Want to Teach English in Japan? How to Make Yourself an Irresistible Candidate

How about waking up every morning to Shinto shrines, cherry blossoms, beautiful mountains…

And getting paid for it?

Like many countries in Asia, Japan is looking for adventurous people who are qualified to teach English and want to experience life there.

You’ll get to explore the incredible culture and history of Japan firsthand, all while living and working like a local.

If that sounds like something you’re interested in, read further to learn what you need to do to find a job teaching English in Japan.

What Basic Qualifications Do I Need?

Generally speaking, all you really need to get a job teaching English in Japan is a bachelor’s degree or higher. This seems to be the number-one hiring preference for most English teaching programs in the country.

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

However, if you don’t have a university degree and are from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., Ireland or 14 other non-English speaking countries, you may qualify for a Working Holiday Visa.

While this doesn’t give you quite the flexibility of an actual work visa, it’ll allow you to spend an extended period of time visiting and working in the country, which can help you decide if you would like to come back and apply for a teaching position upon receiving your degree.

And sorry Americans, but you’re not eligible for the Working Holiday program.

Wait, So All I Need Is a Degree?

That’s pretty much all you need to qualify for the visa, but that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically guaranteed a job teaching English in Japan.

First, you need to find a company who wants to hire you and is willing to sponsor your visa. (We’ll give you tips and resources for getting hired later in this post.)

They’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the Ministry of Justice on your behalf. All of this is done in Japan, so once you give the company all the documents they request from you, they’ll sort out the rest of the administrative stuff.

It generally takes between four to eight weeks to receive your COE. But once you get it, your next step is to go to the Japanese consulate and apply for your visa. You’ll need to bring the following documents with you:

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

Important note: policies are subject to change and sometimes websites aren’t updated as frequently as they should be, so it’s always a good idea to check with the consulate beforehand to see if there are any additional documents you need to bring with you.

Here’s a list of all the Japanese embassies and consulates around the world, along with their website addresses and contact details. Find the one closest to you and get in touch with them for booking an appointment or for general inquiries.

How to Make Yourself More Marketable

These days, more and more people are interested in teaching English in Japan, as well as other countries in East Asia and the Middle East. As you can imagine, this has made the job market far more competitive than it was a decade ago, especially in Japan.

For this reason, you might want to think about getting further qualifications to help you stand out from the English teachers you’re competing with. Here are some ways to improve your chances of getting hired in Japan:

  • Have a master’s degree in a discipline like applied linguistics, education or ESL teaching
  • Get an onsite or online TEFL certificate

As you may’ve guessed, that list is in order from most powerful credentials to least powerful. And in the current job market, many employers will only consider applicants that at least have a TEFL certification.

How to Find Employment Opportunities in Japan

If you meet the visa requirements and you’re confident that you’ve got what it takes to stand apart from the rest, it’s time to start looking for a job.

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 (which we’ll discuss more below) and big education companies like AEON. For this reason, expect the hiring process to take a little longer than a couple of weeks (which is how long it took for me to get hired in Oman and board a plane headed for Muscat).

There are a number of institutions in Japan that look for teachers throughout the year. We’ll start with the JET Programme, one of the most popular teaching programs, before pointing you to other job options.

Apply to the JET Programme

Short for “the 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 explore and learn 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 tend to 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.
  • Sports Exchange Advisors (SEA): SEAs don’t teach English and are essentially sports instructors.

There are some additional guidelines that must be met in order to be eligible for JET, which you can read about here. The biggest JET restriction is that applicants can’t have lived in Japan for more than six months over the past ten years.

Look at Japanese Job Boards

Getting accepted into JET can be luck of the draw, regardless of how qualified you may be for the position. If you didn’t make the JET Programme for whatever reason, or you’d rather work for a language academy instead, you’re going to need to apply to job boards geared towards ESL teachers in Japan.

Here are some of the more common ones to visit:

  • Japan English Teacher: A standard job board that 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 Teacher, 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 than similar jobs in other Asian countries. Here’s what you’ll want to consider before you arrive:

  • Housing: Accommodation is not typically provided by the employer. While some companies will pay you a housing allowance, it’s up to you to find a place to live.
  • Cost of living: The average teacher makes between 260,000 to 300,000 JPY a month, but living expenses in Japan are much more expensive 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. Still, you need to have money to find a place to live and support yourself for your first month in the country. Japan can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to come with anywhere between 300,000 to 500,000 JPY saved up.

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.

Are You Ready for the Adventure of a Lifetime?

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 career.

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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