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Japan’s Visa Programs: Do I Need a Visa to Enter Japan


One of the most common questions received by professional advisors in Japan is with respect to visas. The scope of these questions ranges from employees of foreign companies wishing to enter Japan for the purpose of a short business trip all the way through to clients needing to send expats to live in Japan for an extended period (often with their family.)

This article covers two topics as follows:

  1. The Japan Visa Waiver Program. Japan participates in this multilateral program which allows individuals from eligible countries to enter Japan without the need to obtain a visa in advance of travel. 
  2. Japan Work Visas. For individuals who will live and work in Japan, an appropriate Japan work visa is requires. This section provides an overview of the most common Japan work visas that are likely to be applicable to foreigners wishing to work in Japan.


Historically, a visa had to be obtained in advance of travel to a foreign country. This was not a large problem in the days when few people undertook international travel. However, with the advent of mass travel, it became clear that a more efficient system was needed. The result was a series of bilateral visa waiver agreements between (mainly) economically advanced countries. These visa waiver agreements allow citizens of their respective countries to travel without the need to obtain a visa in advance.

The Japan Visa Waiver Programs

Japan has visa waiver arrangements with approximately 68 countries The number changes slightly as countries are removed from the list (for example due to citizens of that country remaining beyond their authorized period of stay) or added to the list.

Can I Enter Japan Using the Japan Visa Waiver Program?

Up to date information concerning which countries citizens can utilize the Japan visa waiver program (and the related conditions) can be found on the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

What Activities Am I Permitted To Undertake If I Enter Japan Under Visa Waiver?

The scope of activities permitted under visa waiver is quite broad. It covers activities such as tourism, business trips, attending conferences, and visits to friends and relatives.

However, a visa in advance of travel may be required under the following circumstances:

  • If you will engage in paid activities in Japan, or
  • If your planned period of stay exceeds that stipulated in your country’s Visa Waiver arrangement (see below).

How Long Can I Stay In Japan If I Enter Under the Visa Waiver Program?

The maximum duration of stay is specified in each bilateral Visa Waiver agreement. 90 days (or three months) is most common.

Again, more detailed information about Japan’s visa waiver program and the country specific requirements can be found on the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at:

Important Notes About Visa Free Travel

The following general points are applicable to visa waiver travel to any country (i.e., not just Japan):

  • Eligibility to travel using visa waiver does not constitute an automatic right to enter a foreign country. Each traveler is assessed by the authorities at the port of entry. If the border official determines that the traveler is high risk (e.g., due to lack of funds, criminal record, past immigration breaches, etc.) a traveler may be subject to further screening or even refused entry into the country. Generally, the visa waiver program affords no rights of review to travelers who are refused entry.
  • An intending traveler should ensure that she meets the specific requirements of the country he will visit. Requirements vary but typically include no criminal record and no record of past immigration violations (working without authorization, overstaying, etc.).
  • Passport requirements. Travel under visa waiver usually includes a requirement that the traveler possesses an e-passport (machine readable) that has a minimum remaining validity – for example some countries require a minimum of six months validity remaining on the traveler’s passport.
  • Requirement to register prior to travel. Many countries now require the advance registration of visa waiver travelers – usually via a government website. The most well-known example is the United States government’s ESTA – Electronic System For Travel Authorization. Japan does not currently have such a pre-travel registration system but it is wise to double check prior to travel.

Additional Information About the Japan Visa Waiver Program and Visa Free Travel to Japan

There are two good sources of information about the Japan visa waiver programs and visa free travel to Japan:


In summary, while the Japan visa waiver program is a great convenience for many international travelers, it is wise to carefully check the conditions associated with nationals of your country prior to your travel.


A Japan work visa is required if a foreigner wishes to live and work in Japan. Usually, the person will be an employee of a foreign company with an office in Japan. Work visas are also relevant where a foreign entrepreneur wants to establish a stand-alone business in Japan.

How The Japan Work Visa Application Process Works

Working in Japan requires that an individual qualify for a Status of Residence (“SOR”) that permits employment.

The application process starts with matching a visa category with the applicant’s:

  • Proposed activities
  • Qualifications, and
  • Prior work experience

In addition, the type of entity a client has chosen for its business in Japan may affect the category of work visas that are available.

Japan Work Visa Application Flow

The typical flow of a Japan work visa application is as follows:

Step 1: Assess the Japan Entity

A Japan business entity is required to support a Japan work visa.

Care should be taken when establishing a Japan entity since the type of entity and associated factors such as the amount of paid in capital and directors can have an impact on the ability of the Japan entity to sponsor Japan work visas

This article provides additional information about Choosing the Right Japan Business Entity.

Where no Japan entity is available, a Japan PEO / Japan Employer of Record style solution may be possible. This article discusses Japan PEO / Japan Employer of Record solutions.

Step 2: Assessment of the Applicant’s Proposed Activities, Qualifications, and Experience.

The goal is to determine the best available work visa category.

Side Note: At this stage, critical employee issues such as Japan Tax Efficient Compensation Planning can also be considered. Corporate tax planning may also be required where an assignee is being sent to Japan to become the director of a Japanese company. This article discusses the Tax Treatment of Japan Director Compensation.

Step 3: Application for a Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) is Submitted in Japan.

Note that it is technically possible to submit a work visa application at a Japanese embassy outside Japan. However, this is a time consuming and not often used approach.

Step 4: Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) Approved by the Japanese Immigration Authorities.

The COE will usually be sent to the office of the professional advisor in Japan.

Step 5: Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) Converted to a Work Status of Residence (“SOR”).

This step can be accomplished in either of two ways:

  • If the applicant is currently in Japan, a change of status application can be submitted. This approach has the advantage that the applicant does not need to leave Japan.
  • If the applicant is outside Japan at the time they receive their COE, they can obtain a visa at a Japanese embassy or consul abroad and obtain the status of residence at the port of entry in Japan.

Common Japan Work Visas

A detailed explanation of all the Japan work visa categories is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, the following is a list of the work visas most commonly applicable to foreigners working in Japan.

  • Japan Intra-Company Transferee Visa
  • Japan Engineer Visa
  • Japan Specialist in Humanities Visa
  • Japan International Services Visa
  • Japan Investor Visa
  • Japan Investor Business Manager Visa
  • Japan Legal Services Visa
  • Japan Accounting Services Visa
  • Japan Professor Visa
  • Japan Religious Activities Visa
  • Japan Journalist Visa
  • Japan Dependents Visa (for family members)
  • Japan Deposition Visa
  • Japan Intern Visa

Contact AA International Law™ to learn more about how our professionals can assist with Japan work visa requirements.

The above is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute advice to undertake or refrain from undertaking any action. Only qualified Japanese professionals are able to advise on Japan immigration, legal, and tax matters.