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Life in Japan - How to Get Permanent Residence

A permanent resident visa (aka "PR") is the Mr. Miagi black belt of visas in Japan.  Why?  Well, I'll tell you why:

* Almost all work visas in Japan require some kind of sponsor, usually a company or a spouse.  The problem here is that if something happens to your sponsor--e.g. your company suffers a financial crisis, or sweet love turns sour--then your visa could go bye-bye.  PR does not have this problem.  You're your own sponsor.
* You don't have to renew it every 1~3 years.
* You can get stuff like credit cards and home loans.  While it's not impossible to get these without PR, you can enjoy more options and higher credit limits closer to what Japanese citizens enjoy.
* You can work in any industry.  Company-sponsored visas usually lock you to a particular industry, but with PR you're free to do whatever you want.
* It's about as close to becoming a Japanese citizen without actually becoming a citizen.
* PR makes you instantly awesome.

As you'd expect, getting something as all-powerful as a permanent residence visa in Japan isn't easy.  Unfortunately, it's made even more difficult since the Immigration Bureau's website (esp. the English one) provides very little information as to what's required.  Having gone through the process myself, I thought I'd outline it--potentially saving you a headache or two.

The Japan Immigration Bureau makes it clear that each PR application is reviewed on an individual basis, so there are no hard and set rules for obtaining PR.  Nevertheless, I was told that there are 2 main ways to get your foot in the proverbial "PR door:"

* 3+ years married to a Japanese citizen
* 10+ years working (preferably without too much job-hopping)

You need 1 of the above.  They told me not to bother applying without one of those, unless you're some kind of superhero diplomat ambassador billionaire.  I went the married route, so here's what I needed to provide:

* PR application (duh) available from the Japan Immigration website.  It's actually not a very long form.  I got the Excel version so that I could fill it in electronically and modify it later if necessary.
* Spouse's kosekitohon (戸籍謄本).  You get this from your city office for a small fee.  Don't give them a copy because this document is watermarked for security.
* Statement of income / tax paid (most recent).  Your employer gives you this every year.  It's a small slip of paper that shows your income that year and how much you paid in taxes.
* Employment certificate.  You can get this from your employer too.  In my case it was a 1-page letter on company letterhead saying that I work there.  Oh, it also listed my start date.
* Photocopy of passport details page.  I gave them a color photocopy because that's the way I roll.
* Photocopy of gaijin card (both sides).  I guess the politically-correct term is "resident card."
* "Official" tax paid statement (住民税の課税(又は非課税)証明書及び納税証明書).  You can get this from your city office.
* Guarantor letter.  You can download a blank one from the Japan Immigration website.  In my case my wife wrote a short statement explaining that she vouches for me--I'm cool and not a criminal mastermind.  A close friend of mine who went the 10+ years working route asked his boss to write it.  I guess you could say it's similar to a letter of recommendation.
* Copy of marriage certificate
* Color photo - 4cm x 3cm.  Make sure to follow their photography guidelines.
* 8000 yen revenue stamp.  You can get this from the convenience store on the ground floor of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau.  If you're not in Tokyo, then any place that sells revenue stamps (e.g. a post office) should have them.  You don't need it when submitting the application--only after your permanent residence has been approved.  So buy it if/when you get that golden ticket in the mail.

Here's the official info from the Immigration Bureau: http://www.moj.go.jp/ONLINE/IMMIGRATION/16-4.html
And here's the checklist I referenced: http://www.moj.go.jp/ONLINE/IMMIGRATION/ZAIRYU_EIJYU/zairyu_eijyu01.html

When you go to submit the application, you may also want to bring the originals with you in case they ask to see them (e.g. marriage certificate).  I brought them in a separate folder so they wouldn't get confused with the copies submitted with the application.  At the very least be sure to bring your passport and gaijin card.  You will be required to show those.

After your application is accepted, you wait and wait and WAIT.  You may get a postcard from them asking you for more info.  Otherwise, just keep waiting until you get the magic golden postcard telling you to pickup your shiny new visa.  Mine took 7 months, so be patient!

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  • Guest - Peter

    Thanks! I got my PR in 6 months and it went as smooth as following the directions directed by you. I think the most important is showing evidence of your contribution to Japanese society. I added some awards for English teaching into my application and it might of had some effect on my behalf.

    from Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
  • Guest - Jim

    I am going to be apply for this finally after having lived in Japan for 27 years. However, from June 2014 - June 2015, we were in the US. That means we did not pay taxes - for last year I think. So we do not have a tax shomeisho for the most recent year. Will this be a problem? Should we wait until we have a shomeisho for the most recent year to apply? Does anyone have any opinion or experience with this situation?

    Jim

    from Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, Japan
  • Guest - rebecca

    Hello,
    My son has duel citizenship, my ex-husband is Japanese living in Japan and I'm American living back state side. I want my son to grow up with the both of us physically there. Am I eligible for permeant residency through him?

  • Guest - tanooki

    Thank you for your article, very clear :) I think I will do the same this month to get at last the awesome PR status. I live in japan for 8 years now, married so It will be the same as you. I just have one question : Can I go for a trip outside japan while the application is being accepted ? They won't keep my passport and my resident card for 7 month right ? I forgotten how it went before...

  • Guest - Megan Phillipps

    Is it all possible to get a permanent residency visa without being married to a Japanese citizen OR having a previous job? Or is that pretty much impossible, and I need to suck it up and work for 10+ years before I can move to Japan?

  • Guest - Andreas

    Guest - Megan Phillipps

    Yes Megan, in that case you have to work for 10+ years in Japan.
    This means that you have to first work in Japan on a working visa which you have to renew every year (probably).

  • Guest - Armila

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Regarding the guarantor letter of your wife, is she a japanese citizen? I am wondering if I can have my husband who's holding a dependent visa (I am the one holding the working visa) to guarantee for me?

  • Guest - David Taylor

    It seems you make the transition to living in Japan quite an easy option, so I am interested for the future possibility of living there myself.

    I have met a great mature Japanese girl who loves me dearly. One day I hope to get married to her , either in the UK or Japan .
    So if we get married in England and then we want to live in Japan , what happens next , It is likely that I would not have a job in Japan as I would most likely want to retire and live in Japan . Will Japan take a married spouse who does not have a job in Japan ??? whether I get married in Japan or in England. My spouse says she wants to keep working and look after me , but would Japan allow that type of arrangement. Would my partner have to earn over a certain threashold to be my guarentor or supporter of me ?, and what is the threashold in £ ?. I would have enough money to buy my own house in Japan from the sale of my own house. I would also be able to get my early retirement pension in Japan.

    So with that information, what do you think ? I might not want to live and work in England over 58 years old, so I need to start thinking of a possible switch to Japan . What do you suggest ?? I look forward to your reply

  • Guest - Corinna

    Thanks for all of this information! I referred to it when I applied for PR in August. Just to add my story for reference, I worked for five years as a JET and then for five years at an Eikaiwa. I am not married but had worked the requisite 10 years. Apparently one other important point is that you haven't changed companies, jobs, or types of visas very often. It's also important to prove that you've been paying not only taxes, but insurance and pension. I got the postcard back a few days ago and was a bit worried because it was so early (about 3 months and a week) even though the postcard had circled to bring an 8,000 yen stamp. I went to Immigration and picked up my new residence card with no problem--it all went much more smoothly and quickly than I'd expected. Thanks again for your help!

  • Guest - Gabriel

    Thank you for your info and clear article about necessary documents!
    I was just wondering is this list final or it changed meanwhile. Back in the days Japanese Immigration also required from Japanese spouse same employment papers as you listed them above (proof of employment and Statement of income / tax paid slips (for 3 years or something). If they don't require those anymore that would actually help me a lot and safe a lots of time.