A visa is a document from a country certifying that you have permission to enter and remain there for a given length of time. Visas also permit or exclude certain activities, for example: working or studying.
Whether or not you need a visa to travel to Japan will depend on where you are from, how long you are staying, and what you will be doing. Thanks to Japan´s Visa Exemption Agreements (which include roughly 60 nations) most tourists need not apply for visas as long as they have a valid passport.
A complete list of current visa-exempt countries and their permitted lengths of stay can be found through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
Regardless of whether you are visa exempt, you will be fingerprinted and photographed upon your arrival in Japan.
It is important to know exactly how long you will be staying in Japan before arriving. If you arrive as a tourist without a visa and outstay the exemption period you will have to leave Japan and apply for a visa at a foreign embassy. Otherwise you will be considered an illegal resident.
The Japanese immigration process
Japanese immigration officials keep careful track of foreigners and their legal status. You should take care to acquire all necessary permissions and permits. A basic guide to the process is listed below:
1. Visa – You should apply for the appropriate visa prior to your arrival. This can be done at a Japanese consulate or embassy in your home country. Remember to consider your length of stay and whether or not you will be working before you apply for a visa. It is much more difficult to adjust your immigration status once you have arrived in Japan.
2. Alien Registration – If you are staying in Japan longer than 90 days you must go through Alien Registration (gaikokujin toroku). You can do this at a municipal office. Make sure to bring your passport and a recent photograph with you, they will be used for records and your ID card. Afterwards you will receive your Alien Registration Card, which you must carry with you at all times.
After this, you must notify the immigration office whenever you do any of the following:
- Temporarily leave Japan – Apply for a Re-entry Permit (sainyukoku kyoka), for your return. Do this before you leave Japan. If you plan on travelling frequently, you might want to apply for a Multiple Re-entry Permit.
- Extend your stay – Notify the office prior to the expiration of your current period of residence (zairyu kikan no koshin).
- Change your state of residency – Any change in state of residency (zairyu shikaku no henko) must be reported (e.g. if you want to start working and you only have a temporary visa)
You should check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website updates to visa application requirements before you begin the application process. While in Japan, do not hesitate to contact local officials with any questions. The language barrier may present a frustrating obstacle to communication at times, but most Japanese officials remain polite and helpful when dealing with foreigners.