How to Get a Work Visa to Teach in Japan

by: Ben Bartee | Last Updated July 8, 2020

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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. 

Instructor Visa

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

Rounding out the types of Japanese work visas available for teachers is the Working Holiday Visa.  Only residents of qualifying countries are eligible for the Working Holiday Visa:

  •       Australia
  •       New Zealand
  •       Canada
  •       The Republic of Korea
  •       France
  •       Germany
  •       United Kingdom
  •       Ireland
  •       Denmark
  •       Hong Kong
  •       Norway
  •       Chile
  •       Czech Republic
  •       Estonia
  •       Taiwan

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:

  1.   Send the 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. (A proxy working on your behalf, such as an agent or school employee, may also complete this step.)
  4.   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. 

Ben Bartee

Ben is a Bangkok-based American journalist, grant writer, political essayist, researcher, travel blogger, and amateur philosopher. Contact him on LinkedIn and check out his portfolio.


  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?

    • 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 – though this does not mean there will be a check upon arrival in Japan. Finally, we like for living in Japan info.

    • Hi Quincy,
      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?

      Kind regards.

      • 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.

  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.

    • As an Australian citizen, it will be much easier for you to get a job and visa in South Korea.

  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!

  7. Hi Quincy!

    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.

  8. 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.


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