information for global expats

Visas and Passports in Japan

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2014


To enter Japan, you will always need a valid passport, or an equivalent travel document if you are a stateless person or refugee. (Note, however, that only a few asylum seekers are allowed entry into Japan, and there have been cases of  non-nationals attempting to enter Japan being summarily detained.) Passports and other travel documents must be valid for six months from the date of your planned departure. Visitors to Japan must always carry some form of ID; for those in the country short-term, this will be a passport. In addition to a valid passport, you may need a visa to immigrate into Japan.


Visa Requirements

No visa is required to enter Japan if you are a citizen of one of 66 countries that has a visa waiver agreement with that country. This holds as long as you are entering as a tourist, not planning to do any paid work and can prove that you have the funds to support yourself. In most cases, citizens from visa waiver agreement countries are granted ‘temporary visitor’ status and permitted to stay in Japan without a visa for up to 90 days. A list of the countries to which this applies is available here.

Nationals of certain European countries wanting to extend their visa-free stay may visit the nearest immigration office to apply for a six-month stay. Citizens of other visa-exempt countries wanting to stay for more than 90 days will always need a visa, as will people from all the countries not on the above list.


Visa Types

There are 24 different types of long-term Japanese visa, that is, those for more than 90 days. Of these, 15 are categorised as Working, including Instructor (for teachers), Intra-company Transferee, Investor/Business Manager, Skilled Labour and Highly Skilled Foreign Professional. For more information on these Working visa types, see Working.

The remaining long-term visas are divided quite arbitrarily into ‘General’ and ‘Specified’ categories. Visa types from these categories include Cultural Activities, Training, Long-term Resident, Dependent and Spouse. For more information on the last three of these visa types, see Family Members and Marriage For more details of all these visa categories, see the  site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Certificate of Eligibility

Before making an application for any long-term visa, it is all but necessary to obtain a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE.) This document functions rather like a visa in that it confirms that the holder is eligible to enter Japan. To obtain one, you will first need to find someone willing to sponsor you: your prospective employer if you are working, otherwise a friend or relative. This sponsor then needs to submit a completed COE application form and the necessary documents to the correct regional immigration office. Application is free. For more information, see the Ministry of Justice website.

Links to COE application forms, presented (quite untidily) in both Japanese and English, are available here. Each individual COE requires specific additional documents, but you will need the following whichever one you apply for:

  • valid passport (with at least one blank page)
  • passport-sized photo
  • documents that certify the activity related to your COE category
  • proof of status (if a proxy is used)


Visa Application

It may take up to three months before you receive your Certificate of Eligibility. Once you have done so, you should start your visa application. To apply from outside Japan, you must go to the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in person, as no outside agent may act in an applicant’s place. You will need to take a completed visa application form, passport, passport photo, money for the visa fee and your newly obtained Certificate of Eligibility. The visa should be with you in five working days or less.


Landing Permission and Status of Residence

A visa is merely a recommendation that shows that the holder is suitable to enter Japan. Entry clearance into Japan is actually granted by dint of ‘landing permission’, which is a stamp on immigrant’s passport on entry into the country. On arriving in Japan, an immigration officer will issue you with a landing permission stamp and assign you to one of 27 different statuses of residence, according to the visa type you have. Bear in mind that if you change jobs to a different line of work, you may need to change this status of residence too.

Japanese immigration authorities also require all immigrants aged 16 and over (this includes foreign permanent residents) to provide fingerprints and have their photograph taken. If you refuse to do this, you will not be allowed entry into the country.



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