What is a "visa"?

Technically speaking, a visa is an indication "that it is appropriate for the foreign national to enter and stay in Japan" (MOFA). It is a recommendation from the government and is only one of the requirements required to enter the country. When you go through immigration upon arrival in Japan, your passport is stamped with "landing permission" (上陸許可 jouriku kyoka), which displays your period of stay, status of residence, etc. The visa then becomes invalid, and the landing permission becomes the basis of your legal stay in Japan.

"People commonly talk about "switching the type of visa" and "extending a visa" but in law these actions equate to a "change of status of residence" and an "extension of period of stay" respectively, and applications are accepted by the Ministry of Justice (the Regional Immigration Bureau)" (MOFA).

Once in Japan, you can show proof of your legal stay in Japan with your Residence Card (在留カード zairyuu kaado).

Residence Card vs. Alien Registration card

Up until 2012, foreign residents had Alien Registration cards (外国人登録証明書 gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho, also known as gaijin cards). Now all foreign residents get Residence Cards. For a period of time, Alien Registration cards will be considered equivalent to Residence Cards. Residence Card/Alien Registration card holders no longer need to apply for re-entry permits. Alien Registration card holders can change to a Residence Card when they change other information like their period of stay; the deadline to change over was July 8, 2015. Read more about the differences on the Residency Management System page.

Do I need a re-entry permit?

If you travel abroad or visit your home country, you do NOT need to get a re-entry permit. You can exit and enter Japan with just your passport and Residence Card. On the plane you will receive an embarkation card with your customs form. Check "Special Re-entry Permission" (みなし再入国許可).
embarkation card.gif
*You only need a re-entry permit before departing Japan if you are leaving the country for more than one year, but doing that will require you to break contract...

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Status of Residence

Your visa status (在留資格 zairyuu shikaku), aka your Status of Residence, indicates what kind of work you are allowed you to do. JETs/WI-ALTs will have one of the following:
  • ALT: Instructor (教育 kyouiku)
  • CIR: Specialist in Humanities/International Services (人文知識・国際業務 jinbun chishiki/kokusai gyoumu)
  • SEA: Skilled Labor (技能 ginou)
You must change your status of residence if you switch between ALT and CIR, stay in Japan after completing your contract and travel, change jobs, or enroll as a student, or if you marry a Japanese national. You can do this at the Chiba Immigration Office (address below). It may take 1-3 months to process.
Bring with you:
Official website and list (English)
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Changing your status to Temporary Visitor (短期滞在 tankitaizai)

The Temporary Visitor visa is valid for 90 or 15 days. You can apply within 14 days of the end of your period of stay (if you apply earlier they may ask you to come back later; if you switch over too early you can't legally work).
Bring with you:
  • Application form (短期資格変更許可申請書 tanki shikaku henkou kyoka shinseishou). You can fill it out at the Immigration Office
  • Passport
  • Resident Card/Alien Registration Card
  • Explanation for changing Status of Residence (在留資格変更理由書). Includes reason for staying in Japan, including a flight itinerary (in Japanese)
  • Documentation showing the last day of your period of appointment, and your scheduled date of departure. Further information on this is available in the Contract Organization Manual
  • A copy of your return airline ticket or confirmed reservation
  • ¥4000 in stamps (buy these near the immigration office)
  • You may need to show you have money to get by for the remainder of your stay,so you may need your bank passbook (通帳)
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Notification Concerning the Accepting Organization (契約機関に関する届出 keiyaku kikan ni kansuru todokede)

When you leave or change employers, you must submit a notification to the Immigration Office. Fill out a form with the information required or use one of the samples on the website. You can bring it with other paperwork or mail it to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau (write “The notification form is enclosed/届出書在中” in red on the face of the envelope):
Notification acceptance desk, Residency management information department, Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau5-5-30 Kōnan, Minato-ku, Tokyo-to 108-8255
〒108-8255 東京都港区港南5-5-30東京入国管理局在留管理情報部門 届出受付担当
Bring or send by mail:
  • Notification form
  • Residence card/Alien Registration Card (or copy if applying by mail)
Website: English: (ALTs) http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/18.html
(CIRs) http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/19.html
Japanese: (ALTs) http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri10_00014.html
(CIRs) http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri10_00015.html
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Period of Stay/Date of Expiration

Period of Stay (在留期間 zairyuu kikan)/Date of Expiration (満了日 manryou-bi) is the period of time your visa is valid for. All of the visa types listed above are valid for three years (3年 san-nen), and the date your visa expires is clearly written next to that. It will also say on the bottom of the card "Period of validity of this card" (このカードは20--年07月30日まで有効です。 kono kaado wa yyyy/mm/dd made yuukou desu).

