Requirements to Teach English in Japan: What Schools Are Looking for

by: Lara Dondello Lara Donadello | Last Updated June 28, 2020

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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 you qualify for a Japanese working visa

a.) whether you have a passport from a native English-speaking country OR at least 12 years of English-language education

b.) whether you have attained a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field.

Despite the straight forward standards, some schools and employers tend to be pickier when screening applicants. We’ll discuss the differences in terms of requirements among types of ESL employment in Japan further below.

In addition to being a native English speaker and a degree holder, Western candidates for ESL jobs in Japan benefit from the following advantages on their CV:

  •       TEFL certification.
  •       Ideal age (under 50).
  •       Certified criminal background check.
  •       Japanese language proficiency.
  •       Teaching experience in Japan specifically.
  •       Residence in Japan/familiarity with Japanese culture.  

However, keep in mind that these advantages are not requirements for most employers; they simply give candidates a leg up in the recruitment process.

That’s it – not too strict, right?  To drive the point home, here is a recent job posting:

Let’s examine each teaching requirement more in-depth:

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 only have an associate’s degree (2-year degree) then 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.

Here’s a great video that breaks down the requirements in a really simple way:

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

Additional Requirements to Teach in Japan (As Required by Some Schools)

In addition to the government requirements, many schools like eikaiwas (private Japanese language centers) have their own additional requirements – here are the most common:

  • 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 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

The unfortunate reality of the ESL field in Japan, as in many Asian countries, is the widespread preference among recruiters for younger teachers based on the belief that more youthful employers are more vibrant.

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 from 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 (ALT)

ALT is an industry term used in the Japanese public school system that stands for Assistant Language Teacher. Many Western ESL teachers in Japan are given the title.

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 TESOL certificate

OR

  • Teaching experience (3+ years)

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.

University

Universities, as you might expect, are the most selective employers in Japan. 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
  • Lengthy, verifiable teaching experience (more than a decade) or high-level certification (like a CELTA)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. I’m not a native English speaker. Can I get an English-teaching position in Japan?

That depends on a number of circumstances.

First, even if you are not a native speaker but hold a passport from a recognized native English-speaking country, then your application will be equally valid as any other applicant.

Second, if you’ve amassed more than 12 years of education in an English-speaking school system, then you meet the legal threshold to teach English to Japanese students.

Although landing a high-paying, rewarding ESL position in any country is definitely more difficult for non-native speakers, the web is full of hopeful anecdotes describing success stories of non-native English teachers in Japan.  

2. My country doesn’t use the bachelor’s degree system. How will that impact my job search?

Not all higher education systems function the same across the world. Most employers utilize a degree equivalency system to determine whether a candidate’s foreign education credentials stack up to their requirements.  

If your degree comes from an accredited, respected institution, then chances are that Japanese employers will find it satisfactory.

3. I am past retirement age (60+ years old). Can I still find an ESL job in Japan?

As we mentioned earlier, many Japanese employers heavily prefer younger candidates based on the often mistaken belief that they have more to contribute to their work energy-wise.

That said, many retirement-age teachers thrive in Japan. If you are on the older side of the spectrum, then eikaiwas might be your best bet based on the wide variability in employers’ expectations.

4. I don’t have a degree. Can I still teach in Japan?

Unfortunately, both ALT and JET positions are strictly off-limits to non-degree holders. These restrictions severely limit opportunities for teachers without this crucial credential.

Furthermore, gaining the appropriate instructor visa or Specialist in Humanities Visa is impossible without a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

5. I don’t have any teaching experience. Will I be able to find a job in Japan?

-Due to the abundance of teaching jobs in Japan and the relatively few numbers of qualified, available teachers to fill them, no experience is no barrier to discovering meaningful employment – provided that you have the necessary credentials like a bachelor’s degree.

After all, every teacher had to start somewhere. Japanese employers understand that, often, the best teachers are the newcomers to the field.

To buttress your chances of finding work without experience, consider enrolling in a reputable Japanese TEFL course to significantly increase your market value.

6. I don’t have a TEFL certificate. Will that affect my job search?

TEFL is not one of the minimum requirements for teaching English in Japan. While some employers might prefer TEFL certification, it is not mandatory. 

Nonetheless, a 120-hour TEFL course will pay dividends in the long run. TEFL certifications are inexpensive and highly valuable in any ESL market in the world, so investing in yourself in this regard makes good sense.

7. I’m already in Japan with another type of visa. Can I switch to an instructor or Specialist in Humanities visa in-country or should I go abroad?

You can absolutely transfer your visa from a tourist or other type to the kind you need for legal employment. However, this comes with important caveats – the most important being that the visa application process can be time-consuming.

