‘Fall down seven times, stand up eight’ – Japanese proverb
Travelling to Japan to learn Japanese, discover the beauty of the Japanese culture or simply to find a job is the dream of many.
With 28.69 million tourists visiting Japan in 2017, the cherry blossom archipelago received a record-breaking number of tourists last year and the Japanese government predicts the country will welcome more than 30 million tourists in 2020.
The majority of tourists come from East Asia, North America, Oceania and Europe and flock to the islands of Japan (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu) and its cities, from Sapporo, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka all the way to Okinawa.
This is our guide to the steps you need to take before visiting Japan.
Once you have made the decision to travel to Japan, (unfortunately!) there are a number of documents that you will need to prepare before you launch full speed ahead reserving plane tickets.
Here are a few of tips on things you may like to consider for before departure and after landing in the country itself!
Don't forget, you can also learn japanese online.
Japan: Visa and Travel Checklist
Plane Tickets and Passport Validity
The first thing to think about when planning a trip Japan is, of course, to reserve a return plane ticket.
It’s important to remember that (for a 90-day short stay) airlines can refuse to let you board if you only have a single ticket.
For 'British' and 'British National (overseas)' passport holders, your passport only needs to be valid for the duration of your stay in Japan. For passport holders of other countries (both in and outside the EU) a valid passport that expires no less than 6 months after your return departure date may be a requirement, so always check passport validity requirements before going on a flight booking frenzy!
This is what the Japanese ambassador in the UK has to say about travel to Japan:
'As Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, I imagine there will be compelling reasons for more British people to want to visit Japan. Our aim is to serve the interests of both Japanese citizens in the UK and British people who are interested in Japan...' – Ambassador Tsuruoka
I personally use the ticket comparison site, skyscanner.com to buy my flight tickets. It has a really clear format and one can compare flight prices for any month or prospective departure date.
It might be worth noting that it is less expensive to fly to some countries than others. For example, a direct flight London-Tokyo might be more expensive than booking a flight to Bangkok (Thailand), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) or Taipei (Taiwan) and then flying on a connecting flight to Japan from there with a low-cost airline.
International Healthcare Insurance
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world – there’s more chance of encountering an earthquake than getting mugged in the street, even if you are a young female and travelling alone at nighttime.
One might, therefore, be forgiven for not wanting to bother with international health insurance.
All the same, if you happen to have a physical accident or any sort of emergency health problems occur, you could find yourself lumped with astronomical healthcare fees to pay, which naturally would be best avoided!
My own experience of having a scooter accident in Thailand (what a cliché!) resulted in some hefty unforeseen expenses as I didn’t have any international healthcare insurance. I ended up having to borrow petty cash to cover my healthcare costs.
Healthcare can be a bit of a life-saver (no pun intended!) when it comes to avoiding this kind of inconvenience!
Sometimes home insurance, credit cards or even banks themselves can cover for possible eventualities (repatriation, accident, illness, etc.) when travelling abroad, therefore, your best bet would be to contact your bank to see if your contract includes this kind of protection.
If you encounter any of the aforementioned problems whilst in Japan and don't have the appropriate cover, you can also always try getting in touch with the British Consulate in Japan.
Lastly, the cost of living in Japan is very high – you will need to make sure you have the means to support yourself and especially to cover accommodation.
Now you have just about all you need to get out and about discovering some of the many beautiful rural and urban areas in Japan!
Communicating in Japan – Tricky?
Japanese is the most widely spoken language in Japan – surprise, surprise! However, there are still quite a few English speakers there and even some signposts in English in public places.
Even if more Japanese-English translations begin to pop up around the country ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, anyone who cannot read basic kanji or hiragana katakana could well still find themselves lost in amidst a maze of Japanese characters – and I'm talking right from arrival at the airport!
A top tip for travellers to Japan is thus that taking Japanese lessons (i.e. japanese lessons london or whichever city you are based) pre-departure should be a top priority! Be it lessons for beginners, intensive classes or back to basics classes (obviously, Superprof Japanese classes that can be taken from the comfort of one's own home spring to mind here. Search 'japanese classes near me' for more info).
Knowing the language basics could come in very handy when in Japan and trying to find a place to stay, do some odd jobs or even get a better-paid job. Even if you want to be an English teacher – which are in very high demand in Japan – basic competence in Japanese is still necessary for making oneself understood.
Do I Need a Visa for Japan?
UK and Non-UK Passport Holders
For most countries, all you need to visit Japan for a short stay is a valid passport.
Visa exemption – decided through an intergovernmental agreement – applies to countries from a number of continents:
- Europe – the UK, France, Belgium, Poland, Holland, Norway, etc.
