I have just 1 month left on my 3 year work visa, so I decided to make the big switch to a spousal visa. I’ve been here for 10 years now, and I have gone through most of the standard visas. It can be pretty confusing, so here is a ELI5 run through of things:
Travel Visa: permits 90 consecutive days in Japan. No working allowed. Must leave country before visa expires. If you want to stay because you found a job or true love, immediately contact immigration to get the process going ASAP.
Cultural Exchange Visa: 1 year visa to allow one to study anything cultural or language related for one year. No working allowed.
Student Visa: Usually valid for 1-2 years depending on your program. If you go to a 4 year university, you can apply to get an extension and continue your studies without leaving the country. You will have to provide proof of your continued enrollment and (if I remember correctly) proof of your tuition being paid for the upcoming semester. You can work up to 28 hours a week at approved places for a part time job (no pachinko or shady “bars”…just common sense). Also, you have to provide some sort of proof that your expenses are being covered. For example if your parents are sending you living expenses every month, you may have to present those documents with your application.
Work Visa: This allows one to work 1 or 3 years in Japan. It is pretty easy to switch to student to work visa when you graduate, so under most circumstances you will not have to leave the country. Your employer, upon you signing your contract with them, will become your sponsor in Japan. They might hold that over your head.
Spousal Visa: Your spouse will become your guarantor in Japan. The usual time you will get is 3 years. Your spouse has to provide a questionnaire that explains where you met and some pictures of you two together. It’s pretty straight forward. This allows you the most freedom for working and renting/purchasing housing.
If you are in Japan and want to extend your stay, here are some tips in order to get the paperwork done as smoothly as possible, assuming you have your school or work etc. already lined up:
1. Make sure your passport has enough time left before expiration. You might have to go through a lot more red tape if you have less than 6 months of valid time left, so get it renewed before application at your embassy. Same with any other documents and unpaid taxes. PAY YOUR RESIDENT TAXES. This will bite you in the ass if you don’t before applying. It can also prevent you from applying for permanent residence status in the future if you want to live in Japan.
2. Download the paperwork needed from the Ministry of Justice homepage and fill it out digitally. If you print it out and handwrite it, then make sure it is the most beautiful thing you have ever written in your life. Neatness counts. The people who work at immigration probably see 1000’s of poorly written documents a week, so this helps to leave a good impression.
Also, make sure dates, spelling, addresses, and any questions about income are completely consistent. This is probably the number one thing they are sticklers about, and any inconsistencies or stupid typos can take weeks to sort out. In the worst case scenario it might get your application rejected.
3. Secure the other documents Ministry of Japan requests you to bring from the homepage. If you aren’t sure you need something or not, bring it anyway. Seriously, you don’t want to go back there again just because of a single piece of paper. Also, don’t forget your resident ID card.
For example, as a student starting a new school, you will need documents like your certificate of acceptance. For most applicants you might also need paperwork from your ward office like your 住民票 (resident card). When applying for marriage with a national, you will need a copy of their 戸籍 (family registry) which might take a week or so to get depending on if their family is registered outside of the region you currently live. You can request that ward office online to mail a physical copy.
4. Take your ID picture before you go- do not try to do it at immigration because it is very crowded. You want to have your documents 100% completed by the time you arrive. You will see people scribbling the forms out while in line, and I’m sure you don’t want to be doing that first thing in the morning.
5. Speaking of crowded, be in the building before 9:00am. You can actually start lining up to get your number by 8:30am, so it is worth getting over there early. It’s a madhouse over there by midmorning.
Line up at 8:50am? Done by 9:30am. Line up at 9:05? Done by noon. Not joking.
6. Keep all the documents together neatly in a clear file. The officers will appreciate it, and it will keep the poor, grumpy immigration folks happy.
So after today, what does that mean for my visa? Assuming everything checks out alright, I’ll get a postcard in the mail 2-4 weeks from that will tell me to bring 4000 yen and get some stamps in my passport. Now to wait.