On Visas


If you’ve ever explored your options on what visas you are eligible for with a Japanese lawyer, you’ve probably been told to ‘just get married. It’s the easiest way,’ as is customary for all consultants to reply when asked on the subject. Perhaps it is intended as a joke, but I’ve heard it far too many times.

In reality, there is a lot of truth to that. That IS the most painless way, but depending on one’s goals may not be the best option.


Changes to the system

When I first worked in Japan in 2008, I was given an ‘Alien Registration Card’ (外国人登録書) and was instructed to “have it on me at all times”. In addition, visa holders had their visas stamped in their passports, effectively requiring them to have both their passport and registration card on their person 24/7.

This all changed in July, 2012. They decided one day to throw out the Alien Registration Card, and replace it with a Residence Card (Zairyu Card 在留カード) instead. This simplified things, as you are now no longer given a visa. Your visa status is printed on the Zairyu Card, and that serves as both your ID and your visa. You also don’t get the visa at the embassy back home, but are given it in the form of the Zairyu card at arrival into Japan.

Along with that, the system of re-entry permits were also discontinued. Rather than having to get a re-entry permit at your district office every time you leave Japan, you can skip that and go in and out freely.


On Visas

Spouse Visa  – Get married. You can live and work in Japan on this visa and it is easily renewable.

Working Holiday Visa – A very convenient visa that allows you to work and live in Japan for a year, with 2 contingencies:
-You must be within the window of 18-30 years old to apply
-You can only use it once per lifetime

I know with certainty this visa is available for Canadians, Australians, UK, and some other European countries, but it is not available for all nationalities. If you have never lived in Japan before and want to work there, use this visa first. There are no prerequisites to apply, and if you are rejected you are either very unlucky or did something terrible in your past life.

Work Visa – A company must sponsor you. This is easiest if you work for a company elsewhere, and they send you to the Japanese offices to work. It is a lot harder trying to find a job in Japan and getting a work visa there. Naturally, the easiest way into this visa is through English teaching.

This visa category is divided into a whole slew of other niches, such as journalist visa, professor visa, engineer visa, etc. so it may vary by profession.

Management Visa/Entrepreneur Visa/Investor Visa – The ‘Keiei Visa’ (経営ビザ). Surprisingly, a lot of visa consultants have little experience helping clients attain this visa so you get mixed information from talking to people. As I understand, each application is considered case by case but here are the guidelines:

1. Set up a company and fund it with¥5,000,000
2. Hire at least 2 locals (visa-holding foreigners or Japanese)

The Spa-salon I established in Fukuoka met both conditions and I got the visa without hassle, but some consultants will say meet either one or the other and you have a good chance of approval, guaranteed if you meet both.

You will generally get a year, which is renewable upon expiry, provided your business is still in operation.


Applying for the visa

The visa application process is not difficult and can be done on your own. If you are already in Japan, head down to the closest immigration office (Nyukoku Kanri Kyoku 入国管理局) and tell them what you want to do. The staff will appear disgruntled and irritated, but that is their nature. Rest assured, you will get the application forms you need from them. Expect to run around procuring the documents you need and visit the immigration office numerous times throughout the process, and once you have everything, send in the application and wait (at most a few months).

If your allowed stay expires during that time you may need to leave the country and wait for a reply from them there. Make sure you leave them a Japanese contact number and address that they can get a hold of you and send you your approval letter as they don’t do that email thing. To some, this may be a problem because you cannot rent a place or get a phone number without a visa so hopefully you have some friends that can help you. I bought a Japanese Skype number to use during the time I was unable to get a cellphone plan due to no visa.


On the ‘keiei’ management visa (AKA Investor Visa, Management Visa, Business Visa)

You or your staff will be required to prepare a whole lot of documents. You have to put together a business plan (企業計画書) in Japanese, so hopefully your staff/partners can help you with that. Japanese business plans are written in a certain format so try find a template online to follow.

You will also need to prove that you are employing staff, and can do so via an employment contract signed by you, the company, and your staff. You need one for each staff you hire. Do a search for 雇用契約書 to find templates on what format to follow.

In addition, you will need to provide some of your business documents as well so have them handy. From my experience, some of the folks over at the immigration office don’t even know what documents you need since they don’t get many keiei visa applicants, so just bring everything relevant to the business, especially the documents made during the incorporation of the company. 

Some advisers will tell you that another condition is that you need to prove some kind of experience at management level and hold a certain level of education. That can be ignored as I never graduated from post secondary and was never asked about any of that at any point during the application process. It is not as complicated as a lot of the visa consultants make it out to be.