‘How do I renew my visa in Japan?’ we hear you cry. We know it’s a baffling subject. But we’re here to make this often confusing and sometimes stressful process a little easier. Here’s how to renew your visa in Japan.

First, a quick disclaimer: we spoke to an immigration lawyer in Tokyo when drafting this article, but it should not be taken as legal advice. Always check directly with the nearest Immigration Bureau about your specific visa situation.

Renew your visa in Japan: Your options

Not ready to leave your friends in Japan just yet?

If your long-term visa in Japan is getting close to its expiry date, it’s time to start thinking about visa renewal. There are a few different ways to renew your visa in Japan. If you work for a company based in Japan, your employer may take care of the whole process for you — you lucky duck. Just confirm this well in advance, as some companies will only supply paperwork to support your application and not actually apply for you. If they do do the whole process for you, don’t be afraid to remind them when it’s close to time for you to renew. They’ll usually ask you to supply some documents like a photo and a copy of your current Residence Card, and then bam, you’re done.

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Everyone else has to take matters into their own hands and submit the application themselves. This can be done in-person, or more recently online as well. Let’s have a look at the newest method first.

Planning to leave Japan instead? Our comprehensive guide has everything you need to know about moving out of Japan.

How to renew your visa in Japan online

Time to bust out your laptop.

Thanks to COVID, the infamously slow Japanese bureaucracy system sat up and dragged its visa application process into the 21st century — sort of. In March 2022 they opened up their online visa management system. Now we’ll be honest, we’re not exactly fans of the online visa management system. It’s clunky and it took us so long to set up a new account that it would actually have been quicker to just go to the Immigration Bureau. Long story short, we don’t recommend it except in certain situations — like if you live far away from your closest Immigration Bureau. But enough complaining, if for whatever reason you want to give it a shot, we want to make it easier for you.

To start with, here are the things you can do via the online visa management system:

  • Renew an existing visa (this includes Working Holiday Visas)
  • Apply for permission to ‘engage in activities other than that permitted’ (i.e. permission to work if you’re on a student visa)*
  • Change your visa type
  • Certificate of Eligibility (conditions apply)
  • Acquisition of visa (conditions apply)
  • Re-entry permit (conditions apply)

Things you can’t do:

  • Extend a ‘Diplomat’ visa
  • Extend a ‘Temporary’ visa (AKA tourist)

*NOTE: This is one of the things we had a lot of trouble with. Although officially it says you can apply for this online, we could not work out how to do that without attaching it to a visa renewal application.

There are two main steps to apply: Registering as a new user, and making an online renewal application. Both steps are convoluted, but we’ve layed them out for you step by step.

Register as a new user

Register a New User Japan Visa Online Screengrab
Register as a new user. | Photo by Kim Kahan

Before you can apply, you will need to register as a new user. This is a whole process in itself, and you may rage quit several times (we’ll admit we did).

Things you’ll need before you start

No, seriously. If you don’t prepare all of this exactly right, you will not be able to make a new user account.

  • My Number card (if you don’t have one, then you find the My Number card online application here. Make sure it’s the type with a chip and photo, not just a paper one).
  • A compatibale IC Card Reader. You can buy them from Amazon or another e-site, or borrow one from a friend. List of compatible readers is here.
  • JPKI app (JPKI利用者ソフト) installed on your computer (download here).
  • Install the latest JAVA update (Java8 Update 371) on your computer.
  • Download and enable the “JPKI利用者ソフト” extension (App Store/Google Play.

Keep in mind that the JPKI App (JPKI利用者ソフト) doesn’t have an English language setting. And frustratingly, your computer might not like the Japanese characters used. If so, you’ll end up being confronted by strings of question marks instead of text. So even if you can read Japanese you’ll be stumped. When we tried on a Windows laptop we found that going into the Language and Region settings and enabling the Beta setting for Unicode UTF-8 helped — but didn’t completely solve — the issue. On the other hand, when we tried on a Mac we didn’t have this problem and were able to read everything.

