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Visa Process Step by Step

In order to study in Japan, students must generally get a Student Visa – unless the students come from specific countries and intend to study less than 3 months, or unless they are eligible to get a Working Holiday visa.  Visa applications are submitted by students at the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in their home country. But before that, they must get a Certificate of Eligibility. That is somewhat complicated and a lengthy process. This is where Motivist Japan can help.

The Steps are as follow:

Step 1 Choosing A School

Each Japanese language school has their own atmosphere and course structure, so you will want to find a school that fits your study style. At we work closely with all our partner schools to make sure that we find the right school for you based on your language level, study habits and which city you want to study in. Once you have decided on how long you want to study it is time to apply to a school in Japan. If you will take a long term course and apply for a student visa the application process is done through your school. Their deadline for visa applications is often about five months before the course starts so make sure to apply earlier than that so you have time to complete all the documentation. High ranking language schools and universities sometimes can take later applications too.

Step 2 Understand The Application Process

  1. Fill out the inquiry form.
  2. Complete the student visa application form.
  3. Submit all the required documents (see below) to the Student Coordinator by the application deadline.
  4. Once we have received all the required documents, we will send everything to the school.
  5. The school will then submit the visa application to the Immigration Bureau in Japan on your behalf.
  6. Be patient as it takes 2-to-3 months for Immigration to approve a visa application and issue the COE.
  7. Once the Immigration Bureau approves your visa application, the school will send you the Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
  8. Once you receive the COE, take it and the visa application form (obtained from the Japanese embassy in your country), photos and valid passport to the Japanese embassy or consulate in your city.


The Embassy will issue you the actual student visa which can take anywhere from 3 – 7 days.

Step 3 Prepare all the documents needed for COE

Student Application Form

Once you apply to the Student Placement Program Student Coordinator will send you the student application form.

To increase your odds of being accepted by the Japanese Immigration Bureau you should try to be as detailed as possible. Especially for sections explaining why you want to come to Japan. The more you write here the better!

Eight identical ID Photos (4cm high × 3cm wide)

Photos must show a clear and full front view of the student’s face from the bottom of the chin to the top of the hair against a plain background. Don’t wear sunglasses or hats, or have anyone else in the photo. The guidelines also say that your eyes and ears should be clearly visible.

Make sure the photo is in color, taken within 3 months prior to your application submission. Photos must be official passport photos, taken at a specialized ID photo booth and printed on photo paper. Paper-printed photos will not be accepted. (Sadly, Snapchat selfies are not accepted.)

Passport photocopy

Copy of the Photo/ID and Signature page of your passport. If you have been to Japan in the past, then you should also copy any previous entry and exit stamps.

Academic documents

Proof that you’ve graduated from school. Usually your diploma and official transcript are necessary.

Proof of financial viability

The Japanese Immigration Bureau requires all visa applicants to prove their ability to support themselves, including paying for tuition, living costs, school fees and other expenses while in Japan.

The amount varies depending on your school’s tuition fees, period of stay in Japan and your living circumstances after arriving in Japan, but it is recommended to show access to an average of ¥2,000,000 or more for the first few months of your stay.

The documents you submit should show where the money to pay for school and living expenses is coming from. If you’re supporting yourself, make sure that all documents you provide are under your name (as stated in your passport). If someone else is sponsoring your stay, a letter written and signed by them should be enclosed and all other financial documents should show their name.

You can use the following documents to prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself.

  • Bank statements
  • Income Letter of sponsorship
  • statements
  • Financial Aid award letter
  • Scholarship award letters

Note: All documents must be in either Japanese or English.

Step 4 Get your COE

After the school has accepted your application, they will submit it to the immigration authorities. About one month before your course starts they will issue a Certificate of Enrollment, COE, that you need for step 5. The school will send you the COE  as soon as it has been issued and you have paid for your first semesters. Make sure that the school has your correct address and that you pay them on time.

Theoretically, the Japanese immigration authorities can deny you a COE but that almost never happens for Western students. However, if you apply late or if your application is incomplete or if you are just unlucky your COE might arrive close to the start of your course giving you some time pressure so do what you can to avoid that.

Step 5 After you received your COE

As soon as you receive your COE, make an appointment at the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in your area to apply for the actual visa.  If you are changing your current visa to a student, then your school will be able to assist you.  If you currently have a tourist visa, you will have to go back home and apply at the consulate.

In general, you’ll need the following documents:

  1. Valid Passport
  2. Visa application form from the Japanese embassy or consulate
  3. One photograph taken within the past 3 months
  4. Certificate of Eligibility – the original document and one copy
  5. Certificate of Admission – given to you by the school
  6. Other additional documents the specific consulate may ask for, depending on the country.

Don’t forget to get your COE back after your visa has been issued –– you will need it upon landing in Japan.

Step 6 Apply at the Japanese Embassy in your country

The final step to get a student visa to Japan is to make the visa application at the Japanese Embassy in your home country. To do this you need to submit:

  • Your COE
  • Your passport
  • A passport photo
  • A visa application form filled in digitally or by hand using block letters. Write your school as guarantor “Guarantor or reference in Japan” unless they have instructed you otherwise.


For more information see the website of the Japanese Embassy in your country. Please note that you need to complete this process and get your visa before you arrive in Japan.

Step 7 Get your visa

So finally you are done!

If you submit a complete application you will almost always get your visa from the Japanese Embassy. However, they can deny you if the information is incomplete or if you, for example, have some serious criminal record.

How long it takes depends on where you are applying but you are usually recommended to apply at least two weeks before you travel to Japan.

Step 8 Fly to Japan and when to book your tickets

Time to travel to Japan and start your studies! You might wonder when in the process you should book your flight tickets?

The Japanese authorities recommend that you don’t book your tickets until you have gotten your visa (step 6). However, for Western students, the risk of visa denial is very small after the school has approved your application (after step 3) so many students choose to book their tickets at that time to get a better price. But the immigrations can be slow so if you book your tickets before you get your visa we recommend that you take a re-bookable ticket or that you book a flight just the weekend before your course starts.

Students from poorer countries should not book their tickets until the visa is confirmed since they have a bigger risk of being denied.

Step 9 Arriving in Japan – landing card and work permit

When you land in Japan you will be asked to fill in a landing card (see the image below). Make sure that you have the necessary information available. Under Purpose of visit, you can fill in Others: study. If you come on visa waiver you might be asked some more questions about your plans but as long as you answer honestly and don’t plan to stay longer than 90 days before leaving Japan you should be fine. If you write tourism they usually don’t ask any questions unless you plan to stay long. If you do a visa run I advise that you ask your school for advise.



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