You will need to extend your period of stay if you are staying in Japan after your period of stay expires (ex. you recontract for a 4th or 5th year, or if you plan to stay in Japan after finishing the program). You can do this at the Chiba Immigration Office (address below). They will accept your application within 3 months of the date of expiration. The procedure takes 2 weeks-3 months and you need to go to immigration once to submit the materials and once to pick them up, so it's best to start this process in early June.
Bring with you:
  • Application form (depends on status)
  • Passport
  • Residence Card/Alien Registration
  • One 4cm x 3cm photo if you are changing from an Alien Registration card
  • ¥4000 to cover the processing fee (to be paid by you)
Read a more detailed guide on how to renew your visa.
Official website and list (English)
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Changing the address on your Residence Card

If you change addresses in Japan, you can change the address on your Residence Card by bringing your card (and probably your inkan, moving-in form, and some other form of identification) to your local city hall. They will write your new address on the back of the card.
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Changing your visa after finishing the JET/WI-ALT Program

Depending on your plans, you may need to change your Status of Residence (what work you’re allowed to do) and/or your Period of Stay (how long you can legally be in the country). You will need to make at least two trips to the immigration office in Chiba City.
Note: this is only a guide. The final decision comes down to the official who makes the decision at the immigration office with jurisdiction in the area, so please confirm with the immigration office before you take any steps!

According to the Chiba Immigration Office, the official rule is that if you are staying in Japan after completing your contract (for more than two weeks), you must submit a Notification Concerning the Accepting Organization (契約機関に関する届出 keiyaku kikan ni kansuru todokede) within two weeks of completing your contract via mail or in person at the Immigration Office. This informs the immigration authorities that you are no longer employed by your contracting organization. This especially affects those planning to stay in Japan for work or travel after the completion of their contract. If you are leaving Japan after completing your contract or changing to Temporary Visitor to travel, it's probably not necessary to submit this form because you'll be leaving the country anyway. However, if you stay in Japan to work/study, and there is a gap where you are unemployed but your status of residence is sponsored by your former employer, it may cause problems at immigration.

After completing your contract, if your period of stay is still valid, you may stay in Japan without changing your status of residence for 90 days. If you plan to stay longer to travel, you must change your status of residence to Temporary Visitor. If you plan to work in a field covered by your existing status of residence, you need to submit another Notification to inform them that you have a new employer. If your work is not covered, or you are enrolling as a student, you need to change your status of residence.
JETs may submit a Certificate of Employment (在職証明書 zaishokushomeisho) to receive a Temporary Visitor visa valid for 180 days. (Source: CLAIR News (English/Japanese))

If you have friends visiting from overseas, or plan to re-enter Japan after completing your contract, check if you or your friends will require a visa to enter as a tourist.
Some of the countries that do not require a visa to enter Japan for short term stay: Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, France, Ireland, the UK (Full list: MOFA)

What happens to my Residence Card when I leave Japan for good?

According to a former WI-ALT, the immigration officer will give you a form to take to counter A on the side. There they will process the form, punch a hole in your residence card, and return it to you. Then they let you specially pass through the gate there. You do not need to fill out the embarkation form in the immigration area.

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Visa Flowchart & Example Timelines

Download the following charts as PDFs in English and Japanese:


Immigration & Visa Flowchart.png
CLAIR News (English/Japanese)
Immigration & Visa Timeline.png


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The Chiba Immigration Office

Tokyo Regional Immigration Office, Chiba Branch (東京入国管理局 千葉出張所 toukyou nyuukoku kanri-kyoku chiba shutchou-sho or 入管 nyuukan)
English address: Chuo Community Center, 2-1 Chiba-minato, Chuo-ku, Chiba City, Chiba Pref.
Japanese address: 千葉県千葉市中央区千葉港2-1中央コミュニティーセンター
Access: right across from Chiba City Hall (市役所 shiyakusho). Take the monorail to Shiyakusho-mae Station, walk 10 min from Keiyo/Monorail Chiba-Minato Station, or walk 15 min from Chiba Station.
Hours: 9:00 to 12:00, and 13:00 to 16:00 (except for Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays)
Phone: 043-242-6597
Website: English/Japanese (click Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau (東京入国管理局)>Chiba Branch Office (千葉出張所))
*You can apply for a status of residence change and period of stay extension on the same day, but you will have to visit Immigration twice (once to submit the paperwork, once to pick up your visa)
Chiba Immigration Office Directions.png

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Sources

The General Information Handbook (p79 or pdf p43)
The Kumamoto Leaver's Guide
The Ministry of Justice website
Chiba Immigration Office Website: English/Japanese (click Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau (東京入国管理局)>Chiba Branch Office (千葉出張所))
The Ministry of Justice Immigration Procedures Guidebook
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Visa System website
Embassy of Japan in the USA website
CLAIR News February 2014