How to (Legally) Freelance in Japan: An Expat's Guide
Freelancing in Japan can seem like a daunting task, especially for foreigners. With its rich history, unique culture, and booming evolving tourism, Japan offers numerous opportunities for foreign freelancers. Whether you’re a seasoned professional in your trade or just starting out, here's a brief guide to freelancing in the Land of the Rising Sun.
What's the difference between freelancing and owning a business?
Think of freelance as a first step to being a business owner. In Japan, both freelancers (often referred to as sole proprietors) and businesses (usually incorporated entities) engage in commercial activities, but they are subject to different legal frameworks and obligations. The main difference comes down to the legalities and taxes.
Freelancer/Sole Proprietor: As a sole proprietor, you and your business are essentially the same legal entity. There's no distinction between personal and business assets. This means you are personally liable for all business debts and liabilities.
Business (e.g., 株式会社 Kabushiki Kaisha - KK, or 合同会社 Godo Kaisha - GK): Incorporated entities like KK or GK are separate legal entities. They have their own assets and liabilities distinct from those of their owners. This provides a liability shield for owners (shareholders or members) to a certain extent.
If you're well off in your freelance, generating more income work than you can handle, you might want to consider making the right moves to obtaining a business visa.
What kind of visa do I need to freelance in Japan?
What kinds of visa do you need to freelance? Well, chances are, if you're currently working in Japan, you probably already have one. But I'll be thorough:
Specialist in Humanities/Engineering: Designed for those undertaking specific activities, like freelancers and entrepreneurs, this visa can be the ideal choice. However, obtaining it requires a robust business plan and proof of financial stability.
Working Holiday Visa: If you're from a country that has a mutual Working Holiday agreement with Japan, you can live and work there for up to a year. This visa is a great way to test the waters before diving into a full-fledged freelance career in Japan. Then you
Spouse Visa: If you’re married to a Japanese national, this visa allows you to work freely in Japan, including freelancing. (Lucky you!)
Do I need a university degree to get a working visa in Japan?
Unfortunately, if you're already freelancing in your home country or have a small business but no university degree the chances of you getting approved for your 1st visa are very slim. I've known a handful of folks who had to deal with this, and here was their work arounds:
ITPEC Test of your Field:
Applying to a Japanese University or 日本語学校 Language School and obtaining a Student Visa: This will get your foot in the door. This is a great option for those who have the time and want an opportunity to get a grasp on the language.
Working for a Japanese company remotely for 3 years, and get transferred to Japan.
Forging a University Degree (Absolutely not recommended): The chances of this working is quite slim and you potentially risk yourself from being barred from entering the country for years or even permanently. I had to mention this because I hear about it all the time, and want to acknowledge it. Don't do this.
Disclaimer: I am not a immigration lawyer, nor will ever be. This is a blog based on my experience, but I recommend you get a gyoseishoshi to assess your particular situation.