(Updated December 2020)
Overview: Basic English Teacher in Japan Requirements
If you want to teach English in Japan, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Any degree is fine. It doesn’t have to be education or teaching-focused, but you will need a university degree to teach in Japan. There are some minor exceptions to that rule, which are listed below. However, virtually all English teachers in Japan will need to show their degree to get a work visa.
Can I Teach English in Japan without a University Degree?
The short answer is no. Not legally at least. However, some do manage to find short-term work. There is more on that in the tourist visa section below.
Different Ways to Teach English in Japan
There are four main ways to work in Japan; work visa, working-holiday visa, spousal visa and to work illegally on a tourist visa. Here is an overview of the requirements to teach English in Japan.
Japan Work Visa
In order to receive a work visa, you will first have to get hired. Your employer will help you fill out all the necessary paperwork and you will have to apply at a Japanese embassy. Check out the Japanese embassy in the US for visa requirements to teach English in Japan. A bachelor University degree is required in order to receive a work visa. It doesn’t matter what subject you majored in.
There are stories of teachers using fake degree certificates bought online or in countries like Thailand, however, I have never met anyone who has admitted to doing this. The visa category is “Specialist in Humanities” which basically means you are only allowed to teach English. It is illegal to accept employment in other occupations, however many teachers work in bars and do other work without any repercussions. When you renew your visa you will have to show that you are teaching English. It is possible to change to other visa options should your occupation change. These jobs generally can not be done by locals. Casual work in bars and restaurants are definitely not included.
Countries like Canada, Australia, UK and New Zealand have a work-holiday arrangement for people under 30 years old. The working-holiday visa is meant to allow you to work part-time while experiencing Japan, but this restriction is impossible to enforce. The visas are generally for six months to 1 year and are renewable up to a maximum of 18 months. This is a great way to come to Japan, especially if you don’t have a university degree.
Being married to a Japanese national is a free pass for working in Japan. You can work in any occupation and work as much or as little as you want.
There is also a common, illegal way to work in Japan and that is to come to the country without a work visa. You are allowed to enter Japan for a maximum of 90 days, but a quick and inexpensive trip to Korea, Vietnam, or other countries in the region will allow you to re-enter for another 90 days. It is probably safe to do this once, but this is not a way to stay long-term in Japan.
Many foreigners are known to have been caught and deported on their second or third re-entries. Immigration officials will want to see proof that you are not working in Japan if you are going to keep coming back. Large companies will not hire you without a visa, but it is definitely possible to find casual work at smaller English schools and bars. Beware, illegal workers are frequently taken advantage of. This type of work is not for the faint of heart.
Arriving in Japan without a Work Visa
It is possible to come to Japan on a tourist visa and then find an employer to sponsor a work visa while already in the country. The only requirement is that you must have your work visa validated at an embassy outside of the country. Seoul is the most popular city for a visa run because it is only about 90 minutes away and flights can be had for relatively cheap. If you are going to go this route, make sure you give yourself at least one week in a foreign country because there can often be visa processing delays.
A general overview of what to expect teaching English in Japan. Learn why Japan is still my favorite country for teaching English and watch videos of other English teachers in Japan.
How much salary can you expect to earn teaching English in Japan? Salaries in Japan can vary a lot depending on the type of English teaching you do. Check out this page for a list of current English teaching salaries and what you can realistically expect as a new teacher to Japan.
Detailed living costs for teaching English in Japan