus on cultural immersion, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular ways to teach English in Japan.
JET Program Requirements
The JET program is very competitive and to be considered you’ll need to ensure you meet the following eligibility criteria:
Be Interested in Japan
You must be willing to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of Japan after your arrival. You must be motivated to participate in and initiate international exchange activities in the local community and make an effort to study or continue studying the Japanese language prior to and after arriving in Japan.
Hold a Bachelor’s Degree or Above
You must hold at least a bachelor’s degree or obtain such qualifications by the designated arrival date. Applicants may alternatively hold a certification of completion of a 3-year course to teach at primary/elementary or secondary schools.
Have Citizenship from a Participating Country
You must be a citizen from one of the 54 participating countries where the recruitment and selection procedures take place by the time you submit their application form. Permanent residents without citizenship are not eligible for the JET program. Those who possess dual citizenship with Japan and a participating country must renounce their Japanese citizenship before accepting a position on the JET Program. Visit the JET site specific to your country (for example, the US, Canadian or UK program site), to learn about more details of your program.
Be both mentally and physically healthy
You need to have good mental and physical health, fit to work in Japan for a minimum of 1 year.
Have the Ability to Adapt to Living and Working Conditions in Japan
You must be able to adapt to the living and working conditions in Japan, which might be different from those experienced in your home country. You must also be determined to responsibly complete your period of participation in the JET program.
Have Excellent Standard Pronunciation, Rhythm, Intonation in Their Designated Language
Applicants should possess excellent language skills in the designated language of their country. For example, English for English-speaking countries like the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore etc, French for France, Chinese for China…A list can be found on the JET website.
The following are required:
- excellent language ability that can be applied accurately and appropriately
- have voice projection skills and public speaking skills
- the ability to form sentences in a comprehensive and logical manner.
- have other standard language skills, including strong writing skills and correct grammar usage.
In addition to this, applications from non-English speaking countries must have a functional command of the English or Japanese language.
Haven’t Previously Participated in the JET Program for Three Years
Applicants can’t have previously participated in the JET program for 3 years (as of their last year of departure from the program), or have participated in the program for more than 5 years in total.
Haven’t Declined a Position with the JET Program in the Last Program
Excluding cases where it was accepted that a participant had a valid or inevitable reason for withdrawing, applicants must not have declined a position on the JET program in the previous JET program year.
Haven’t Lived in Japan for a Total of Six or More Years in the Past Ten Years
You can’t have lived in Japan for 6 or more years in the past 10 years since the year of your departure.
Have an Interest Maintaining Some Type of Relations with Japan
Having a desire to proactively maintain relations with Japan, even after completion of the JET program, is required.
Agree to Reside in Japan
When entering Japan for the purpose of participation on the JET program, applicants must agree to reside in Japan under the status of residence stipulated in Article 2-2 of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act.
Be Willing to Obey All Japanese Laws
You must be willing to obey all Japanese laws during your time on the JET program.
Have Finished Any Periods of Legal Probation
Applicants with a suspended jail term must have finished their period of probation by the time they submit their application form.
On top of this criteria, JET also asks that its Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) applicants have the following:
- Be interested in the Japanese education system, particularly foreign language education in Japan.
- Be interested in working with children.
- Be qualified as a language teacher or be strongly motivated to take part in the teaching of foreign languages.
If you don’t think you can meet these requirements, you won’t be able to apply to the JET program. If this is the case, don’t let this put you off teaching English in Japan, as there are other teaching English opportunities over there.
FAQs about the JET Program
Do you Need a TEFL Certificate or Teaching Experience?
Technically a TEFL certification, or any teaching qualification, isn’t an essential JET requirement as long as you’re strongly motivated to take part in the teaching of foreign languages. The same applies to having previous teaching experience – it’s not part of the eligibility criteria. However, JET is a very competitive program so having qualifications that go above and beyond the minimum requirements will mean additional consideration will be given to you during the selection process, as stated on the JET website.
Do you Need to Speak Japanese?
