A Working Holiday in Japan is the OG workation. This visa type allows you to both travel and work in Japan — legally. Imagine a gap year, but with the ability to work and top up your travel funds as you go. Yeah, they’re pretty great.

However, before you get too excited there are a few things you need to know. For example, not everyone can get a Working Holiday Visa, and you have to apply in advance. There are also a few bureaucratic things you should know about to make sure you’re doing everything by the book. But don’t worry, a few of us here at Tokyo Cheapo started our lives in Japan with Working Holiday Visas, and we’ve compiled our knowledge here for you.

NOTE: We are not visa experts. While we do our best to make sure all information presented here is accurate, we’re not perfect. Before making any decisions about visas be sure to consult official sources like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

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What is a Working Holiday Visa?

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A Working Holiday Visa (often abbreviated to WHV) is a type of visa that allows you to holiday in Japan for an extended period of time, and work to supplement your travels.

Unlike other categories of working visa, a Working Holiday Visa doesn’t require a company to sponsor you. You file the application by yourself in your home country. There also aren’t as many restrictions on the type of work you can do on a WHV, compared to a regular working visa.

It’s not uncommon for people to come to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa, and then decide to stay. However, if you do that you will need to follow the correct immigration procedures to switch visa type — and you may have to leave the country in the meantime.

A quick terminology breakdown

Let’s just make sure we’re clear on a few key terms before we go any further.

Working Holiday Visa: This is what we’re here to talk about. A special type of visa that allows holders to work while on holiday in Japan. They are usually valid for six months to a year.

Working Visa: A visa category that allows holders to live and work in Japan long term. There are numerous types of working visa, usually specific to the type of work you’re allowed to do. These visas are often sponsored by your employer, and are usually valid for one to five years.

Residence Card: A card that is issued to foreign residents of Japan by the Japanese Government. It serves as an identity card, and includes details like your name, nationality, visa type, address in Japan and period of stay.

City/Ward Office: A local government office that handles various bureaucratic tasks including the registration of residents, health insurance, and pension/welfare benefits. Not all City/Ward Offices have English speaking staff or resources, especially those in regional areas.

Period of stay: The number of months or years that your visa is valid for. For Working Holiday Visa holders it’s usually six months or one year. Your Residence Card will have the period, and the visa expiration date, written on it.

Who can go on a working holiday in Japan?

There are 26 countries that have Working Holiday Visa agreements with Japan. The earliest countries to sign on were Australia, New Zealand and Canada in the 1980s. After that, a fair few European countries joined the program including the U.K., Germany and France. The only Asian countries that have WHV agreements with Japan are the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. There are also two South American countries on the list — Chile and Argentina. Notably, the U.S.A does not have a Working Holiday Agreement with Japan.

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You can find the full list of countries here. If your country isn’t one of the 26, then unfortunately a Working Holiday isn’t an option for you. However, the list is steadily expanding with the most recent additions of Sweden, Estonia and the Netherlands in 2020, so don’t give up hope.

What are the requirements?

While the requirements for a Working Holiday Visa are similar, there are some differences depending on your nationality. For the most accurate information check the website of your country’s Embassy or Consulate-General of Japan. Here are some of the general requirements though, to get you started:

  • Be aged 18 to 30 years old at the time of application (this goes right up until the day before you turn 31).
  • Have a valid passport.
  • Have proof of a return ticket OR proof you have enough money to buy one.
  • AND have proof of enough funds to support yourself for the first few months after arrival.
  • Be in good health.

In addition to these, you must never have recieved a Working Holiday Visa for Japan before, and you should be “intending primarily to spend your holiday in Japan for a specific length of time” (source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website). Basically, don’t hop around between Japan and other countries too much, or spend most of your time in Japan working. Oh, and while you can go on a Working Holiday with your partner (if they also meet the requirements), you can’t bring dependents (children) with you.

How do you apply for a Working Holiday Visa?

A young man is sitting in a living room with his laptop, phone and some paperwork

Your first step should be to check the Embassy of Japan or Consulate-General of Japan website for your country. Here is where you’ll find country specific requirements. Keep in mind that in most cases you have to apply in person from your country of citizenship. For example, if you’re an Australian citizen currently living in the U.K, you have to return to Australia to be able to apply, even though both Australia and the U.K have Working Holiday Agreements with Japan.

The website will have a list of documents required for your application. Again there are some differences between countries, but some of the documents you might need to prepare include:

  • A valid passport
  • A completed Visa Application Form and 35 mm x 45 mm passport style photo
  • An up-to-date CV or resume
  • Flight details
  • A proposed itinerary/schedule
  • A statement of purpose
  • Proof of funds*
  • Proof of good health

*Your Embassy or Consulate-General will usually have a suggested amount. It varies a lot though, expect anywhere from ¥200,000 to ¥400,000 for a single person with no return ticket.

Once you’ve filled out all your documents, you’ll need to submit them to your Embassy/Consulate-General of Japan. This is usually done in person, but some countries may accept postal or online applications.

Then it’s just a matter of waiting. Usually, you’ll be contacted regarding the outcome after one or two weeks. The next steps normally involve handing over your passport to get your Visa stamp, and possibly more form-filling.

But once all that’s done, congratulations! You’re ready to get on the plane.

What jobs can you do on a working holiday in Japan?

An English language teacher is teaching English at a classroom to elementary school children at a Japanese elementary school.

