Visas for Freelancers in Japan

As long as you are not a “half” person and you don’t own the japanese passport, you will need a visa to stay in Japan, which allows you to start your freelance business.

First of all, let me explain what a freelancer in Japan is. A “Freelancer” in Japan is named sole proprietor1 and need to be registered at the tax office. Being an owner of a company like a Company Limited2 or a Limited Liability Company3 is not considered as a freelancer activity in Japan. Then, the business visa will not be recalled here, because it is strictly reserved to the owners of a company.
We will mention here all the visas which might allow you to have a freelance activity in Japan, dividing them in two categories :

The "Freedom" Visas #

These visas are typically not linked to your job or business activity, but more related to your personal life, or short term visa.

Image of freedom visa

The Permanent Resident (PR) Visa #

Literally the Holy Grail for foreign residents in Japan, this visa allows you to do all the jobs and activities you want, for an illimited period. Bye-bye visa renewals, you just have to update your resident card sometimes. With this visa, you can set up your freelance activity for anything you want. Of course, this visa requires that you are living in Japan for a long time already, with a very stable situation (good revenues, being married to a Japanese national and having a good level at the JLPT can be a plus). Then, if you are thinking about moving to Japan from your country, this visa is not for you. But if you are already the lucky owner of this visa, you can start any freelance activity, you are not restricted.

The Spouse Visa #

Very popular for foreign residents, the only condition of getting this visa is being married to a Japanese national. Then, no matter what your activity is, as long as you have enough revenues with your partner to lead your life, you can be an employee, a company owner or a freelancer, it is quite free. If you are married to a Japanese national and want to come to Japan and start your freelance business, this might be the best visa for you.

The Student Visa #

The student visa is not a working visa at first, so if you want to work, you need a “Permission to Engage in an Activity Other Than That Permitted by the Status of Residence Previously Granted”. You can apply for it from abroad when your school is preparing for the visa, or once arrived in Japan by going to the immigration office. Once you get this working permit, you are allowed to work within 28 hours a week, not more, in any activity you want (be aware, any “adult entertainment” activity is forbidden when you are a student). Moreover, you cannot renew your visa forever : you can get 2 years if you are in a japanese language school, and then as long as you are studying at the university or vocational school (depending on your attendance and your grades). Once you graduate from your school, you cannot apply anymore for this visa.

The Working Holiday Visa #

Usually named WHV, this visa allows foreigners under 30 years old from a few countries to stay in Japan for one year. This visa’s aim is mainly for tourism purposes, but you can also work. If the working time is restricted when you try to obtain this visa (through the Embassy of Japan of your country), you are not limited anymore once in Japan. This visa might be a good opportunity for you to start your business as a freelance, because you can start any business you want.

This visa is not renewable, and since autumn 2019, it is impossible to use the procedure “change of resident status” from the working holiday visa to another long-term visa. This procedure is still accepted right now due to the current Covid-19 situation, but it might change very quickly without notification from the immigration services. It means that you need to get a brand new COE (certificate of eligibility) and follow all the procedures to get a visa if you want to stay in Japan after your WHV.

Working Visa #

Image of working visa

There are several types of working visa, and the full list is available here, on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan5. This kind of visa usually requires a university degree or at least 5 years of working experience in the field allowed by the visa you aim.

If you are already in Japan with this visa, please check first if your current contract with the company which sponsored your visa allows you to have an additional activity. If no, you cannot start your freelancer activity. If there is no mention about it, check the general rules of the company, and if there is still no mention about it, you can start a freelance activity in the fields allowed by your current visa.

If you are not in Japan or if you don't have a working visa yet, it might be very difficult for you to get this visa, specially if you are abroad. The immigration is not clear about the requirements to get a working visa as a freelance (also and wrongly called "self-sponsored visa" or "freelance visa"), but there are below the requirements that are usually followed by the applicants:

If you have several main customers, it is better to provide all these documents for all of them, specially if you want to increasse your chances to have a longuer visa term. Do not forget that your visa's term and your revenues are highly linked, and you might have more chances to get a 3 or 5 years visa if you have stable and high revenues (and if you are paying all the taxes).

For more information, do not hesitate to check the english version of the Japanese Immigration website, which is better than any blog or advices on the internet. Here for example, is the official list of the documents to get the COE. Please just keep in mind that the information are for regulars employees, not freelancers, so do not hesitate to add extra documents and a motivation letter explaning your situation to your application.

This might help #

1 Sole proprietor : 個人事業者 kojinjigyōsha
2 Company limited / Incorporated company : 株式会社 kabushikigaisha
3 Limited Liability Company : 合同会社 gōdōkaisha
4 Annual revenue : 年間収入 nenkan shūnyū
5 Diploma : 卒業証書 sotsugyou shōsho
6 Resume : 履歴書 rirekisho
7 Certificate of Employment : 在職証明書 zaishoku shōmeisho
7 Notification for starting or ending a personal business : 個人事業の開業・廃業届出書 kojinjigyō no kaigyō todokedesho
8 Income tax return : 確定申告 kakutei shinkoku
9 Social insurance : 健康保険 kenkō hoken
10 Pension : 年金保険 nenkin hoken
11 Resident tax : 住民税 jūminzei
12 Certified Public Accountant : 税理士 zeirishi
13 Contract : 契約書 keiyakusho
14 Application form for COE : 在留資格認定証明書交付申請 zairyū shikakunin teishōmeisho kōfu shinsei
15 Letter of Guarantee : 身元保証書 mimoto hoshōsho
16 Certified Copy of a Register : or 登記簿謄本 tōkibo tōhon
17 Financial statments : 決算報告書 kessan hōkokusho
18 Legal Record Total Table : 法定調書合計表 hōtei chōsho gōkeihyo
or The latest withholding tax return for annual salary amount : 前年分の給与所得の源泉徴収票等の法定調書合計表 zennenbun no kyūyo shotoku no genzenchōshuu hyōtō no hōtei chōsho gōkeihyō