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Living & Working in Japan – A guide for ESL Teachers and Canadians looking to work in Japan

Japan has long been an incredible foreign destination for workers. It’s high tech economy coupled with the desire of many Japanese to learn English, treating the language in almost a reverential respect has created excellent working opportunities for Canadians. Earnings from teaching English in Japan tend to be higher than other East Asian countries and this has created a lot of competition for teaching jobs.

Obtaining a Work Visa for Japan

Similar to South Korea, Japan has a variety of work visas that are issued depending on the nature of your work in Japan. Like in many other East Asian nations, Japan’s work visa program works on a sponsor basis, meaning that your work visa must be endorsed by a potential employer in Japan.  An application for a Japanese work visa must be made in person at the Japanese Embassy or consulate in your area.

Types of Japanese Work Visas

The most common work visas that are issued by the Japanese government are:

Employment or Working Visa – This type of visa is most commonly issued to foreign nationals that are planning extended employment with Japan. It is a single entry visa and is often issued for a period of 3 months to 3 years. Most profession types fall under this visa and include “Instructors” under which ESL and foreign language teachers fall into.

Working Holiday Visa – This visa is issued to foreign workers whose primary purpose for the visit to Japan is not employment but they may seek to find temporary employment to help cover their travel expenses. Most working holiday visas are issued for a period of six months for Canadian citizens, though this may be extended to a year by the immigration authorities. A working holiday visa is only ever issued to a Canadian citizen once and cannot be issued again. Applicants for this type of visa must be between the age of 18 and 30 and they are barred from working in certain places such as night-clubs, dance halls and bars.

Requirements for obtaining Japanese Work Visas

The requirements for obtaining an Employment or Working Visa as compared to a Working Holiday Visa differ.

Requirements for Employment or Work Visa:

Most work visas that are issued to English teachers will either be an instructor visa which will authorize you to work in public schools (elementary, junior-high and high-schools) or a specialist in humanities visa which will authorize you to work in a private institution or a conversation school. To apply for this type of work visa you will need: 

  1.  A valid passport
  2.  A visa application form
  3. Passport photos
  4. A certificate of eligibility issued by the Japanese Immigration Bureau (this must be applied for by your employer in Japan on your behalf).   

Requirements for Working Holiday Visa:

  1. Must be a current resident of Canada
  2. Your intention for visiting Japan is primarily a holiday.
  3. You must be between the age of 18 and 30
  4. You must have a valid Canadian passport as well as a valid return ticket.
  5. Have reasonable funds to sustain yourself in Japan a minimum of $2500 in traveller’s cheques or a bank statement showing this balance. 

Criminal Background Check Requirements for Japanese Work Visas

While there are no official criminal background check requirements from the Japanese government, including for those looking to teach English in Japan, the vast majority of companies and schools in Japan will require an official criminal background check to be performed by the RCMP and submitted to them before they offer you a work contract and sponsor your work visa application by requesting a Certificate of Eligibility. 

Pacific Fingerprint can help you with this step, which includes taking your fingerprints and preparing a C-216C fingerprint form as well as submitting your criminal background check application to the RCMP using encrypted software on your behalf.  Click here for more details on how we can help. ( 

Teaching ESL in Japan

Teaching English in Japan is primarily done through four avenues:

Conversation schools (Eikaiwa) – These schools are found in most places in Japan.  Most of these schools will require you to have a university degree in any field and as with most school will prefer an English, Education or English as a Foreign Language teaching certificate. While not all, most Conversation schools will help you arrange or provide flights, accommodation and help you with work visa requirements. 

Elementary & High Schools – While some of these schools use English teachers that participate in the JET Programme, others hire teachers directly. Most of these schools also require that you have a university degree in any field.

Colleges & Universities – Most colleges and universities employ foreign language teachers full-time. The requirements in order to obtain a position however are usually quite high with a Master’s in Foreign Language teaching usually required along with a significant amount of teaching experience.

The JET Programme – The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme is designed as a government program to allow foreign workers to teach in Japan’s public school system as assistant language teachers or coordinators for international relations. JET is an extremely popular program and comprehensively offers flights, accommodations and work visas for JET programme participants. You can find out more about the Canadian JET Programme here:

Find out more about obtaining work visas and working in Japan:

Please note that while we try to keep the information on this page as accurate as possible, foreign immigration requirements and policies change all the time. For the most up-to-date information, please visit the official Embassy of Japan in Canada website:

Pacific Fingerprint does not provide any services related to obtaining a Japanese work visa, with the exception of any necessary fingerprinting services for the purpose of a criminal background check that the Japanese government or your place of employment may require.

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