With a vibrant and powerful economy, an ancient culture that’s attracted foreign interest for hundreds of years, and an incredible mix of old and new, Japan has had an alluring effect on foreigners for the better part of one thousand years. One of Asia’s top countries both culturally and economically, Japan has grown into a major hotspot for foreign expatriates seeking a new life abroad.
While more well known as a location for expatriates and businesspeople than as a potential place to retire, Japan has attracted a reasonable degree of interest from foreign residents seeking a retirement destination in East Asia. With some of the world’s most beautiful countryside and a variety of geographical climate zones in its borders, Japan truly offers something for anyone that would like to retire there.
Unfortunately, however, Japan’s visa system isn’t quite as welcoming to would-be retirees as those found in many other Asian countries. From the endless Japanese bureaucracy to the somewhat restrictive nature of many visas, as well as the lack of any formal retirement visa plan, retiring to Japan can be a difficult process.
Combine that with a high cost of living, and Japan isn’t exactly the picture perfect retirement destination, at least on the surface. However, for many foreigners, the country’s incredible culture, great way of life, and friendly people make it the only retirement destination that will do. For these would-be gaijin retirees, there are a few ways to reside in Japan long term as a retiree.
Does Japan Offer A Retirement Visa System?
Japan’s visa system is somewhat limited, given the country’s economic prowess and its importance in multinational affairs. While foreigners are able to work within the Japanese economy with relative ease, particularly in education and business, it’s not easy to retire to Japan and live off of your investments without any local activity.
The vast majority of foreigners living in Japan are residing in the country on work visas, which are issued for one year at a time and renewed alongside their position. As most retirees are unlikely to be working, this visa option isn’t suitable unless you plan to work part time, perhaps as a teacher, while residing in Japan.
Unfortunately, there is no specific retirement visa available for foreigners wishing to live in Japan as an expatriate. Without ties to either the local economy, in which case a working visa is available, or to the Japanese population through marriage, it’s just isn’t possible to gain long-term residence in Japan as a retiree.
If Japan Doesn’t Offer A Retirement Visa, How Can Foreigners Retire There?
The vast majority of non-working foreigners that have retired in Japan live in the country using a spousal visa, as part of a marriage to a Japanese citizen. These visas are issues to married couples that reside within Japan, and are relatively easy to apply for if you are married to a Japanese citizen. For those with a Japanese spouse, more information is provided on applying for a retirement visa later in the article.
A final option for retirees seeking a long-term residency visa in Japan it to apply for a series of successive long-term stay visas, and then transition towards permanent resident status over time. This is a relatively slow option that will take several years, and requires a deep understanding of Japanese culture and language.
If you wish to apply for Japanese permanent residence, you will need to stay in the country for three years, each time on a one-year visa. After this point, you are able to apply for a ‘long stay’ visa, which is valid for three years. Once you have used two of these visas successfully – a six-year process – you are allowed to apply to become a Japanese permanent resident, and own land in your own name.
Note that this process required proficiency in the Japanese language, as well as an understanding of the culture itself. Applicants must pass several exams on Japanese in order to qualify as a permanent resident. The process is long and complicated and far from suitable for most retirees, but for those with deep ties to Japan, as well as a great desire to live in Japan, this is the most useful long-term option.
Where Can I Apply For A Japanese Long-Stay Or Spousal Visa?
All Japanese visas can be applied for at Japanese consulates and embassies in a wide range of countries. A select number of visas can also be applied for within Japan, as part of the Immigration Department of Japan’s current system. A list of Japanese embassies can be found here at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Note that all Japanese long-stay visas require a Certificate of Eligibility to be present along with the rest of the application. To qualify for the Certificate of Eligibility, you will need to provide documentation on your financial status, criminal convictions, and immigration history in Japan. This process is best carried out through a travel agent that specializes in Japanese visa services.
Despite its high cost of living and restrictive immigration policy, Japan is a nation that can be truly rewarding to those that invest the time and resources required to secure long-term residency. From cultural pursuits to economic opportunities, the Land of the Rising Sun offers a unique lifestyle for retirees that wish to live there.