The right visa for your stay in Japan

The right visa for your stay in Japan

Understand the visa options for Japan once and for all. 28 different visa can be confusing at first sight, but many of them cover special cases you don’t need to concern yourself with.

Visa for Japan fall can be divided into three categories:

  1. Working Visa
  2. Non-working Visa
  3. Family-related Visa

To find the right visa among the 28 available options ask yourself what it is you want to do in Japan. If you do not have close relatives in Japan then like most other foreigners your choice is between a working-visa and a non-working visa.
If you are a professional, see if your field is covered by one of the working visa below. If you are a new graduate with a job prospect then you will likely get the Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services. If you want to work in Japan in the future a student visa or a working holiday visa (designated activities) will be a good option to get you started.

1. Working visa

There are many different types of working visas, and most of them match specific professions. While finding the right visa can seem confusing at first glance (for English teachers for example) the requirements are clear-cut. Usually your employer will know which visa is the correct one for your position.

The real challenge here is that you need to find a company that is willing to hire you and sponsor your working visa. Even if you get a job, when your employer does not agree to become your sponsor, you will not be able to get a working visa.

Something else to consider is that Japan is looking for (highly) skilled foreigners to join their workforce. Accordingly, most work visas require a university degree or up to 10 years of professional working experience. This can be frustrating for those who have skills but do not have a university degree. For example, in Germany many people do an apprenticeship. This usually gives them more practical skills than their university peers. Still, without the degree, the only way to make up for it is by many years of work experience.
But let’s look at the available options.

1. Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services

Around 80% of all foreign employees in Japan have this residence status. It serves as a kind of catch-all category.
✔Engineers who work in engineering, physical sciences, etc.
✔Specialists in Humanities working in a field related to legal, economic, social or human sciences, etc.
✔International Services specialists work in translation interpretation, language instruction, public relations international trade, design, product development, etc.
➟ 技術・人文知識・国際業務 (ぎじゅつ・じんぶんちしき・こくさいぎょうむ)

2. Intra-company Transferee

For employees that get transferred to their company’s office in Japan from overseas. With this visa, one can bypass the usual requirements like a university degrees lengthy professional experience. To be eligible for the visa one only needs to have worked one year at the current company. So if your company has offices in Japan, this is definitely a good option.
➟ 企業内転勤 (きぎょうない・てんきん)

3. Skilled labor

People with special skills. Here meaning, craftsman like jewelers, cooks, architects or civil engineers, who usually mastered a skill that is practiced in “foreign” countries. Also, other niche specialists like pilots, sports trainers, sommeliers, etc. fall into this category. In many cases, more than 10 years of relevant work experience are required to be eligible.
➟ 技能 (ぎのう)

4. Business Manager

The business manager visa is available for anyone who is starting, investing, or managing a business in Japan. This means CEOs or other company executives, factory managers, etc. To start a business in Japan physical office space and 5 million Yen capital are necessary.
➟ 経営・管理 (けいえい・かんり)

5.Highly Skilled Professional

This is the holy grail of work visas. Your professional achievements are evaluated in a variety of categories. Each achievement has a certain number of points assigned. If added up you reach 70 points or more you are eligible for this visa as highly skilled professional. It also allows you to apply for permanent resident status faster than anyone else. It also offers more freedom in getting visas and work-permits for family members accompanying you.
➟ 高度専門職 (こうど・せんもんしょく)

6. Diplomat

Ambassadors, ministers, and consulate generals, short people on diplomatic missions get assigned this visa. This visa status extends to family members. These visas are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not by Immigration.
➟ 外交 (がいこう)


The visa for those entering Japan as representatives of foreign governments or international organizations. This includes employees of embassies or consulates and other people carrying out official assignments in Japan on behalf of international groups. This visa status covers family members, too.
➟ 公用 (こうよう)

8. Professor

The professor visa if for people teaching or doing research at universities, colleges, and similar educational institutions in Japan.
➟ 教授 (きょうじゅ)

9. Instructor

The visa for foreign teachers at elementary, middle and high schools. Teachers at private institutions like English Language schools fall into the above “Specialist in Humanities/International Services.”
➟ 教育 (きょういく)

10. Artist

Artist visas are available for painters, writers, sculptors, photographers, songwriters, composers etc. This visa is only for established artists with years of experience under their belt. The condition is that you can earn enough money with your art to finance your life in Japan. You will either need a job offer in Japan or provide proof that your project requires you to be in Japan and that it generates enough income.
➟ 芸術 (げいじゅつ)

11. Religious Activities

The visa for people staying in Japan in a religious capacity. Priests, missionaries, and other people who are teaching their faith in Japan. It is necessary to be a member of the respective religious organization in a foreign country. With this visa, you are allowed to work, as long as it is part of the social or missionary work that your religious group engages in (social work, language education, etc.)
➟ 宗教 (しゅうきょう)

12. Journalist

Journalists with contracts with a foreign media organization. This includes freelance journalist, announcers, camera operators, etc. Since payment is made by a non-Japanese organization, nationals of countries with a visa-waiver agreement (visa-free short stay) do not need to apply for this visa if they stay less than 90 days.
➟ 報道 (ほうどう)

13. Legal/Accounting Services

This visa covers attorneys, certified public accountants and other legal specialists. To be eligible you need to have acquired your qualification in Japan or get foreign qualifications recognized by the relevant professional institution in Japan.
➟ 法律・会計業務 (ほうりつ・かいけいぎょうむ)

