There’s no shortening this one, read on for how we found our immigration lawyer, all the Visa documents we needed for our Long-Term Resident (Ancestry Visa) and how we got each of them. It’s long, but we hope it’ll help someone else pursuing this Visa one day!


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!

This is part 2 in an epic series of Getting our Japanese Long-Term Resident Visa (Ancestry Visa). See below for all posts:

  1. Our Story and Situation
  2. All the Required Visa Documents for an Ancestry Visa in Japan (this post)
  3. Application Process and Timing
  4. Bonus: Actually moving to Japan

Finding an Immigration Lawyer

This was the trickiest because it’s the Internet and you honestly have no idea who you’re talking to. Nothing quite like wiring money and being catfished online. I literally googled “Immigration Lawyer Japan” and (after a quick check of their website to see how legit they seemed) sent a standard email with our basic situation, stating that we’re looking to get our Ancestry Visa and asked for timing and fees.

From there I started going back and forth with several lawyers before finally settling on one. She responded quickly, was very thorough and only charged us a $50 consultation fee until she understood the full scope of our situation (which was waived when we later decided to use her services).

All the Required Visa Documents for an Ancestry Visa

This was definitely one of the most challenging parts of the process. Dealing with timing, and things that are just 100% outside of your control is a huge exercise in patience. I spent quite a bit of time calling and emailing people, researching online, and visiting places in person to figure out how to get these docs. Then even more time following up to make sure we actually received them! Here’s to hoping your experience is less painful.

I’m honestly not sure just how necessary all of this documentation was, but we received our CoE just about one month after submitting our application, so I’m including everything we submitted!

List of Visa documents

  1. Ancestry Documentation (basically all birth, death and marriage certificates leading back to the first generation Japanese National)
    • Great-Grandfather’s Koseki Tohon (Family Register)
    • Grandmother’s Koseki Tohon
    • Grandparent’s Marriage Certificate
    • Grandmother’s Death Certificate
    • Grandfather’s Death Certificate
    • Mother’s Birth Certificate
    • Father’s Birth Certificate
    • Parent’s Marriage Certificate
    • My Birth Certificate
    • Copy of Passport
    • Copy of State ID / Driver’s License
    • Family Tree
  2. Other Documents
    • Application for Certificate of Eligibility – Available in PDF or Excel
    • Current photo (4cm×3cm)
    • FBI Background Check
    • Letter of Employment
    • Bank Statements
    • Guarantor (Japanese National)
      • Letter of Guarantee
      • Certificate of Residence
      • Information about the company they work for
      • Photos to prove relationship to the applicant
  3. Letter of reason which includes:
    • Why you want to live in Japan
    • Explain your current financial situation / how you will support yourself when you’re in Japan
    • The type of apartment you want to live in / provide proof that you’re researching apartments
    • That you are not a criminal (basically just say you’re not, and refer to your background check)
    • Level of Japanese language
    • How you know your guarantor

Visa Documents Required for the Spousal Visa (Based on Spouse’s LTR Visa)

  1. Personal Documents
    • Birth Certificate
    • Copy of Passport
    • Copy of Driver’s License
  2. Other Documents
    • Application for Certificate of Eligibility – Available in PDF or Excel
    • Current photo (4cm×3cm)
    • FBI Background Check
    • Bank Statements
    • Proof of job search (if applicable)
  3. Marriage Documents
  4. Letter of reason which includes:
    • Why you want to live in Japan
    • Explain your current financial situation / how you will support yourself when you’re in Japan
    • The type of apartment you want to live in / provide proof that you’re researching apartments
    • That you are not a criminal (basically just say you’re not, and refer to your background check)
    • Level of Japanese language

Where to get your Ancestry Visa documents

Every State is different, but typically birth and death certificates are a piece of cake to request online. Hopefully, you already have most of the ancestry documents you’ll need in your safety deposit box (or a dusty box under your bed). Since I’m sharing my experience, everything explained below will be what I did for Hawaii. If you’re not from Hawaii, google will be your new best friend.

For ease of explanation, I’m referring to the documents/process based on my family. My grandmother was the Japanese national, who married an American citizen while still in Japan (Okinawa, actually) and my mother is an American citizen, but was born in Okinawa.