- North America – Canada and the USA.
- South America – Columbia, Costa Rica, etc.
- Africa – Tunisia, Mauritius, etc.
It may be worth noting that foreign nationals from the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein and Mexico are permitted to remain in Japan visa-free for 180 days (6 months).
Foreign nationals from other countries, such as France, Belgium, Australia, Andorra, etc. can travel visa-free for a short stay of up to 90 days (3 months).
Foreign nationals visiting Japan will usually receive a stamp on arrival that indicates their ‘temporary visitor status’ and acts as their visa for Japan. Great to add another stamp to the collection!
Any paid employment activity is strictly forbidden with both these types of entry permits. We are talking about short stay visas here by the way (90 and 180-day Temporary Visitor Visa, transit visas, etc.).
If you wish to stay in Japan longer than the duration of your Temporary Visitor Visa, you will need to apply for a visa in advance; specific visas in line with the intended reason for stay are required.
If you are hoping to work in Japan, you will need a work visa, which you can apply for after getting hold of a Certificate of Eligibility.
In order to obtain a COE, the Japanese authorities require you to have a signed contract with a Japanese company.
Types of Visas for Japan
A visa application is obligatory for anybody who wishes to:
- Live as an expat in Japan
- Study in Japan
- Do volunteer work abroad
- Perform in a show
- Participate in a sports competition
- Work in the education sector
- Do a paid work experience placement
- Do Wwoofing
- Work as an au pair in a host family
A Certificate of Eligibility should be obtained from the Immigration Office in Japan by the host party, who should send the original copy via post.
This stage in the application process can seem like a bit of a headache, but it’s worth the effort!
Long-Term Visa (Japan): Visa Categories
There a number of long-term visas that exist and that can be applied for according to the intended reason for staying in Japan.
Japanese Visa Requirements
The country has a somewhat draconian foreign policy when it comes to immigration, which is decided by quotas for travellers according to fluctuations in the economic climate that can seem sometimes somewhat capricious (unemployment levels, inflation, exchange rates, etc.).
Certificate of Eligibility
Acquiring Japanese permanent residence is actually very expensive and specific visas apply to each different intended reason for stay (where the visit is expected to last longer than the length of your Temporary Visitor Visa). Any British passport holder has to apply for a COE (Certificate of Eligibility) for any stay over 180 days. This certificate is a kind of entry permit that allows you to enter Japanese territory.
This document will prove that you are not visiting Japan for fraudulent reasons and verifies your status as a resident. What’s more, it will help to reduce any delays in getting a visa!
Below are the different types of visas for different situations:
- Work visa – there are two types of work visas, a permit to work for private companies and work visas granted according to specific professions.
- Study visa – this visa applies to overseas students who come to Japan to study for more than 3 months.
- Designated Activities visa – this visa is aimed at people who want to do an internship in the field of their studies.
- Spouse of Permanent Resident – this one is for married couples and their children where the partner is a long-term resident in Japan (does not apply for civil partnerships and does not permit the holder to work in Japan).
- Long-term Resident – this visa is for married couples, foreign citizens who have a Japanese parent, etc.
- JSPS visa – for those who are supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (scientific researchers, including humanities and social sciences)
- Cultural Activities visa – for those who would like to visit Japan to acquire a skill connected to typically Japanese domain.
- Rotary Club visa - for young members of the Rotary Club, an association working to instigate world peace and working for the common good.
- Japanese Government Grant Holder’s visa – for people in receipt of funding (granted by a Japanese governmental department, such as the Department for Education, Department for Culture and Department for Sport) for study or research.
- Working Holiday visa – introduced through a bilateral agreement between Japan and the UK, Working Holiday program enables young British nationals aged less than 30 who have adequate financial means, to reside in Japan for a year and work in Japanese companies (the visa is subject to holders having a valid medical certificate and does not permit the visa holder to work in bars, nightclubs or casinos).
It is worth noting that a re-entry permit for Japan is required if you have already visited Japan for a long-term stay and plan to return to the country less than 12 months after your last departure.
Applying for a (Japan) Visa in the UK
In order to apply for a visa for Japan, you will need to contact the Embassy of Japan in the UK (101-104 Piccadilly London W1J 7JT 101-104 Piccadilly London W1J 7JT).
Submitting a Visa Application
You will need to submit your visa application in person at the Embassy of Japan unless you are applying through a registered visa agent.
Unlike Chinese passport holders applying for a visa in Beijing, unfortunately, applicants in the UK are not yet lucky enough to be able to try out the newly introduced smartphone app. Perhaps one day the app will be available to make life easier for applicants in the UK!
