Japan has kept the border closed for 2.5 years after the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020. On October 11th, 2023, the Government of Japan finally decided to open the border and welcome all tourists without restriction on activities as long as they have been vaccinated three times.
Japan Immigration Systems - Finally Digitalized!
The news about the reopening of border was truly amazing for everyone longing to enter Japan. In addition, the Government of Japan has “finally” digitalized some of the immigration and visa processing systems!
From November 1st, 2022, all travelers, workers and residents will be able to use “Visit Japan Web”, an Online service for quarantine, immigration and customs procedures.
Can I travel to Japan?
The border is open for short-term business travelers. If you want to stay longer in Japan, you can apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) in Japan and change your status within Japan, as long as the CoE is issued by the Immigration Bureau before the visa expiry date.
Japan Startup Visa Program
One of the most attractive visa categories in Japan for startup founders is the Startup Visa.
Navigating through Japanese immigration requirements is extremely complicated and foreign. The Hokkaido Government has addressed this problem by launching the first digital application system for Startup Visa applicants in Japan - all in English!
The Hokkaido prefecture is a fertile test ground for primary sectors such as AgriTech and FoodTech.
Hokkaido and the Startup Visa Program for Japan
Around the same time the Government of Japan decided to open the border for all travelers, Hokkaido Government launched a digital application platform for the Startup Visa. This is the very first of its kind in Japan.
While many municipalities and cities only accept visa and immigration applications in Japanese, the Hokkaido Government accepts applications in English.
What are the Japan Startup Visa Requirements?
To begin with, all startup founders need to prepare the following items:
- Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
- Business Plan
- Three-year Financial Forecast
Who qualifies for the Japan Startup visa?
The Startup Visa is a special visa for startup founders who are planning to launch a company, operate a business and become a Business Manager in Japan. Traditionally, all foreign business managers in Japan need to have a residential status through the “Business Manager Visa”, but acquiring this visa has proven extremely difficult because the applicants must demonstrate the following:
- Have a dedicated office space within Japan to apply for the visa
- Establish a company prior to applying for Business Manager Visa
- Invest a minimum of 5,000,000 JPY (~34,000 euro) or hire two (2) full-time employees
The Japan Startup visa does not require an applicant fulfill these criteria prior to the application.
Launching a Company in Japan
Forming a business entity in Japan takes at least 2 weeks. Unlike many other countries that have successfully digitalized administrative procedures, Japan still requires a significant amount of paperwork. In addition, transferring capital and opening a bank account in Japan are becoming extremely difficult, as financial institutions in Japan are becoming more sensitive towards the risk of money laundering.
Startup Visa in Japan provides a one-year preparation period for startup founders who are planning to change the status to Business Manager Visa within the next 12 months.
What documents are required for the startup visa application in Japan?
The three most important items for the startup visa application are: (1) Proof of an MVP; (2) Business Plan; and (3) a three-year financial forecast. In addition, the applicant must include:
- CV / Resume to demonstrate your expertise
- Graduation Certificate
- Employment Certificate
- Bank book to show you have enough cash to expense your living cost
- Housing information about where you are planning to reside after you land in Japan
- Pitch Deck
Basically, all applicants are required to prove “why your skillset and previous experiences enable you to launch your own startup in Japan, and how to survive in Japan until the startup starts taking off and making money”.
Stay tuned for the next article about Hokkaido's start-up scene and new business opportunities in Miho Tanaka's next article!
Miho is a founder & CEO of Startup Work Inc. based in Tokyo, and Shibuya's Startup Visa Lead in Shibuya. From incorporation to immigration, she can guide you through the entire process of starting your business in Japan. With bilingual support staff and extensive, practical experience working with startups, she provides a leading source for supporting individuals and startup businesses in Japan.
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