If you’ve ever dreamed of living in Japan but have that pesky little issue of not being a citizen, all hope is not lost. As someone who went through these steps, I can attest that it’s not as difficult as you may think to move to Japan. Yes, the easiest way to move to Japan would be to fall in love with a Japanese resident, lock that resident down, and create a love child, but this could take years and requires skills of flirtation that we all simply don’t have. So let’s stick with the second easiest method: finding a job.
How to find a job and move to Japan:
1. What visa are you eligible for?
There are several visas issued by the Japanese government for individuals looking for a long-term stay listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website, but the process for all of them is the same. You can move to Japan if you:
- Have a job lined up
- Are a university student
- Are a highly-skilled professional
- Have family living in Japan
The first two categories are the easiest to qualify for to hop on over to Japan.
A working holiday visa does exist, but not for US citizens. In order to qualify for one, you need:
- Proof that you are in good health. This can be done with a copy of your medical records from your doctor. The last health check must be within the past 3 months.
- Enough funds to travel through Japan, as well as to buy a ticket back home. Printed bank statements from the past 3 months will suffice.
- To not be accompanied by dependents.
The working holiday visa also prohibits employment in bars, nightclubs, and gambling establishments, so if all you know is how to sling drinks, this isn’t the best option.
A full list of the working conditions and qualifications can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website.
Note that it is not a good idea for you to travel to Japan before having a job lined up simply due to the cost of living. Sure, you can go to Japan and try to look for a job, but you’ll be spending a good chunk of your savings on accommodation and transportation alone. My advice: let’s keep that hard-earned money of yours in the bank and get a job before landing.
2. What documents do you need?
Whichever visa you qualify for, there are only 4 documents that you’ll need to begin the application process (additional documents may be requested depending on the employer):
- Valid passport
It’s a good idea to acquire this document first. It must be signed before applying.
- Visa application form
The form is the same form no matter which visa you are applying for. It is pretty straightforward to fill out, but make sure you have the information of your employer or sponsor ready in order to complete it. It must be printed, completed, and signed.
Note: The visa application form asks if you have a criminal record. If you do have a criminal record, the Japanese Embassy will need you to provide proof that you are allowed to leave the country and will not process the visa until they receive it. I recommend bringing proof with you to the embassy in order to avoid two trips.
- One photo (2”x2”)
The photo can be a simple passport photo that you have taken at your local drugstore. Attached it to your application form (there’s a designated spot on the form for this).
Note: Even though only one photo is required for the actual visa, make sure to take several passport photos as your employer will require more of them later on.
- Certificate of Eligibility (the original and a copy)
Here’s where the headache begins.
A COE is a document that proves to the Japanese government that the person landing in Japan meets all the requirements for the activities they will be engaging in during their stay, such as being a student or having the qualifications to work.
Generally, the COE is submitted by your employer or your school (i.e. your sponsor), as it must be taken to the regional immigration office of where you will be living in Japan. The employer or sponsor will, therefore, fill out the application for the COE on your behalf, but in order for them to do so, you will have to send additional information and documents. These include:
- One passport photo
- Signed work contract
- Original university degree (don’t worry, you’ll receive it back)
- The address of your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate-General
- The dates of your previous visit to Japan (if any).
When your employer has submitted the application for the COE, you can start looking for flights; however always check what the cost of changing or canceling your flight would be in case of any hiccups that occur during the processing time, like misrouted mail or missing documents.
Ensure that all documents are fully legible, especially if you have to fax any of them to the embassy. I faxed a document to my nearest embassy with the necessary information legible, but the bottom of the document was cut off and I didn’t think anything of it because there was nothing important there. The staff at the embassy thought otherwise and wouldn’t process my visa until they received the document in full.
3. Where to look for jobs?
The types of jobs that foreigners can apply to in Japan are limited, but you can find them all online at these recommended websites:
Gaijinpot is the best source for foreigners trying to live, work, or study in Japan. It contains multiple job postings and you can filter your search for jobs that need native English speakers.
Another great search engine that lets you upload your skills/resume and set alerts for jobs of interest.
As the title suggests, this website is solely for English-teaching jobs.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme is the most popular recruiting agency for English speakers looking to teach English in Japan.
This search engine posts a variety of jobs from IT to hospitality, but they all require their applicants to speak Japanese and English.
Unfortunately, most of the jobs available for foreigners require some Japanese-language skills. It is a good idea to take Japanese lessons before arriving in Japan, as well as classes once in the country (in certain cases, your employer will pay for these, so make sure to ask).
If you don’t have the time to learn the language, the easiest job is to become an English Teacher. It doesn’t require you to speak Japanese and you don’t necessarily need to be a native English speaker — just an English speaker from outside of Japan. The requirements to becoming an English teacher in Japan are:
- Speak English
- Have a BA
- Have a TEFL or TESOL certificate
- Have some experience in tutoring/teaching or with kids
If you already have your BA, you can easily become a certified English teacher in 3 months or less.
Once you’ve found your new shigoto (job) and your employer has finally sent you the Certificate of Eligibility, you’re ready to apply for your visa. Take all the required documents to your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate-General and put on your biggest smile. They won’t smile back, but you’re entering their country and you want to make a good impression.
If you arrive to the Embassy or Consulate-General at opening time, you might be able to get your visa by closing time the same day.
5. Receive visa and celebrate over sake.
When you receive your passport back, there will be a big shiny sticker taking up one whole page — this is your Japanese Visa. On it, you will see the date of issue and the date of expiration which will only be 3 months apart. Don’t panic. Every visitor has 3 months from the day they receive their visa to enter Japan. After 3 months, the visa expires, but you will still be allowed in-and-out privileges.
While it might seem like a long process, note that it only took me 6 months to get my English teaching degree, find a job, collect documents, quit my previous job, and fly to Japan. If you get started now, you, too, could be there in September.