How to move to Japan without a degree

Over the last decade Japan has seen a huge rise in popularity as more and more people have been interested in the rich culture of the country. Whether through tourism, exposure to various forms of Japanese media, books by Japanese authors or another cultural niche, interest in Japan is growing and Japan is becoming a very popular travel destination.

However, there are also many people who want to go to Japan for than just travel. Moving to Japan can be a long and difficult undertaking with many restrictions and hoops to jump through along the way.

Here we can discuss some of these restrictions and how you can move to Japan without a university degree. 

Getting a Visa

How to move to Japan without a degree 1

Getting a visa is one of the first steps towards moving to and living in Japan. All countries have a range of visas with different requirements and Japan is no different.

The visa you get depends largely on your purpose for coming to Japan. For many people, the most straightforward route is a work visa, which allows a foreign national to live and work in Japan.

However, the requirements for a work visa include a university bachelor’s degree (or equivalent). This can be a difficult hurdle for some people, depending on university entrance requirements and costs of their home country. While this can seem like a stop to your living in Japan dreams, there are multiple other routes to the same destination.

Work Visa

As mentioned, a work visa usually requires a bachelors degree or equivalent level degree. However, it can be replaced with 10 years of documented, full-time experience in the industry and profession in which you will be working in Japan.

If a company has hired you from abroad based on your experience and is willing to sponsor your visa, it is still possible to get a work visa as long as you can collect documentation and references proving that your job positions over the last 10 years are all relevant to the position you are being hired for.

This is a good option for those undertaking a mid-career move, and those who are already well-established in their industry. 

Specified Skilled Worker Visa

In 2019, Japan introduced a new visa category which is closely related to the work visa. This new visa, known as the “specified skilled worker” visa, was intended to help supplement industries which were having difficulties in hiring enough new employees in the domestic market.

This visa largely applies to semi-professional jobs which may not usually require a degree. The visa has 14 job areas which it can apply to and applicants must stay within the same industry for the duration of their stay in Japan.

This visa is issued after the applicant passes either both a Japanese language proficiency test and a skills exam or an internship program test.

This is a good visa option for those who are qualified or want to work in a industry such as construction, food service, or accommodation. However, it should be noted that this visa is only renewable for up to 5 years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has published a guide to the Specified Skilled Worker visa and all the occupations included here

Working Holiday Visa

Perhaps the most popular option for those just looking to experience Japan as a resident is the working holiday visa.

The working holiday program was first set up in partnership with Australia to allow young people to move to the other country to travel, experience culture and work for a year. This has now been expanded to many other countries around the world.

The ‘work’ part of the visa is intended to be supplemental to the ‘holiday’ part, meaning there are restrictions on the number of hours allowed to be spent working per week. A working holiday visa holder is able to work 28hrs per week.

However, they must have a significant amount of savings before applying for this visa as it is expected that they should be able to support themselves even if they don’t have work. It is also required to submit travel plans in order to prove that travel and holidaying is the true purpose of the applicant.

The visa is 1 year long, with some countries’ partnerships allowing a 6-month extension. For more information on the eligible countries and specific requirements for each country partnership, see the MOFA website here.

Student Visa

A student visa is also a popular pathway to moving to Japan longer term. If you don’t have a degree now, why not move to Japan to get the degree?

There are multiple universities in Japan which offer classes in English and so it is possible to graduate from one of these universities with an accredited degree, despite the language barrier.

Or, if you’re not interested in the university route, there are also many language schools for learning Japanese. Going to language school can be a great experience as it allows you to improve your language skills fast and become immersed in the culture and society more easily.

Students in Japan are able to work and it is very common to work part-time jobs throughout university.

However, student visa holders do have restrictions on the number of hours to be spent working, for the same reason as the working holiday visa restrictions. The student visa holder’s purpose is intended to be studying, and so work should not be their primary focus. Therefore, the student visa also has a restriction of 28hrs of work per week.

For the same reason, student visa applicants are expected to have a certain amount of savings ready before the visa is approved.

This visa doesn’t have a strict duration limit, but it is tied to your institution so as soon as your course finishes or you leave the school, the visa will end. For the full list of requirements, check the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) here. 

Spouse/Dependent Visas

The spousal visa is important to mention when talking about visas in Japan as it has some of the lightest restrictions and is one of the most stable visa types.

There is no restriction regarding number of hours for working or what type of work.

However, it is only relevant in regards to moving to Japan if you are already married to a Japanese national.

If you are married to a Japanese citizen, your educational background is not a consideration when issuing a visa. The full list of requirements can be seen on the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) of Japan website.

In a similar vein is the dependent visa. If you’re married to a non-Japanese citizen and they are moving to Japan, and have already been approved, you may be eligible for a dependent visa. As long as their salary is sufficient to support both of you, it should be approved.

Dependent visas carry the same working restrictions as student and working holiday visas – 28 hrs of work per week. Further information can be found via the ISA.

Cultural Activities Visa

Finally, there is one of the least used categories of visa – the cultural activities visa. This visa is a very broad category surrounding activities focusing on studying and engaging in Japanese culture.

If there is a particular area of the culture you want to study in-depth with a cultural institution, it is possible to apply with a detailed plan of study and the approval of an expert in the cultural activity. This visa is intended to be self-supported and so holders of this visa aren’t supposed to work.

However, it is possible to be approved for a part-time work allowance. This will likely hold the same 28hr week restrictions.

This visa isn’t always sustainable in the long-term but is great for those who are very interested and focused on a specific niche of Japanese culture. Further information on the cultural activities visa can be found via MOFA and other immigration assistance websites

Moving to Japan is a great way to have new experiences and become immersed in a culture well beyond what is possible from a standard holiday visit. It can give you new friends, new skills and new perspectives on life.

However, it is a difficult process right from the very beginning. One of the first hurdles is getting a visa, which can prove even more difficult if you don’t already have a university degree.

Here we have looked over some of the options around how to move to Japan if you don’t have a degree and how to navigate the difficult visa process.