Q&A: Working in Japan, no bachelors degree?



Note: I don’t teach English and I don’t work for a Japanese company so I was hesitant to answer this. But I figured… what the hell… so my answers below are based on what I know and have learned from others, not from experience. Another post, Americans working in Japan, might be of interest to you.

Question Part 1:

Zac writes in – I’m 20 years old and I want to teach English in Japan. My family has done it in SE Asia for years. My question is what do I need to do? I know being an American you have to have a bachelor’s degree go do work of any kind. Sorry for the vague question.

Answer Part 1:

Hi Zac. Without a 4 year degree your options seem limited, but it’s still possible to teach English. I know a guy that has a 2 year degree who taught English for years at a variety of smaller companies and made a decent living. He came to Japan without any work lined up and found work within the first month. He stayed for a few years, but then returned to his home country so I can’t ask him any questions about it. Also there’s the idea of doing private lessons at a cafe or at people’s houses, but you need to look into the legality of that yourself. It’s going to take a lot of searching to the work you’re looking without a degree, but with persistence you might find exactly what you’re looking for.

Teaching English in Japan

Teaching English in Japan

(photo from flickr)

Question Part 2:

Steve, thank you very much for the info it did help a lot, but i was under the idea that you had to have a 4 year degree to apply for work visa of any kind?

Answer Part 2:

You need an employer that will give you a work visa. I’m not sure about the 4 year degree requirement but as I said, the guy I knew only had a 2 year degree. If you go on a tourist visa (90 days I think), then find a job that will give you a tourist visa, you just need to ask if you can change your visa status or else you leave the country for a day and come back on the new visa. I don’t teach English so I’m not sure on all of the details. I did see this online…

To get a work visa you need:

  • a valid passport;
  • an application form;
  • one passport-size photo; and
  • a certificate of eligibility issued by the Japanese Immigration Bureau (your employer must apply for the certificate).

More info that might help you
Here are some TEFL books to check out.
mofa.go.jp – Visa types in Japan
ESL employment – teaching English in Japan (requirements, etc)
How to teach English in Japan + many useful links

Maybe my friend got the work visa because of his experience of teaching abroad already. You might look into teaching English in Korea as well. Busan (or Pusan) is a popular spot, and for $200-300 you can take a round trip ferry to visit Japan to get your sushi on.

Here’s an interesting quote from Gaijin Pot – (Living, working or visiting Japan? Not without a visa!)

You normally need to show that you have a relevant college degree to be able to apply for a working visa. However if you can show that you have a certain number of years relevant work experience you are also eligible to apply. You can also be eligible if you have a degree from another higher, relevant educational institution. Each visa and industry has different requirements.

A lot of sites contradict each other. But I think it’s possible.

More links to help you on your journey to information:
Yahoo Answers – Advice on getting a Japanese work visa without degree?
Japan Guide – Teaching in Japan Without a Degree
Yahoo Answers – is an online bachelor’s degree good enough for a work visa?
Yahoo Answers – Entry-level job opportunities in Japan?
3yen.com – Is a bachelors degree necessary to teach in Japan?
thunderguy.com – Japan visa types
JapanForum.com – jobs in Japan question about requirements etc
Escape Artist – Living in Japan

Also as Cornelius pointed out in the comments, it’s possible to self sponsor your own work visa. Here are some sites to check out about self sponsoring a Japanese visa. A page from Gaijin Pot says:

Self-sponsorship is very possible: especially if you are already living in Japan and have steady work. A self-sponsored visa falls under the working visa category and you will therefore need to show that all requirements for a working visa is met. You will have to show that you are guaranteed the minimum income required to support yourself in Japan. For example, contracts from 3 companies promising you payment may be required. Free consultations are available at immigration offices in Japan and will they help you prepare the necessary documentation. Self-sponsorship may require some leg work and extra paper work but might be the best solutions for you!

Also with a self sponsored visa you’re going to need to prove that you have large savings or steady income that is good enough to pay for your living expenses. Here are a few links about self sponsored visa in Japan:
jiosu.com – Work for yourself by self sponsoring your visa
ESL Cafe – self sponsored visa
Gaijin Pot Forums – Self sponsorship Japanese visa
Self sponsored visa application in Japan – successful!

