How to Get a Work Visa to Teach in Japan

by: Quincy Smith ESL Authority Quincy Smith | Last Updated March 29, 2020

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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 legally teach abroad 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 in our Requirements to Teach in Japan page, 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).


How long is the visa good for?

All work visas are valid for a period of 1 or 3 years.

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.

Quincy Smith ESL Authority

Quincy Smith

Quincy is the founder of ESL Authority and a former teacher in South Korea and China.  Currently based in Shanghai, he enjoys strong coffee, IPAs, and solo travel.


  1. Is there an age limit for foreign teachers? Is there a maximum age limit? I’m 69 years old, but highly qualified English teacher. Is there a problem to get a WORK visa?

    • Hi Paul – I believe the retirement age for Japan is 60 or 65 so it’s going to be very difficult for you to find a job (though Im unsure if it’s illegal or not so you can always apply and ask).

    • Google around if you haven’t already; I’ve seen a fair bit on this and older people give their experiences and tips.
      I saw talk of how some countries are more flexible; some see age as an advantage.

      If the country has no limit visa wise or work wise, you have to ponder the students; if kids, they may wait you to demonstrate “enough energy”.

      You can also try the online schools. I know of one that limits it to young….but others don’t seem to care.

  2. Thanks for this informative piece. I have three questions if I may:

    1. Does the visa have to be processed in country of origin?

    2. Are there any medical exams, either before or after arrival?

    3. Can you recommend a cost of living guide / website for Japan?

  3. Thank you for your hard work! I have some questions:

    * If I’m not from an English-native country nor do I have 12 years of English education but have taught English for 2-3 years, can that suffice for the work visa?

    * If the answer is “Yes” for the previous question, can I apply to the same Work Visa if I go to Japan on a Tourist Visa and somehow find a job there?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Muhannad – based on this I dont think you’d qualify for a work visa and would not be able to transfer from a tourist visa either, sorry.

      • – If you are not from an English-native country but have 3 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, you can completely get a work visa.
        – If you don’t have these 3 years, I do believe it is still possible if your bachelor’s degree is in English or Education. (not sure about this option though)

  4. Am i qualified for a work visa?

    I’m not a native speaker but I’m an Australian citizen. I did one year high school in Australia. I have a bachelor degree (engineering) and a post grad diploma of education (math) in an Australian university. I have a TESOL certification and have taught ESL to adults as an volunteer for 3 years. I had previously lived in japan for 4 years.

    • Hi Ashley – the alternative to being a native speaker is having 12yrs of schooling in English – do you meet that requirement?

      • Hi Quincy,
        I did one year high school and 6 years tertiary in Australia. The rest of my schooling is in Hong Kong at a local English school (vs local Chinese school) but not an English international school. So that may not count. Is it better if I try working at a different Asian country?

        • Hi Quincy,

          I live in Australia as an Australian citizen, does it help?

          • If you hold an Australian passport it should definitely help – my advice would be to contract a few recruiters and see what they say. They place teachers every day and will likely know better than us what your chances are.

  5. Hi. How much will I pay for instructor Visa if I want to process it in the Philippines?

    • Hi Mel – we can’t help with pricing, this can probably be answered via the Japanese immigration website.

  6. Hi! If I’m going to convert my tourist visa to work visa ( i already have my COE from Japan) do you know how long will be the processing time? Thank you for your response.

    • Hi Travis – we don’t have any firsthand knowledge of this so it’s probably better to ask your school or recruiter – sorry!


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