How to apply for a Student Visa in Japan and study abroad

Choosing to study abroad is an exciting and life-changing decision! As well as learning a new language and culture, you’ll be meeting people from all over the world and make lifelong friends. If you’re planning to study in Japan for more than 3 months, a student visa is required. Just like any immigration procedure, applying for a visa translates to gathering necessary documents and filling in paperwork which can be time consuming but it’s not an impossible task. The good news is that the Japanese student visa is one of the easiest visas to get. This comprehensive guide will show you step by step how to apply for a student visa and start your journey abroad in Japan!

What Documents Will You Need?

At a glance this is what you’ll need to apply for a student visa. There may be some additional documents required depending on the country.

  • Passport (valid and up to date)
  • Certificate of Eligibility issued by the host institution (the original and a copy)
  • ID Photos (passport-size)
  • Visa Application Form​ (carefully filled out)
  • School Diploma and Transcripts
  • Bank Statements (showing at around ¥3,000,000) or a Letter of Sponsorship
  • Certificate of Admission (issued by the school)

How To Apply For A Student Visa

The whole process can be broken down into 4 simple steps. It’s vital to remember that this is an immigration procedure, meaning details are everything. Nothing can be left out or there’ll be a chance that your application may be declined.

  1. Choose a School
  2. Prepare all the documents for the Certificate of Eligibility
  3. Pay the School Fees
  4. Apply at the Japanese Embassy in your country

1) Choose A School

One of the primary documents required for a student visa is the ​Certificate of Eligibility​ (CoE). A Certificate of Eligibility is issued by a regional immigration authority under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. It serves as evidence that the applicant fulfils various conditions of the Immigation Control Act. In a student’s case, it acts as a preliminary visa screening process.

So, the first step to applying for visa is to find a Japanese language school or a university in Japan that will act as your sponsor. Once admitted, you will have to prepare a number of documents for the CoE and send them to the school.

Not All Japanese Schools Can Get A Certificate of Eligibility. ​Be careful in choosing a school that is able to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility for you as not all of them are eligible. Although it’s possible to still apply for a student visa without this certificate, a large number of documents will need to be submitted and the processing time will take several more months since the visa application documents will have to be sent to the Ministry of Justice via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan for examination.

Do not apply to more than one school.​ Only one school can apply for a Certificate of Eligibility on your behalf. Applicants who have already started applying to multiple schools, you should inform them as soon as possible or you’ll risk having your application for the CoE rejected.

2)​ Prepare all the documents for the Certificate of Eligibility

You will need the following documents to send to your chosen school:

  • Student Application Form​ - This will be a form issued by the school. Often there will be a section for applicants to explain why they are interested in coming to Japan. The more you can elaborate your answer the better!
  • 8x Identical ID Photos​ - These must be official passport photos taken within the last 3 months. Photos must show a clear, full front view of the applicants face against a plain background. Eyes and ears should be clearly visible so glasses and hats should not be worn.
  • Passport Photocopy​ - A copy of the photo/ID and signature pages of your passport is required. If you have visited Japan in the past, you should also copy previous entry and exit stamps.
  • Academic Documents​ - Your school diploma and official transcripts are required.
  • Proof of Financial Viability​ - The Japanese Immigration Bureau requires that all visa applicants show the ability to support themselves, including paying for tuition, living costs and other expenses while living in Japan.

You can submit documents in your own name or, if you don’t have the full amount, a financial guarantor, such as a parent or relative, can submit documents on your behalf to meet the financial requirements. The guarantor must submit documents in his/her name that reflect their current financial situation and the guarantor must complete a Letter of Sponsorship (each school will have their own version).​

Financial viability can be proven by any of the following documents:

  • Bank statements (with about ¥3,000,000)
  • Income statements
  • Financial Aid Award Letter
  • Scholarship Award Letters
  • Letter of Sponsorship
  • Loan Approvals

Once you’ve gathered these documents you can send them to your chosen school who will then take care of the application process for the CoE and will go to the immigration office on your behalf. If your request is approved, the certificate will be sent to you. This may take between 5~8 weeks so it’s integral to do this step as early as possible.

3)​ Pay the School Fees

This next part is the easiest step. If your request for a CoE is approved the school will inform you. Before they send the certificate to you they will ask for you to pay the course fees. Once the payment has gone through the school will send through the Certificate of Eligibility and a Certificate of Admission to prove that you’re officially enrolled.

4)​ ​Gather the rest of the required documents

After receiving your Certificate of Eligibility, head to your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in your area to apply for a student visa.

