Eyes on the Prize........ Immigration Nihon-do (Japanese Style)
If you think going to the DMV is a pain in the you-know-what, just wait 'til you've done time at the Immigration Office in Japan. On my first visit there, I arrived just minutes after the lunch break ended, and already the place was packed with every imaginable form of humanity, all of them with eyes transfixed on the little red digital "Now Being Served" counter. I took a number, sat down in one of the few remaining seats, did the math and realized that there were two hundred and seventeen people in line ahead of me. I am not kidding. Two hundred and seventeen. And still people were pouring in, each one taking a number, doing the math, and rolling their eyes with a sigh of exasperation. Luckily I had brought along a brand new anthology of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. So I giggled and snickered my way through the whole affair. I heartily recommend you do the same.
But seriously, unless you have already been hired and gotten one before you leave the motherland, the process of getting a work visa in Japan goes something like this:
You arrive in Japan with your passport and receive a 90-day landing permit (tourist visa). Or you can apply for it from home at the Japanese embassy or consulate before you go. In Japan, you may have to show a return airline ticket with a departure date of no more than 90 days, to prove that you don't intend to overstay.
Next, you get yourself a job teaching English at a company that is willing to sponsor your work visa. It's a little like being "bonded," but not really. Your sponsor is someone (preferably a Japanese businessman) who is willing to vouch for your character, integrity and good conduct while you're working in Japan.
In 30 to 90 days, you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility (eligibility to obtain a work visa, that is). Your employer will help you fill out the paperwork for that.
Until you're officially documented with a work visa, you'll have to apply for an Alien Registration Card at your local ward office. You'll need one for I.D. to set up a bank account so you can receive your paycheck. Technically speaking, you're not supposed to work while you're still on a tourist visa, but since it's the one glitch that can't be avoided, most people do it anyway, with no negative consequences.
Now it's time to apply for your work visa at a Japanese Embassy (outside Japan, of course). Many people fly to Seoul, Korea because it's the closest and least expensive. While you're there, you'll get your work visa stamped into your passport. Then it's right back on the next flight to Japan.
Your work visa is good for a year and therefore will eventually need to be renewed. Meanwhile, if you want to take a trip outside Japan to visit home or travel to some exotic vacation spot, you'll have to go to the Japan Immigration Office and get yourself a re-entry permit. You can get a permit for unlimited departures and re-entries for 6000 yen. You won't be allowed back in the country without one. So get one if you plan to travel.
There's a wonderful Japanese expression: O tsukarisama deshita. It literally means, "Most honorable tired person." But the spirit of the expression is "Yea! We did it!" You'll hear it echoing through the workplace at the end of the day, or whenever an especially difficult task has been accomplished. So... now that you've got the triple crown - an apartment, a job and a work visa - O tsukarisama deshita to you! Now, all you have to do is kick back, enjoy the culture, take in the scenery and, oh yeah, get up and go teach English every day.
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The following is a list of highly detailed and informative websites that will help you in your quest to live and work in Japan:
The Japan FAQ. This one is a gold mine of information. It covers everything you could possibly need to know, and then some.
And here's one created by Luis Poza, one of my old co-workers from Japan. Lots of inside information, great suggestions, and words of wisdom from one who definitely knows the ropes. Lots of hot links to other resources too!
Japan Hot Spots. For all kinds of information on everything you always wanted to know about Japan but didn't know where to look.
The Interac website is a great place to start for getting job placement in Japan in advance. If you meet the criteria, you may be able to proceed directly to "Go."
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