girl with backpack looking at cherry blossoms

Curious About Teaching English in Japan? Here’s How to Make Yourself an Irresistible Candidate

Imagine waking up to Shinto shrines, cherry blossoms and beautiful mountains—and getting paid for it.

Like many countries in Asia, Japan is looking for qualified English teachers.

If you manage to land a job teaching English in Japan, you’ll get to explore the country’s incredible culture and history firsthand, all while living and working like a local.

Read on to learn what you need to do to get this type of job. 

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Qualifications You Need to Teach English in Japan

Bachelor’s Degree

When researching visa requirements, you’ll probably come across information that states a bachelor’s degree is mandatory for working visas. While this is the general consensus, there’s no official confirmation from the Japanese government that you must have a bachelor’s degree to get an instructor’s visa.

That said, if you don’t have a university degree and are from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., Ireland or 22 other countries, you may qualify for a Working Holiday Visa. (Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t one of those countries.)

While this doesn’t quite give you the flexibility of a work visa, it’ll allow you to spend a longer time in the country, which can help you decide whether you’d like to come back and apply for a teaching position after getting your degree.

Japan-based Company that will Sponsor You

You also need to find a company that wants to hire you and is willing to sponsor your visa. They’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the Ministry of Justice on your behalf.

Once you give the company all the required documents, they’ll sort out the rest of the administrative stuff. It generally takes between four to eight weeks to receive your COE.

Valid Working Visa

Once you get your COE, your next step is to go to your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate and apply for your visa.

Generally, you’ll need the following documents:

  • A valid passport
  • Your completed visa application form
  • A passport-sized photo taken within the past six months
  • Your original COE and one photocopy of your COE

It’s important to note that these requirements may differ depending on your country. Visa policies are often subject to change and government websites aren’t updated as frequently as they should be. Always check with the consulate beforehand to see if there are any additional documents you need to bring with you.

For your reference, here’s a list of all the Japanese embassies and consulates around the world, along with their websites and contact details. 

Optional: Teaching Qualifications that will Give You an Edge

Because the English teaching job market in Japan is more competitive than ever, you might want to think about getting other qualifications to help you stand out from other applicants.

Here are some ways to improve your chances of getting hired as an English teacher in Japan, from the most to the least powerful credentials:

  • Get a master’s degree in a discipline like applied linguistics, education or ESL teaching.

How to Find English Teaching Opportunities in Japan

If you meet the visa requirements and you’re confident you have what it takes to teach English in Japan, it’s time to start looking for a job. There are a number of institutions in Japan that look for teachers throughout the year. 

Apply to the JET Programme

Short for “Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme,” JET is more than just a teaching gig. It’s also a cultural learning experience that gives professionals the opportunity to know more about Japan.

You can apply for one of the following positions:

  • Assistant Language Teacher (ALT): ALTs work in a public school alongside a Japanese co-teacher, where they plan and teach English-related material. Over 90 percent of the people in JET are ALTs.
  • Coordinator for International Relations (CIR): CIRs usually work with government officials, where they help with translating and teaching English to their coworkers. They also need to have a working knowledge of Japanese. Luckily, you can learn the language from online resources like FluentU. FluentU is a language-learning platform where you can watch authentic videos in your target language and learn how words and phrases are used in context. These videos come with interactive subtitles you can click to see a word or phrase’s meaning, pronunciation, tips on how it’s used and other videos where that word or phrase shows up. 
  • Sports Exchange Advisors (SEA): SEAs don’t teach English and are essentially sports instructors.

There are additional guidelines that must be met to be eligible for JET, which you can read about here

As part of the application process, you might be required to do an in-person interview in your home country before you get hired. This is actually common for JET and big education companies like AEON. For this reason, expect the hiring process to take a little longer than a couple of weeks. 

Look at Japanese Job Boards

If you didn’t make the JET Programme for whatever reason or you’d rather work for a language academy instead, you can also apply to job boards geared towards ESL teachers in Japan.

Here are some of the more popular ones:

  • Japan English Teacher: This is a standard job board Japanese recruiters use to hire English classroom assistants, usually for kindergarten up to high school.
  • GaijinPot Job Board: Gaijin is the Japanese word for foreigner, which is exactly who this website caters to. Along with the job board, GaijinPot has a number of other useful resources for people living in Japan.
  • Jobs in Japan: This site is similar to Japanese English Teachers, but covers a number of jobs outside of teaching as well.

Getting Ready for Life in Japan

Living and working in Japan can be a little different compared to other Asian countries. Here’s what you’ll want to consider before you arrive:

  • Housing: Accommodation isn’t typically provided by the employer. While some companies will pay you a housing allowance, it’s usually up to you to find a place to live.
  • Cost of living: The average teacher makes between 250,000 to 350,000 JPY a month or roughly 2,500 to 3,500 US dollars. However, it’s worth noting that living expenses in Japan are much higher than in South Korea, Taiwan and China. It’s not uncommon to spend at least half of your paycheck on groceries and bills.
  • Start-up costs: Depending on who you work for, you may get your airfare reimbursed. But you still need to pay for a place to live and support yourself for your first month in the country, so you’ll need to research the average living costs in Japan

With that said, despite Japan having a higher cost of living than its neighbors, it’s completely possible to work, save money and explore the country’s beautiful landscape.

 

Unlike some other countries, Japan is open to experienced teachers and beginners alike. This makes Japan a great place for young professionals straight out of college, as well as people looking for a change midway through their careers.

It’s also one of the few places where the actual tourist attractions look just as beautiful as they do in the postcards. So if you’re trying to save a little money, build your career and live in one of the most talked-about countries in the world, seriously consider spending a year or two teaching English in Japan.

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