Temporary visitors to Japan will need a visitor visa for stays of up to 90 days, although citizens from countries such as the USA, UK, Canada and Australia, as well as EU nationals, are exempt from this.

All visitors intending to stay in Japan for longer than three months will need to apply for a long-term visa. While on a tourist visa in Japan, sightseeing and tourist activities are allowed, but engaging in employment is illegal.

Temporary visas or visitor visas for Japan

Those not from a visa-exempt country who would like to visit for tourism purposes, to attend conferences or for the purpose of conducting research are required to apply for a temporary visa for Japan. Depending on a person’s nationality and the purpose of their visit, these are valid for 15, 30 or 90 days and can be applied for at a Japanese embassy or consulate before arriving in the country. Applicants will need to complete an application form and submit proof of return flights.

If travelling to Japan on business, additional documents may be required such as a letter from the applicant’s company stating the nature of their visit and proof that the company will bear all costs of the visit.

Long-term visas for Japan

Those intending to live and work in the country for an extended period need to apply for a long-term visa for Japan. There are different requirements depending on one’s purpose in the country. Long-term visas should be applied for before entry into Japan. Work permits for Japan fall under this category.

Those wishing to study, live or work in Japan are required to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility before applying for a long-term visa at a Japanese embassy (temporary visitors do not need one). The certificate is applied for by the applicant’s sponsor in Japan, such as their employer or school, on their behalf and testifies that the bearer meets the requirements for a visa. It's valid for three months, so the applicant then needs to obtain their visa and arrive in Japan before the certificate expires.

There's no need for expats to change their visa status if they change employers while in Japan, as long as they still work in the same visa category (English teachers, copywriters and translators all fall under the Specialist in Humanities category, for example). Visas can be renewed from within Japan on an annual basis at the local Immigration Office.

Getting a Residence Card for Japan

Visitors who arrive in Japan on a long-term visa, and those intending to work in the country, will need to get a Residence Card (Zairyu Card), which can be done on arrival at any of Japan’s main airports. This card allows for multiple re-entries into the country.

Expats who intend staying in Japan for the long term, including for work purposes, are required to have a Zairyu Card, which will be issued to them upon arrival at the airport (Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai). If not arriving at one of the listed international airports, the card will be delivered in the mail.

The residence card grants expats in Japan the right to multiple re-entries into the country and it extends the maximum length of stay from three to five years. Expats working in Japan who hold a valid resident card will be able to re-enter the country and continue to work as long as they re-enter within one year of leaving Japan.

Having a residence card in Japan makes life much easier for expats and allows them to engage with the country’s infrastructure by opening a bank account, getting a mobile phone contract, a driver’s licence or registering for the National Health Insurance benefits.

Permanent residency in Japan

Applying for permanent residency in Japan is based on a point system. Expats applying for permanent residence will have to complete a form that will give a score based on factors like profession, work experience, academic qualifications, age, achievements and salary. Scores can also be boosted by proving knowledge of the Japanese language.

Expats hoping to qualify for permanent residency within one to five years of living in Japan will need a minimum score of 70 points.

*Visa and work permit requirements are subject to change at short notice and expats are advised to contact their nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for the latest information.

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