Can I Work Remotely in Japan as a Foreigner?
With the rise of remote work and digital nomadism, many professionals are considering living and working in Japan while keeping their existing jobs. Japan offers a unique mix of culture, cuisine, natural beauty and modern conveniences - making it an attractive destination for location-independent remote workers. However, there are important factors to consider when choosing to work remotely in Japan as a foreigner.
Laws and Visas
The first thing to understand is the legal requirements for living and working in Japan as a foreigner. Japanese immigration laws can be quite strict and complex. There is no specific visa for remote work or digital nomadism in Japan, but there are some options that may suit your needs depending on your situation.
One option is the tourist visa, which allows you to stay in Japan for up to 90 days without a visa if you are a citizen of most countries. However, this visa is only for sightseeing purposes and does not allow you to work legally in Japan. You may be able to work remotely for a foreign company on a tourist visa for a short period, but this is technically not allowed and may get you in trouble if you overstay or abuse the visa.
Working Holiday Visa
Another option is the working holiday visa, which is available for citizens of some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. This visa allows you to visit Japan and work part-time for up to one year. However, there are limits on the type of employment you can undertake and the number of hours you can work per week. This visa may be suitable for remote workers who want to experience Japan while earning some income.
A third option is the start-up visa, which is a new visa that Japan introduced in 2018. This visa allows foreign entrepreneurs to stay in Japan for up to one year to launch their businesses. You will need to have a business plan, a minimum amount of capital, and a support from a local government or organization that participates in the start-up visa program. This visa may be suitable for remote workers who want to start their own ventures in Japan.
Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement (JEFTA)
A fourth option is the Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement (JEFTA), which came into force in 2019 and allows citizens of EU member states to work in Japan for up to one year without a visa, as long as they have a contract with a Japanese company or a branch office of an EU company in Japan. You will need to have a certificate of eligibility issued by the Japanese immigration authorities before entering Japan. This option may be suitable for remote workers who have an existing or potential employer in Japan.
Designated Activities Visa
There are also other types of visas that cover various specific activities, such as cultural activities, internship, research, etc. These visas fall under the category of “Designated Activities” visas and have different requirements and durations depending on the activity. You will need to check the eligibility criteria and application process for each visa before pursuing this route.
Possible Digital Nomad Visa
In April 2023, the Japanese government announced its intention to overhaul its immigration policies to entice international remote workers. The government plans to introduce a special visa that would extend the stay of digital nomads beyond the standard 90-day period of the tourist visa, given their preference to experience a locale for three to six months. The details of this visa are not yet available, but it may be an option for remote workers who want to work and live in Japan in the future.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of visas and that the information may change over time. It is always advisable to consult with the Japanese embassy or consulate in your country or an immigration lawyer before applying for any visa.
Another consideration is how taxes will work if you plan to spend an extended period of time in Japan as a remote worker. Japan has tax treaties with many countries to avoid double taxation on income. However, your tax residency status and the source of your income may affect your tax obligations in Japan.
Tax Residency Status
Your tax residency status in Japan depends on your nationality and the length of your stay in Japan. There are three types of tax residents in Japan:
- Permanent resident: A Japanese national, or a foreign national who has lived in Japan for more than five years in the past ten years. A permanent resident is taxed on their worldwide income.
- Non-permanent resident: A foreign national who has lived in Japan for less than five years in the past ten years. A non-permanent resident is taxed on their Japan-sourced income and their foreign-sourced income that is paid or remitted to Japan.
- Non-resident: A foreign national who does not have a domicile or a place of residence in Japan, or who has lived in Japan for less than one year. A non-resident is taxed only on their Japan-sourced income.
Japan-sourced income includes income from employment, business, dividends, interest, royalties, rental income, capital gains, pensions, and other sources that are derived from sources within Japan. The source of income is determined by various factors, such as the location of the payer, the place of performance, the place of payment, etc.
The tax rates for income tax in Japan vary depending on the type and amount of income. The national income tax rates range from 5% to 45%, plus a 2.1% surtax. The local inhabitant’s tax is imposed at a flat rate of 10%, plus a per capita tax that varies by prefecture and municipality. Social security contributions are also required for tax residents who are enrolled in the national pension and health insurance schemes.
Tax filing in Japan is done annually, and joint filing is not allowed. The tax year runs from January 1 to December 31, and the tax return is due by mid-March of the following year. Some taxpayers may be eligible for automatic withholding or exemption from filing a tax return if they meet certain conditions.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive explanation of taxes in Japan and that the information may change over time. It is always advisable to consult with a professional accountant or tax advisor before filing your tax return.
When working remotely in Japan, you’ll need access to a productive work environment outside of your accommodations. While Japan has seen growth in co-working spaces, the availability can still be limited compared to major international hub cities. The language barrier may also be an issue in finding and utilizing Japanese co-working spaces.
Cafes offer an alternative, but can be noisy and cramped. Places like Starbucks limit sitting time during busy hours. Ideally, secure a flexible co-working membership or private office rental when planning your remote work base in Japan. Looking for spaces with language support and international members can also help overcome barriers as a foreign remote worker.
Having fast, reliable internet will likely be crucial for sustained remote work while living in Japan. Thankfully, Japan is a very connected country with extensive broadband infrastructure. Furthermore, speeds are faster and prices generally cheaper than comparable plans in Western countries.
Remote workers can sign up for home or mobile internet service with speeds commonly reaching 100Mbps up to 1Gbps. Pocket Wi-Fi devices are also available for convenient internet access on-the-go. Just note that international roaming can add costs for overseas remote workers. Testing connectivity at your planned work locations is advised upon arrival.
Working for companies based in other countries while living in Japan requires adjusting to time zone differences. Japan Standard Time is +9 hours from UTC, which is at least 8 hours ahead of European time zones and 14 hours ahead of American EST.
These large time gaps mean remote workers may need to shift their schedules significantly and have limited overlapping work hours for calls/meetings with overseas teams or clients. Some flexibility to work evening or night hours by Japan time may be required. Discuss expected communication and availability needs with your employer in advance.
Language and Culture
While major cities like Tokyo and Osaka have more English signage and resources these days, daily life in Japan still requires some language proficiency. A basic grasp of Japanese phrases and characters for transit, shopping, dining, etc will help avoid hassles. Reading up on Japan’s etiquette rules is also wise to avoid cultural missteps.
Making local friends and joining language exchanges can be great ways to boost your Japanese skills and cultural knowledge. Seeking expat groups is another option for finding English-speakers who can offer insights on assimilating as a foreign remote worker. Being open to immersing in the local lifestyle will lead to a richer experience.
In summary, working remotely while living in Japan as a foreigner is possible with the right preparations. But you must be ready to adapt to language barriers, cultural differences, restricted visa options and tax implications. For digital nomads seeking unique experiences, the rewards of remote work in Japan can outweigh the challenges with careful planning. But fully assess the legal and logistical factors before committing. With some flexibility and awareness, Japan’s charms and conveniences make it an appealing overseas remote work base.