Updated January 19, 2024
How to live in Japan and work remotely for an overseas employer [2024 guide]
In today’s digital world, working remotely is becoming increasingly commonplace. In fact, it’s the norm for many of us who work in tech, be it partially or full-time.
In previous posts, I talked about companies in Japan that hire candidates from overseas, allowing them to work remotely, but what about working for an overseas company while you’re living in Japan as a foreigner?
Certainly, there are visa types that allow you to work in Japan if you have a contract here, but coming to Japan just to work remotely falls under more of a grey area. To pull this off, you'll need to be a bit creative.
This is why many foreign professionals who want to stay in Japan for a while consider the working holiday visa. It doesn’t involve a limitation on work hours, and it doesn’t limit your field of work, either.
So, is the working holiday visa really the best way to go? Are there other visa types that might do the trick? I’ll answer all of these and more in today’s post.
First, let’s talk briefly about the distinct nature of the working holiday system.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
All About Working Holiday Programs
Unlike other visa types that allow you to work in Japan as a foreigner, the working holiday visa is special in that it’s based on specific bilateral treaties between nations.
This means that the rules and regulations regarding the visa can change, depending on your country of origin and the specifics of the agreement it has made with Japan.
The working holiday treaties are created to allow young individuals to experience and learn about partner countries’ cultures, broadening their horizons. Simply put, they’re designed to grant individuals the right to stay and travel in Japan while working for a maximum of twelve months.
An important point to keep in mind is that this visa type is for young individuals, which means between the ages of 18 and 30 for most countries. For some countries, however, the eligibility age is capped at 26 or 25 years.
As a natural implication of the unique nature of working holiday programs, the working holiday visa may not be available to nationals of all countries, as they require the existence of a prior agreement.
To be more specific, Japan currently has working holiday agreements with 29 countries. Each year, new treaties are signed with new nations to extend this list even further. For instance, 2023 brought Uruguay, Finland, and Latvia to the steadily growing list.
To check which countries are added to the list and the specific requirements for nationals of specific countries, you can check the official working holiday programs page on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
While it sounds good on paper at first glance, is the working holiday visa the perfect solution to working remotely in another country while staying in Japan?
Let’s dig deeper.
Can I Work Remotely For a Foreign Company in Japan With a Working Holiday Visa?
As I already mentioned, the working holiday visa, unlike a regular work visa, is designated to help you experience the country and its culture. This is the main objective of this visa, and the working part is only secondary.
In simpler terms, the main reason the working holiday visa exists is that it allows you to finance your travels yourself while you’re on holiday.
This means that even if there are no work-hour limits, unlike with the student visa which only allows you to work for a certain number of hours, you’re still obligated to put holiday first, and treat your job as a means to support yourself financially.
So, the “no work hour limitation” rule is actually limited by this requirement, and you’re supposed to only work part-time or do minor freelance work while you travel.
Speaking of limitations, another rule that limits the jobs you can work at is regarding jobs that may disrupt public morals, such as working at nightclubs.
All that being said, given that its main objective is to allow you to stay in Japan and travel/vacation, finding work isn’t among the working holiday visa requirements.
But if you choose to work remotely for a foreign company in Japan with a working holiday visa, there’s one big thing to consider – taxes.
Regarding Taxes on Foreign Income While on a Working Holiday
A working holiday is part holiday and part working, enabling you to earn income. If you continue working remotely while on a working holiday visa instead of getting a mini job in Japan, the status of your earnings will be “foreign income.”
Naturally, this income will be subject to tax, however, it won’t be subject to your country of origin’s tax regulations. This is where it gets tricky.
During your stay in Japan, the authority responsible for taxing your earnings will be the Japanese Tax Authority. So, even if it’s possible to not get a part-time job in Japan and work remotely for your company, you’ll still face problems regarding your tax declarations.
As the visa granted to you isn’t a work visa, or a digital nomad visa which hasn’t yet been introduced, declaring your earnings from your job abroad will be quite tricky.
I’ll expand on this later below along with a few alternative solutions, but while we’re on the topic, here’s what you need to know about your tax responsibilities in Japan and your foreign income.
Taxes on Working Holiday and Foreign Income
Depending on whether you’re “selling labor”, i.e. you’re an employee, or working on a contractual basis as a freelancer, you’ll have to file differently.
