TL;DRWhile not impossible, getting the Long-Term Resident Visa (定住者 – Teijyuusha) isn’t easy. To qualify for this visa with ancestry, you need to be (at most) third-generation Japanese. You also need to fly to Japan to apply for your Certificate of Eligibility and be ready for some hard work and anxiety!
Disclaimer: We hired a lawyer to help us with this process, so I’m just outlining everything she had us do. I’m assuming it was all required but honestly have no idea. At the end of the day – we got our Visa, and for us, that was the most important thing.
JET, Student Visas and Feeling Lost
Our background: since we started dating 9 years ago, we’ve always talked about living in Japan. After finally spending nearly a month there for our honeymoon, we decided to make this happen. Of course, these things are easier said than done. At first, I considered quitting my job and applying for the JET programme – but as a teacher, I wouldn’t be able to get Ryan a Spousal Visa, and if I’m being honest – I had zero desire to be a teacher.
Next, I looked into a Student Visa. Basically, you take Japanese classes and get a Visa to live there and have the ability to work part-time. I actually started the application process since we could both technically go on this Visa, take classes part-time and work remotely. The biggest hold up here? Cost. Most schools were around $7,000 per person, per year – and that just didn’t make sense for us.
I looked at USAjobs.gov and randomly applied for jobs at bases in Japan – jobs that I was definitely not qualified for. When I didn’t hear back from any of them, I honestly wasn’t too surprised. I also used LinkedIn to apply for various jobs in Japan – most listed fluent Japanese as a requirement, but I applied anyway. Crickets. So many crickets.
The Elusive Long-Term Resident Visa
Finally, I found a small note on the immigration website referring to a Long-Term Resident Visa by way of ancestry (literally one sentence). I did some google searches and while I found sites that included a list of documents, there weren’t instructions on locating said documents. Looked at Reddit’s moving to Japan sub, but still no detailed info on how to get a Long-Term Resident Visa based on ancestry from someone that’s actually gone through the process. From here I sort of just sat on the few ideas I had and secretly hoped that Ryan would get a job and I could ride on his coattails.
Two years went by and I realized waiting for Ryan to get a job wouldn’t work and that if we were going to go, we’d have to figure out this Long-Term Resident Visa thing. So I decided to get serious. With zero information, I started an accountability group with a few coworkers that were also chasing big dreams (Grad School and moving to the Mainland – shoutout Nicole and Elliot for keeping me on my toes) and I spent tons of late nights researching.
To make things more complicated, our employment situation was pretty unique. Both Ryan and I wanted to continue working remotely for our current companies in Hawaii. It took literally a YEAR for us to go from research to having that elusive Visa in hand, but we made it!
Before we dive in: Disclaimer
I’m not a lawyer. All of the info provided is based 100% on our experience. When we started on this journey, we knew nothing and couldn’t find any detailed info anywhere, so we thought it’d be something helpful that we could share. Yes, we paid an immigration lawyer that was based in Japan to help us through this process. And yes, I think it was worth every penny.
Can you do it on your own? Maybe. I didn’t go to the immigration office (our lawyer said we didn’t need to go, and that it would likely take at least 4 hours), so I’m not sure what the language barrier there would be like, but I imagine if you really needed to, with the help of google translate, it’s possible. We’ll know more after we go in to apply to renew our Visa in February!
Things to know before you start
Start NOW. This process can take a LONG time. We started requesting documents in August 2017 and we didn’t get the green light to go until March 2018. This is mostly true if you have to deal with the Department of State. They are notoriously slow and frustratingly vague about timing (I finally received all documents from them in May 2018).
Originals of everything. You’ll need copies of your passport and ID, but all other ancestry documents must be originals. If you would like to keep your originals, make sure you make a copy of them to include in your application. The originals are required as part of your application, but if you flag them, they’ll be returned once the agent confirms their authenticity.
Timing is everything. Your Koseki Tohon (family registry from Japan) and your background check need to be dated within three months of your application. We screwed up on the former, as we were waiting for other documents to arrive and ended up having our lawyer re-request. If you’re going to hire a lawyer, have them request this. If not, make this the last document you request. None of the other documents we had needed to be issued in the last three months.
Make friends in Japan! One of the hardest requirements for us was to find a guarantor that was a Japanese national or permanent resident. They have to provide their Certificate of Residence for Japan and info regarding their work as well as PHOTOS together to prove your relationship. Of course, since this visa is based on ancestry, having relatives would make this easy, but unfortunately for us, we didn’t have this option.
Save your money! Not only is the move going to be pricey, but (based on what our lawyer told us) the process of applying for the Certificate of Eligibility (“CoE”) requires that you are physically in Japan when you apply. Not to mention, if you decide to go the lawyer route, that’ll be a pretty penny as well. Our lawyer’s fees were just around $3,000, with half charged upfront and half after we received the CoE.
How we got our Long-Term Resident Visa
It’s been a LONG journey, but one we’re finally getting around to sharing! Especially now that we’re here, and settled into life in Japan! Because this journey was epic, I’m breaking this post up into several parts.
- Our Story and Situation (this post)
- All the Required Documents for a Long-Term Resident Visa based on Ancestry in Japan
- Application Process and Timing
- Bonus: Actually moving to Japan