Photo:すしぱく on Pakutaso

Paid to Travel – How to Take a "Working Holiday" in Japan

For many travelers across the world, Japan has a long-held intrigue, mystique and sense of awe surrounding it. This naturally means that even in times of global economic contraction, Japan remains near the top of the list for many young travelers in pursuit of adventure and self-discovery. 

However, for Europeans and indeed many other countries, the typical entry permit only entitles the holder to stay for a maximum period of 90 days. Naturally, as is the global standard for immigration, one is not allowed to work when visiting as a tourist. 

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

Whilst even a short visit to Japan can be a life-changing experience for many, the fact is that in a country so fascinatingly unique and with so many different layers to its society, three months really isn’t enough time to even scratch the surface. 

The option of getting a job and coming here to work and live and explore is an option of course, but hardly ideal. 

Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Smelley on Wikimedia Commons

The fact is, since the crash in the English language school market in 2008, with the bankruptcy of NOVA and then GEOS (two of the biggest recruiters of teachers from abroad at the time), getting hired from abroad to be an English teacher in Japan is a whole lot tougher than it used to be. 

And even if you can find a job, the hiring criteria are pretty tight too. In most cases, you will need at least a 4 year degree from an accredited university just to qualify for a visa. With tuition fees continuing to increase every year in places like England and the United States, university is not as accessible as it should be to the general populous. 

So if you have no degree, no specialized skills and no family or diplomatic ties to Japan then how can young people come here and stay for longer than 90 days? 

The Solution: The Working Holiday Scheme

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

When I say “working holiday scheme”, actually it is not really one individual scheme but rather a series of bilateral, reciprocal arrangements that Japan has with a number of different countries, 23 in total, to facilitate cultural exchange between nations. 

The 23 nations who currently have working holiday agreements with Japan include: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, The UK, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria.

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

To qualify for the scheme, participants must be aged between 18 and 30 years old. However, in the case of Australia, Canada and South Korea the person must be aged 18 to 25-years-old. However, in some cases an exception can be made and the limit will be extended to 30-years-old subject to the approval of the Japanese government. This is a somewhat convoluted process and success is by no means guaranteed. If you are a citizen of one of these nations and aged between 25 and 30, it is probably best to contact your local Japanese consulate or embassy for advice as to how best to proceed with your application. 

Also, some countries are subject to annual quotas on the maximum number of working holiday visas they can issue in a calendar year. The exceptions are Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Portugal who have no annual limit on the number of working holiday visas for Japan they can issue. 

In short, if you are from an eligible country other than those listed directly above, it makes sense to apply as early as possible in the year to maximize your chances of a successful application. 

You may also need to provide proof that you can adequately support yourself whilst in Japan without access to government funds. For example you may be asked to provide bank statements proving you have enough money in your account to cover the duration of your stay. 

Photo by Jun OHWADA on Flickr.

Although you are permitted to engage in paid work whilst you are in Japan, as a working holiday visa holder any work you undertake is designed to supplement your holiday funds, not replace them entirely. 

Photo by OIST on Flickr.

Things Like English Teaching, Factory Work, or Restaurant and Bar Work are Fine

Be careful of working in the nightclub districts or entertainment areas. These places are often keen to hire foreign workers, but such work is prohibited by your visa regulations under moral grounds. 

Photo by Antoine Taveneaux on Wikimedia Commons.

More importantly, such places are often a front for other illicit activities in Japan such as gambling, drugs and human trafficking. Needless to say, getting caught up in any of these highly illegal activities will lead you to a swift deportation order and possibly a criminal conviction. 

That being said, the vast majority of companies and organizations who employ people on working holiday visas in Japan are good, decent organizations who won’t give you any problems. Use your common sense when searching for jobs and you should be fine. 

Finding a place to stay is another important consideration. Since you are not going to be settling down in Japan for the long term, it’s probably best if you look for a temporary place to stay such as a guest house or shared apartment. These can easily be found online and offer very favorable rates for foreign visitors. 

The number of foreigners in Japan by country as of the end of 2017. Blue: More than 100,000 Light blue: 30,000 to 99,999 Dark Green: 10,000 to 29,999 Light green: 3,000 to 9,999
Yellow: 1,000 to 2,999. Photo by Mig76jp on Wikimedia Commons.

Not only this, but, the added bonus of living in a shared house is the opportunity to improve your Japanese. 

I lived in one of these shared house style guesthouses in Tokyo for a while when I first moved there and the residents were pretty much a 50/50 split between Japanese and foreign. So it’s a great way to make new friends as well as getting to know the local language. 

Overall your time in Japan promises to be an experience you will never forget. So what are you waiting for, get that working holiday visa application filled out today!

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