How to Get a Student Visa for Japan
Whether you want to go to university or language school, if you want to study in Japan, chances are you will need a student visa. This guide takes you through application process step-by-step. First, let’s start by taking a look at why you need a student visa for Japan.
Studying in Japan without Student Visa
As long as you’re only going to do a short-term program, you can come here on a tourist visa (or “temporary visitor visa”, as it’s officially called). The tourist visa allows you to stay for up to 90 days.
If you’re a resident of one of 68 countries that have a visa exemption agreement with Japan, you don’t even need to apply beforehand – just go to the airport and bring your passport. You can check here for a list of all countries.
Among them, nationals of a few countries are even able to extend their temporary visitor status to up to six months. (On the website linked above, they’re the countries with [Note8] attached to them.) If you to stay for more than the regular time period, you have to apply for it at the local immigration office.
For stays longer than three months (or six, depending on your country), a student visa will be necessary.
Student Visa Requirements and Rules
A student visa allows holders to stay in Japan for the purpose of their studies. As such the validity period of your visa depends on your program. Visa can start from 6 months to 4 years and three months for university students. For students at language schools, the maximum stay is usually 2 years.
Who can apply for a student visa?
You can apply for a student visa in Japan if you’re at least 18 years old and have graduated from high school or an institution of higher education. Also, in total, you have to have spent 12 years or more in school.
Student visa are available for students at universities, vocational schools, and Japanese language schools in Japan.
How long does the application process take?
In order to obtain the student visa, you first need to get a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) issued through Japan’s Immigration Bureau. This, combined with the initial application process for your school and for the final visa acquisition, can make the whole process last up to 5-6 months. Most schools set their application deadlines accordingly.
To prevent any time issues later on, apply as early as possible.
Can you work with a student visa in Japan?
Foreign students are allowed to work part-time jobs here if they get a separate permission to do so. Applying for the “Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted” is easy (despite the name), you can find the necessary form here.
You can request the work permission while applying for your visa in your home country or afterward, at the local immigration office. Once it’s accepted, you can work up to 28 hours per week.
Choose a School
First of all, you need to decide on the school you want to go to. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s an important step.
Depending on what school you choose, class contents, schedules, and prices can vary. Additional factors are atmosphere, location, extracurricular activities, cafeterias, etc.
What do you want to study in Japan and where? If you want to go to Language school, do you want the cheapest option? A jam-packed study schedule? A school where you can make as many friends as possible? Or a place that leaves you with more free time? All these questions (and more) will influence your decision.
There are a lot of options to choose from (especially in Tokyo), so deciding on a school can be quite hard. Making a list of your priorities can help. There are also services on the web that assist you in finding a school that fits your requirements, so you could always use those if you don’t want to sift through dozens of homepages.
Once you’ve chosen and contacted a school, you will be asked to submit some initial documents and go through a screening process. Some schools may not be able to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility for you, so double-check with the school staff (e.g. during “question time” after the interview).
If you got accepted, the school will now request documents from you to be sent to the Immigration Bureau for the visa application.
Some people apply to multiple schools to increase their opportunities, but that eventually leads to multiple visa requests from you being handled at the same time and may result in all your applications being declined by the Immigration Bureau. Preventing it is easy: Limit your applications to one school!
Application Process and Documents
In this stage, just submit the application documents that the school requests you to. They know what they’re doing.
Applying for the Certificate of Eligibility itself is free of charge, so you’ll only have to pay the costs related to collecting the necessary documents and sending them to Japan.
Student Application Form
First, there’s the application form for your school or course. Additionally, a resume and a few paragraphs on why you want to study in Japan are often required.
Then, there’s the general application form for the Certificate of Eligibility. In case your school doesn’t send it to you, you can find it on the English page of the Immigration Bureau (under category “Student”, number 9 in the list).
A copy of the photo page of your passport. Check that it is valid for the whole duration of your stay, otherwise get it renewed before you get your visa.