Visa Application Checklist
You will be asked to fill out a form and provide the following documents:
- Completed visa application form
- Passport photos (taken within the last 6 months)
- A return plane ticket to Japan
- An invitation letter from the inviting party in Japan where necessary (with the company letterhead and stating the duration of stay).
- Supporting documents from the inviting organisation
The cost of a single-entry visa is free for UK nationals. Visa application processing times are fairly quick; it takes about a week for your visa application to be approved.
Visa Submission Times
If you are living in the South of England, to apply for a visa to Japan – so that you can take your first steps to learning first hand about life there – you do not need to make an appointment and can submit your application Monday to Friday between 9:30 and 16:30 at the Embassy of Japan in London.
If you live in Scotland or the North of England you will need to submit your visa application to the Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh, Monday to Friday between 09:30 and 12:30 and 14:00-16:30.
Summary of Japanese Visas
|Type of Visa||Visa Duration||Intended Visa Applicant|
|Temporary Visitor Visa||Short-term (15 days)||Thai and Brunei passport holders|
|Temporary Visitor Visa||Short-term (90 days)||Visa on arrival if you are from any of the countries part of the intergovernmental agreement|
|Temporary Visitor Visa||Short-term (180 days)||Visa on arrival for UK, Swiss, German, Irish, Liechtenstein and Mexican passport holders|
|Work Visa||Long-term||Applicants looking to work in Japan who are in possession of a COE (Certificate of Eligibility).|
|Study Visa||3 months+||Applicants wishing to study in Japan for more than 3 months.|
|Designated Activities Visa||1 year (maximum)||Applicants wishing to stay in Japan for an extended period for sight-seeing and travel only (not work or study).|
|Spouse of Permanent Resident||Long-term||Applicants married to a spouse with permanent Japanese residency may apply after 3 years.|
|Long-term Resident||Unlimited (renewable every 7 years)||Standard visa holders may apply after 10 years stay in Japan. HSP (Highly Skilled Professional) applicants may apply after 3 years and HSP No. 1 applicants may apply after 1 year.|
|JSPS visa||3 months from date of arrival in Japan - visa can be changed on arrival in Japan||Applicants supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science|
|Cultural Activities visa||3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years||Applicants in possession of a COE intending to acquire a skill connected to typically Japanese domain|
|Rotary Club visa||Long-term||Applicants who are 15-19 years old and members of the Rotary Youth Exchange.|
|Japanese Government Grant Holder’s visa||Long-term||Applicants in receipt of funding granted by a Japanese governmental department.|
|Working Holiday visa||1 year or less||Passport holders from selected countries aged between 18-30 looking to work as an incidental activity whilst holidaying in Japan. Applicants must not have previously received a Working Holiday visa.|
Japan – Working Holiday Visa
For young people wishing to participate in a Working Holiday related program, the steps are slightly different.
Similarly to Australia, Japan has put in place an incentive package to allow and encourage travellers to work whilst travelling.
However, there are certain criteria, applicants must:
- Be between 18 and 30 years old
- Not be accompanied by children
- Possess a return plane ticket
- Have adequate financial means
- Not have already undertaken any program of work in Japan.
As a native French speaker, I benefited from the Australian Work and Holiday visa in 2012. In Australia, the Work and Holiday permit is renewable once, which means that one can remain in the country for a maximum of two years. I stayed for a year and a half, which enabled me to fully immerse myself in the language and culture in order to improve my English. For those looking to learn the language, the Japanese Working Holiday visa gives you the opportunity to abroad and have some truly unforgettable experiences. – Samuel, Montpellier
Voilà! All you have to do now is start putting together the necessary documents and pray that your request to travel to Japan will be accepted!
If you want to learn to speak Japanese, take some private lessons.
Visa Related Definitions
We often hear people say that a visa is necessary to get into this or that country. Applying for a visa is a step that shouldn't be ignored, without a visa are often not even able to board a plane to get to the desired country let alone fulfil our travel dreams there.
What is a Visa for Japan?
Obtaining a visa is an administrative step that allows you to obtain an official stamp in your passport that authorises a foreign national to enter foreign territory for a designated period of time.
To travel to Japan, any British immigrant is visa exempt for a stay of up to 180 days, but for long-term stays exceeding this duration, once must apply for the appropriate visa.
What is a Passport?
A passport is an identity document issued by the state to which the passport holder belongs that allows them to travel to another country. This document states the personal information, signature and photo of the holder. Often one is required to have a visa in order to pass a country border.
For British citizens, a British passport valid for at least 6 months from the departure date from Japan is recommended.
An adult passport is usually valid for 10 years.
Now that you've sorted out the admin, see the top 10 famous landmarks to visit!
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