No, speaking Japanese isn’t part of the eligibility criteria for an ALT. However, if accepted on to the JET program, you’re expected to make a continual effort to learn and improve your Japanese skills. Being able to speak Japanese will give you an edge over other applicants and additional consideration will be given to you.
If you’re after the role of a CIR, you are required to have a functional command of the Japanese language (equivalent to N2 or higher of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test).
Is There a Minimum and Maximum Age Requirement for Applying to the JET Programme?
No, as long as applicants meet all other eligibility criteria, there is no age requirement limit. However, JET will judge applicants based on maturity, professionalism, and ability to adjust to other cultures.
JET Program Salary and Benefits
The JET program salary is determined by the number of years of participation on the program. In Japan, it’s mandatory to join the national social (health) insurance, contribute to the pension fund program and pay employment insurance are mandatory. A part of these costs are a participant’s responsibility and is deducted from the monthly pay.
Yearly JET program salary before tax is:
- ¥3,360,000 (approx $30,390 USD) a year for first year JET participants
- ¥3,600,000 (approx $32,560 USD) a year for second year JET participants
- ¥3,900,000 (approx $35,280 USD) a year for third year JET participants
- ¥3,960,000 (approx $35,800 USD) a year for fourth and fifth year JET participants
The JET program salary is sufficient to cover basic living expenses such as rent and utility bills, which aren’t included as part of the program. Many JET participants are able to accumulate some savings and travel within and around Japan while after or during the program.
In most cases, accommodation for incoming JETs is arranged by the contracting organization prior to their arrival. However, some JETs will be asked to find their own accommodation with help from their contracting organization. Rent will vary depending on the location.
Flights to Japan are arranged and paid for by the JET Programme. Participants’ return airfare is provided, subject to the following conditions:
- The participant completes their term of appointment.
- They don’t engage in any subsequent employment in Japan within one month after completing their term of appointment.
- They return within a month after completing their appointment.
The return flight is arranged through the participant’s contracting organization.
Paid Vacation Days
On top of the weekends and the 16 national holidays, JET participants are given between 10 and 20 days paid leave. JETs should be aware that they may be expected to work during the school holidays, as the school or contracting organization sees fit.
Accident insurance is provided by JET in case a participant is injured or becomes ill.
Application Process, Timeline & Location
JET Program Application Process
If you’re interested in becoming a JET participant you must apply through the Japanese Embassy or Consulate General in your country of citizenship. The official JET program website of your home country will provide you with more information and guidance, application forms and specific instructions to applying to the JET program, as it can vary from country to country:
The application process is long and competitive, so you need to get started as soon as doors open and get all your required documents at the ready. Interested applicants must complete and submit applications to the Embassy of Japan in their home country by the deadline designated by that embassy, usually from early October until late November. Applications can be made online through the official JET program website for your country. Late applications won’t be considered, nor those submitted without the correct documentation.
The start date for the JET program is in the summer, usually around August time. However, a small number of placements become available for participants who are able to start in April. This is known as Early Departure and you can select this option on the application form. If it isn’t possible to allocate an Early Departure position, successful applicants will default to Summer Departure.
The following are the typically required materials needed to apply to the JET program. Always check the required materials specific to the country you’re applying from. The forms and more information about these materials can be found online through the official JET website for your country.
- Application form – past application form sample for UK applicants
- Self-assessment medical report
- Statement of purpose
- Two letters of recommendation
- College/university transcripts
- Proof of graduation or expected graduation
- Proof of citizenship
Criminal Records Check
Applicants with a past arrest/caution or conviction or applicants requesting Early Departure must submit a criminal records check at the point of application. In most cases, all applicants will be required to tender an ICPC (International Child Protection Certificate) in the event of their successful application, regardless of their criminal history.
Statement of Physician
Depending on the information provided in your self-assessment medical report, you may also need to submit a Statement of Physician.
Certificate of Health
A Certificate of Health only needs to be completed at the application stage if you’re applying for Early Departure. It will need to be filled out by all successful applicants further down the line.
If you have a teaching certification, a TEFL certificate or a Japanese language certification, you will also need to provide these.
