When you imagine your future in Japan, what do you see? Study, then work? Language study, then higher education? Running your own business? Whatever your vision is, you need to have a visa plan in order to be able to successfully live in Japan long term.

We know how daunting that can seem as there are many types of visas with their own restrictions and opportunities, so we’ve put together our recommended five-year plan to help.

First things first: Is Japan really for you?

Moving to a new country long-term is a big deal. So the first thing you need to establish is: is Japan the country for me? If you can, try to visit Japan on a short trip as a tourist.

Keep in mind that living in a country and visiting a country to travel are two very different things.

Ask yourself whether you can see yourself living in Japan and why you want to live in Japan. Be realistic and assess the pros and cons before you dive into the next stage of your plan.

If you need more insight, read our article that weighs up living vs travelling in Japan.

If you are lucky, you will be able to enter the country on a 90-day tourist visa that many nationalities receive upon arrival at the airport.

If you want to also test out language lessons at the same time, look into our Japan Study Trips. These are short-term trips where you get to learn Japanese at a language school, but also participate in fun, cultural activities.

Study Japanese

Years 1 – 2: Learn the language

Learning Japanese is important if you want to live in Japan long term, especially if you want to work or complete further education.

Most companies that hire non-Japanese employees require those employees to have at least business-level, or JLPT N2, Japanese. This might vary depending on the requirements of the role and company, but opportunities outside of teaching roles where you get to work purely in English or your native language are rare.

Similarly, the majority of vocational colleges and universities only accept students who have the requisite level of Japanese.

If you start as a beginner at a language school, you can expect to reach JLPT N2 level in about two years. This is if you are enrolled full-time at school, attend all your classes and commit to your homework and study outside of class.

You can get a student visa for up to 2 years in order to study Japanese at a Japanese language school (bonus: you’ll be able to work up to 28 hours a week during this time!)

For more information about how Japanese language schools work, read our article to learn more!

university lecture room

Years 3 – 4: Further education

For those without a degree that allows them to work in Japan, or those who want to study more in Japan, the next few years after language school will be focused on further education. For this, you will again need a student visa.

The type of education you pursue will depend on your goals. For example, if you want to do something design-related, you can apply for a vocational college. If you get accepted, you will study at the college for two years, after which you will receive a qualification that makes you eligible for a work visa.

Courses available at vocational colleges vary widely, from architecture and civil engineering to photography and fashion. The length of the course may also vary depending on what you are studying.

Note that vocational schools only start in April each year, so you will need to keep this in mind to ensure you complete language school in time to start vocational college.

Those who wish to study at a university will need to set aside at least four years to complete a Bachelor’s degree, two years for a Master’s and at least three years for a Doctorate.

Read more about the university entrance exam for foreign students here.

Going to work

Years 3-5: Work

If you already have a degree that allows you to work in Japan, or several years of work experience, then your next step following language school will be to find a job in Japan.

Your school or education institute may be able to help you connect with employers. Otherwise, you can search for jobs on online platforms.

Applying for jobs and doing job interviews can be quite different in Japan compared to your home country. Make sure you get familiar with how to write your resume in Japanese, as well as how to prepare for a job interview in Japan.

Dress etiquette is also very important, so don’t forget to read our article on how to dress for a job interview in Japan!

If you get offered a job in Japan, your future employer will request a work visa for you, which allows you to work in Japan full time.

The length of this visa ranges anywhere between 1 and 5 years. However, it is important to know that your visa is tied to the fact you are working. If you leave the job that you received your visa for, then you only get three months to find another role before your visa becomes invalid.

If your country runs a working holiday programme, that is also a viable option and especially useful to “get a foot in the door” in a Japanese company. Keep in mind that some restrictions apply based on your country of citizenship and the length of the visa also depends on this factor.

Please check with your own embassy to confirm if you are eligible, and to find out how to apply for this visa if you are in Japan on a student visa, as restrictions may apply.

Year 5 and beyond

Whether you choose to leave or continue to live in Japan – that decision is, obviously, up to you. Just make sure you have a valid visa – and you comply with the requirements of that visa – if you want to continue living in Japan long term.

If you’d like to live in Japan long term, then permanent residency (永住権, eijūken) is the most convenient way to do so. It is not simple to obtain this residency status. It often requires you to have lived in Japan for around 10 years consecutively on a work visa, to even be able to apply.

A shortcut to the application would be to get the “Highly Skilled Professional” visa, which is based on a rather complicated point system. However it does enable you to immediately apply for permanent residency after obtaining this visa status.

Your circumstances might change or you might want to pursue different goals. Make sure you always seek professional advice in those situations to ensure you maintain the right to live in Japan.

If you would like to work freelance or start your own business, other rules apply and you would need different kinds of visas. As these are especially complicated to obtain, we recommend consulting an immigration lawyer.

Ready to dive into your new life in Japan? Contact us to get your journey started.