The Working Holiday Visa has surprisingly few restrictions regarding what kind of work you can do, or how many hours you can work. You can’t work in “premises affecting public morals” — think bars, nightclubs and gambling establishments — or you risk deportation. However, pretty much anything else is fair game.

Common jobs for Working Holiday Visa holders include English teaching, and hotel/hostel and ski resort work, as these can be more accommodating of short term workers. Also, because of the COVID-19 pandemic remote work has become more common in Japan. You might be able to find remote work jobs in the tech or games industries, in addition to education, sales and translation.

Finding a job

Nobody likes job searching, but in the context of a Working Holiday Visa it can actually be kind of exciting. It’s an opportunity to gain experience in a completely new industry, or get international experience in your industry.

If you’re especially keen you could start looking online for work before you arrive in Japan. There are lots of job search websites out there, including a large number of English language sites specifically for foreigners.

However, if you start looking for jobs after arriving you can visit in person job search centers like Tokyo Employment Service Center for Foreigners and Hello Work (website in Japanese only).

Extending your stay

Working Holiday Visas come with an initial period of stay that’s usually around six months. Often, Working Holiday Visa holders can apply at the Immigration Office to have their visa extended by another six months.

If you want to stay on after using up your extension, you may be able to change to another visa type. A Working Visa is a popular choice, especially if you’ve found an employer that you like, or a Student Visa if you’d like to study at a Japanese language school or graduate school. However, depending on your nationality, you may not be able to change visa type from within Japan. Instead, you may have to return to your home country and apply for another visa from there.

In case we haven’t said it enough in this article, check the requirements specific to your nationality.

Pro tips for making the most of your Working Holiday in Japan

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So, here we are. You’ve got your Working Holiday Visa and you’re ready to live your best (Working Holiday) life. Here are some tried and tested pro tips from us here at Tokyo Cheapo to help you make the most of it.

  • Get a Japanese phone number before you arrive. Even if it’s only temporary, it will save you some hassle, especially when trying to open a bank account.
  • Get a room in a sharehouse or homestay to start out. You can’t register a hotel or a AirBnb address at your City/Ward Office. And without an address you can’t open a bank account.
  • Speaking of which, open a bank account with Japan Post Bank (Yūcho Ginkō). Some other banks won’t allow you to open a bank account until you’ve been in Japan for six months. JP Bank lets you do it right away.
  • Pack smart: Some medicines and products might be hard to get in Japan (just make sure you get the proper paperwork for medicine). Also keep in mind that Japanese clothes tend to be on the smaller side — good luck if you are tall, have big feet or wide hips.
  • Seasonal work, at ski resorts for example, is a great way to start out.
  • Know your rights as a worker in Japan. Here some of the basics: The minimum hourly wage depends on the region you’re in but it’s usually ¥850 to ¥1,000. If you work more than six hours in a row you’re entitled to a 45 minute unpaid break, if you work for eight hours you get a 1 hour break. Generally, you shouldn’t work more than 40 hours per week (excluding breaks).
  • You are allowed to leave Japan during your period of stay, but you need to get a re-entry permit from the airport on your way out.

Pros and cons of a Working Holiday in Japan

We know this is all a lot of information to take in. Maybe you’re even questioning whether you want a Working Holiday Visa after all. Here’s a quick run down of the pros and cons of a WHV to help you make up your mind.

Don’t have to commit to an employer you’ve never metCan be challenging to find short term work
Can work in a variety of industriesMoving around a lot in Japan means a lot of paperwork
No maximum/minimum number of work hoursMight not be able to find work when you need it
Don’t have to work at all if you have enough fundsShort term/temporary work can be low paying
Not tied to one location or one job

Starting your life in Japan

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Photo by iStock.com/martin-dm

To get off on the right foot, here are some things you’ll need to take care of after arriving in Japan.

Now, you might have noticed we bolded that last point. That’s because it’s a legal requirement to register your address at the City or Ward Office within 14 days of moving in. The address will be printed on your Residence Card, and when you move out you have to go back and notify them that you’re moving. This is what we meant when we said moving a lot will mean a lot of paperwork. Signing up for National Health Insurance and the National Pension are also legal requirements. Even if you have insurance and a pension in your home country, you still have to sign up for the Japanese ones while you’re here. Both of these things will involve regular payments after signing up.

NOTE: City/Ward Offices don’t always have English speaking staff or resources, especially in regional areas. The camera function on Google Translate, while imperfect, can be really helpful when filling out paperwork.

Frequently asked questions

Is it hard to get a Working Holiday Visa? If you meet all the requirements and submit the correct documentation, it’s normally pretty easy. However, some countries have a maximum number of applicants that are accepted each year, so that might be something to consider.

How many times can you get a Working Holiday Visa? You can only get it once. However, if you are impacted by unforeseen circumstances (like COVID-19 travel restrictions), you might be able to apply again.

Is it worth getting a Working Holiday Visa? Our biased answer is yes! It’s a great way to travel in Japan while still being able to earn some money.

Can you get a JR Pass while on a Working Holiday Visa? Nope. Working Holiday Visa holders are considered residents of Japan, and therefore aren’t eligible for country-wide JR Passes. However, there are some regional JR Pass available to foreign residents of Japan.

How much does a Working Holiday Visa for Japan cost? Working Holiday Visas are free. However, you Embassy/Consulate-General of Japan may charge a processing, issuing, or visa fee of some kind. If you extend your visa after arriving in Japan, you will have to pay a fee of ¥4,000 at the Immigration Office when you pick up your new visa.

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