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How to create an account

The JPKI app downloaded to a Windows computer with Unicode UTF-8 on. | Photo by JPKI利用

Got this far? Congratulations and we’re sorry, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing from here. Now it’s time to create a new user account. First, head to this page and switch the language to English (you can only change the language from this page). Now:

  1. Attach your IC Card Reader to your computer and open the JPKI app.
  2. Press the button near the bottom left that says “自分の証明書(U)”.
  3. A new dialogue box will open. Make sure the top option “署名用電子証明書” is selected, then press “OK”.
  4. Enter your password (the one you set when you applied for your My Number Card).
  5. A new dialogue box will appear that shows your information according to your My Number Card. On the bottom right of the dialogue box, press “有効性確認(V)”. Enter your password again.
  6. Another new dialogue box will open which says “要綱性確認結果:「有効」”.
  7. Now go back to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan (ISA) online visa system webpage and scroll to the bottom where it says “Register a new user”. Press “Foreign national (applicant)/other.”

If you’ve done everything correctly up until this point, you should be taken to a page that allows you to create a new user account. You’ll need to input your name, email address, phone number, user classification (self, lawyer, legal representative), and Residence Card number (case sensitive). Then, agree to the terms and conditions, and you’ll be sent to the confirmation screen. You’ll receive an email fairly quickly that prompts you to set your password — just note that the URL they send is only valid for 30 days so make sure to set your password soon after receiving the email. After setting your password you’ll get another email with your user name.

Making an online visa renewal application

Apply for a Japanese Visa Login Page Screenshot
Time to log in | Photo by Kim Kahan

Once you’ve got your user details, you can apply online to renew your visa. Before you start make sure you have everything you need prepared because you cannot save an application and return to it later. You also can’t make changes to, or cancel, an application that has already been submitted. In other words, get it right the first time.

If you do want to make changes to an application, you’ll need to go in-person to an Immigration Bureau. They won’t be able to make changes to your application for you, but they will help you cancel it. Then, you’ll have to wait a couple days for the cancellation to be processed before being able to apply again. (Don’t ask us how we found this one out).

Also, note that you will have the option to select whether to receive your new Residence Card by mail, or go and pick it up from an Immigration Bureau. We were later told by the Immigration Bureau that if you are applying for ‘permission to engage in other actitivies’, you have to choose to pick up your new card in person so it can be stamped.

Things you’ll need before you start

Before you start your application have these things handy and ready to go:

  • Scans of the required documents for your visa type, listed on the ISA website (link in Japanese). Merge all of your documents into one pdf, no larger than 10 MB.
  • Picture for your visa in JPEG format (3cm x 4cm) with a file size no larger than 50KB. Yes, 50KB — this might take several rounds of compressing to achieve.

A copy of your passport is not required, but our lawyer mentioned that they upload a scan alongside the documents. When you’re ready to do your application also make sure you have your My Number card and Residence card nearby.

The online application process

Once you’ve got everything prepared, it’s time to start the application. First you’ll need to log in to the system. To do this you’ll need to attach your IC Card Reader and follow the same steps we outlined above in “How to create a new user”. Only this time, when you go to the ISA online visa management system website scroll to the blue log in section and press “Foreign national (applicant)/other”. You’ll be prompted to enter your My Number card password again, then enter your online visa management system log in credentials. After logging in, you’ll have a couple of options. You want the one that says “Enter Application Information”.

  1. Select the application type and your current status of residence.
  2. Fill in your identification details.
  3. Confirm your details.
  4. Then you will be taken to a screen where you can attach your documents* and photo.

*NOTE: You can only upload one document in total, no larger than 10MB. That’s why we said to merge everything into one pdf. You will not be able to add or change this document after submitting the application. Double and triple check you haven’t forgotten anything. If you’re not sure whether to include something, err on the side of caution and just include it in the merged pdf.

After doing all this and submiting the application, you’ll get a confirmation screen and a ‘temporary’ confirmation email. The next day you should receive the proper confirmation email. Now, all you have to do is wait.

… if it’s positive

  1. Purchase a 4,000 yen revenue stamp
  2. Take the revenue stamp to Immigration upon pick up, OR
  3. Send the specified form by post with the revenue stamp pasted on to it
  4. Receive your visa!

How to renew your visa in Japan in person

Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Did that stress you out? Us too. That’s why we honestly think that when you want to renew your visa in Japan, applying in person is still the way to go. It’s far more straightforward, you just have to be prepared to wait a while. Honestly, we definitely spent more time messing about trying to get the online system to work than we did waiting at the Immigration Bureau.

