The strict immigration procedures make it hard for foreign entrepreneurs in Japan to get started. Obtaining the proper visa often requires having a large amount of capital, a residential and business address, and a lot of paperwork. Although the process can turn into a sort of we’ve provided some resources to help you get started. Tip: Don’t forget your hanko!
What Kind of Visa Do I Need?
Before doing any sort of commerce in Japan, you’ll need the proper work visa. Currently, there are about 30 different visa types in Japan, each with its own unique requirement and restrictions. Entrepreneurs will likely consider the “Business Manager” visa as their first choice since it was made to help attract more foreign expats to start their businesses in Japan. Obtaining the visa requires having about 5 million yen of capital to invest in your company, be in the top ranking position of your company, proof of your ability to run a business either through education or experience, and be able to receive at least a 200,000 yen monthly salary.
You can apply for this from overseas and it’s valid for 4 months (with the option of a 1-year extension of stay). The 4-month duration of this visa is ideal for the time you will need to open a bank account, register your business, and obtain a residence card. We recommend taking a look at this site for more information on what you’ll need to start the process.
If you don’t have the exact amount of capital needed, it might be worth looking into other visas. The startup visa for Japan is a status of residence (limited to specific cities – Tokyo, and Fukuoka for example) that allows you to establish your own business without meeting some of the strict requirements of the Business Manager visa. It’s valid for 6 months and was established as part of a program to increase the number of foreign entrepreneurs in Japan. This helps applicants to receive the same status as the Business Manager visa without meeting all of the same conditions.
If you already live in Japan and have a working visa it’s important to make sure that you are legally able to start a new business under the same visa. Those with Instructor visas for example will likely have to apply for status under a different visa or receive permission from their sponsoring company and the Immigration Bureau to start a new business.
Many people talk about a freelancer or “self-sponsored” visa, but there is no visa with this title that actually exists. Freelancers in Japan typically have a Highly Skilled Professional work visa, or an Engineer/ Specialist in International Relations work visa. For those interested in freelancing it is recommended that you hire an immigration lawyer to help you figure out how to continue working in Japan legally. Usually, this involves being able to show that you earn a certain amount of earned income (last time we checked it was 200,000 yen per month, although it may have changed since) and having one of your clients vouch for you with a contract.
Funding Your Business
Regardless of the type of visa you carry, you’ll need to find a way to finance your business in order to be successful. You’ll need to provide financial proof of the revenue of your company including profit and loss statement, financial projections, and any evidence showing that your business will be sustainable in the long term. We recommend consulting with the Immigration Bureau for more details.
If you aren’t able to produce the capital on your own there are a number of resources available to help kick start your business including grants and loan programs. Foreign embassies often have established programs in Japan that help provides grants and crowdfunding for approved startups. Other organizations include The Japan Foundation Center, The Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, J-Net21 (Japanese), and Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects.
At the beginning stages developing relationships with investment firms could be the difference between a successful company and a failed company. For foreign entrepreneurs in Japan especially the relationships with established companies will be essential for building local clientel. As the government is looking to make domestic venture capital funds more accessible to foreign startups, many of the larger fortune 500 companies are looking to invest in the next generation of startups in Japan. While this option may seem far out of reach, it’s not entirely impossible. Our best recommendation is to pair with seed accelerator firms to help connect you to the local startup ecosystem.
Finding Office space
Finally, office space is necessary to be able to conduct business. For freelancers providing an office isn’t necessary for starting a business but for those pursuing a Business Manager visa or a Startup Visa, having an office space is a requirement. Whether this is in a shared office or a more corporate-style office, you’ll need to make sure that it meets the necessary requirements for the visas. For example, it should have four walls and a door that has a lock. The Immigration Bureau of Japan may send an officer to check up on this requirement. Coworking spaces are unfortunately not accepted, although there have been some changes to this requirement recently, but only within certain parameters.