The Expat’s Guide to Getting Permanent Residence in Japan

The Expat's Guide to Getting Permanent Residence in Japan

Permanent residency, or becoming an “eijusha” (permanent resident) in Japan, is highly coveted by many long-term foreign residents of Japan. Permanent residency status grants you an indefinite stay in Japan and is processed through your local immigration office. It is ultimately decided by the Ministry of Justice.

In this article, I will explain some of the clear benefits, walk you through the application process, and break down other factors that will influence the likelihood of your permanent status getting approved.

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General Eligibility

There are four most important factors in the decision of whether you will be able to get your permanent residency card in Japan, including:

  1. Your record of behavior
  2. Your financial stability
  3. Your duration of stay in Japan.
  4. Your official guarantor

Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Record of Behavior

Your ‘behavior’ is judged with broad strokes and will include things, including:

  • having no criminal record while residing in Japan
  • reliably paying your taxes each year
  • having minimal traffic offenses
  • no substantial run-ins with the law

Financial Stability

Your financial stability up until your application date is looked at in detail by the department of immigration.

You can typically use the average annual income in Japan as the benchmark for how you will be assessed, although this could vary by region, as some areas in Japan have lower income averages.

Japanese Permanent Resident Card
With a permanent resident card, you can live in Japan permanently.

While there is no official announcement on how much income you need, a safe assumption, at least for single men, would be an annual income of around 4 million yen. Statistically, those with an income below 3 million yen may have trouble getting PR status.

Your tax certificate is going to be the main document to prove your income.

 I will leave this article here. It gives you more explanation on income levels that need to be maintained, along with different visa classifications that are taken into consideration.

Please remember that this income evaluation measures whether the necessary income level has been maintained for at least 5 years prior to applying.

Duration of Stay in Japan

The third factor is continuous residence for a specific length of time.

The standard requirement is having lived in Japan for 10 consecutive years, within which at least 5 years will be either under an appropriate work visa or a visa granted based on family status (spouse of a Japanese national).

Please note that this period of time can differ depending on your situation.

For example, if you have been married to a Japanese national for more than 3 years, you only need to live in Japan for 1 year in order to apply for Japanese PR.

Although as of 2017, exceptions to apply a bit earlier are being offered. If you switched your employer, or your company has changed, these records will be meticulously reviewed at the immigration office; all changes of company address, and the places you have worked must have been properly filed at the Immigration office (this is done during your previous visa renewals).

These records are checked, and if there is a gap in the filing, it could negatively affect approval.

In addition, you must also have been present in Japan for more than six months in total in the year that you are going to apply for Japanese permanent residence.

Mandatory Guarantor Requirements

You need to have a guarantor for your permanent resident application.

A guarantor can be a Japanese national or another non-Japanese permanent resident who will vouch for you in your application.

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By vouch, I mean attest to your character, and take a modicum of responsibility for your behavior if you break the law.

Currently, only these people can be your guarantor:

  • A Japanese spouse
  • An employer
  • A relative
  • Someone with permanent resident status

They support your application, and may be asked to provide personal information to help you get approval.

It can be difficult to find a guarantor if you are not married, due to the fact that if you default on a loan, owe money on your taxes, or get in some kind of trouble, they essentially have to bail you out of the situation.

The details are written in a legally binding contract once they become your guarantor.

If you cannot find a guarantor on your own, it’s possible to use a legal company or a service to help you find a guarantor. I’ll explain more about it in the professional service section below.

Understand The Point System

Japan has a point system for deciding on permanent residency, and it has a lot of different components that it cross-references to derive a score.

You are assigned points for various factors including:

  • Academic qualifications (e.g., Ph.D., Masters, Bachelor’s degree)
  • The amount of professional experience that you have
  • Previous salary levels over the years
  • Age
  • Japanese language proficiency

The system is used to gauge how much of an attribute you might be to Japanese society as a whole. As I said, a multitude of factors are considered, and even given preferential scoring.

Some of these ‘bonus points‘ could include:

  • Being married to a Japanese national
  • Having children in Japan
  • Holding a degree from a Japanese university
  • Working for a government agency/company
  • Being highly skilled in your field

This point calculator, which is used by the Japanese government, will give you a better idea of how you might be scored.

Specific Criteria Based on Visa Types and Relationships

If these situations apply to you, you could receive your permanent residency more quickly (or more slowly) than other applicants.

You are the spouse of a Japanese National or a non-Japanese permanent resident

You are able to apply for permanent residency with at least three years of marriage (to a Japanese national) and a minimum of one year of residency in Japan.

Keep in mind that you will have to prove that you have lived together and that you are a ‘real’ married couple.

nursery school in Hokkaido
It’s going to be much easier to apply for Japan permanent residency if you have a family in Japan.

If you do not have children, the immigration office may ask you to provide pictures of you and your partner throughout the years, and other forms of proof that you are living together as a married couple.

Deemed a Type 1 or Type 2 “Highly Skilled Professional

This system started in 2012 and gives preferential immigration treatment to foreigners deemed “Highly Skilled“.

It is a sought-after visa that encompasses a large range of jobs that can be defined within it.

Some examples of these positions include:

  • Software architects
  • Data scientists
  • Aerospace engineers
  • Robotics engineers
  • Cybersecurity analysts
  • Investment bankers
  • Financial analysts
  • Management consultants
  • Corporate lawyers
  • Other positions of expertise that contribute to Japanese society

A large number of these roles are specialized in industries such as:

  • Finance
  • Technology
  • Scientific research
  • High-level government business roles

To qualify for this status and then apply for permanent residency, an applicant would need 80 points (and one year’s continuous stay in Japan), or 70 points (and 3 years’ continuous stay in Japan).

Unmarried Applicants

If you are unmarried and are applying for permanent residency, you will be subject to a much stricter review process.

Also, you will be required to complete the full 10-year duration of continuous residence in Japan.

However, the real disparity and major hurdle for those who do not marry a Japanese national is finding an official guarantor to vouch for your PR application, as explained in the above section.

Application Process

Let’s take a look at how you can apply for Japanese Permanent Residency step-by-step.

Gathering Official Documents

Now here comes the most challenging part: gathering all the documents you need.

These documents will verify your identity, your financial stability over the years, and your compliance with Japanese laws.

I will write these directions here for you in English, but as you go from local government office to office collecting them yourself, preparing the Japanese phrases and questions you need ahead of time will be helpful.

The forms are also written in Japanese, but translated versions are available, which I have linked below.

Here’s a list of documents you need for the Japanese Permanent Residency Application:

  • Application form
  • Passport and resident card
  • Recent photograph (4cm×3cm) taken within the last 3 months
  • Certificate of residence
  • Proof of employment (if you have it)
  • Proof of your annual income
  • Proof that you have paid your taxes
  • National tax certificates
  • Pension payment records
  • Bank statements
  • Guarantor letter
  • Copy of health insurance card

If you have a family in Japan or marry a Japanese national, you will also need:

  • Koseki Tohon
  • Marriage certificate
  • A letter from your spouse

These will all need to be put together in a folder and then submitted to your local immigration office.

You do not need an appointment to submit the forms; simply go there during open hours.

Let’s take a look at each document in detail.

Application Forms and Identification

Application Form for Permanent Residency: This is a standard application form.

Be prepared to answer why you want permanent residency in Japan, and have a copy of your work history resume on hand.

You will need to fill in where you have worked while you have been in Japan over the years.

The attached version above has an English translation below the Japanese, and this is permitted for submission.

You will be able to fill this information into the excel provided, then print it out for submission.

Passport and Residence Card

Make sure you have an updated passport from your home country with at least 6 months of leeway until the expiration date.

Passports that are close to expiring will be rejected. You will submit this along with a photocopy and your current residence card.

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They will give you your passport back at the counter after they enter the information into the computer.

Disclaimer on visa: There is something to be aware of before you apply for permanent residency. There is a clause that states that during the renewal phases of your visa over a ten-year period, if at any time your visa is downgraded from a 5-year visa to a 3-year or 1-year visa, you cannot apply for permanent residency.

You are required to wait until you receive another 5-year visa to apply for the next step.

For example, if you have a 5-year visa and when you go to renew, you are jobless at the time, or your salary has significantly decreased, this could cause the immigration office to ‘downgrade’ your visa to a shorter term.

Recent Photograph

You need to have a recent photograph (4cm×3cm) on hand to submit that has been taken within the last three months. You can get these pictures taken at ID photo booths located outside some supermarkets and pharmacies.

Certificate of Residence

Juminhyo (Certificate of residence) will confirm both your current address and your residency status; you have to go in person to your local office and request this.

Make sure you read your city’s permanent application process rules.

Please be aware that multiple official copies, or multiple years’ worth of copies, can be requested.

Financial Documents

You need to show many financial documents including:

  • proof of employment (if you have it)
  • proof of your annual income
  • proof that you have paid your taxes
  • national tax certificates
  • pension payment records
  • bank statements

Your proof of employment should be the first thing you obtain from your job, but the rest of the financial forms usually require some running around.

Additionally, you will need to request past annual pay slips from your jobs (if you haven’t organized them each year when you file taxes).

When it comes to proof of tax payment, you will most likely also need to visit your local tax office (zeimusho) to get proof that you have been paying your taxes.

Please be careful; you may need to gather multiple years’ worth of proof of tax payment forms. This differs by region.

For the pension payment records, you will need to contact the pension office (nenkin office) to gather proof that you are making payments into the national pension.

For bank balance statements, you can get them from your bank.

Guarantor Letter

As I discussed before, you will need a guarantor form, and someone to vouch for your PR application.

Copy of Health Insurance Card

You should make a copy of your health insurance card for submission. This is fairly easy to do.

Japan health insurance card
You need a copy of your health insurance card to apply for the Japanese PR.

Koseki Tohon

If you are married, or you have family here in Japan, you will need your Koseki Tohon. It’s basically a family registry that certifies your family in Japan.

You may also need to show your marriage certificate.

In some cases, a letter from your spouse can be required. For example, if you are applying after 3 years of marriage, and you have not been here for 10 years.

There is no specified format, but it should cover the details of your marriage and relationship. It is best to check with your local immigration office about your personal situation to see if you will need this.

Submit Your PR Application and Wait for Approval

You will submit your PR application at your local Immigration Office within your jurisdiction. You must remain in Japan during the application period.

The typical processing time for PR applications is about 4 months, but to be truthful, this is only an average time.

Realistically, it can take half a year or longer.

Sometimes people have to renew their temporary visa (if it is set to expire) during the PR application process because it is taking so long.

Whatever you do, do not let your temporary visa expire while waiting for PR status; you have to keep a valid visa at all times.

Application Fees

The fee for applying is not expensive if you take the “do-it-yourself” route, which means you do not hire a legal service to gather all the information for you and do the legwork.

The application fee if you do it yourself is only 8,000 JPY.

If you hire a legal service, it’s going to be much more expensive. I will talk more about this later in the article.

Language Support Services

There is a good chance that you might need some help if you are applying by yourself.

English services exist to help you. You can contact the visa support hotline at the Foreign Residents Support Center (FRESC) that the government has set up for non-Japanese applicants.

The phone number for the service is (+81)03-3563-3013, and help is available from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays.

This information center is in Tokyo; however, help by phone is available to any foreigner who lives in Japan.

Do I Need to Speak Japanese?

To apply for permanent residency in Japan, fluency in Japanese is not a mandatory requirement for applicants.

However, if you can demonstrate understanding of Japanese by obtaining certifications like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), it is an advantage. The most challenging aspect you will encounter is the application process itself.

Many of the necessary forms are translated into English, but the majority are not. Online searches yield mixed opinions, with the overwhelming majority saying “No“, you do not need Japanese.

However, from firsthand experience, Japan is not English friendly, does not accommodate English-only speakers, and your day-to-day life without Japanese will be limited in many areas.

Do you need to speak Japanese for a PR application? The answer is no, but should you know some Japanese by the time you apply to be a permanent resident in Japan? Preferably, yes.

While it’s totally possible to apply for Japanese Permanent Residency on your own, there are three main reasons why you might want to use a professional legal service.

  • You are single and cannot find a guarantor to vouch for you.
  • You know very little Japanese.
  • You do not want to submit the wrong paperwork since it could result in having to run back and forth between the immigration office and other city offices many times, which will waste valuable time.

I will suggest two services below if this is something that interests you.

The first service is Mori and Niitsu Legal; they deal with many different kinds of applications for foreigners, but specialize in immigration.

The application process will cost you between 100,000 (US$700) – 160,000 JPY (US$1,200). They will require you to pay half of the fee upfront, and the other half once the application is approved.

The second service is called Japan Immigration Law Firm. They charge about 198,000 JPY (US$1,300) for consultation and application fees.

You must first contact this company by email and request a consultation.

Benefits of Permanent Residency

Many long-term residents in Japan feel a sense of relief after they finally acquire their permanent residency, especially those who are married with children.

It has a few benefits, and also some tax implications that will impact your day-to-day life.

No More Visa Renewal

First and foremost, no more annoying mandatory visa renewal processes!

This means you don’t have to worry about undergoing any kind of renewal examinations, and you don’t have a specific period of stay listed on your residence card.

If you have been through this process multiple times, you know what I mean, but the chore of having to go to immigration to meet a deadline can be a bit stressful every one, three, or five years.

More Job Opportunities

Secondly, you will have more freedom to do what you want in Japan for work.

Without the constraint of a specific visa status, you can do any type of job that suits you.

Certain visas limit the industries in which you can work, confining you to certain fields, and restricting your opportunities. This also means you will no longer need to have approval from immigration when you change to a new job, and you also will be able to do any kind of freelancing or entrepreneurial venture that you want to try.

Living in Japan Made Easier

Permanent resident holders also find it much easier to apply for loans, get a new credit card, open an investment account (stock trading or crypto), and apply for car loans or house mortgages, and even rent an apartment.

You also don’t need to update your resident card with all of your banks anymore.

As a permanent card holder, you are put into a different risk category, so you will have better rates on your loans, and higher borrowing limits on both credit cards and loans as well.

In fact, many foreigners who get a permanent visa immediately notice the difference in the acceptance rate of credit cards that they apply for.

Ramen festival in Hokkaido
After you have a Japanese permanent resident card, you will live in Japan much easier from getting a mortgage to maintaining a bank account.

However, to be honest, the difference in treatment from my banks was the most noticeable for me.

With a temporary visa, not only do you have to renew it with immigration, but your accounts can be frozen if you don’t renew the updated card with all of your banks.

This takes hours to do, but if you forget to do it, your accounts could be frozen, which is a big hassle for you with your monthly payments.

With the permanent residency card that has no expiration date, you do not have to go through this extremely troublesome process every few years.

Divorce or Unexpected Death of a Spouse Does Not Affect Your Residency

Moreover, divorce or the unexpected death of a spouse does not affect your residency.

Life is full of things we can’t predict, and having your permanent residency will allow you to continue a life in Japan with or without your Japanese national partner.

If you have children, and you are raising them in Japan, it is highly advisable that you obtain your permanent residency.

Your permanent residency will be preserved regardless of getting a divorce.

Tax Implications for Permanent Residents

As a non-permanent resident, you are only taxed on income earned in Japan, which excludes any income earned abroad that is not sent to Japan.

If you become a permanent resident, you are taxed on all of your worldwide income, both from Japan and abroad.

This means if you are from a country that taxes your worldwide income, such as the United States, your tax situation is going to be more complicated.

While Japan has double taxation agreements with many countries in the world, including the United States, it’s worthwhile talking to a tax advisor to make sure you follow tax regulations correctly.

Keeping Your Permanent Resident Card Active

There are certain things you need to keep in mind in order to keep your permanent resident card active.

  1. While Permanent Residency in Japan does not expire, you have to renew your permanent resident card every 7 years by basically visiting the immigration office in person and showing them you are still here.
  2. If you leave Japan for more than one year, you need to get a re-entry permit from the immigration office.
  3. You need to visit Japan before your re-entry permit expires.

Now, on to You

If you are planning to live in Japan for the rest of your life, applying for Japanese permanent residency can be a life-changing situation.

Not only does it allow you to live in Japan forever without having to apply for a visa anymore, it gives you more job opportunities and helps you live in Japan much easier.

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After living in Japan for more than a decade, I didn't just learn to speak Japanese; I got to know the culture deeply. My journey in Japan has been full of learning and exploring. It's helped me grow and given me lots of interesting stories to tell. I hope my writing helps others feel a bit of the magic I found in Japan.

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