The JET program office or the JET coordinator at the Embassy or Consulate General of Japan where you interviewed will provide you with the necessary information to apply for a visa. Participants are issued a three-year working visa with a Status of Residence as an “Instructor” (ALT) or an “Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services” (CIR). Visas are typically issued in the month before the departure.
This is a typical timeline for the JET application process. It may vary slightly from country to country and is only a guideline.
|Interview Results||March (Early Departure) or April (Summer Departure)|
|Orientation and Early Departure||April|
|Orientation and Summer Departure||July/August|
“I got placed in southern Japan… Which is like…the exact opposite of what I asked for.”
The goal of the JET Program is to enhance internationalization in local communities across Japan, therefore the majority of JET participants are placed in small cities or towns and villages. Urban placements are limited in number.
When filling out the application form, you’re able to specify up to three placement requests. JET cannot guarantee to meet these preferences and final placements depend on position availability. From reading personal experiences of the JET program, it seems as though the placement selection process is long and mysterious, and no one really knows how it all works. The key is to be pretty flexible!
Notification of location placement is given in May/June. JET are strict with their placements and don’t allow changes to be made. If you’re unhappy with your location, the only option is to withdraw from the JET program.
What’s the Job Like?
JET offers two main positions, ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) and CIRs (Coordinators of International Relations).
As an ALT you are likely to be placed in a public school or a local board of education. You will be assisting a Japanese Teacher of English/Language (JTEs/JTLs). Participants are expected to work an approximately 35 hour week, excluding lunch breaks. General school hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. What your typical day looks like will vary depending on the school or level you’re teaching. This Japanese Life offers a general composite of a JET’s day at work and we found this great video:
Your general duties may include:
- Team teaching with the JTE/JTL
- Preparation of teaching materials
- Participating in extracurricular activities, like English clubs or sports teams
As a CIR you will work in local government offices, assisting them in international exchange activities at the local level. Your main duties may include:
- Receiving guests from abroad
- Editing and producing pamphlets in English or Japanese
- Translation/interpretation of government officials
- Advising and planning international exchange programs
- Teaching English (or other languages) to government employees and local residents
Programs Like Jet
Another big recruiter for ESL teachers in Japan, Interac hires all year round but tends to place teachers in the Spring and Fall. Similar to JET, it’s an ALT position, so participants will be assisting another teacher in the classroom. Interac tends to place teachers in rural areas, so participants should be open to a quieter existence!
Rather than a teaching program, ECC is a foreign language institute that provides educational services to students of all ages, from children to adults. They employ overseas teachers to be placed in one of their 188 schools across Japan, offering immersive English environments to work in. Similar to JET, they offer a 35-hour working week across five days. But as it’s a private school, teaching hours tend to be evenings and weekends, so it isn’t your typical Monday to Friday working gig.
Related: A Guide to Working for ECC in Japan
When researching JET, we came across mixed reviews. While there appear to be many positive reasons to join the JET program, as with most teaching programs abroad, it comes with its own challenges.
The fact that you are flown to Japan with a job set up, a visa in hand, and in many cases an apartment at the ready is a big draw. The support in place is also merited, with there being many different ‘bosses’ you can turn to in your hour, or hours, of need.
On the end of the scale, there are always going to be the challenges. The fact that your experience is very dependent on where you’re placed and the school you work in appears to be a common challenge for some. Every situation is different and therefore it is hard to prepare for what to expect.
25 Reasons To Join The JET Program (and 8 Reasons Not To)
“You may have a great school with attentive students, or a difficult school full of street toughs. You may get Japanese co-workers who are thoughtful and caring, or indifferent and rude. You may get housed in a large 2 bedroom home or a tiny shoebox.”
Tofugu have a comprehensive list of the reasons why you should and shouldn’t embark on a JET adventure. Well worth a read.
Teaching English in Japan with the JET Program: Derrik’s Story
“The biggest challenge to both school and in my personal life has been my low command of the Japanese language. I began the program without being able to speak a word of Japanese, which is quite common for many JETs.”
Derrik’s blog offers a breakdown of the JET program, from the application stage to how he found teaching in Japan. It’s an insight into life inside and outside the classroom, both the highlights and some of the challenges he faced.