The Japan Researcher Visa

Japan Visa Services

The Researcher Visa is for Applicants who have been contracted to undertake research in a public or private organization in Japan. The work could include examinations, surveys, or other types of research.


In order to obtain a Researcher Visa to work in Japan, an Applicant will need to complete the following seven steps:

Step 1

Confirm that the Applicant satisfies the preliminary requirements for obtaining a Japan Researcher Visa.

There are several initial points to confirm prior to applying for a Researcher Visa. In general, the Applicant should meet one of the following three criteria:

  1. Possess a Master's degree, or
  2. Have at least three years post-graduation experience. This can include time spent undertaking graduate school research, or
  3. Have at least 10 years' research experience. Again, this can include time spent undertaking university research.

However, Applicants who will work for the Japanese government or who are being transferred to Japan from an organizations overseas office may not need to meet the above. Though note that Applicants being transferred from overseas should been working as a researcher at the overseas office for at least a year and the transfer to Japan should be for a limited period.

Applicants must receive no less compensation than would a Japanese national undertaking comparable work.

Step 2

Confirm that the proposed work in Japan is consistent with the activities permitted for the holder of a Japan Researcher Visa.

Once the preliminary items in Step 1 have been confirmed, the actual activities the Applicant will undertake in Japan need to be considered.

The holder of a Researcher Visa may engage in research based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan.

Step 3

Assemble the documents required to support a Japan Researcher Visa application.

Once an Applicant has confirmed that her proposed activities in Japan are consistent with those outlined above in Step 2, supporting documentation needs to be prepared.

In the case of a Researcher Visa, the authorities require the following documents:

  1. Material describing the recipient organization.
  2. A diploma, a personal history and other documents certifying the Applicants career.
  3. Documents that certify the position the Applicant will be taking up along with details of the activity, its duration, and the associated remuneration.

Although not technically required, our experience is that providing Japanese translations enhances the quality of an application. This may minimize delays in obtaining final approval.

Japan Visa’s certified immigration professionals are able to assist in the preparation and translation of all documentation required for a Researcher Visa.

Note regarding Japan Tax Planning Opportunities for Researcher Visa applicants.

Typically, tax planning opportunities for the holder of a Researcher Visa are quite limited. But, items such as employer provided housing, commuting allowance, and employer funded home leave can result in significant individual tax savings. In some circumstances, off-shore payment of compensation can result in tax savings if the holder of the Researcher Visa will spend time outside Japan on business. All these matters should be negotiated with the employer prior to finalizing the documentation needed for the Researcher Visa COE application (see Step 4 below). The following article provides more information about this important issue Japan Taxes: Tax Planning for Foreigners Working in Japan.

Step 4

Submit an application for a Japan Researcher Visa Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”).

Once the Applicant’s activities have been confirmed and the appropriate documents assembled per steps 2 and 3 above, the next step in most cases will be to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (abbreviated as “COE”).

A COE is a document issued by the Japanese immigration authorities. It certifies an Applicant’s eligibility to undertake specific employment in Japan – in this case, the job associated with the Researcher Visa application.

An application for a Researcher Visa COE must be submitted in person at a regional immigration office in Japan. The COE application cannot be submitted by mail or at a Japanese embassy outside Japan.

Where the Applicant is not personally available (for example because she is not in Japan or due to a busy schedule) Japanese law allows a certified immigration specialist to submit a Researcher Visa COE application on behalf of the Applicant.

Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists are able to handle all the procedures associated with preparing and submitting an application for a Researcher Visa COE.

Step 5

Await Approval of the Researcher Visa COE.

The processing time for a Researcher Visa COE is generally four to six weeks.

Once approved, a notice is sent to an address in Japan advising that the COE is ready for collection at the regional immigration office where the COE application was originally submitted.

Where Japan Visa’s certified immigration professionals are handling the Researcher Visa application, the notification from the immigration authorities is sent to our office. Japan Visa then collects the COE from the regional immigration office and either forwards it to the Applicant or prepares a change of status application (see Step 6 below).

Step 6

Obtain Researcher Status of Residence (SOR).

Once an Applicant has the Researcher Visa COE in hand, the next step is for her to exchange the COE for Researcher “Status of Residence” (usually abbreviated as “SOR”).

Technically speaking, it is the Researcher SOR that will form the basis of the Applicant actually living and working in Japan.

There are two methods for converting the COE to Researcher SOR:

1. Exchange the Researcher COE at a Japanese embassy or Consul outside Japan.

This is the traditional route for obtaining Researcher SOR.

The Applicant first exchanges the Researcher Visa COE for a Researcher Visa at a Japanese embassy or consul outside Japan. The process generally takes two to three business days.

The Applicant then travels to Japan and is granted Researcher SOR at the port of entry.

2. Undertake a Change of Status to Researcher SOR in Japan.

In some cases, an alternative may be for the holder of a Researcher COE to enter Japan under the Japan Visa Waiver Program or some other form of short-term entry. The Applicant then applies for Researcher SOR via a change of status at a regional immigration office in Japan.

A change of status takes approximately two weeks. During that time, it is not possible for the Applicant to travel outside Japan.

Where the change of status route is utilized, Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists can undertake the necessary procedures at the regional immigration office in Japan.

Japan Residence Card

Whether you receive your Researcher SOR at the airport upon entering Japan or via a change of status application filed at a regional immigration office in Japan (see Step 5 above), you will receive a Japan Residence Card.

This is an official identification card that includes an IC chip. The Residence Card contains personal information such as your name, address, birth date, residence status (in this case, Researcher Services SOR), period of stay, etc.

You are required to carry your Residence Card at all times.

Step 7

Consider applying for a Japan Re-entry Permit.

Up until July 2012, if you held Researcher SOR and wished to temporarily leave Japan (e.g., for vacation, business, etc.) it was necessary to obtain a Re-entry Permit for Japan in advance of travelling.

However, it is now possible to leave Japan for up to 12 months without a Re-Entry Permit.

If there is any possibility that a trip outside Japan will last for more than 12 months, an individual holding Researcher SOR should ensure that they have a Re-entry Permit. This can be obtained at regional immigration office in Japan.

Some Important Considerations AFTER Receiving your Researcher Visa

There are three particularly important tax matters to bear in mind as you live and work in Japan:

1. Japanese Tax for holders of Researcher SOR

People living in Japan under Researcher SOR will typically be working for an institution that handles at least part of their Japan tax matters on their behalf. This is done by way of withholding tax deducted each month and a year-end adjustment as part of the December payroll.

However, if some income is being paid outside Japan, you may need to submit a Japanese tax return by 15 March each year. It is very important that you understand your Japan tax obligations since no extensions are available.

Complying with your Japanese tax obligations is essential in order to renew your visa.

2. US Tax for holders of Researcher SOR

If the holder of Researcher SOR is a US citizen or green card holder, they will continue to have US tax obligations even while living in Japan.

The US rules applicable to Americans living overseas are complex and constantly changing. In order to avoid possible penalties, anyone with a US tax filing obligation should seek specialist advice to ensure that they fulfill their US tax obligations.

3. Taxes when the holder of Researcher SOR leaves Japan

Before leaving Japan, the holder of Researcher SOR is required to fully settle her taxes or appoint a tax agent.

It should also be noted that Japanese local tax is assessed based on where you live on 1 January each year. As a result, departing Japan prior to 1 January can result in significant tax savings.

The above is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute advice to undertake or refrain from undertaking any action. Only qualified Japanese professionals are able to advise on Japan immigration, legal, and tax matters.