For individuals from overseas keen to enjoy life in Japan while engaging in remote work for companies based abroad, the hurdle of securing a working visa is a significant one. Regardless of whether one is employed by an overseas company remotely, obtaining a working visa is essential for those seeking to earn an income within Japan.

Understanding Legal Requirements for Working Remotely in Japan

Visas for short-term stays, such as for tourism purposes, as well as visas for studying, training, and family stays, do not qualify for employment. Therefore, even for remote work for foreign companies, a working visa is needed to work within Japan.

Types and Characteristics of Working Visas

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan categorizes visas intended for work or long-term stays into seven categories:

  • Highly skilled professional visa, Working visa, General visa, Specified visa, Startup visa, Diplomatic visa, Official visa

Among these, the Highly skilled professional visa, Working visa, and Specified visa are practically accessible for private individuals aspiring to work in Japan.

Highly skilled professional visa

Launched in 2015, this visa initiative aims to attract foreign talent possessing exceptional skills or qualities that contribute to economic advancement and job creation. Eligibility hinges on amassing a specified number of points across criteria such as educational background, professional experience, income, age, research accomplishments, qualifications, and additional special points. Evaluations are conducted by the Regional Immigration Services Bureau.

The visa is categorized into "Type 1" and "Type 2," each offering unique benefits that facilitate complex activities and extended employment, advantageous for both the workforce and employers.

  • Benefits for Type 1 Include:
    1. Permission for various residency activities
    2. A 5-year residency period
    3. Relaxed permanent residency requirements
    4. Spousal employment
    5. Parental and domestic worker accompaniment under specific conditions
  • Benefits for Type 2 Include:
    1. Eligibility for nearly all work qualifications in addition to Type 1 activities
    2. An indefinite period of stay
    3. Eligibility for Type 1 benefits 3 to 5

Type 2 is specifically designed for individuals who have actively engaged under Type 1 for over three years.

2. Working visa

This visa grants a fixed period of stay, permitting specific employment types. Japan offers 16 working visa categories, each defining allowable activities. Foreign nationals must refrain from engaging in unauthorized income-generating activities during their stay.

16 Working visa categories in Japan:

  • Professor (e.g., university professor, assistant professor, assistant, etc.)
  • Artist (e.g., composers, songwriters, artists, sculptors, craftspeople, photographers, etc.)
  • Religious activities (e.g., religious people such as monks, bishops, missionaries, etc.)
  • Journalist (e.g., newspaper journalists, magazine journalists, editors, news cameramen, announcers, etc.)
  • Business manager (e.g., company presidents, directors, etc.)
  • Legal/Accounting services (e.g., attorneys, judicial scriveners, public accountants, tax accountants, etc. certified in Japan)
  • Medical services (e.g., physicians, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, etc. certified in Japan)
  • Researcher (e.g., researchers, investigators, etc. at research institutes, etc.)
  • Instructor (e.g., teachers, etc. at elementary schools, intermediate schools and high schools)
  • Engineer/Specialist in humanities/International services (e.g., scientific engineers, IT engineers, foreign language teachers, interpreters, copywriters, designers, etc.)
  • Intra-company transferee (e.g., people transferred to the Japanese branch (head office of the same company, etc.)
  • Nursing care (e.g., certified care worker)
  • Entertainer (e.g., musicians, actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, models, etc.)
  • Skilled labor (e.g., chefs specializing in the food of a foreign country, animal trainers, pilots, sports trainers, sommeliers, etc.)
  • Specified skilled worker (Work-ready foreign nationals who possess certain expertise and skills in certain industrial fields.)
  • Technical intern training (e.g., Technical intern)

Each category necessitates a correlation between one's educational or professional history and their job duties, with varying permitted durations of stay.

3. Specified Visa

This visa is granted to spouses of Japanese nationals or permanent residents, and individuals engaged in specified activities.

There are no employment restrictions for visas tied to spouses of Japanese nationals, permanent residents, or long-term residents. This flexibility allows for employment across various industries without the specialized requirements typically demanded by working visas, including the ability to work in multiple sectors simultaneously.

Specified activities encompass around 50 types, including roles like domestic workers for diplomats, working holiday participants, interns, and those on long stays for recuperation, offering potential work permissions under certain conditions for durations spanning several months to years. The broad spectrum of specified visas introduces complexity in identifying the right visa and understanding the requisite criteria.

4. Reasons for the difficulty in obtaining other working visa for remote work overseas

General visa: General visas are typically designated for educational or tourism purposes, which means they do not inherently allow for employment. For those holding a study visa within this category, the opportunity to work part-time is available, but only under specific conditions. Authorization from the Immigration Bureau is required for any activities beyond the visa's qualifications, with work limited to a maximum of 28 hours per week. Furthermore, enrollment in a Japanese educational institution is a mandatory prerequisite.

Start-up visa: The startup visa represents a newer pathway designed to encourage foreigners to establish businesses within Japan. Despite its potential, the stringent criteria and rigorous assessment process have led to a notably low issuance rate, with only 12 visas granted in 2022. This scarcity highlights the considerable challenge prospective entrepreneurs face when seeking to navigate this option.

Diplomatic and official visas: Diplomatic and official visas cater exclusively to diplomats and individuals on official government duties. Consequently, these visas are not applicable for private sector employment purposes. This distinction underscores the specific and limited nature of these visa categories, further narrowing the options for those seeking employment or long-term residency in Japan for reasons outside of diplomatic or official assignments.

Requirements for Obtaining a Working Visa

In this section, we summarize the requirements for obtaining a working visa that realistically allows private individuals to work in Japan. These include the Highly Skilled Professional Visa, Working Visa, and Specified Visa discussed above. It's important to note that the necessary documents may vary based on the applicant's nationality, so please refer to the embassy of your country for detailed procedures.