Good luck with your quest to move to Japan!

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The Q&A section of my blog is kind of new. People like my “contact me” link on the blog! Every month I get asked some questions and many tend to be similar so I thought I’d share a few along with my answers.


25 thoughts on “Q&A: Working in Japan, no bachelors degree?

  1. I have a similar problem… I want to study in Japan, but to pay for my studies I have to do freelance work in my free time. To do that work legally, I need a work visa. And to get a work visa I need a bachelor degree. Catch 22, really :/

    • I’m not a lawyer so you should consult with one if you’re serious about moving to Japan and doing this type of work. From my understanding, if you do freelance work for people or companies that are in Japan you’re supposed to have a work visa because you’re working in Japan’s economy. If you’re doing freelance work and everything is U.S. earned income (banking, clients, etc) then you’re not doing any work with anybody inside Japan which means you could have a different type of visa. I found a lot of useful information at JapanTimes, it’s worth reading.

  2. The way it works out is if you have a 4 year bach or masters degree you can self sponsor your self assuming you have the money for a work visa upon that you can search for a job. if however you do not have the money to sponsor yourself company’s normally higher you based on the degree because of them being forced to give you a visa. that’s why it is easier to get a job if you are here on marriage. because they do not have to go through the legality’s of giving you a visa.

    Now this is not always the case but in my experience’s it seems to be this way around. The company dislikes giving out work visa’s so they will require the interviewee to either have a visa and or have a college degree to get a work visa.

    Their is no requirement on getting a work visa but a Japanese company must apply for you to have one And or you must have a degree of 4 years and have the funds to support yourself in a Japanese economy.

    That might sounds contradictory to no requirements but what i mean is if you find a job that is willing to sponsor you then they will get you a visa. but if they do not think you are either qualified enough or just don’t want to waste their time with the legality’s then they will pass you over for someone who already has the visa and or degree.

    • Well, there are companies who would be interested in hiring me. The problem is, that I’m not really interested in working for a Japanese company. I want to continue doing freelance work for all sorts of international companies as I’m already doing as well as to continue making revenues on my various online properties, ex. http://nihongoup.com/ As far as I understand, to do so, I would need a work visa, without getting hired by a company in Japan. Is it possible?

    • That’s really interesting. I never looked into self sponsoring a visa, so I went ahead and added some to the bottom of my post. Also student visas and cultural visas don’t require a University degree and sometimes you can work part time if you get special permission.

  3. Hello! I am a person without job i my own country but want reach japan for earning and living as there are no jobs given in our coumtry and also I have no clue about how to get a permit and visa to work in Japan.
    I need a way.

    thanx for reading.

    • Like I wrote earlier, many places say they want a 4 year degree, but I know a guy that was working with a 2 year degree. If you don’t want to get a degree and start teaching after high school then it’s going to take a lot of looking around. Good luck!

  4. Hi Steve and other fellow travellers.

    I came to Japan and found work without a Bachelor degree. I am now currently teaching English at many public schools.
    To begin with I am Australian not American, my situation is a little different. I am 22 years old :D and I arrived in Japan with a work holiday visa.
    The USA doesn’t provide work holiday visas however if you came as a student and found part time work it could be important.

    For those who are not American. Work holiday visa means you can stay in one country for one year and a half (Australia Work Visa). This is only available in each country once.

    Zac to be very honest you need to be very prepared for a trip like this. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t a smooth road. There will be some requirements.

    Requirements -
    Resume qualifications – any experience teaching, looking after children and education. To be honest you need some or something that makes you look worth hiring.

    Money – Coming to Japan is very expensive. You first need to pay large deposits for air travel, accommodation, a mobile phone if you want one and etc. First month of work you don’t get paid till the end of the following month.
    Remember you need Alien Registration card and other things to move into Japan.

    Visa – Coming to Japan on a tourist visa will get you into the country but you can not work. If you think you can do something other then teaching, I would recommend trying to get a job at the snow fields.

    In Japan you may get a short work visa at the snowfields. There are many types of work visas. This work visa will not allow you to teach though. I had Australian friends with no qualifications at all doing this. After snow season try to get a teaching job. It isn’t easy but they will be hiring just before spring.

    Questions to ask yourself.
    Can you speak Japanese?
    Can you read Japanese?
    Do you know friends in Japan to help you?
    Do you have a TEFL or TESOL Certificate?

    Why do you want to visit Japan? There are many countries in the world which need English talent.
    I personally don’t count liking Anime or Video games as reasons because a lot of people say these are there reasons.

    I hope this gives some insight. Let me be clear the road you are picking is not an easy one but it is a fun one. It took me 5months to find a teaching job and I love it though.

  5. > I personally don’t count liking Anime or Video games as reasons because a lot of people say these are there reasons.
    That’s not a very logical statement ;)

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the advice. I’ve wanted to do this since high school (I’m already 26 now and only have a 2yr degree!) but never really had the courage to even go on a trip as far away as Japan. I saved up for a trip and visited twice this year. As I expected Japan is a nice place. ^^ So now that my Japanese is passable, I’m seriously considering just up and going again and staying this time – instead of waiting another 2 years for a bachelors. Never even considered the S.Korea option before, that’s intriguing. I’ve bookmarked this page and will look at more of the links later. (it comes up really high on Google results) Thanks a lot, Steve!
    To Philip: wow I’ve been to your website several times, it’s extremely professional. Would not have guessed you’d have difficulties staying in the country. ^^;

    • Dear Sebastian Xavier,

      I personally don’t count liking Anime or Video games as reasons because a lot of people say these are there reasons.

      This comment isn’t a statement but my Opinion. For the Anime and Video games. You can get anything through the internet. I just figure there are more interesting things about Japanese Culture. It shouldn’t be the reason why you came.

      Like I said there are many countries in this world with lower requirements with better pay and many other interesting things. Say like traveling to Mexico, Philippines and South Korea. Just understand what I mentioned in my previous post was my thoughts on what it takes to becoming a teacher.

      The Teaching job only becomes easier if you love children and want to play, entertain and educate them.

  6. Japan is a very strict country with visa, but on the other hand I don’t know why but there is a lot of mistakes with its immigration politics. What mistakes?: Perhaps, my comments sounds racist against Latin America, but not. I am going to tell about the reality:

    As you know, in Japan there is a lot of Latin American. Why are there many Latin American?. The fact is that Latin America has no resources for a good education, studies are really poor, even latin american with degress are hardly prepared. Degress in Latin America are like small courses, poor subjets, antiquated, no material for practice… Even if you are not ready, if you don’t have knowledge, then you could bribe (money) someone and you might have your diploma. And Japan and the world will be open to you and your nonsense degree.

    In other countries that is not possible. For instance, why are not as European as Latin American in Japan?. Ok, European don’t need to go abroad for scape from poverty. But there is many people dreaming with Japan. They are more prepared than those Latin American (with those nonsense degrees), but those Europeans don’t have degree. And sometimes Japanese Authorities don’t know about knowledge standards abroad.

    For example: in Europe, there are even Vocational College with more than enough preparation. For instance the Vocational Colleges in Spain. People studied for 5 years, more than a degree!. And there is a lot of prepared workers. Unlucky, laws, studies programmes has changed and now is different.

    So, that is the fact… Japanese Authorities are not aware about those issues, and when Japan needs a worker from overseas, they might to find much better workers, even without degrees. I have worked with many people (with and without degree). And I am at non-degree owner side because I have seen a lot of talent and brilliant-minded people without degree. And I have seen many inept with degrees.

    It is shameful but for Japanese Authorities all this is not important. They just ask for a piece of paper (degree document). They don’t mind about its origins… if you paid 100 dollars for that document in Mexico or if you studied a few months in Peru or Colombia and you got that nonsense degree. There is many European countries or American where a technical bachelor or 5 years vocational colleges trample any Latin American degrees.

    I think Japanese people are very smart, but I don’t know why job visa policies are nonsense there. Degree… degree… Degree is not any guarantee, and they don’t think about real knowledge.

  7. Hi,

    I would like to come to Japan and may be start off by teaching english. i have a 4 year bachelors degree and i am very good in english. i would like to earn enough and do a masters in asian studies or finance and work for an Asian firm.

