Preparing for Japan: The Basics

Preparing for Japan: The Basics

So you’ve decided to go and teach English in Japan. What next? Whether this is your first step on the journey or you have a few of the details planned out already, this article will help you create your pre-Japan tick list and work out what you need to do next. From getting the visa to booking your flights, we’ve got it covered.


Want to teach in Japan? Our Japan Guide will tell you more about the place!

Working in Japan

There is one thing that you need to decide on before everything else because it alters your next moves: Find a job first or move first. If you decide to go and work for a big company (such as the JET program or a chain EFL company) then there will be people who can help you organise your move to Japan. You can get linked with this sort of employment through job fairs and online employment websites, and once a school has decided to hire you, they’ll be able to help and advise you with things like getting a visa, moving your personal belongings, booking a flight, etc. They might even be there to meet you off the plane. However, if you are going to move to Japan and find a job once you’re there, you’ll be going about things in a very different way. Basically, by yourself. But this isn’t as scary as it sounds and is also a viable option. It’s an exciting – though riskier – way to go about working in Japan, but it may be a way to overcome “analysis paralysis”.

Getting a Visa

Your visa process will vary depending on which country you’re coming from. For me (coming from the UK) there were a number of options available. If you have a job already lined up in Japan, you’ll be able to apply for a Working Visa as an ‘Instructor’ – this is the title given for those teaching English. Your future employer will send you a letter of invitation, which is basically tour ticket to a working visa.

If you don’t have a job waiting for you in Japan, one good way to get into the country is on a one-year Working Holiday Visa. There are certain limitations (this visa is primarily for holiday purposes but permits a certain amount of work to be undertaken by the holder, and you must be between 18 and 30 years old, and only certain countries offer this visa) but if you can make it work for you, it’s a great option. I chose this method when moving to Japan and undertook part-time work for my first few months in the country. During that time, I was searching for a more full-time position, and once I was offered a full-time job, my new employer switched my visa to a Working Visa. One final method is to come to Japan on a tourist visa, which lasts for just 90 days but can potentially be extended for another 90 days. You aren’t permitted to work on this visa but once you are in the country you can find a job, and then switch to a proper Working Visa. This is the easiest (if you’re from the UK you don’t need to apply for a tourist visa, they just stamp your passport on the way in) but also the riskiest. For more details on the UK visa application, visit the Embassy for Japan website.

Packing for Japan

For the most part, TEFL teachers moving to Japan will just be taking a suitcase or two with them. People who plan to stay longer term might want to move a lot more stuff, and some schools provide reimbursement of moving costs. However, if like most people you aren’t sure how long you want to be there, it’s best not to take your whole life with you – you’ll only have to post it home again in a year or two. What you’ll need with you in Japan boils down to: clothes that are suitable for the weather and climate (check out the area you’ll be moving to as it varies up and down the country), clothes that are suitable for a formal working environment, extra clothes and shoes if you are particularly tall/large/have big feet, and a few home comforts. For more information, check out our detailed article on what to pack when moving to Japan [coming soon].

Flights to Japan

If you are going to Japan to work for a large company, they’ll no doubt be able to help you book your flights and might even reimburse the flight cost when you complete your contract. However, you can do it yourself without it breaking the bank by following these guidelines. First, the time of year you fly will greatly impact the cost. Peak times (when flights are most expensive) are during Golden Week (April/May), cherry blossom season, Obon Festival (August), Silver Week (September) and New Years. The cheapest times to travel are in May-June, and also the period between Christmas and New Years, and then again from about January 4th/5th onwards. If you’re flying to somewhere which isn’t a major city, you can save money by looking into different flight route options. For example, when I was moving to Kumamoto, flying direct would have cost a bomb. I flew to Tokyo, then took a domestic flight from there to Fukuoka and took a one-hour coach to Kumamoto – much cheaper. Also, check out online deals, advance booking deals, and super cheap airlines like Peach, Jetstar, Vanilla, ANA and JAL.

Arrival in Japan

If you aren’t being met at the airport, you’ll need to plan your arrival before you get on the plane. The last thing you want is to be stumbling around after a super-long flight, trying to find your way in a foreign country. If you’re travelling to Tokyo, check out the Metro Guide. This website offers step-by-step advice on how to buy a travel card, how to navigate the metro and with special information about access from the airport. Prior to my flight, I printed all this information out to help me when I landed. Plan your route, know where your next destination is, and try to learn (or print out) a few key phrases in Japanese. Even in Tokyo, you can’t guarantee you’ll find an English speaker to help you.

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About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL-trained English teacher who spent five years teaching in Asia. She specializes in travel writing and writing for children, and has a penchant for knitting. Celia is the author of Knittted Sushi (easy knitting patterns for beginners) and Ben and Maki – Let’s be Friends (an English/Japanese bilingual picture book). To contact Celia about freelancing work, check out her Upwork profile or contact Celia through her website.