I was super confused by this initially, but it turns out to be pretty simple. Back then, your citizenship was based on your father’s citizenship, so they registered my mother as an American and her birth certificate isn’t a standard one. It was filed with the Department of State in Virginia as a “Register of Birth – Child Born Abroad of American Parents”. Thankfully, my mom had her original birth certificate.

How to get copies of Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates filed in Hawaii

Starting with the easy stuff. Birth and marriage certificates filed in Hawaii can be requested online from Vital Records. You can request these for yourself and your spouse, but your parents will need to request their own docs. It’s $12.50 to have the document mailed to your residence.

Death certificates are less simple, but still easy. You need to fill out a form then either mail or take the form to the Vital Records department.

How to get copies of Marriage Certificates filed with the Department of State

Get ready for an epic headache and a lot of waiting. Because my grandmother was married to an American citizen while they were still in Japan, her marriage certificate was filed with the Department of State in Virgina. (Note: if they were both Japanese nationals, then the Koseki Tohon will include their marriage.)

Let it be known that I sent a letter with all the information required to the Department of State in early October and I didn’t receive a copy of my grandparent’s marriage certificate until May. MAY. Because both my grandparents had passed away, it became a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, and thus took an additional 16 – 20 weeks ON TOP OF the originally quoted 6-8 weeks.

All that being said, follow the instructions on this link if one or both people on the marriage certificate are alive (Have them request the document).

If both people have passed away, follow those instructions, but do not send your letter to Vital Records. Instead, send the letter (along with death certificates and any documentation (birth/marriage certificates) that you already have to prove you’re related to the parties on the marriage certificate.) to:

U.S. Department of State
Office of Law Enforcement Liaison
FOIA Officer
44132 Mercure Cir
P.O. Box 1227
Sterling, VA 20166

The only way to shorten this timeframe is to expedite your mail and (if you’re sending to vital records) include a check for them to expedite the shipping back. If you’re sending to the Law Enforcement Liaison, they automatically expedite your return shipping. There’s no way to pay for them to expedite the actual process, so if you need to do this, I would do this first.

How to get copies of a Koseki Tohon (Family Registry)

Step 1: Figure out their hometown

In Japan, the Koseki Tohon is filed in each City’s Hall of Records. I went to the Japanese Embassy and filled out a form to request a copy of my grandmother’s immigration card. Note: this can take up to a month. I got lucky and my mom happened to have a copy of my grandmother’s birth certificate (note: the Japanese government still requires the Koseki Tohon) which included the city where it was filed.

The embassy gave me a printout of the address for that City’s current address, as addresses and locations have changed over time.

Step 2: Mail request to Japan

From there, I reached out to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, as they provide genealogical research assistance. There’s a fee associated with it (I think it was $25) but the fee is waived if you’re a member ($35). You fill out the Genealogical Research Assitance Agreement and then schedule a meeting with one of their volunteers. If you work during the day, you’ll need to take off since they only work on Friday afternoons, from 1 pm – 4 pm.

It’s helpful to have the City Hall of Records webpage so they can find the address in Japanese, as well as the person’s name written in Kanji if you have it. Since I was requesting my grandmother’s Koseki Tohon, I actually needed to request my Great-Grandfather’s, since back in the day, the Koseki Tohon is under the male head of household.

You’ll need ancestry documents outlining your lineage so you can prove you’re related. Since you’re already gathering these, this should be easy. I provided just the birth and marriage certificates that I had on hand – grandmother, mother, father.

The volunteers wrote the letter and addressed the envelope and included a label with my mailing address for them to return the document. From there I went to the post office to get a $15 International Money Order (to pay for return shipping) and mailed off. Including the fees for the money order, total shipping (sent registered mail to make sure it arrived) was $46.12.

Step 3: Wait patiently

I mailed my package in Mid-October and we received it back in about 2.5 weeks. Based on the information provided by USPS, the Hall of Records took three days to find my grandmother’s Koseki and mail it back. Everything else was just transit time to and from Japan.

Timing is everything. The Koseki Tohon needs to be dated within 90 days of your application. We screwed up on this, as we were waiting for other documents to arrive (curse you Dept of State!) and ended up having our lawyer re-request. Also – if you’re going to hire a lawyer, you can provide them with the hometown and they should be able to request this for you (for a fee, of course).

I thought this would be more difficult, but aside from the initial back and forth with the embassy and the JCCH while I was trying to figure out the process, it was smooth sailing and fairly quick.

Other Visa Documents to provide

FBI Background Check

To prove you’re not a criminal, they require an FBI background check. There are a number of ways to get this, but going directly through the FBI takes the longest (14-16 weeks). In the interest of time, we used a third party FBI-approved channeler. I went to because they were the first site that had a fingerprinting location in Hawaii, Signing Hawaii. Fairly straight-forward. You contact the fingerprinter, go to their office (she was running this business out of her home) and have your fingerprints taken. We paid $74.95, and received our background checks in 24 hours.

If you’re better at timing than us, and you request this as soon as you start your process, you can process directly through the FBI for only $18. This document also needs to be dated within 3 months of your application.

Employment Things and Bank Statements

Because I wanted to continue working for my current job, I needed to prove that I was being paid enough to cover my living expenses. The company I work for wrote a letter of employment, which needed to include:

  • Name
  • Last four digits of SSN
  • Date of Birth
  • Gender
  • Employer Name
  • Employment Dates
  • Current Job Title
  • Type of Employment (Part or Full Time)
  • Current Salary
  • Job Description
  • Contact information for HR

For Ryan, because he was thinking of working for a Japanese company, we included copies of conversations he’s had with recruiters.

We also included our savings account statement to show that we’d have enough to cover the initial moving costs associated with rentals in Japan – usually around 4-5 months of rent (ie: key money, agent fees, guarantor fees, security deposits).

Our lawyer did not have a set amount in terms of what we needed in our savings, but we based our living expenses on having a place in Tachikawa (we included printouts of the apartments we were considering based on Internet searches), which is significantly less expensive than Central Tokyo. The general rule of thumb was similar to qualifying for an apartment – you need to make 3x the assumed rent.

Explanations / Petition Letters

Our lawyer also wrote a letter of reason, which included why we wanted to live in Japan, etc. We wrote these in English and she translated it into Japanese. In our submitted Visa documents, both English and Japanese were included.

Why we wanted to live in Japan

This was the honest truth – we were both of Japanese ancestry, both interested in learning more about our own culture and experiencing it first hand. I think if you want to move, you’ll have a good reason and you’ll be excited about it. Having a compelling reason is important – mostly because it’s what will get you through the stress and anxiety of the entire application process!

Explained our current financial situation / how we planned to support ourselves when we moved

This is where you can get detailed about what you do for work (if you plan to work remotely as we did). Ryan included his educational background as well as previous work experience. Don’t be humble here, you need to prove that you can be an asset to their economy.

The type of apartment we were interested in

This was mostly to show how much research we were putting into this move and how serious we were. We sent apartment listings from English sites ( and included descriptions of what we were looking for (ie: 2LDK, minimum 40 square meters with a monthly payment of less than 100,000 yen in Tachikawa).

Level of Japanese language

If you’re applying for a longer term (3 or 5 years), you’ll need to prove you can speak the language by passing the JLPT test (I believe N1 was required for 5 years). If not, you can just write about how you’re learning and what tools you plan to use. This also shows them that you’re serious about the move.

History with your guarantor

While the guarantor form does not legally obligate your guarantor to take care of you in any way, it is a requirement for both the CoE and visa application. When applying for your CoE, you should include photos and a brief history of how you know the person that will be your guarantor. We had the hardest time with this, as the guarantor needed to either be a Japanese National or Permanent Resident and most of our friends were on shorter Visas.

Spousal Visa Documents Requirements

If you’re married and your spouse is using your ancestry to apply for a visa, you’ll also need to include your marriage certificate, info about how you met and photos together (wedding photos, especially). There’s also a questionnaire that’s interestingly only on the Japanese immigration site, and as far as I could find, only available in Japanese. I linked it in the list above. Our lawyer asked us questions and filled it out, but if there’s interest, I can go through and make a table on how to fill out based on our filled out version. Comment if it’s something you’d like to see.

That’s it!

If you made it this far and you’re not slamming your head into a table, congrats! Haha. Here are links to the other parts of our story, if you’re ready for more:

  1. Our Story and Situation
  2. All the Required Visa Documents for an Ancestry Visa in Japan (this post)
  3. Application Process and Timing
  4. Bonus: Actually moving to Japan
Article Name
Getting our Long-Term Resident Visa (Ancestry Visa) for Japan - The Documents (Part 2)
A list of every document we submitted (and how to get them!) for our Long-Term Resident Visa.