The Japanese Working Visa : Not just a dream anymore

This is the second chapter of the TGD guide to working in Japan. Every month we will publish a new chapter covering the essential information you need to know to work in Japan. Enjoy!

The Japanese Working Visa : Not just a dream anymore

This is one the most popular topics, I’m quite sure some of you are reading this page because you searched on Google “How to get a visa as a designer in Japan”.

Some people have said that to get a “working visa” in Japan is very difficult, but I believe they didn’t have the right skills to achieve it. However recently it has become way more easier than before.

The growing startup “ecosystem” of Tokyo and the new immigration laws regulated by the Japanese Government have increased the focus on international talent looking for a job in Japan.

Many international designers have come with a working holiday visa and then search for a company (and consequently for a sponsor).

I did not have the chance to request a working holiday visa so I figured out an alternative way to get a working visa.

The easiest way is to attend a Japanese language school

The easiest way is to attend a Japanese language school, in order to learn Japanese and to get a two year student visa. That’s actually the path I took. Having a student visa puts you in a good position to be considered by design agencies who are looking for a design intern. With this kind of visa, that you can only get by attending a language school, you are able to work part time. In my humble opinion working part time and studying japanese is a great idea. It will teach you a lot about Japanese working culture gradually, instead of starting work immediately in the Japanese design office environment which can be very different to elsewhere in the world.

While it would be ideal being hired directly from your country, this is very difficult, but not impossible. I have met several people living here because they transfered from within their multinational agency. Usually big companies such Rakuten or GMO use to hire talents from abroad but recently also smaller startups found it convenient and very productive to have employees come for a trial period and eventually hire them and sponsor them for a full working visa..

Being hired from abroad also means that you are classified a specialist in a discipline that nobody can really perform well as you in Japan. At least this the motivation that your company will need to explain at the immigration office.

What do you need to get your visa?

Well, a “Designer” visa doesn’t exist yet, unfortunately.
Originally designers working in japan could get two different types of visa * :

Specialist in humanities/International Services

Since the new immigration laws designers can get several types depending by their experience, the business and the company of course:

Specialist in Humanities / International Service
Degree in the corresponding field or 10 years professional experience

Intra-company Transferee
Expats of the foreign companies or the subsidiary companies of Japanese firms located in overseas, it requires to have worked more than one year in the said office overseas. The new regulations seems that allowed to find several ways to achieve this visa.

Artistic activities that generate sufficient income to support life in Japan (painter, sculptor, photographer, writer, composer, songwriter, etc…)

When you apply for a visa there are two relevant requirements that can change the type of visa you are going to get, the years of specialization and the tertiary qualifications you have.
For instance, I had 8 years of specialization in my field and a 3 year degree at a Design Academy so i got an engineer visa.
My friend had 11 years of specialization in his field and no degree so he got a “specialist in humanities” visa. This kind of experience must be documented through recommendation letters from your previous employers.

The visa length can be from 1-5 years

The visa length can be from 1-5 years but you won’t know what length visa you will get until your application is approved. It depends on factors like your income, the size of the company you are working for and even the staff who process your application at immigration.

Anyway have a look of this page to makes you clear:

What do you need to bring to immigration office?

1) A copy of all your degrees (possibly from high-school) and a translation in English if your papers are written in a language apart from English. A Japanese translation is even better but not necessary.

2) (Rireksho) Your CV in Japanese and a version in English.

3) (Shokureki) Because the japanese cv isn’t enough detailed they require a second version of your CV with an detailed explanation of your job and position for each employer.

4) (Shoumeisho) If you attended a Japanese language school you should bring a certification, if you have got the JLPT N2 certification you should definitely bring a copy.

5) Contract with your employer, letter of appointment, invitation letter, or any other documents to prove your activities, position, salary, period of time you will need to stay in Japan, etc.
(In my case I had a letter detailing how my employer worked with Italian brands and how my experience as a designer in Italy was important to them.)

5.5) Letter from your employer.

6) Company’s certificate of registry (Tokibo Tohon)

7) The contract, of course.

8) Company’s most recent financial statements (Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss statement)

9) Company’s withholding tax report

10) The Application sheet available from the immigration office or downloaded from this website.

11) 2 Passport size photos for documents.

More documents can be required depending on your nationality and other factors..

This can be quite stressful to do on your own, especially if you do not have high level Japanese language skills as the staff at the immigration department do not speak English.

However, you can pay for an immigration lawyer to do all of this for you and it can make the process a lot smoother. They will help you get the right paperwork, fill out the documents for you and take the whole application to the immigration department on your behalf.

However it will set you back around USD 800. Some companies who frequently hire international staff will simply pay for the immigration lawyer for you.

What happens when you change job in Japan?

So many people think that after getting a sponsorship they will be tied to that company forever. It’s not true. Here is the official explanation from the immigration website:
“Your working visa is valid until it expires, even if you change your job.
Your former employer can not take your visa away, and you can work at a new place under the visa you obtained with your former employer, if the type of activities remains the same.
If the type of activities changes however (for example from English teacher to an IT engineer), the category of your visa will no longer be appropriate, so you will need to change your visa (status of residence) as well.”

For further information the new immigration site is now offering a free consulting service to determine what options or solutions are available to you and to see how they can help you get a visa. It’s enough to fill out the form on the website.

Come back next month for the third instalment of the TGD Guide to working in Japan; The job interview.

Riccardo Parenti

Italian. Art Director, interaction design enthusiast, occasionally photographer. Riccardo is the founder the TGD community, starting the LinkedIn group when he first moved to Japan in 2010. He is also a volunteer for Behance Tokyo. He loves to spend his free time seeking and exploring abandoned buildings in the Japanese countryside.


  • Reply November 13, 2015

    Ashoka Ranjith

    Please sens us you have job infomation by email

  • Reply April 23, 2016


    Used to work in Tokyo, luck able to convert my visa to Working Visa.

    Unfortunate, I have to move back home 2 years later due to family matters.
    Everything settled, that was a year ago.

    And now am trying to get back to Tokyo with Artist Visa as I know it’s hard to get Working Visa anymore.

    • Riccardo Parenti
      Reply June 6, 2016

      Riccardo Parenti

      Hello Flanb!
      Yes, looks like become less complex to get a job and ask for a visa.


    • Reply October 5, 2016


      That takes us up to the next level. Great potsgni.

  • Reply July 13, 2016


    Hi person in charge

    I came to visit your website and found it really useful.

    My name is Grace, 25 yo, from Indonesia. Currently I hold Working Visa as Engineer/International Service valid for 1 year.
    Everything is already arrange until my guarantor company can not give me a settled date for company entrance. (Supposed to be on mid-August)
    However I’m still planning to build a career in Japan with my current Visa.
    Worst case is, I come to Japan with Working Visa for the first time and got no job on hand.
    It will be greatly appreciated if you can give some advices how I should cope with this situation.
    I’m fully aware that my Working Visa is not suitable for working part-time as it will be violence the law.

    Hope to hear from you soon and have a nice day!



  • Reply September 14, 2016



    I just discovered your website and it’s awesome!

    I’m a designer from Belgium and my dream is to live in Japan. My dream job is to become a 2D game designer and I can definitely get that job in Japan, unlike Belgium.

    I’ve got a bachelor’s degree and I have now 1 and a half year of practical work experience in an agency. I want to improve my japanese (I’m N2 but not officially & I really wanna improve my conversational skills first) so like you I want to learn for 6 months in a language school and then find a job as a 2D game designer in Osaka. I’ve also already did a 4 months web design internship in 2014 in Osaka.

    So my question is… is it possible for me to find a job there as a designer with a bachelor’s degree? I wanna move there for 2018 so I will also have 3 years of practical work experience. My language school told me that because I didn’t study at a university it’s not gonna be possible… but in belgium we don’t study graphic design at university, it’s only technical schools but we get a bachelor’s degree like at university… so I’m very confused and nervous haha

    I will also put my Behance so you can see my design skills…

    Sorry for my very long comment but I would be super happy if you can respond to my questions!


  • Riccardo Parenti
    Reply September 15, 2016

    Riccardo Parenti

    I had a very similar situation to yours.
    Italian design school are not recognised as bachelor neither. For this reason my university years were counted as work experience. Send me an email for more details.

    Honestly i believe here in Tokyo there are more opportunities for game designers than in Osaka.


  • Reply October 3, 2016


    Hello Richardo,

    Thank you for the write up! I’ve been searching for any information on how could I relocate myself from Malaysia to Japan as a designer. I was wondering if we could get in touch? It would be awesome and maybe a little relieve to talk to someone who was in a similar situation?

    looking forward to hear from you 🙂

    p/s: Found this website couple months ago, love the content! Keep it up.

  • […] work in the country teaching a language and transitioning to becoming a university student can be more viable than most other […]

  • […] work in the country teaching a language and transitioning to becoming a university student can be more viable than most other […]

  • […] work in the country teaching a language and transitioning to becoming a university student can be more viable than most other […]

  • Reply July 20, 2017


    i’m Indonesian designer who have 7 years experience as a graphic designer but i don’t have a bachelor degree, currently learning japanese (self studying) and planning to enter a japanese language school in the future (probably 1-2 years later in the future). is it possible to get a visa after graduating from that school?

  • Riccardo Parenti
    Reply August 24, 2017

    Riccardo Parenti

    Hi KIDDO,
    definitely possible but you might want to start searching before finishing school!


  • Reply November 13, 2017


    Thank you! I am a graphic designer and my husband is an industrial designer. We are from Argentina, studying Japanese in Yokohama and we will be looking for jobs and visa from now on to stay in Japan after March when our course finishes.

    I am so happy I found your website, I am still trying to understand what to do, how to do it and all the details.

    Thanks for doing this and help people here!

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