【Employee’s Interview】How to overcome getting a visa in Japan

Are you looking to do an internship in Japan ? Have you ever wondered how to change your status of residence in Japan ? In this article, as an intern of SASAL INC, I will explain my experience with changing my residential status in Japan from Exchange Student to Cultural Activity. Please pay attention if you are looking to get a visa in Japan because, in my case, it took three months, and it was not an easy task.

Step 1 : Finding an Internship

I’m an intern at SASAL, INC as a cultural learner of Japan. For my second year of Master’s in a French University, as I am in a Master’s focused on International Trade, the whole year must be done abroad. The first half of the year must be done in a university abroad and the second half as an intern in a company located overseas as well. For the first half of my year, I applied to Keio University, in Tokyo, Japan. During my semester of study in Keio University, I started applying to various internship offers in Japan and in the world. After my semester in Keio University, I was still left with no internship even though I had applied to over 300 offers. I continued my daily applications through LinkedIn and other job hunting websites until I found a strategy consulting start-up -SASAL, INC- that could welcome me by the beginning of April. At first the employer recommended me to try applying to other corporations, but I believed that my interview with SASAL INC was an opportunity I had to seize as getting a positive reply from an application is rare. Therefore I sent more messages to my new employer and she agreed to have me do my mandatory internship for her company in order for me to graduate.

The director of SASAL INC took the time to hear about my current situation, and she told me that if my parents and I agreed about doing a non-paid internship in the corporation’s internal job e.g, marketing, SASAL, INC would be able to hire me. After agreeing with those terms, I directly started the procedures of contract between my school and the company of my internship. After gathering every needed information as well as deciding with my new employer of the job hours, schedule and tasks I would be doing, I finalized the contract and had every concerned parties sign it. Now that the contract between my French university and the company welcoming me for my mandatory internship was complete, I needed to take care of the legal aspects and to change my current residential status.

Step 2 : Changing current residential status

Until the end of March 2024, I had the residential status of exchange student. In order to choose which new status was right for me, I had to consult the lists of available status given by the Ministry of Japan. As I talked with my friend who happened to be in the same situation as mine, we figured that the right status for us would be the one of “Designated Activities : Intern”. In the purpose to obtain this status, I had to gather quite a few documents such as identity documents, photos, recommended letter, approval letter, internship contract, bank account statements and so on.

I asked the director to fill the required documents and after having gathered them all the quickest I could, I went to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, located in Shinagawa, where I waited for numerous hours. It turned out that the status of “Designated activities” was not the right one in my case. The reason for that being that my internship is unpaid, falling into the category of “Cultural Activities”1. I discussed a lot with the Tokyo Immigration Bureau workers, and they asked me to bring a few new documents, needed for my new status application. They asked for a written letter from my new employer, basically rewriting all the terms of the contract : what missions I would be given, my working hours etc., as well as more information regarding the company I would be doing my internship for. I met with my new employer again in order to get those new documents sorted rapidly and I brought them back to the Immigration Bureau. After checking that everything was in order, I was given a paper attesting that my new residential status was in preparation and a stamp was added to my soon-to-be-expired resident card. All I could do from this moment on was to wait and to check my mailbox daily for when the document saying that my new visa was ready, and that I could come to the office to pick it up, would arrive.

Step 3 : Long waiting time.

Basically, it is said that the waiting time is between 2 to 4 weeks. It also should not exceed 40 days. However, in my case, and the case of my friend waiting at the same time as me for her new status as well, 40 days had clearly passed. I tried to reach the office through the phone and when I finally managed to, and explained my situation, they simply told me to keep waiting because they had been overbooked with the load of change of status requests lately. My friend tried to join the Immigration Bureau through the phone as well in vain… so she decided to go there in person and to ask about her change of status situation. The Immigration Bureau claimed that the situation was unusually busy and that they would need another month to get our new residential status ready. This news came in as a shock as we had been waiting for nearly 2 months already.

Step 4 : Finally starting the Internship

End of June 2024, I finally received in my mailbox the so-awaited document attesting that my new resident card was ready to be picked up at the office. I went to the office as soon as I could with both the received paper and the one I had been given when I made my request. I also brought my passport and student resident card, as well as 4000 yen, which was the sum I had to pay to receive my change of residential status.

After waiting at the office for my number to be called for over 3 hours, I finally received my new resident card, with the status of Cultural Activity, allowing me to start my internship legally. Until I received my new resident card, I kept my new employer updated on the situation all throughout these waiting months. The procedure to obtain a new residential status is rather long and requires a lot of documents, but at the end it is all very worth it when I know it allows me to keep living in Japan and to start my internship.


With my own experience, I hope to ease yours. Before starting any change of status or visa process, the first step is inevitably to find an internship, or a job etc. depending on your wishes. I will focus on the case of an internship since it corresponds to my situation. Once the internship found, and the oral agreement made, the first step is to make a written contract between the two, or more, concerned parties (the school, the company etc.). This is the first document that will be asked when updating your residential status. When everything is in order for your school and company, you can start the process to have the right status of residence in Japan. You can find the different documents to gather on the dedicated sections for it on the website of the Ministry of Japan1. Once everything is gathered, bring your complete file to the Immigration Bureau2 of your city. The Immigration Bureau of Tokyo is situated in Shinagawa. Once at the bureau, go to the right counter and then follow the indications. Patience is key as there are many requests but if everything is in order, obtaining your visa should not be an issue.

  1. Page dedicated to the residential status of Designated Activities : https://mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/long/visa13.html
    Page dedicated to or the residential status of Cultural Activities : https://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/long/visa5.html ↩︎
  2. Immigration Service Agency website : https://www.moj.go.jp/isa/index.html ↩︎