14. Medical Services

Doctors, dentists and other medical specialists. Japanese qualifications are necessary, so eligible people need to make sure they are allowed to practice in Japan if they got their license in another country. While nurses are included in this category, caregivers, social welfare workers and others are not.
➟ 医療 (いりょう)

15. Researcher

Researchers at public and private institutions in Japan. This generally means, not the researchers affiliated to a university but working at a company laboratory or the like.
➟ 研究 (けんきゅう)

16. Entertainer

The visa for everyone in show business, be it theater, musical performances, sports or anything else that qualifies as entertainment. According to Japanese visa regulations anyone who is working in entertainment is not considered to be an artist.
➟ 興行 (こうぎょう)

17. Specific Skilled Worker

This visa allows people with a background in specific industries to work in Japan for up to 5 years. To be eligible for this visa, candidates need to pass industry-specific skills and Japanese tests.
➟ 特定技能 (とくてい・ぎのう)

18. Technical Trainee

Visa for internships to learn specific technical skills. The technical internship visa is part of the “Technical Intern Training Program” and primarily aimed at young nationals of developing countries (but not restricted to them).
➟ 技能実習 (ぎのう・じっしゅう)

2. Non-working Visa

Non-working visas are given according to the purpose of stay. You want to be a student, have an internship lined up, or just want to go sightseeing? Based on what you want visa conditions and length of stay can vary widely.

Tourist status for short-term stay is readily granted. Nationals of 67 countries don’t even need a visa, and can just show up at immigration. If you want to stay long-term as exchange student for example, then again you will need a sponsor that will take responsibility for you during your time in Japan. This will usually be the school you are enrolled at, the company you are interning for, or a similar institution.

1. Students

All students that are enrolled full-time at educational institutions in Japan (universities, vocational school, Japanese language schools as well as elementary/middle/high schools). You can apply for a student visa only via your school in Japan. Application periods are set, so take care to not miss any deadlines.
➟ 留学 (りゅうがく)

2. Trainee

The visa for for trainees who will be trained in a specific technology, skill or knowledge during their stay in Japan. This visa is available at public and private institutions. There are no limitations on the industry or job, but it has to be an unpaid traineeship. It is similar to the intra-company transferee visa in that the trainee is being sent to Japan by their company.
➟ 研修 (けんしゅう)

3. Cultural Activities

This visa covers unpaid internships, the study, research and other engagement in cultural or artistic activities that are typical to Japan without getting paid. If you want to dive deep into Ikebana, Karate, or Calligraphy, then this is the would be the right visa. You will have to decide your program together with your host (organization or person) before coming to Japan, because a curriculum of the planned activity has to be submitted when applying for the visa.
➟ 文化活動 (ぶんかかつどう)

4. Dependent

Spouse or kids of someone who stays in Japan. Availability depends on the residency status of that person. Typically, people on a working visa and also students can bring their married partner and kids. The downside is that when staying in Japan as “dependent” it is not possible to get a full-time job in Japan.
➟ 族滞在 (ぞくたいざい)

5. Temporary Visitor

This is the standard visa for tourists. It covers activities such as tourism, sightseeing, visiting friends and family, attending seminars and conferences. Participating in business meetings, market research and PR activities, even rehabilitation at Onsen are also covered. The general condition is that you do not receive payment during your stay.
➟ 短期滞在ビザ (たんきざいりゅうびざ)

6. Designated Activities

This visa is for activities that require special permission and do not fit in any of the above visa types. Eligibility is judged on a case by case basis. Students engaging in internships, participants in the working holiday program, housekeepers, etc. are considered to be “designated activities.” There is also a sub-category for long-vacation stays, but you would need 30 million Yen to be able to apply (so you can finance your stay without working).
➟ 特定活動 (とくていかつどう)

3. Family-related Visa

This category is for those that have Japanese ancestors or are married to/kids of someone with an unlimited status to live in Japan. The good part about these visa types is that they come with a work permit. If you ever wonder which foreigners get hired full-time by companies that don’t sponsor visas, here is your answer. Most likely it is those non-Japanese nationals who are here on a family visa and whose stay in Japan does not rely on their employment.

1. Long-Term Residents

Refugees, descendants of Japanese nationals, foreign divorcees or those caring for children of a Japanese national.
➟ 住者の配偶者 (じゅうしゃのはいぐうしゃ)

2. Spouse or Child of Japanese Nationals.

Anyone who’s married to a Japanese or the child of a Japanese national is eligible for this visa.
➟ 日本人の配偶者等 (にほんじん・の・はいぐうしゃ・など)

3. Permanent residents

The general rule is that if one has lived in Japan for more than 10 years and is able to support oneself one can apply to become a permanent residents. This will not change your nationality, you will still be considered a “foreign resident.” Permanent Residency does mean that you won’t have to worry about renewing your visa anymore, but it can be hard to get.
➟ 定住者 (ていじゅうしゃ)

4. Spouse or Child of Permanent Residents

Spouses and children of a foreigner having Permanent Resident status can receive this visa. The conditions are similar to those for family members of Japanese nationals.
➟ 永住者の配偶者等 (えいじゅうしゃ・の・はいぐうしゃ・など)

In conclusion, it can be said that the hurdle to get a family-visa is fairly high.
Unless you are lucky enough with your family ties, your best shot at a life in Japan is to get a working visa and hope to one day upgrade to permanent residency.

We will add more guides about the specific visa types for Japan soon, so stay tuned!

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After traveling around for a while, I found my home in Tokyo. Now working in Shinjuku and discovering something new about Japan every day.