If you’re applying to change your current visa to a student visa, your school will help you with the process. For those on a tourist visa, you’ll have to return home and apply at your local consulate.

You will need to take the following documents:

  • Passport (must be valid and up to date)
  • Visa Application Form (carefully filled out)
  • Photo ID (passport-size)
  • Certificate of Eligibility (the original and a copy)
  • Certificate of Admission (issued by the school you’ll attend in Japan)

Be aware that there may be some other additional documents that will also be required depending on the country. You can confirm what exactly is required for a student visa application from the Japanese embassy in your home country. There’s a source of links to Japanese embassies from the world at the bottom of this guide.

Some embassies or consulates will also require you to know where you will be staying in Japan, so arranging accommodation beforehand is advised.

Also, don’t forget to ask for your Certificate of Eligibility (the original) back after your visa has been issued - you will need it in Immigration upon landing in Japan.

Common Reasons A Student Visa May Be Declined

In an attempt to filter the pool of applicants who exploit the system and come to Japan simply to work rather than to study, immigration authorities have been much stricter in recent years as shown in this ​article​ by Asahi Shimbun.

It’s important to be honest in your application and avoid these common mistakes that may hinder your student visa application.

School Related

  • Applying to more than one school. As mentioned before, applicants should not apply to multiple schools as only one can apply on your behalf for the CoE.
  • School has a history of students overstaying and working illegally. Applicants may not necessarily be aware of the type of students that go to their chosen school but even the school’s reputation can weigh in the decision for the approval of a visa.

Application Form Related

  • Application forms must be correctly filled out . All dates, names, address and phone numbers must be correct. These can be the small details that can trip up applicants. It’s important to double check all information filled in the application forms match the information written on your official documents.
  • Fake documents will immediately result in a rejected visa application.
  • In the application form for the CoE, there will be a section where the applicant can state their reasons for their interest in studying abroad in Japan. It’s important to show immigration that your primary goal is to study Japanese in Japan and not for illegal working reasons. Talking about what sparked your interest in Japan and Japanese culture and your goals for your Japanese languages are perfectly acceptable topics. Practical reasons such as aspiring to be able to work at a Japanese company one day or to continue your education at a university in Japan are also acceptable.

Finance Related

  • Finance sponsors that are not financially sound will result in a rejected visa. There aren’t necessarily any set rules but successful applicant sponsors often have an annual salary of at least ¥2,000,000 with a bank balance showing similar numbers. Of course, financial requirements will differ from country to country, make sure to check with the proxy at your nearest embassy or consulate.
  • Sponsor is retired, receiving retiree benefits or a pension. There have been cases of successful applicants with retired sponsors but it often complicates the application process as immigration will be concerned about their fixed income.
  • You don’t have enough money in your account to sponsor yourself. Applicants who want to self sponsor will be required to have a bank balance with ¥3,000,000. This is to prove that you can support yourself throughout your time studying in Japan. Anything less and it may indicate that the applicant is planning on working illegally in Japan.

Other

  • It’s not your first time applying for a Japanese student visa. If you have applied in the past before and your application was rejected then you must inform the new school immediately. The application is a little different for applicants on their second or later try.

Commonly Asked Questions

How long can I stay in Japan with a student visa?

The length of time will depend on the school you choose to attend. For language schools, the longest period of time a student visa is given is 1 year and 3 months, however the school can extend the visa if required. The maximum amount of time someone can study at a language school is 2 years. If the individual chooses to quit midway through their stay, the visa will no longer be valid regardless of the amount of time left on it.

International students attending a Japanese university can stay up to 4 years and 3 months. They’ll often receive a 2 year visa which will need to be extended later.

Can I Work On A Student Visa?

The student visa allows individuals to work part-time up to 28 hours per week to help pay for living costs. Individuals with a student visa that are planning on staying 6 months or longer and wishing to work part-time in Japan must obtain a work permit.

There are two ways to do this. The first option is the quickest and that’s to apply upon arriving at the airport. The second option is to visit the Immigation Bureau and submit an application for the permit there. This can take up to 3 months to process.

International students that wish to work part-time while attending school must submit the following documents:

  • Working Permission Application Form (Application for permission to engage in an activity other than that permitted under the status of residence previously granted)
  • Residence Card (Issued upon arrival in Japan)
  • Copy of your passport showing your personal information and "Landing Permission" stamp
  • Passport

Students that choose to apply via the Immigration Bureau will also be required to return at a later date to pick up their work permit. The bureau will send a postcard to notify that your permit is ready. Take the postcard along with you, as well as your residence card and passport to receive your permit. Once you’ve received the work permit you can give it to your employer and can start legally working part-time!

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