    How do i go about doing this? can i get a 90 day tourism visa and come over, get a job then seek for the work visa…how easy is this and will it be easy to change the visa once i have a job offer?

    another question, with USD 5000, can it cover board and lodge for the three months?

    Thanks…

  8. hello my name is jamie morgan, i am australian guy and i am currently not working at the moment,i wanted to be heard and send my respects and get well to all the people of japan and the disaster, you are a great country and very strong so you can all get through this :), well to cut a long story shoorward to feed back rt, i wanted to know if their is anything i could do to help, i am a hard worker and strong person and i just have this urge to do something, is their anyone that can pay for my trip to japan at all, i want to help with the relief efforts,i really want to live and work in japan and help your country thorugh this time, i suppose this is just a calling out to anyone that can here me, well i must go now take care hope to hear fomr someone soon, my email address is grinderz@hotmail.com look forward to hearing feedback

    • Jamie, get off your butt and get a job mate, save up and go over there… or if you’re convincing enough ask a family member for a cash advance. As an Australian you can work there without any degrees or whatever on whats called a ‘working holiday visa’ – as long as you’re between 18 – 30. You need a minimum of 2500 dollars in your account and you can find a ticket to tokyo for as little as $250 with Jetstar if you’re lucky. Lasts 180 days and can be extended for another 180 days. Get over there and help out, get a part time job somewhere to survive.

  9. Steve,

    First off I want to commend you on this blog you put together, i find it very informative and interesting about the daily goings of a gaijin in Japan.

    I’ve been interested in studying abroad and working in Japan though it seems a majority of positions to foreigners are solely in teaching english (TESL),. Though I haven’t completed my degree in Computer Science I have 10 years of corporate experience in Global Tech and Finance.

    What advice can you give or wha’ts your opinion on available jobs in Japan aside from TESL (Not that I won’t consider the opportunity if offered…just furthering towards my education, personal and career goals),.

    Thanks!

    Justin-

    BTW I read some time ago a blog of a Black American teacher in Japan, some of the funniest life material I’ve read. Maybe you’ve heard of the blog, my mind slips me at the moment.

    • Hi Justin. Thanks for visiting the blog! It’s tough to find a job without a university degree. The gaijin I know that work in Japan either teach English classes, or teach English at a school or university, and the others that are fluent in Japanese are doing translation services, IT services, or working in other corporate areas. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but you might check out http://www.gaijinpot.com/ for some details. And the blog you’re referring to was maybe Gaijin Smash? If it is, his new site is here: http://gaijinchronicles.com/

  10. Hi Steve,

    I’m a 20 year old American looking to work in Japan. Though I have no degree, I have over 4 years teaching English as well as Japanese in America and Japan , including at a university (I taught English part time during my study-abroad program in Japan through Purdue University).

    Japanese isn’t a problem for me and am certified in the JLPT2. My question, though, is will this be enough to get a working visa in Japan? As I already know people who have told me they wouldn’t mind me staying with them for as long as I wanted to, the level of income wouldn’t be a problem even if it was abysmal; I just love being in Japan and have a passion for teaching.

    I’ve heard of teaching certificates that I could apply and pay for online: do you think these are useful and worth my time?

    • I’m unable to help you much. All the visa info on this site is basically what I know. Online teaching certificates seem like a nice addition, but I don’t know if that’s a solution to help in getting the visa. Maybe somebody with experience can chime in. Good luck!

  11. Hi, I am from India & a Bachelor degree holder in Chemistry. But experienced in Sales & Supply chain. I want to work in Japan. Is it possible?

  12. I’m a 22 y old Latvian, with no bachelor degree, but middle-school diploma with a profession certificate in machine build engineering (as in 12 years of regular school + 4 years of profession teaching 10-13th year of school)
    is it possible to get a working visa for me?
    jobs don’t have to be teaching languages
    though I’m fluent in Latvian, English and Russian, and right now teaching myself Japanese writing/reading and talking

    or should i go there as a language student, study 1-2 years and work part-time

    as written here
    http://gogonihon.com/study-japan-wiki/I_want_to_move_to_Japan

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