My route to a current, stable life in Osaka wasn’t the most direct one. Before landing in my current home, I worked in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Tokyo, Okayama and Hong Kong. Along the way, I successfully secured employment in Japan from abroad not once, but twice — and under quite different personal circumstances.
Eligibility requirements, of course, vary depending on your country of origin, your level of education and your Japanese ability. Still, there is a basic process that applies to all who wish to come here to teach.
Before you begin, think about why you want to teach in Japan and make sure to keep that in mind as you slog through your applications (it’s likely that you’ll fill out more than one). The important thing during the process is not to give up. It can be hard playing the waiting game when all you want to do is jump on a plane and be in Japan already. But stick with it, stay positive, and you will get there.
Finding a job
To work in Japan for a regular working visa, you will first need a firm offer of employment. The employer must be based in Japan or at least have a Japan-based office or subsidiary that can sponsor your visa. Sites like GaijinPot and Career Engine allow you to search for jobs that will accept overseas applicants.
If you’re looking to come over as an English teacher, then the three most popular positions to search for are:
- ALT (assistant language teacher) jobs in schools across Japan with companies such as Interac and Altia Central
- Teaching at an eikaiwa (private English conversation school) offered by national chains such as Gaba, Berlitz, Shane and Nova
- The JET programme — a government-run teaching exchange program that dispatches native speakers to schools across the country
When’s the best time to apply?
In the case of ALT work, the peak recruitment times are from January to March and from June to September, coinciding with the start of the spring and autumn terms. Eikaiwa schools hire all year round and turnover is typically quite high from year to year. Teachers will seek out alternative employment with the greater flexibility once they have already secured working permission.
Applications for the JET Programme intake begin in late November, with interviews in early February. You’ll find out if you’ve got a place in March/April. If you don’t get in the first round, there’s a chance that you may be selected later under “alternate status” to replace somebody who has withdrawn early from the program.
The hiring process
First of all, you’ll do the obligatory job interview. This can take place over the telephone or via Skype, but if it’s a highly sought after position then the company may expect you to interview in person. Some English schools have overseas agents who may interview you at a recruitment event in your home country or at least somewhere that’s a lot cheaper to get to than Japan itself!
Getting your visa
After a successful interview, if you receive a job offer and accept, the company will begin the process of clearing you to work in Japan. Be prepared for this to take up to three months.
Your new company will need to see your university degree (or a certified copy) and any other pertinent documentation of qualifications, plus you’ll need to complete the relevant forms from immigration. Send these documents to your employer in Japan and they will handle the rest. After about six to eight weeks you receive a “Certificate of Eligibility.” This in itself does not entitle one to work in Japan, but means you’ve completed the next stage of the process.
Next up is a trip to your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate. Present your passport and the certificate of eligibility to the consular officials and you will be asked to return in 10 days or so to collect your visa.
Once you have a visa you can go to Japan and start work with your company. Upon arriving at immigration at your port of entry, you will receive an official visa stamp in your passport along with a residence card. If you’re entering at a smaller airport or regional hub, then you will be given a temporary entry permit that can be exchanged for a residence card at your local municipal office. For all intents and purposes, this card will be your main form of ID while you live in Japan. It is, technically speaking, a criminal offense not to carry it with you at all times.
Depending on how old you are and how long you wish to stay in Japan, a second option may be open to you: the working holiday visa. With this, you will be able to enter Japan for a period of one year, and engage in part-time work. To qualify, you must be aged between 18 and 30, and come from one of the following countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand or the U.K. Unlike working visa holders, who are restricted to working in the field specified on their visa, working holiday visa holders can engage in a variety of different jobs. However, the one-year limit is fixed and cannot be renewed. There is, however, the option to convert this to a full working visa later on if your employer is willing and eligible to sponsor you.
Things to consider
In some cases, the company employing you will offer you assistance in finding housing but the contractual costs will either be higher than normal or borne entirely by you in advance.
If you can afford it, I recommend not using company housing if you can. Outside of the big cities, private apartments are typically cheaper with the added peace of mind that changing your job won’t also necessarily mean having to move house.
Other fields can offer more flexibility in employment than teaching English. Indeed, Japan has recently loosened its permanent residency requirements for those foreigners in highly specialized industries, such as engineering, finance, the sciences and academia. Typically, firms in these sectors will also offer better relocation and resettlement packages to prospective employees.
That being said, coming to Japan was a dream come true for me, and for all the ups and downs I’ve had over the past 11 years, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Hopefully, this information can help you take those first tentative steps in forging your own Japanese adventure!