How to get a long term visa in Japan?
November 14, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Japan visa options for long term.

I'm American and I'm coming to Japan in December, I guess on the 90-day tourist stamp. What are my best options for staying in the country longer term?

I will probably not be teaching English, or if I do it will be part-time. I'll be mainly working from remote via computer. My business partner has his own LLC in America if that helps me to get a business visa or anything.

I'd be curious to get an exact rundown of what my choices are.

posted by bindasj to Travel & Transportation around Japan (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unless things have changed since the 90s, a local salary of ~Y250,000 per month and all kinds of personal and corporate sponsorship is required to get a proper work visa as an english teacher.

Your options:

1) Marriage

2) Japanese Language schools will sponsor you.

3) Go to Korea after 2+ months, then re-enter to get another 3 months. I did this in 1992 and was pulled aside, causing some amount of grief to me until the pried out of me that I had been working for a couple of months in-country while waiting on my proper visa application to be issued (after running this down they let me go).

Being a good speaker of the language, I'm interested in eventually working remotely from Japan too, so I'm hoping for better answers . . . I believe self-sponsorship is possible given sufficient capital and a personal guarantee by a Japanese national (you can also get this "personal"
guarantee by Japanese companies providing this service to foreigners).
posted by troy at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2008

Yeah, to just expand a bit on Troy's list, you got: (1) marriage, (2) full-time job that is willing to sponsor you, (3) working holiday visa if you can claim one of these countries, (4) be rich, enterprising, and/or famous, (5) have a relevant family connection to Japan, or (6) be a student.

If (1) applies and you are from a rich first-world nation, you're basically all set unless you have committed serious crimes etc. in the past.

The rules frown on people pulling a (2) while on a tourist visa, but plenty of people still get away with it. There's also the difficulty of finding a non-English-teaching job on short notice, although I've been meeting more people these days who got IT jobs this way. But the job has to be full-time and pay a certain amount.

If you are from a participating country in the (3) program, again, you're all set. Duration is limited but you can use the time to make contacts, etc.

If (4) is applicable, use the change in your other pair of pants to talk to an immigration lawyer once you arrive in Japan. I know a guy who started out as an employee-visa-style resident, then started his own company here with enough capital to get the OK to stay from immigration. It's possible.

If (5) or (6) were applicable you would probably already know it and not be asking these questions.

Note that this is a summary of the official situation. You will always hear stories (again like Troy's) about people who did X and Y which is officially against immigration rules but still turned out okay. Pressing your luck along similar lines is a possibility but thanks to 9/11 Japan has become a lot less easy-going about this stuff. If something goes wrong you can be kicked out and not let back in at all for years. I know a guy to whom this happened because he changed job fields and didn't tell immigration. A friend knows a woman to whom this happened (on the way out, at the airport!) because she overstayed a 1-year visa by 2 days. Things really do seem to be getting stricter.

I know a few people who make enough money working remotely to just spent most of the year bumming around Asia on tourist visas, working on laptops and living out of hotels. No idea what their legal situation is but none of them has gotten deported from anywhere yet.

So, in summary, if you don't plan on getting married or getting a full-time job or starting a company (a serious one that employs locals, not Me and My Laptop Inc.), but still really want to live permanently in Japan, there are no easy options. But Japan has lots of immigration lawyers, some of whom speak English if you'd prefer, and they can probably help. Good luck!
posted by No-sword at 4:20 PM on November 14, 2008

To add on to No-sword, there are a couple of options. You could, in theory, get an English teaching job, and keep it until you receive your visa. Then, you quit. You would have either a one year or three year work visa at that point. The thing is, if you change jobs, you would have to notify the immigration office that your sponsor has changed. Also, your sponsor (the company you left) could legally (and rightfully) revoke their sponsorship of you. This is not the best way to go about it, it is just one way.

Another way is the (again, not above-board) student visa. Enter a school. There are language schools all over Japan that offer student visas for six months or a year. Many people from China and other countries use the student visa as a legal way to enter Japan. Working while on a student visa, for a company in Japan, I believe limits you to 20 hours of work per week, but you would, in theory, not be working for a company in Japan.

