The process for applying for a visa isn’t hard, just time intensive. You have to gather up all the documents that prove your credentials and that you have met all the requirements for your specific visa (office space, bank account, etc). Providing extra documents like articles you’ve published, awards you’ve received, or letters of recommendation from previous bosses doesn’t hurt and will help to make the case that you are a professional they want in the country!
As a founder, I was eligible for the Business Manager visa, a visa specifically for CEOs, business owners, or business managers. It is not a visa for investors in companies as its previous name (Investor visa) had implied.
The requirements for the visa are:
- An office space with four walls and a lock on the door that displays company signage
- A business plan
- 5M JPY investment
- An employee (could be yourself)
Some of my other friends in Japan working as freelancers or for their own companies are on totally different visas. For example:
There will probably be more than one visa that suits your situation. Talk with your lawyer and see which they think would be the best fit for you and your longevity in Japan.
You will be warned it could take up to three months for them to process your visa. But in my case we heard back in four weeks. I submitted on Mar 21st and by April 21st I had the Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
Since I was going to be doing a lot of travel both in and outside of Japan, my lawyers advised that I wait to activate my visa until I re-entered Japan in June. You have a 90-day window after receiving the Certificate of Eligibility to activate it.
I technically could have gone to immigration in Tokyo and worked with them to switch from a Tourist visa to the Business Manager visa, but the lawyers said it would be more complicated and generally take longer. When you do this at the airport, it is immediate; they actually process your paperwork right there and you walk away with your residency card!
Here is a list of everything I had to compile for the lawyers for the visa application:
1. Facial photograph (a digital camera file is fine). If you are going to provide them with an actual photograph, it will need to be 4cm x 3cm in size.
2. Passport photocopy (page with your picture and all pages with stamps/seals of previous visits to Japan)
3. Salary amount
4. Simple resume
5. Photographs of your office (entire building from the outside, the entrance to your office and inside your office). Be sure to take 2 or 3 pictures from different angles.
6. Copy of Office Lease Agreement
II. Personal Information
1. Marital status
2. Place of residence in the US
3. Phone number in Japan (cell phone, your office phone etc)
4. Expected date of entry to Japan
5. Expected port of entry to Japan (ex. Narita)
6. Will anyone accompany you when you come to Japan?
7. Expected place of visa application (where you plan to convert your COE to a visa)
8. Previous criminal record? Yes/No
9. Previous history of deportation from Japan? Yes/No
10. Any family or relatives in Japan?
11. Most recently completed education, name of school, graduation date, major field of study
12. Number of years of previous experience managing a business (if none, none is fine)
III. Company Information
13. Company phone number
14. Total number of employees and number of Japanese employees
15. Approximate floor area
I’m on a one-year visa and will start the reapplication process in March (three months before my visa expires). I’ll need to show tax documents, pension and health care registration/payments, business financials, office contract, etc. I’m not necessarily looking forward to that, but it’s okay. With a good team of lawyers and a business that is steadily growing, I think it will be okay!
Additional articles to read about visas in Japan:
Name: Mark McFarlane
Country of Origin: England
Company: Tacchi Studios, a digital product consultancy that does both mobile and web design and development.
Years in Japan: 8+
Continuing Mark’s story. Mark is currently on his fifth visa. He has had 2 one-year visas and is on his third three-year visa. It’s been a relatively straightforward process. He is running a sole proprietorship and he can do that on an engineering visa. He doesn’t have to show investment figures or anything like that. And, by running a successful business, he can show the company financials and prove that he is making enough to support himself, and the other visas the company sponsors.
To get his initial engineering visa, he just had to show his degree in computer science, his resume, and some client contracts.
Mark’s commitment to Japan is long term and in two years he will be eligible to apply for permanent residency. That makes ten plus years in Japan. Permanent residency is really attractive to long-term residents in Japan. You don’t need to have a corporate sponsor (you are your own sponsor), it’s easier to get credit cards and home loans, there is no time limit, and you can work in whatever industry you want.
In order to qualify for permanent residency you must show:
- You haven’t been in trouble with the Japanese government.
- You can sustain yourself independently and don’t rely on anyone else.
- You have been in Japan for 10 consecutive years and held work permits for 5 consecutive years.
- Your current visa is about to expire (you’ve stayed the max amount of time you can on your current visa).
- You have made a contribution to Japan in one of the following fields: research, economics, sports, arts, diplomacy, or education.
The application process is rigorous and can take up to six months to find out. I’ve heard of people who have been in Japan for over twelve years and were unable to get the permanent residency visa, but just because they’ve been rejected once doesn’t mean they cannot apply again. I heard of a couple cases of people who were turned down their first or second time but then accepted on subsequent applications!
More about permanent residency: