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.
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.
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
Looking for a TEFL? Check out our list of the best TEFL courses for Japan here!
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.
- Send 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
- 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.
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).
Hi. Can you advise if I’m hired as an ALT and obtain a visa is it possible to bring my partner on my visa?
Hi Leane – according to http://www.transenzjapan.com/blog/dependent-visa-japan/ you should be able to get a dependent visa for your spouse.
Hi Quincy, my name is Anurita. I am from India (English is a primary and official language of India but not native). My expertise lies in the English Language.
Currently, I am working as a sub-editor for an English news app called Inshorts and India-based UK news app called Crux. Prior to this, I worked as a Journalist ( sub-editor) with India’s leading english newspaper (Times of India).
I have a bachelor’s degree in English Honours along with a post-graduate diploma in Journalism. (3+1 years of grad through English medium)
I have received 14 years of my school education through English medium.
I have started my TEFL 220-hour curriculum.
Could you tell me what chances do I have for teaching in Japan as a citizen of a non-native English country, despite my English (written and spoken) being equivalent to a native speaker? Or do I require any other certificate to prove my proficiency in English.
Hm, hard to say but I think they’d be low – have you contacted a school or recruiter to 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.
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?
Hi Edward – sorry for the delay here! To the best of our knowledge, visas can be processed at any consulate or embassy, meaning you don’t have to be in your home country (if that’s what you mean by origin). As for the medical check, it looks like you may have to start getting a check in your home country accd to https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/03/11/national/japan-require-foreign-workers-submit-medical-certificates/ – though this does not mean there will be a check upon arrival in Japan. Finally, we like https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e625.html for living in Japan info.
Great resources you provide.
I’m a 24 year old Belgian citizen.
I would like to teach overseas and preferably in Japan.
I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD from University of Sedona. I also have a tefl level 5 certificate.
University of Sedona has not been accredited by the board of education in the US. They fall under religious studies.
Will I be able to obtain a working visa as a teacher in Japan based on my credentials?
Hi Vincent – good question – to be honest, Im not sure and your best option would be to contact a recruiter and see if they accept it. You also might have an issue if you don’t have 12 yrs of education in English as you’re not a native speaker – you didn’t touch on this but I thought Id mention it as well.
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)
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?
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?
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.
I have some questions related to this, what kind of documents do they ask for to prove your 12 years of schooling in English?
I have letters from my bilingual schools back in Mexico that certify i studied with them from certain period to certain period but not all of the subjects were in English.
I also have letters from a language school where I took private English lessons (does this apply too, for it to complete 12 years?)
or like, from what starting point do they need the English education to be, because i started studying English since i was in kindergarten does this also counts? Can i include it in my 12 years?
Also I have around 8 months of experience in an English teaching school in japan, would this experience count?
How strict are they with the documents you send to them? Do they really check them with strong detail and pay attention to if it was elementary education, language school and so on? Would letters work too or it has to be like a certificate or diploma and such?
Please let me know if you know anything about this
Hi Len – these questions are far too specific for us to answer confidently – you’re better off reaching out to a recruiter and seeing if you qualify for any of their jobs. They should be able to tell you whether your experience will work or not.
As an Australian citizen, it will be much easier for you to get a job and visa in South Korea.
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.
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!
Thank you for your informative site! Could you tell me if there is a law that states the sponsoring company will have a guaranteed minimum salary? I seem to recall it as being ¥250,000 some years ago and I’m wondering if it still the same? Thanks for your help.
Hi Louise – we’ve never hear of a law like this and quick Google search didn’t turn up anything. Some companies will obviously guarantee a salary but I didn’t find anywhere that mentions a corresponding law.
Am a Ghanaian willing to work in Japan as an English teacher ,A holder of Diploma in catering and decoration and also a Certificate, standard Based curriculum training by the Ghana education service (GES)with good interpersonal skills and proven team player , experienced in teaching for 12 years.
Can I work as an English teacher in Japan ?
Hi Josephine – our research shows that it will be very difficult to find a teaching job in Japan with your CV.
I was told by another person that you cannot convert a tourist visa into a working visa and also that I had to be in my home country to receive the COE. Your information is different. Now I am in Japan. I cannot currently go out and come back in because Japan’s borders are closed. Many of the schools ae not offering visa sponsorship Because of that. It would be helpful to know the correct information.
Hi Barbara – first and foremost I would trust the schools with what is possible in this day and age. However, our research shows that changing a tourist visa to an instructor visa has been possible in the past, though it may be harder to accomplish today. See https://www.tokyoimmigration.jp/?p=175, https://traveltips.usatoday.com/change-tourist-visa-working-visa-japan-18992.html and https://www.juridique.jp/visa/change.php for more context.
Hi! Where did you take the info about requirements from? I couldn’t find it on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
I do not have 12 years of schooling in English and I am not a native speaker, yet I found 2 job offers that only asked me for a bachelor degree that was taught in the English language OR at least 3 years of teaching experience that can be proved.
I am applying this week and we’ll see if I get a job with them, but I was curious about the requirements that everyone speaks about, because I did not find them on any official websites. I may not be looking hard enough though.
I was wondering how I send the documents to my employer in order for them to apply for a CoE on my behalf, obliviously, I am worried about sending any originals to Japan (passport, degree?) Do I need certified copies ? or can I just scan and send everything.
Also, I haven’t quite finished my TEFL so shall I wait to complete it before allowing them to apply for a CoE or will my BA Hons suffice?
This is a question better posed to your employer – what do they require? I doubt they can do anything with an unfinished TEFL but only they can say whether your BA will suffice. Also, regarding copies or originals, I believe the former usually work but you should definitely confirm with your employer on what they need to move forward with the visa.
I am looking to work as a teacher for a while and then perhaps work freelance or distance so I can ski over the winter instead of work in a city. How easy is it to convert a work visa from a company to a sort of “freelance” visa? I would actually like to work in a hostel/ski shop for the winter but I’m over 30 🙁