The thing is, there are many, many things that can go wrong with this. The lawyer is probably the best way to go. Remember, if you are a resident, you will have to think about taxes. If your income is coming from the States, but you live in Japan, that will likely be quite messy. You might well end up needing to pay taxes twice. Both countries seem to like having their taxes paid. The foreign income exception (2055) is for money earned outside of the States. Having your pay coming from the states would not likely allow you to use the exemption. As a legal resident of Japan, though, you would need to report your overseas income, depending on your visa status.

And seriously, if you do come over in a shady manner, do not mess around. No-sword mentions the overstay issue. A couple of students at the university attached to my old junior high school overstayed their student visas by three days so they could attend a farewell party. From what I understood, they were majoring either in Japanese culture or langauge, and had fully intended to make Japan the focal point of their lives, most likely returning here soon after graduation. They got hit with the (at the time, new and shocking) ten year ban for visa violations. It used to be five, but now they can, and will, in some cases, ban you for ten years.

Of course, worst case scenario. I know a bunch of people violating their visa. And, well, at the same time, people who have tried to self-sponsor face an uphill battle, including being told to just go home (by immigration officials).
posted by Ghidorah at 5:40 PM on November 14, 2008

Having your pay coming from the states would not likely allow you to use the exemption

I think this depends how you structure the income streams. With sufficient decoupling of work & pay, one can appear to, or in fact be, living off of savings (albeit last year's savings perhaps) and dividend income.

Instead of an LLC-with-a-friend structure I recommend going full with a registered corporation. I established one with the state of California this year for under $300.

Income can stay in the corporation and you can receive nominal wages for work, with the bulk coming to you as an owner via dividends. With an Solo-401K you can also redirect tens of thousands of dollars of wage income per year into tax-deferred savings.

International law hasn't really established a good model for the true source & taxation of remote knowledge-worker income. My plan for my move back to Japan (or perhaps China) next decade is to have sufficient capital both in my name and in my corporation to self-sponsor my existence in Japan.

Obviously these schemes are still half-baked at the moment and I too need good advice ;)
posted by troy at 6:32 PM on November 14, 2008

I'll be mainly working from remote via computer.

You should check to see if doing this is legal on a tourist visa.
posted by oaf at 7:17 AM on November 15, 2008

You should check to see if doing this is legal on a tourist visa.

Unlike the US border agents who can be assholes about this, I don't think the cops are going to care about this one whit. They WILL want to know what you're doing with your day as a tourist in their country so you will need to maintain appearances of being a tourist if you are there for the full 90 days.

But the 90 days you have on a tourist visa is yours to do with as you wish as long as you don't seek casual employment or become a public nuisance or threat to public morals. Make sure if you have a bicycle that it is registered in your name and run the light at night . . . these are the only hassles I encountered in 8 years of living in Tokyo.
posted by troy at 12:31 PM on November 15, 2008

Lots of good advice here. Having personally gone through the grueling pain of going to Japan on a tourist visa in 2004 and converting to a working visa within the country, I would strongly recommend against that route. A company hiring you on a tourist visa has a lot of power over you. You basically have no recourse if they decide not to pay you or fire you once someone with a valid visa comes along.

I think the smart move is to set up a student visa and go to school part time. Knowing more Japanese is always a good thing for life in general, and it will give you 6 months to a year to figure out your options.

I know some people who have incorporated in Japan and then sponsored their own visas by showing proof of income and proof of company establishment. It's trivial to zap money between US and Japanese accounts these days too, so proof of income/revenue shouldn't be a problem. If you are interested, send me an email / mefi mail and I can get you contact info for some English speaking accountants and lawyers my friends in Japan use.

Japan seems to be growing more flexible in visa issues as the population growth slows and more labor is imported. You should be fine.
posted by ejoey at 10:42 PM on November 21, 2008

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