Documents falling under this category are your high school diploma, official transcripts of records for university courses you’ve taken so far, and university graduation certificates (e.g. if you come here as a postgraduate student).
Proof of financial viability
Financial documents are required to prove that you’re not going to end up stranded on the road after entering the country. This includes bank account and income statements of either your sponsor or yourself as well as scholarship award letters etc.
If you’re still a student, chances that you’re going to (at least partly) depend on family members or other sponsors for financial support are pretty high. Choose a family member as your sponsor, if possible at all. Other sponsors may be accepted as well, but a direct relative is the safest route to take.
There are no clearly defined cutoff points for when sponsorship becomes insufficient. However, generally speaking, your sponsor should at least have a yearly salary ranging between 2 million and 2.5 million yen (currency-converted), with a bank account containing about the same amount.
Depending on where your sponsor lives (e.g. inside Japan), additional forms may be necessary.
Submit multiple ID photos taken within the last 3 months. They should be 4cm x 3cm in size and have your name written on the back (additional requirements).
When in doubt, take the safe route and have your photo taken at a local photo studio. It may be a little more expensive than using the photo machine around the corner, but in return, you get photos that are professionally shot, measured and precisely cut.
Copy of JLPT results
The JLPT is the most common Japanese language skill test. If you have passed any level, attach a copy of the certificate and the test results. Even if your school doesn’t require it, attaching these documents can only increase your chances.
What to keep in mind
Basically, there are two points where your visa application process can go wrong. Either when you don’t get your Certificate of Eligibility, or when you don’t get your visa.
Documents submitted to the Immigration Bureau cannot be returned. Make sure you send the right and completely filled out documents (and only copies, not originals of documents that cannot be replaced).
All documents you send should be in either English or Japanese.
Students can get an additional working permit for up to 28 hours a week. However, there are foreigners who use courses at Japanese Language Schools as an “alibi” to do untrained work far exceeding this limit.
Obviously, Japanese immigration officials aren’t keen on letting illegal workers into the country. So, whenever you’re required to state a reason for coming here, make it clear that the main goal of your stay is to take your classes and learn/study.
Another important thing: When writing your name on any other documents listed below, make sure it is the exact same name as the one printed in your passport!
The space for entering your name is often divided into little boxes. Each one of those boxes is supposed to contain exactly one letter. If you have one or more middle name(s), your full name may not fit into this predefined space. In cases like this, you should ask the person handling your application for advice.
Get Your Certificate of Eligibility
After sending all the necessary documents, the school will forward them to the Immigration Bureau. Once your Certificate of Eligibility has been issued, they will send it back to you. This process usually takes 2-3 months (or longer if there are missing documents etc).
The step where you have to pay the tuition for your course usually comes after receiving the CoE and before applying for the visa.
Apply for your Visa
With the Certificate of Eligibility in your hands, head to your local Japanese embassy or consulate. Don’t forget to make an appointment beforehand!
The whole reason the CoE exists is to make the actual visa application process easier. Usually, the process should only take a few weeks (I’ve applied for a long-term visa four times so far and always had to wait for about one week).
Other than the CoE, necessary documents for visa application are a valid passport, a visa application form (here) and one photograph.
Once you got your CoE, obtaining the visa should mostly be a mere formality. However, there are cases in which you will not be able to have your visa issued.
Most of the reasons your visa application may be declined have already been discussed in this article, but here’s a list, once more for clarity:
- ■ Wrong information on your documents (wrong name, address, etc.)
- ■ Insufficient sponsorship
- ■ Multiple applications at the same time
- ■ Previous failed application
Unless you’re able to make last-minute adjustments, once your visa application is declined, you’ll not be able to apply again for six months. I know, I’ve said it a few times already, but making sure your documents are in order is absolutely crucial.
Come to School
The preparations might take a while, but once you get your visa, you’re good to go. Book your flight, come to Japan and start learning!
For some, obtaining a student visa may seem like an exhausting task. But your school will offer support along the way. Most of the time, it’ll be easier than it seems at first glance. So, start looking at your options and come to Japan!