If you do choose to go to the Immigration Bureau, just make sure you have all your documents filled out, printed, and ready to go. We recommend over preparing your paperwork, it’s better than being sent away because you forgot something. But then again, at least someone checked your documents before letting you submit them, with the online system the pressure is all on you to get it right.

Things you’ll need to renew your visa in person

Before you go to your regional Immigration Bureau, you’ll need to prepare these things:

*NOTE: Just like with the online application, the exact documents you need depend on your visa type. You can find a list of documents sorted by visa type here.

What to do at the Immigration Bureau

Queues outside the Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Your experience at the Immigration Bureau will depend on which one you go to. You may have to line up, or take a number and wait to be called. In either case, when it’s your turn hand your documents over to the Immigration Officer to be checked. They’ll give you two things to fill out. One is like a receipt confirming your application has been submitted (write your name on this one). The other is the postcard they send to you when your application has been processed (write your name and address on this one). When the Immigration Officer has finished checking your documents, they will stamp the back of your current Residence Card (to show your application is being processed), and stamp and give you back the receipt (don’t lose it!). They’ll keep the documents you submitted and the postcard you wrote your address on.

Once this is done, it’s time to go home and wait. Your postcard will arrive in the mail once your application has been approved. The official site says this can take anywhere from five days to four weeks but it has been known to take longer.

When your postcard arrives, head back to Immigration with 4,0000 yen worth of revenue stamps (you can buy these at a convenience store — they’re called inshi in Japanese) and this form and repeat the waiting process.

Hand over your postcard and stamps and receive your new visa (Residence card).

Tips for when you have to wait at the Immigration Bureau

  • The Tokyo Regional Immigration has very bad phone reception, you may want to bring a book or something else to keep yourself entertained.
  • The Tachikawa Branch Office of the Immigration Bureau is very small so you might have to wait outside, check the weather and bring an umbrella just in case.
  • Bring some drinks to stay hydrated and snacks to keep you full — waiting is always worse on an empty stomach.

FAQ

How soon can I renew my visa before it expires?

You can renew your visa up to three months before it expires. If you opt to renew your visa in person, you will receive a stamp on the back of your Residence card which extends the validity for the duration of the process (two months). This means that you needn’t worry if the application process extends over the validity of your visa.

Which office should I go to?

If you’re in Tokyo, the most common one is in Shinagawa, but there is also a Branch Office in Tachikawa. For convenience, it can be tempting to go to one near your workplace, away from your residence, but be careful as you could be turned away. Check on the website or call before you go, as some don’t accept everybody — you might have to be living in that city. You can find a list of immigration bureaus here.

Why do I only get a one year visa renewal instead of a three year or five year visa?

It is hard to say for sure. There are many cases of people who applied for five years and only received three years or one year. For people renewing for the first time, one year is the most common. Conversely, some people who only apply for one year might receive three years…

What time is best to go to Immigration?

This varies, depending on the office. The general consensus is that it’s best to arrive either that a bit before it opens or a short time before it closes. That said, you will still probably wait for around one to two hours. Also note that certain times of the year are busier than others. For example, March and April are notoriously busy because that’s both when many people start new jobs, and language schools and universities start the new academic year.

Do the staff at Immigration speak English?

Most staff at Immigration Bureaus speak at least some English. And while they may not be as fluent as you might hope, they do try very hard to make sure you get the help you need. If you’re uncertain about something, don’t be afraid to ask for an English speaking staff member — just know that you might have to wait even longer.

What if there’s a problem with my application?

If your application is missing something, an Immigration Officer will usually notice when they check your documents. They might ask you some questions or ask you to come back with the correct documents. If there’s an issue during the application process you might receive a letter asking you to come to Immigration with certain documents. Or you might receive a phone call from Immigration to ask you some questions. Neither of these things are too big of an issue though, so don’t worry too much.

Is it worth applying to renew your visa online?

We spent more time trying to set up and apply on the online system than we did applying in person at an Immigration Bureau office (including travel time). The online renewal system might be a good option if you live really far away from an Immigration Bureau office, or aren’t able to get to one when they’re open. However, based on our experience we’re not going to tell you it’s quick or easy.

Solving visa problems

If you need some expert advice about your visa, we’ve teamed up with some Japan immigration lawyers to answer your enquiries.

This isn’t free, but if you fill out our form, they will give you professional advice on renewing your visa.

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