This means, for teachers attempting to switch from a tourist visa to an instructor visa, for example, that their tourist visa is likely to expire before their new visa application is processed and approved.

8. I have a blemish on my criminal record. Can I still get an English-teaching job in Japan?

Everyone makes mistakes. If yours are not overly serious, then small blemishes on your criminal record won’t prevent you from finding a job in Japan.

First of all, not all schools require background checks and the immigration department does not require them either. In these cases, your past as it relates to any run-ins with the law is irrelevant.

However, cleaning up your record is advisable whenever possible. After specified lapses of time, most non-serious (misdemeanor and some felony) convictions can be expunged, so no potential employer will ever know about what you did on spring break in 2008. 

Lara Dondello

Lara Donadello

Lara is a CELTA-certified teacher, content creator and host of the English Vocabulary Booster podcast.  As a digital nomad, she’s learned she can make do without most things, except Netflix and good ice cream.

14 Comments

  1. hi i taught english many years ago in kyoto having just a bachelors degree. Now my son wants to do the same thing.. Can i ask you some questions please? thank yu!!

    Reply
      • Hello, I am very interested with your program to teach in Japan. I am an English major graduate, and has been teaching for almost five years in an international school. Please give me details on what may I do to apply. Thank you😁

        Reply
        • Hi Mark – we aren’t affiliated with any of these schools so please direct your questions to them directly – sorry!

          Reply
          • Hi Quincy,
            As an ESL teacher with 12 years of experience both in Australia and in Turkey, I would like to work as an Instructor at one of the universities in Japan . I completed Master of Tesol in Australia(La Trobe University) in 2016, and I also hold an MBA degree from Kaplan Business School(Australia), as well as having a Bachelor of American Culture and Literature Degree.(Besides, I have a Tesol Certificate from SIT Institute)

            What do you think about my possibilities to get a university instructor position considering the fact that I have Turkish passport only?

          • Hi Cem – that’s hard to say – Id suggest reaching out to a recruiting agency and asking them as they will know that the current hiring landscape is. Sorry, I wish we could be of more help but with questions like this it’s really easy to see whether you can get a job or not simply by asking someone who is hiring!

  2. Hello,
    My name is Mohamed from Morocco. I studied English ar university and graduated in 2019 with the bachelor of degree. I wonder if it is possible to have a chance to teach English in Japan.
    I am looking forwards to hearing from you.
    Best regards.
    Mohamed.

    Reply
    • Hi Mohamed – sorry for the late reply. Unfortunately, it will be quite difficult for you as English is not the native language of Morocco and therefore you will have a hard time getting approved for a visa.

      Reply
  3. Hello – I teach ESL – Adult Ed. for a local school district in the U.S. for the last 13 years. I am an American citizen so I hold a U.S. passport but I was born and raised in the Philippines where English is considered a second language. I have a Bachelor’s degree from a school in the Philippines and I went to graduate school in the U.S. although I didn’t get to complete it. I have a couple of questions: (1) Would I be considered a native speaker – in terms of job requirements – as I carry a U.S. passport, had lived in the U.S. for the last 30+ years and went to a Philippine university where English is the medium of instruction? I also have a teaching credential in the U.S. which is a requirement for teaching in the public school system ; (2) I have read that there’s a maximum age restriction. Does it apply to all potential employers? I am considering teaching English abroad once I retire from my day job. Would appreciate your response. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi Gilbert – I believe your US passport + credentials would qualify you as a native speaker but you can always ask some recruiters or schools to be sure. As for retirement age, if you are older than the mandatory retirement age (I believe Japan is 60 or 65) then it’s very unlikely you will find a job.

      Reply
    • Hey,

      So I graduated in 2015 and went straight to work offshore in the oil and gas industry. I didn’t go to college and didn’t get a bachelor’s degree. I hear I can still get a TEFL certificate and get everything else done. However, I still don’t have a College degree. I was reading on some forums and some people were still able to teach in japan somehow! I was wondering if there was ANY WAY around not having a bachelor’s degree??? Thx for your time!

      Reply
  4. Hi,

    I’m from the Philippines and English is my second language. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get college degree however, I’ve worked as a part-time/freelance ESL Teacher for roughly 5 years and has been working as a call center agent/customer service representative for 2 years now. I’m hoping to get a job in Japan as an ESL Teacher or Call Center agent or any office job. I would be really thankful if employers would hire people based on their skills and not on the degree they hold. I’m so much willing to undergo interviews or online exams just to prove or show you what I’m capable of.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Theodore – unfortunately, Japan requires you to have at least a 4yr degree in order to qualify for a work visa.

      Reply

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