How to Get a Work Visa to Teach in Japan
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The process of applying for and obtaining a work visa in Japan is a straightforward process. Compared to its less developed neighbors, the Japanese bureaucracy responsible for issuing visas to foreign workers generally runs more smoothly, making it 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 qualifications.
Checklist: What Documents Do ESL Teachers Need for a Work Visa Application in Japan?
To get your ESL journey in Japan off on the right foot, you’ll want to make sure you tote the necessary documents for a work visa on your trip to the country. These are the required documents:
- Valid passport
- Copies of credentials (diploma/teaching license/certificates, etc.). Depending on the type of visa (more on various visas for ESL teachers later), you will need proof of your academic achievements pursuant to the national teaching requirements.
- *At the very least, you’ll need your original diploma and/or an official transcript. Unofficial transcripts will likely be rejected by the immigration authorities.
- **You would be well-advised to bring the original documents with you to avoid a potentially nightmarish logistical challenge in-country on the off-chance that copies aren’t accepted, are damaged, lost, or stolen.
- 2 passport-sized photos. (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm)
- Certificate of Eligibility. The Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) is issued by the Ministry of Justice. It essentially guarantees that you are a qualified applicant for a work visa in Japan based on national requirements.
- The CoE is the frontline screening document for visa applicants to preliminarily determine whether a foreign worker qualifies for Japanese employment.
- Letter of Guarantee. The Letter of Guarantee is filed by the prospective employer to assure the government that they will properly supervise their foreign employee (you) during their stay.
Is a Work Visa Necessary to Teach English 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 (more on visa transfers later), it’s more common to work for one employer for the duration of your contract.
Can a Foreign Teacher Work in Japan on a Tourist or Other Visa?
No. Teaching English in a professional capacity in Japan requires the appropriate work visa. Although there are certainly teachers in Japan at this very moment illegally working on a tourist visa, they are playing with legal fire.
If you ignore good advice and teach in Japan on a tourist visa anyway, you’ll be vulnerable to a host of issues that you might not have anticipated – for example, refusal of employees to pay (they are not legally obligated to compensate workers without the proper documentation), fines from the authorities, and expensive medical bills in the event of an emergency (illegal workers are not protected by the national health program.)
Which Visas Are Available to Foreign Teachers?
Let’s explore the three main types of visas for ESL professionals in Japan. Although they all confer legal eligibility for ESL employment, they vary in terms of the types of jobs that ESL teachers can land.
The Japanese Instructor Visa is the most common visa for foreign teachers in Japan. This visa allows you to work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in public institutions like elementary and high schools. JET program participants may also teach on an Instructor Visa.
Specialist in Humanities Visa
The “second-tier” of teacher visas in Japan is called the “Specialist in Humanities” — an impressive-sounding title for sure. This is another common work visa in Japan and allows you to work for more non-traditional education outfits like language centers (eikaiwas) and corporate teaching programs for adult learners. 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
- New Zealand
- The Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
- Hong Kong
- Czech Republic
According to the Japanese government, rather than being the go-to option for most teachers, the Working Holiday Visa scheme is intended to “promote understanding and friendship” among visitors who want to split their time between working and exploring Japan.
This visa is only valid for 6 months (though it can be extended) and applicants need to meet a few basic requirements:
- Holiday is the primary reason for travel to Japan; employment is secondary.
- Applicants must be between 18 and 30 years old.
- Upon arrival, applicants must have a return ticket and/or enough cash to finance their return home.
- Applicants cannot apply for repeat Working Holiday Visas.
Again, the Working Holiday Visa is not an ideal fit for most teachers. However, if you hit a bureaucratic snag for whatever reason with the Instructor or Specialist in Humanities options, this may be a good alternative.
Work Visa Requirements
As we discussed in our Requirements to Teach in Japan page, applicants must satisfy relatively basic criteria 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.
How to Get a Work Visa in Japan – the Process Explained
The following outline of the visa application process is predicated on the assumption that 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 a job offer, the visa application and procurement process will begin:
- Send the required forms and documents to your future school.
- Your school will apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) on your behalf and send it to you.
- You will convert the CoE to a work visa at your nearest Japanese Consulate or Embassy. (A proxy working on your behalf, such as an agent or school employee, may also complete this step.)
- You will receive your Status of Residence and Residence Card upon your arrival in Japan.
Pro Tip: Get Copies of All Documents
Every school is different but expect to have to produce copies of at least some of the documents listed above. To avoid hassles once you arrive in Japan, pack several copies of each document. It may seem like a small step, but you’ll be thankful you have them in a tight situation.
Your school will use these documents to secure your CoE on your behalf and prove to the government you meet the requirements to teach in Japan.
Changing the CoE to a Visa
The school will provide you with the CoE. Next, you (or your proxy) are expected to use it to apply for the appropriate visa at the nearest consulate or embassy. Again, many employers and visa services complete this step on behalf of clients who cannot or do not want to visit the consulate in-person.
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.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How Long Does the Japanese Visa Process Take?
The Japanese government – notorious for its ruthless efficiency – usually turns around visa applications in less than a week (a huge step up from the laborious processes of neighboring Asian nations).
Can an Applicant Change a Visa From Another Type to a Work Visa if He or She Is Already in Japan?
Yes, you can change your visa from a student, tourist, or other category to one of the work visas described above with a visit to a local immigration office.
Before you can get your new work visa, though, you must apply for a Change of Status of Residence. Other than that, you’ll additionally need all the relevant documents for work visas that an applicant coming from abroad needs to present to the immigration authorities.
Are Foreign Teachers Required to Apply for New Work Visas When Changing Jobs?
One of the most beautiful aspects of life in Japan as a foreign teacher is that, unlike in many other Asian countries, foreigners can seamlessly switch jobs (provided they are the same type – i.e., moving from one teaching gig to another) without applying for a new visa.
Furthermore, employers cannot cancel work visas when an employee quits, so a teacher is not tied to an unrewarding job just to legally stay in Japan.
When moving into a new position, though, foreign teachers must fill out and present the proper notification form to the local immigration office.
What Options Do Teachers Who Don’t Meet the Visa Requirements Have?
Unfortunately, not many. The two basic requirements – a bachelor’s degree in any field and being a native speaker (or having spent 12+ years in an English-language educational setting) – are inflexible.
If you don’t meet these requirements, you are not going to be issued a work visa, full-stop.
What if a Company Offers a to Help a Teacher Apply for an Inappropriate Visa?
For any number of reasons, an employer might hope to skirt visa regulations by applying for a different type of visa (i.e., tourist or student) on behalf of a teacher.
Bear in mind that this is strictly illegal. If you are caught working illegally in Japan, you will be subject to fines, deportation and banning, and even jail time in extreme cases.
If you meet the requirements for a visa, there is no reason (despite what an employer might say) that you cannot get a valid work visa.
The Bottom Line on Japanese Work Visas for ESL Teachers
As opposed to many of its neighbors, the Japanese work visa process is straightforward and simple. A cursory glance at online forums for foreign ESL teachers in Japan will show much less frustration from teachers in this country regarding the visa process than from teachers in other countries with more convoluted processes in terms of gaining legal eligibility for employment.
If you’re from a native English-speaking nation with a bachelor’s degree, you’re already well on your way to becoming a full-fledged member of the foreign ESL teacher corps in Japan.