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Visas for relocating to Japan

If you want to work or study in Japan, you’ll need the correct visa.

If you’re a citizen of one of the countries with which Japan has a ‘general visa-exemption arrangement’, you can enter the country as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa — but you cannot work.

Expats wanting to settle in Japan for more than three months are known as ‘medium- to long-term residents’ and require a Resident ‘Zairyu’ Card

Visitors from some countries will be granted permission to stay for a period without a visa (as long as they do not intend to do any paid work in this time.) The nations that have reciprocal visa-exemption arrangements with Japan are:

  • 15 days:
    • Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand
  • 30 days:
    • United Arab Emirates
  • 90 days:
    • More than 60 other countries. See here for the full list.

Nationals from other countries have to obtain a visa in advance to enter Japan.

If in doubt, check with your embassy in Japan.

If you enter Japan at one of the big international airports on a visitor’s visa, you receive your Resident Card at the airport. Entering via other routes will mean you get a stamp in your passport and receive the card later in the mail. As well as receiving the Resident Card, you will need to register your address and complete your residence record at a local government office within 14 days of arrival. This may be a city hall, town hall or other office; many residence offices have weekly English-language consultation hours to help foreigners fill in the paperwork. It is a legal requirement that foreign nationals carry their passport and card with them at all times.

If you plan to work in Japan, you must apply for a special work visa — before which you need a Certificate of Eligibility from the immigration office. To apply for this document, you need a variety of documentation including application form, photos and supporting documents, which vary depending on your status (eg. diplomat, journalist, artist etc.). There are over a dozen categories of residence status, each allowing the holder to work only in a specific professional field. If you change jobs while you are in Japan and your new job falls into a different professional field (e.g. from education to engineering), you will need to change your status of residence. A degree or considerable professional experience in a given field is required to qualify for most working visas and residence is granted in periods between four months and five years. It is also extendable.


A student visa will allow you to work 28 hours a week. This is a combination of all the places you work. If you leave your school, your work permit also becomes invalid.

One company, Japan Employment Success Program (JESP), makes it easier to move to Japan by bringing you over as a Japanese language student (not a university student). The company pays up to 70% of the tuition (about $20,000 a year). As they say, it is hard to find work in Japan unless you’re in Japan.

If you intend to work in Japan, you may find it useful to know the local customs for conducting business. Check out our business etiquette article for helpful tips.

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