Visas and Work Permits 8 min

Work permits and visas in Japan: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman


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If you’re hiring in Japan or relocating an existing employee, they must be eligible to work there.

In most cases, this usually means that your hire is a Japanese citizen.

However, if your hire is a non-citizen, then you need to ensure they have the correct documents and permissions. As the employer, you are usually responsible for acquiring these.

This can be a tricky process, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Japan’s broad and often complex labor laws.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of work permits and visas in Japan, and show you the various steps you may need to take to acquire them (depending on your employee’s status). We’ll also touch on the regulation around digital nomads.

So let’s dive right in.

Why is eligibility important?

Japan is a hugely attractive country for workers and businesses to settle in, but its work permit and visa requirements can be complex. If you and your employee fail to comply with them, you may receive fines, penalties, ongoing scrutiny, and reputational damage.

These risks are only growing, too, especially as trends shift towards remote work and governments start to reassess their existing policies. For example, there are many instances of workers on tourist visas overstaying in countries. This can create issues for themselves and the companies they work for, and authorities are cracking down.

As a result, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is above board, and that your people have the right paperwork.

Who is eligible to work in Japan?

Japanese citizens are, by default, eligible to work in Japan (even if they currently live abroad), as are:

  • Permanent residents

  • Long term residents

  • Spouses or children of Japanese citizens

  • Spouses or children of Japanese permanent residents

If your employee isn’t any of the above, then they will need to acquire a valid work visa.

Here’s how that works — and what you need to do.

Work visas for non-citizens of Japan

Generally speaking, “work permit” and “work visa” are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable terms in Japan. To live and work in the country, your employee will need a relevant work visa, which acts as a work permit and gives the holder the right to leave and enter the country.

There are many types of work visas in Japan, which we’ll discuss further down.

Getting a work visa in Japan

Before your employee can apply for a work visa, they will first need a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) from Japan’s Ministry of Justice. This document establishes that your employee wishes to enter Japan in order to work for your company. Note that it is not a valid visa, but a prerequisite to obtaining one.

To get a CoE, you will need to submit an application to the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) on your employee’s behalf.

Once you have acquired the CoE, you must send it to your employee, who can then begin the work visa application process.

Types of work visas in Japan

There are numerous types of work visas in Japan, and the one that you should apply for depends on a number of factors. Here are some of the most popular:

Highly skilled professional visa

This visa type is for workers who possess skills and qualifications that are highly in demand. It lasts for five years.

Note that the entry requirements for this visa depend on your employee’s nationality. For instance, if they are a national of Russia, Georgia, China, or any other CIS country, there may be additional steps in the process. 

Working visa

In Japan, working visas are broken down into areas of occupation, including the following:

  • Higher education (i.e. professors, researchers, and academics)

  • Art and design (i.e. artists, craftspeople, and photographers)

  • Journalism (i.e. journalists, editors, and communications professionals)

  • Business management (i.e. business representatives, managers, and executives)

  • Professional services (i.e. lawyers, accountants, and consultants)

  • Medicine and healthcare (i.e. doctors, nurses, and other health professionals)

  • Education (i.e. teachers and education specialists)

  • Media (i.e. designers, copywriters, and marketers)

  • Entertainment (i.e. performers, sportspeople, and models)

  • Hospitality (i.e. chefs, sommeliers, and other experts)

Skilled labor visa

This is a broader subcategory of work visa. It encompasses anything that can be considered a desirable form of skilled labor, from animal trainers and sports coaches to airline pilots.

Specified skilled worker visa

This is for “work-ready foreign nationals” who possess certain expertise and skills in specific industrial fields.

Intra-company transferee visa

This is for employees who are transferring from overseas to the Japanese branch of your company. It may be ideal if you are looking to relocate an existing employee.

You can see a full list of valid work visas on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) website.

How to apply for a work visa in Japan

Once you’ve acquired the CoE and identified the most suitable visa to apply for, you and your employee can begin the application process.

To do this, you must submit an application to your employee’s nearest Japanese embassy or consulate. The application should consist of the following documents:

  • The CoE

  • A fully complete application form

  • Passport and photocopies

  • Passport photos

  • Employment contract (and any other supporting documents)

  • Any relevant qualification certificates

Your employee may also be requested to submit additional documents, depending on their role.

Note that Remote can assist you throughout this entire process, from establishing your employee’s eligibility to assisting you with the application.

To learn more, check out our dedicated guide on relocating employees.

Get your Remote Relocation Guide

Learn how to simplify your planned relocation with this walkthrough guide. We outline the key steps for you and your employer to enable a compliant, efficient, and hassle-free move.

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Eligibility requirements

Each visa type has its own specific eligibility criteria based on relevant factors, such as your employee’s role, experience, and background.

In general, though, your employee will always require a valid CoE.

Digital nomad visas in Japan

With the rise of remote work and globally-dispersed teams, more and more individuals are adopting the digital nomad lifestyle. In response, governments across the world are implementing new legislation and — in some cases — specialist visas to adapt to this trend.

Does Japan offer a digital nomad visa?

Currently, the answer is no — there is no specialist digital nomad visa available in Japan. However, your employee can potentially work for up to one year on a working holiday visa.

These visas are based on bilateral agreements with 29 other countries and, in many cases, there is a cap on the number of visas available each year. Currently, nationals of the following countries can apply for one of these visas:

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, France, Germany, the UK, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Spain Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Finland, and Latvia

You can learn more about the working holiday visas (including eligibility requirements) on the MFA website.

As you can see, there’s plenty of administrative work to do if you want to hire a non-citizen or relocate an employee to Japan.

As well as helping you manage your employees’ onboarding, taxes, and payroll, we can also support you with their relocation process. Specifically, we will:

  1. Set up a consultation with one of our mobility experts

  2. Review your employee’s existing visa and citizenship status

  3. Review the visa and work permit requirements for the desired country relocation

  4. Review your employee’s eligibility

  5. Fill out the paperwork (with assistance from you and your employee)

  6. Submit the application

This ensures that any potential hiccups are identified quickly, and that the process is as quick and smooth as possible — for both you and your employee.

To learn more about how you can make the entire relocation process easier with Remote, book a consultation with one of our friendly mobility gurus — and get the process moving today.

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