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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