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Generally, visitors who are not planning to engage in income-producing activities while in Japan are exempt from obtaining visas and will be issued a tanki-taizai (temporary visitor visa) on arrival.

Stays of up to six months are permitted for citizens of Austria, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK. Citizens of these countries will almost always be given a 90-day temporary visitor visa upon arrival, which can usually be extended for another 90 days at immigration bureaus inside Japan.

Citizens of the USA, Australia and New Zealand are granted 90-day temporary visitor visas, while stays of up to three months are permitted for citizens of Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and a number of other countries.

For additional information on visas and regulations, contact the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in your country, or visit the website of the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp) where you can check out the Guide to Japanese Visas, read about working-holiday visas and find details on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, which sponsors native English speakers to teach in the Japanese public-school system. You can also contact the Immigration Information Center (Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau; 5796-7112; www.moj.go.jp/ENGLISH/; 5-5-30 Kōnan, Minato-ku; 9am-noon & 1-4pm Mon-Fri; Tokyo Monorail or Rinkai Line to Tennozu Isle).

Alien registration card

Anyone – and this includes tourists – who stays for more than 90 days is required to obtain a gaikokujin torokushō (Alien Registration Card). This card can be obtained at the municipal office of the city, town or ward in which you’re living. Moving to another area requires that you reregister within 14 days.

You must carry your Alien Registration Card at all times as the police can stop you and ask to see the card. If you don’t have it, you could be hauled off to the police station to wait until someone fetches it for you – providing you have one.

Visa extensions

With the exception of those nationals whose countries have reciprocal visa exemptions and can stay for six months, the limit for most nationalities is 90 days. To extend a temporary visitor visa beyond the standard limit, apply at the Immigration Information Center (Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau; see above). You must provide two copies of an Application for Extension of Stay (available at the immigration office), a letter stating the reasons for the extension and supporting documentation as well as your passport. There is a processing fee of ¥4000.

Many long-term visitors to Japan get around the extension problem by briefly leaving the country, usually by going to South Korea. Be warned, however, that immigration officials are starting to wise up to this practice, and many ‘tourist visa returnees’ are turned back at the entry point.

Work visas

Ever-increasing demand has prompted much stricter work-visa requirements than previously. Arriving in Japan and looking for a job is quite a tough proposition these days, though people still do it and occasionally succeed in finding sponsorship. With that said, there are legal employment categories for foreigners that specify standards of experience and qualifications.

Once you find an employer in Japan who is willing to sponsor you, it is necessary to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from your nearest Japanese immigration office. The same office can then issue your work visa, which is valid for either one or three years. This procedure can take two to three months.

Generally speaking, it is recommended that you arrange your job in Japan prior to arrival. In this case, your employer will arrange your visa in advance, which will save you the hassle of having to enter as a tourist and subsequently change your status.

Working-holiday visas

Citizens of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Korea, New Zealand and the UK can apply for a working-holiday visa if they’re between 18 and 30 (the upper age limit for UK citizens is officially 25, but this is negotiable). This visa allows a six-month stay and two six-month extensions. The visa is designed to enable young people to travel extensively during their stay; thus, employment is supposed to be part-time or temporary. In practice, many people work full-time.

A working-holiday visa is much easier to obtain than a work visa and is popular with Japanese employers. Single applicants must have the equivalent of US$2000 of funds, a married couple must have US$3000, and all applicants must have an onward ticket from Japan. For details, inquire at the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate.