One of the most important and confusing processes for international students seeking to study in Japan is how to obtain a visa. After obtaining your visa, it can be easy to believe that the immigration process is over. However, this is untrue. There are many reasons why it is good to be continually conscious of your current legal status while abroad in order to best prepare for your future.

For example, once you begin living as a student in Japan, your plans may change. Instead of returning to your home country, you may want to live in Japan. Perhaps you always had plans to live in Japan, but studying abroad was your first experience of life in another country. The following are a few questions you may encounter while abroad:

  • What if I want to get a job after my time abroad? How can I get a visa?
  • If I’m a student of a Japanese university whose visa is expiring before my education is complete, what do I do?
  • What do I do if I want to keep living in Japan after graduation?

Luckily there are a few different ways you can continue your stay in Japan.

Where to conduct research

One of the best places to begin your search is at the Japanese university where you are currently studying. If you plan to extend your Japan student visa, your university needs to mediate the extension. Each university has its own process, so it is best to check what your school’s method is.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan has other resources on visa extension. Another good place to check is at your country’s embassy. They will have resources on how to obtain visas that are available to citizens from your country.

There are two main processes you can undergo when it comes to visas. The first is extension. This prolongs the expiration date of the visa you currently have. The other is obtaining a new visa, which changes your current status of residence.

Extension of a currently existing student visa

Image Credit: Paul Davidson

Firstly, it is important to check your current status of residence. Are you here on a student visa? As an international student, you most likely are. In this case, your status of residence is as a student. There are a wide variety of statuses — for example, your status would be as a tourist if you came to Japan for vacation.

Next, it is important to remember when your visa is due to expire. This is crucial to know because you cannot extend your visa until it is 3 months before its expiration date.

There are quite a few steps to apply for an extension of stay, but there are also a significant amount of resources that can help you. Firstly, check your current university. It will have information about how it prefers to conduct this process. Different schools will have different processes. Some universities prefer that you complete the forms through your enrolled school of study. Others will ask you to visit the career center to request a visa extension.

Typically, they will want you to prepare the following items:

  • Application for Extension of Period of Stay
  • Photo
  • Certificate of Enrollment
  • Transcript
  • Passport
  • Residence Card
  • Fee
  • Student ID card

Your university will assist you through this process.

You will then need to fill out the Application for Extension of Period of Stay. This is the general visa extension application that will need to be submitted regardless of your university’s process. The forms may be a bit confusing, so it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the forms and visit your school with any questions you have. You could also fill out the form with an adviser. Sample applications are also available at your local immigration center.

The application also requires a recent picture of your face that must be trimmed to be 4cm x 3cm. The image should be taken within the past 3 months. Such profile photos tend to have strict guidelines for where your face and shoulders should be centered. Luckily, there are many passport photo booths in Japan that can take such professional photos. These booths may be a convenient place to cheaply and quickly get your picture taken at.

You will then need to fill out the Letter of Guarantee if applicable. This letter is for your guarantor to sign.

There are a few important things to note regarding visa extension. Firstly, you can only submit the forms 3 months before the expiration date of your visa. Your extension will be rejected if you apply too soon before the deadline of your visa. While it is important to be timely, please make sure that your visa expires within the next 3 months before submitting your forms. Also, there is a 4,000 yen fee to extend your visa that must be paid in revenue stamps. Revenue stamps can be purchased at the post office.

Remember that an extension of stay prolongs your current visa status. If you are a graduating student, you cannot extend your student visa to remain living in Japan. This is because your cause for staying — studying in a university as a student — has ended. You will need to apply for a new type of visa. The Immigration Services Agency of Japan has more information.

Obtaining a new visa

Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
Image Credits: Kentin

Designated Activities

Typically, the easiest type of visa for newly graduated students to get is a “Designated Activities” visa. A designated activities visa is a visa status given to recently graduated students who are in the process of looking for a job.


This visa type extends your period of stay by 180 days, and can be renewed one time for a total of 360 days. It would change your status of residence from “Student” to “Designated Activities”.

The process of obtaining a designated activities visa from a student visa is somewhat similar to the process of extending your visa. Firstly, you should conduct your university and let them know that you would like to apply for a designated activities visa. Oftentimes, your program must provide an official letter of recommendation to your university to be granted a Certificate of Eligibility.

You will need to obtain a copy of your diploma or certificate of graduation as a part of your application. Also required is some form of documentation that proves your ability to fund your stay while in Japan. A bankbook is recommended by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, which has more information regarding designated activities visas.

There are a few important things to note about designated activities visas. Firstly, you should decide early whether you will need this sort of a visa or not. Ideally, you should begin the visa application process before you graduate from your university. The process may be lengthy, but preparing the paperwork you need will help you remain timely.

Furthermore, your university may want proof that you have been job hunting prior to graduation and your application for the visa. Your university may also want to interview you to assess your goals. Each university has its own process — please check your university to see its expectations and requirements to apply for such a visa.

Tourist Visa

You may also want to stay in Japan for a brief amount of time after your period of study ends. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to consider changing your student visa to a tourist visa. A tourist visa is the visa type that general international tourists receive during their vacation in Japan. If you are looking to explore Japan, this would be a good idea. It is only valid for 90 days, so be sure that you do not apply for a tourist visa if you plan to stay in Japan for a longer period of time.

A tourist visa can be requested at your local immigration office. You will most likely need to supply a reason for this change. This process will depend on your country of origin — it is best to check your country’s embassy’s website for more information. 

Working Visa

If a company that seeks to employ you is also willing to sponsor your visa, you can obtain a working visa. The approach varies by organization, but the company will typically assist you with this process. Your visa type, duration of validity, and other stipulations will depend on your vocation. In all cases, a Certificate of Eligibility will be provided to you by your workplace. You can then fill out the corresponding forms through an immigration office.

Advice

Obtaining and maintaining a Japanese visa can be an overall stressful and confusing process. However, don’t let that prevent you from staying in Japan if you would like to. It is not impossible to get a visa here.

It is very important to plan ahead of time when trying to renew or update your visa. You need to have a valid visa during your time in Japan, and it would be very bad if it expires. If this happens, you are considered to be illegally residing in Japan. This is cause for deportation and further legal trouble.

Ideally, you should know what action you need to take on your visa at least a few months before your visa is set to expire. The process to update your visa takes at least two weeks after submitting the application, but expect it to take at least a month. Preparation will save you the stress of rushing your visa application as well as prevent your visa from expiring before you are able to update it.

Communication with your university will help you establish a working and realistic timeline. Such processes are challenging, but they are a crucial step to living in a new country. Approach it as a part of the experience and plan well in advance, and your visa status will be set.

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