1. Highly Skilled Professional Visa

To qualify for either the Highly Skilled Professional Visa Type 1 or Type 2, one must engage in activities corresponding to these visa types and accumulate over 70 points in the "Highly Skilled Professional Points" system.

Activities Corresponding to Highly Skilled Professional Visa Types 1 & 2:

  • Advanced Academic Research Activities: Conducting research, research guidance, education, etc., under a contract with a Japanese government or private organization.
  • Advanced Specialized/Technical Activities: Engaging in work requiring knowledge or technology in the fields of natural sciences or humanities under a contract with a Japanese government or private organization.
  • Advanced Business Management Activities: Managing businesses or engaging in management at public or private institutions in Japan.

About the Highly Skilled Professional Points:

Points are allocated based on individual characteristics such as educational background, professional experience, annual income, etc., with a total of over 70 points required. The points system is defined by the Ministry of Justice, and points vary by factors such as doctoral degrees, work history, income, age, and achievements. The content and number of points also vary depending on the activity applied for.

2. Working Visa

There are 16 types of working visas, each requiring specific professional experience or qualifications and a contract with a Japanese organization. For example, applying for a "Nursing Care" visa requires a Japanese nursing care qualification and information about the employment place.

3. Specified Visa

Specified visas are mainly issued for purposes other than employment, such as to spouses of Japanese nationals or permanent residents, and family stays. However, obtaining such a visa can be difficult unless one meets the conditions of having such family members. Nonetheless, the Working Holiday Visa within the specified visa category can be applied for regardless of family requirements. Note that there are annual quotas for Working Holiday Visas set by country, and once the quota is reached, no more visas will be issued within that year.

To be eligible for a Working Holiday Visa, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • Residency in one of the 29 countries or regions that have a Working Holiday Agreement with Japan.
  • The intention to primarily spend the period as a holiday in the partner country or region.
  • Being between the ages of 18 and 30 at the time of application, with some regional exceptions.
  • Not accompanied by children or dependents.
  • Possession of a valid passport and a return ticket (or funds to purchase one).
  • Sufficient funds for the initial period of stay.
  • Good health.
  • No prior issuance of a Working Holiday Visa.

Countries and Regions with Working Holiday Agreements with Japan:

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

Why Obtaining a Working Visa for Overseas Remote Work Is Challenging

Residing in Japan while working remotely for an overseas company often presents significant challenges in obtaining a working visa for several reasons:

Requirement for a Contract with a Domestic Institution: For each working visa application, documentation clarifying a contractual relationship with an organization within Japan is required. If the source of income, namely the employer, is based solely overseas without a Japanese branch, fulfilling the requirements becomes exceedingly difficult, making visa acquisition challenging.

Need for a Domestic Representative: The application process for a Certificate of Eligibility, a preliminary step before visa application, is carried out at the Immigration Bureau within Japan. Therefore, if you are not currently in Japan and wish to enter the country upon visa issuance, it is necessary to appoint a representative within Japan to submit the application on your behalf. If you are already in Japan under a short-term stay status, there may be a possibility to change to a recognized status of residence based on the Certificate of Eligibility. However, generating income during a short-term stay is generally not allowed. During a short-term stay, it is essential to find a host within Japan and seek their cooperation and consultation for visa change.

Limited Scope of Residency Status: Working visas in Japan are restricted to specific job types or activities. For instance, visas for Engineering, Humanities Knowledge, and International Services are issued only for specific professions. If overseas remote work does not fall under these categories, it may be difficult to obtain the appropriate residency status.

Proof of Stay Purpose: When applying for a visa, it is necessary to prove the purpose of your stay in Japan. If employed by a foreign company, it may be challenging to prove that your activities within Japan are the primary purpose of your stay.

These factors collectively contribute to the complexity and difficulty of securing a working visa for individuals looking to engage in remote work from Japan for overseas companies.

Solutions When Your Remote Employer Is Outside Japan

Foreigners aiming to work remotely from Japan require a working visa, a process complicated by the need to prove a contractual relationship with a Japan-based entity. This has deterred many from pursuing remote work from Japan.

The "Employer of Record" (EOR) emerges as a practical solution to this challenge. EOR acts as the legal employer for foreign workers wanting to work in a country where their actual employer has no presence, handling employment-related responsibilities. Using EOR services, foreigners can legally obtain an official employment contract in Japan, facilitating remote work while ensuring compliance with legal and tax obligations.

EOR services not only simplify visa acquisition but also assist with social insurance and tax procedures, offering comprehensive support to foreign workers in Japan. Although EOR services are increasingly common in the West, options in Japan remain limited. No boundaries stands out as a Japan-specific EOR, backed by experts familiar with Japan's employment regulations. This expertise allows for customized services for both foreign workers and companies. For those facing challenges with remote work from Japan, No boundaries provides essential guidance and support.

Kiyotsugu Manabe (No boundaries Ltd. CEO / Specially Appointed Associate Professor at Kyoto University's office of Society Academia Collaboration for Innovation)

Kiyotsugu Manabe brings a wealth of expertise in international development and management, backed by a robust academic foundation with a Master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences at the University of Tokyo, where he specialized in International Cooperation. His professional journey is marked by significant roles at leading international organizations, including the World Bank, JICA, and McKinsey & Company, where he has offered strategic consulting services to governments and multinational corporations across the globe. Manabe's extensive field experience spans a diverse array of countries, including the USA, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, South Africa, and Kenya, underscoring his deep understanding of global development challenges and solutions.

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