In the previous post, I mentioned that I left for Japan in a hurry; such a hurry that I neglected to apply for a visa. I arrived in Japan, officially, as a tourist, hoping that it would be a simple matter to convert my tourist’s Landing Permit into a working visa. I was greatly mistaken.
TIP 1: BE SURE TO APPLY FOR A VISA BEFORE LEAVING YOUR COUNTRY!
I had intended to arrive in Japan as a tourist, and then find a job with a company or organisation who would be able to sponsor my visa application. I would then apply for a work visa. I therefore spent the first few weeks of my time in Japan looking for jobs. The problem with this approach is that companies usually only sponsor applicants for full-time positions. My intention was to pursue a variety of part-time jobs and projects, so this was not a suitable option for me.
I was told that applying for a work visa in Japan can take longer than applying for it at the Japanese embassy in one’s own country. Apparently, this is because the Japanese government does not look favourably upon applicants who arrive in Japan claiming to be tourists, but who then change their intentions and apply for work visas (however, I found that information on this matter is unclear, so don’t take my word for it).
Even if you do apply for a work visa in Japan, you are not allowed to work, or even leave Japan whilst you wait for a decision to be reached. My only feasible option was to apply for a Working Holiday Visa.
What is a Working Holiday Visa?
The Japanese Working Holiday Visa allows young people (usually aged between 18 and 30) to live and work in Japan for one year. The main purpose of the scheme is to afford young people the opportunity to travel around Japan, learn about Japanese culture, and engage in an intercultural dialogue with the youth of Japan.
As the name suggests, you are allowed to work in Japan in order to supplement the costs of your stay. There are no restrictions on where you live or go, how long you are there, how much work you can do, how much you can earn, or even what job you can do (except work in establishments that “affect Japanese public morality” such as in massage parlours, host-clubs, and so on).
These features make the Working Holiday Visa a brilliantly flexible option for young people who would like to temporarily live and work in Japan. The Working Holiday Visa is relatively easy to obtain, and is extremely affordable- as long as you apply for it yourself and don’t go through an agency.
According to the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citizens of the following countries are eligible to apply for a Japanese Working Holiday Visa:
Republic of Korea
I knew of the Working Holiday Scheme before I left England. However, as I had heard that only 1000 Working Holiday Visas for Japan are given to UK citizens each year (beginning in April) I assumed, when I was thinking of applying last September, that the quota would have already been reached. I should really have telephoned the Japanese Embassy in London before doing anything else to enquire about the number of Working Holiday Visas left.
When I eventually rang the embassy in late September (from Tokyo), I was told that the quota had not been met, and that, although they could not guarantee a successful application, there were still plenty of visas remaining. Later on, I discovered that the quota for Working Holiday Visas for Japan issued to British citizens is rarely met.
This was glorious news, but alas, there was a problem in that you can only apply for a Working Holiday Visa in the country of your passport.
TIP 2: BE SURE TO CONDUCT RESEARCH BEFORE DEPARTURE
CONTACT THE EMBASSY OF JAPAN IN YOUR COUNTRY BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE AND ENQUIRE ABOUT THE WORKING HOLIDAY VISA SCHEME.
I was reluctant to return to England after only a few weeks in Japan. It seemed a waste of time, effort, money, and fossil fuels to do so. Before pursuing this final-resort option, I went to the British Embassy in Tokyo to ask if there was anything else I could do. Characteristically (for me), I went to the embassy without contacting them first and I was turned down because I didn’t have an appointment. When I telephoned the embassy helpline, I was told that my issue was a) not urgent, and more importantly b) not something the British embassy could help me with anyway.
Back to England I went!
RING AND MAKE AN APPOINTMENT BEFORE GOING TO AN EMBASSY!
TIP 3: FOR ENQUIRIES ABOUT VISAS FOR JAPAN, CONTACT THE JAPANESE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, NOT YOUR COUNTRY’S EMBASSY IN JAPAN.
HOW CAN I APPLY FOR A WORKING HOLIDAY VISA?
Below are the details of eligibility listed on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This I have summarized for you:
- In order to apply for a Working Holiday Visa for Japan, you must possess a passport of and be currently residing in any of the countries listed above.
- The primary intention of your stay in Japan must be for the purpose of holiday. This can be shown in the letter of intention you must write as part of the application (Please see explanation under “The Application Process” below)
- You can only apply if you are aged between 18 and 30 at the time of application, except for Australian, Canadian and South Korean citizens, for whom the age range is 18-25 (again excepting certain cases in which the Japanese authorities may grant Working Holiday Visas to people up to the age of 30). Icelandic nationals should be between 18 and 26 years of age.
