How to Move to Japan

Well, as some of you know I am now living in Japan, and I’ve been meaning to create a post to give people information on how they can do the same.

Some of this information is from personal experience, some of it is just information I got from others who have come here, and some of it is information I have read online.

I should also add that all the facts I’m giving are as an Irish person, some details on visas may be slightly different in other countries, but they should be mostly the same overall.

Before We Begin

There are a few things I should mention. A lot of people get very excited about the idea of moving to Japan, but I will very briefly say, make sure you know why you are moving to Japan. It’s a big undertaking and you will practically be leaving your old life behind. In my case a lot of my friends had already moved to Japan, so in a way I was reunited with a piece of my life that I had lost, though I do feel a little guilty about leaving my family behind.

I also recommend going on holiday there at least once first. It will help you figure out if you like it or not, but it will also help you learn about how to get around and do many daily things without all of the responsibilities of living there being added on top.


Getting Your First Working Visa & Getting Into the Country

Essentially the most important thing for working in Japan is getting your first visa, and getting into the country.

Renewing a visa is a lot less hassle than getting your first visa. Because of this many companies either don’t want to spend the effort of helping you get it, or they don’t want the risk of trying to hire someone who may end up failing to get a visa.

The other difficult hurdle is that many companies will only hire somebody who is already in the country. For some companies this is because they prefer to do interviews in person, and for others they may be cautious of if you will really enjoy living in Japan and stay with them.

The following sections are all the routes into Japan that I am aware of.

A Normal Holiday

I should start off my by mentioning coming to the country using a normal holiday visa. A holiday visa allows you to stay for up to 90 days, and you are allowed to enter up to twice a year. But you aren’t allowed to work.

The reason this is worth mentioning is that it gives you a way to be in the country and do interviews in person. It also allows you to enjoy yourself get used to the country.

Of course the big catches are that you can;t get hired, and because you won’t have a resident card there are a lot of things you can’t do.

Working Holiday Visa

This is a small step up from the previous route. Japan has a working holiday visa scheme with several countries.Each country involved gets a certain number of these visas tat they are allowed to give out every year, so I assume the earlier in the year you apply the better. (Though personally I’m not aware if the visas usually end up getting used up).

A working holiday visa is a single entry visa which allows you to stay in japan for 1 year and allows you to work. I;m not sure what kinds of limitations are on the work you are allowed to do, but people on these visas usually do jobs like working in bars. Because the visa is single entry, it means it expires if you leave the country, though there is some way of arranging to leave and come back such that it doesn’t expire (I’m not very knowledgeable of the procedure myself).

There are some other limitations of the visa, you are required to get travel insurance, and you are required to have the money to pay for flights back before leaving. You also have to be under 30 years old. (And possibly some others which I can’t remember)

You won’t be able to stay in japan permanently on this, but it gives you a first visa, and gets you into the country which makes it easier to get something afterwards to stay permanently.

This is probably the easiest visa to get because there are no real real requirements. Also unlike English teaching visas which I will cover next you have a lot more freedom to graduate from it to something else sooner.

English Teaching

This is probably the way of getting into Japan you will hear about most often. There are multiple companies which hire English teachers from abroad and bring you to japan. Probably the most well known of these is JET, which from what I have heard is probably the best one to go through.

People doing English teaching usually get a good amount of free time which allows them to enjoy japan, and they usually get support with things like finding somewhere to stay. Some may even cover your accommodation. And people who have done it have told me that teaching English is an enjoyable experience.

For JET at least the only requirement is that you have a degree of any kind. However if you have teaching experience and TEFL training it is a big advantage. Some other companies may require TEFL training.

One limitation is that you usually won’t get much choice about where you live, if you’re aiming for Tokyo you probably won’t have much luck. (Unless you apply directly to schools/companies in Tokyo, which will probably require you living here first).

The second limitation is that hiring will usually go according to the school terms, so outside of these times you’ll need to wait, and probably go through a long application process.

The the third limitation is that you are essentially locked into this for at least a year, if you are using the teaching visa as a stepping stone to move onto bigger things this might be a a bad point for you, but if you want to be an English teacher this shouldn’t be an issue to you.

Starting a Business in Japan

I don’t know much about this myself, but I thought I would mention it briefly. It’s possible to get a visa to live in Japan if you start a company here. there are restrictions that your company must have a certain amount of money (or might be that it has to be worth  certain amount) and you have to hire a certain amount of Japanese staff.

As mentioned I don’t know much about it, so you’ll have to look it up, but if you have some money to invest in starting a business it’s a route you can take.

Skilled Work/Engineering Visa

And now you’re on to the way I am currently in japan. If you have a skill which is demand you might be able to get a visa to work in Japan using your skill.

In my case I’m a software engineer, which is in in demand pretty-much all over the world. Because of this I will be speaking form the point of view of a software engineer and I’m not sure how well it relates to other skills.

In order to qualify for one of these visas you need to have a related degree or a certain number of years working in that area.

Most skilled jobs in Japan will be in Japanese, but there are enough English speaking software engineering jobs for you to find something. Most of these will be with western companies with offices in japan who will generally have better work environments than Japanese companies anyway.

Getting one of these visas can by very difficult if you are not already living in Japan. This comes back to my initial points about getting into Japan and getting your first visa. Your best option would be to use one of the other routes to initially get into the country first, then try to apply for software jobs once already here.I got hired from outside of Japan, but it literally took me 2 years of trying on and off, and in the end the company that hired me was tied to a company I was working for in Ireland. I’m pretty sure that existing good track record is what got me hired. However your chances will increase greatly if you can speak good Japanese. There are also graduate programs for certain companies where they hire large amount of junior engineers form abroad, though these programs are pretty competitive. Of course if you are also a senior/principle engineer with a very impressive past record to show off there will be companies who will want to take you and pay you a lot more money than I make.

Marry a Japanese Person

I guess I should also mention that the shortcut to getting a full Japanese visa is to marry a Japanese person. If you get one of the other visas first there are high odds that you’ll naturally end up with one of these eventually 😛



Hopefully this article will help a few people. And when I get time I’ll also write an article about how to get set up when you arrive in japan, giving you a list of things to do in order that I wish I had when I got here.

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