- You cannot bring along dependents (that is to say children or financially dependent partners), unless this person is also applying for a Working Holiday Visa.
- And don’t forget- you must be the holder of a valid passport for one of the 23 countries listed above.
- You should have a return travel ticket, or “sufficient funds with which to purchase a ticket” at a later date. This amount varies from country to country. UK applicants, for example, need to have £2500 in a bank account to avoid having to buy a return ticket. Alternatively, £1500 in “cleared funds” and a return ticket will also be accepted.
- You should have enough money (in addition to the amount mentioned above) to support yourself for the beginning of your stay in Japan. You will be able to apply for jobs later to support yourself once you have settled.
- You need to be healthy (it is unclear how this is defined).
- Finally, you must not have previously been issued with a Working Holiday Visa for Japan.
The requirements differ slightly for each country. Please see the website of the Japanese Embassy in your country, or the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
I found that I was rather glad that I had to go back to England for a while. There were a few loose-ends I needed to tie up, and I had a glorious time seeing family and friends, and absorbing the sights, smells, and feelings of home before setting off (again) on my adventure proper.
To return to the application process, you will need to submit the following:
- Your passport,
- A letter of intention (or “written reason for applying for a Working Holiday Visa”),
- A completed application form,
- A passport photograph,
- Your CV,
- An outline of your intended activities in Japan.
WHAT IS THE “LETTER OF INTENTION”?
Also known as a “written reason for applying for a Working Holiday Visa”, the “Letter of Intention” is a short letter you must write as part of your application for a Working Holiday Visa. One typed side of paper is sufficient. You should mention:
- Why you are interested in Japan/ Japanese culture/ Japanese language.
- Why you would like to go to Japan.
I imagine that the purpose of this statement is to demonstrate to the embassy staff that you have an interest in Japan, and legitimate reasons for wanting to apply for the Working Holiday Visa. Your statement should show them that you want to understand more about Japanese culture, and that you are not applying for the Working Holiday Visa merely to earn money in Japan.
WHAT IS THE “OUTLINE OF INTENDED ACTIVITIES IN JAPAN”?
You must write an itinerary of the things that you intend to do whilst you are in Japan. You are not obliged to stick to your itinerary, but you should demonstrate that you have a plan and a purpose for your time in Japan. In my case, I divided the page into four sections: October-February, February-April, April-August, and August-October. I wrote down what I intended to do and where I intended to go for each 3 month period. In concise and simple terms, I explained where I wanted to travel, what I wanted to do, and when I wanted to do it. I mentioned what jobs I intended to pursue. I also made sure to write it in a way that highlighted my holidaying intentions, and my desire to understand more about Japanese culture.
I wrote these two letters and completed the necessary paperwork before making my way to the Japanese embassy in Mayfair. Once inside, I took a numbered ticket and sat down. I was prepared to wait for a while, but my number was called within a few minutes. I gave my documents to a member of staff, who asked me a few basic questions, and I was out the door again before I knew it. The whole process lasted fewer than 10 minutes. This was a very speedy submission, but of course it may take longer under different circumstances. I returned a week later and was informed that my application had been approved. I paid the £19 fee and left triumphant with a Working Holiday Visa affixed to a page in my passport.
Standing outside the embassy, I chuckled at the insanity of the situation. I had travelled halfway around the world to spend fewer than 10 minutes applying for a visa for a country I had just travelled from. Whilst I admit that the situation was partly a consequence of my own reckless enthusiasm, I rather think that there must be a more efficient way than this to obtain a visa!
TIP 4: FOR A SPEEDY SUBMISSION, BE SURE TO PREPARE ALL RELEVANT DOCUMENTS BEFORE GOING TO THE EMBASSY.
WHEN IN JAPAN, AND OTHER THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
So, you have a Working Holiday Visa, congratulations! You now have 12 months to enter Japan. When you arrive at a Japanese airport, you should let the customs officers know that you have a Working Holiday Visa. They will then guide you to the appropriate officer, who will then make a “Zairyu card” (在留カード) for you (an identity card issued to foreigners in Japan).
And after that? Well, I shan’t reveal every little detail to you, that would spoil the fun. You’ll just have to go to Japan and see what happens. That’s part of the adventure!
P.S. You can only enter Japan once on the Working Holiday Visa. If you leave Japan, you will not be allowed to reenter again, unless you apply for a “Reentry Permit” in advance, whilst still in Japan. It told you it’s all hellishly bureaucratic!