If you’re providing paid labor as an employee, you will need to file an Article 172 Declaration the day before leaving Japan at the latest. You will be taxed at a rate of 20.42% on your earnings.
If you provide work on a contractual basis, i.e. as a freelancer, on the other hand, you’ll need to file a regular tax return in Japan. This means paying your taxes regularly as if you’re earning income in Japan.
In any case, your tax status depends heavily on your specific situation, so make sure to consult a professional accountant to be sure about your tax-related responsibilities.
Lastly, another point to keep in mind about taxes here is double taxation. If you are subject to double taxation in your home country, you may be able to receive “Foreign Tax Credit” (外国税額控除 / Gaikoku-zeigakukojo) for this, but this isn’t a guarantee and it can also be a bit of a hassle to get.
So, currently, it seems that those on a working holiday visa have to pay taxes in Japan in one way or another. Whether the introduction of a digital nomad visa will change this in the future is still up in the air.
Other Options to Work Remotely in Japan For an Overseas Company
The working holiday visa might not be what you’re looking for, but this isn’t to say that you’re out of options.
Those wondering, “Is there any way to work remotely in Japan for an overseas company using methods other than a working holiday visa?” should know that the answer is a yes. That said, these methods may prove to be trickier to deal with.
As I mentioned in my post on moving to Japan as a software developer, the main issue you’ll face is the visa. There are other options where this isn’t an issue, but they’re situational, like having a spousal visa.
While the working holiday visa can work for you with a few workarounds, you have to be careful when it comes to taxes. This is why, in some cases, it may be best to apply for a different type of visa to work in Japan for an overseas company.
Here are your options.
Short-Term Stay: The Tourist Visa is Remote Work-Friendly
If you plan on visiting Japan and continuing to work at your remote job during your stay, why not apply for a tourist visa instead? This is a common way to work while on vacation utilized by many foreign professionals.
Of course, a glaring downside of the tourist visa is that it allows for a much shorter stay, a maximum of 90 days, to be specific, whereas a working holiday visa allows staying up to a whole year. That said, this shorter stay ensures that you won’t have to deal with the Japanese tax system, as your earnings during your stay won’t be taxable by Japan’s tax authority.
The reason why working remotely while on a tourist visa is allowed is simple: it’s considered to be a temporary work activity that’s part of your work engagement abroad. As this is a part of daily life in today’s digital world and it’s normal for people to take care of business while on vacation, the tourist visa is perfect for you as long as you plan to stay less than 90 days.
Employer of Record Services (EORs): A Simple Workaround
If you’re a full-time employee in your country of origin and want to stay in Japan while continuing to work remotely, another option is using an EOR service.
Short for “Employer of Record”, EOR services act as a third party from Japan that employs you on your company’s behalf.
You can use a company like Deel to do this. Essentially, the company will provide you with an employment contract in Japan, and even sponsor your visa. To do this, you need to have good communication with your employer, seeing as your employer has to be the one who applies to the EOR company for this.
Alternatively, the EOR company can also hire you as a freelancer, and bill your original company of employment as well. In this case, you’ll have to handle taxes as a freelancer in Japan, so it will be the same basic process as with a work holiday visa.
The Intra-Company Transferee Visa
I have a detailed post on this already, but the intra-company transferee visa can be another good option that allows you to continue working remotely while you stay in Japan.
Essentially, this visa is issued to employees of overseas companies who are transferring to a Japanese office or branch of said company.
Of course, this visa is only an option if you’re an employee of a global company that has operations in Japan, such as large corporations like Google or Indeed. This may not be a reality for everyone, but if you play the long game, you may eventually end up in Japan.
If you want to find good global companies to work at that have offices in Japan, as well as ones that hire from overseas and offer visa sponsorship, you can always check Japan Dev where we post new job listings every day.
One important caveat to point out here is that the intra-company visa requires you to be employed at the company for at least a year before you can transfer, so, keep that in mind if you plan to pick this option.
Starting Your Own Company
If nothing else works, starting your own company and continuing to work for your company remotely as a freelancer or contract worker can allow you to stay in Japan. It’s a costly one, but an option nonetheless.
Most people don’t prefer this route because it’s not just expensive but also a bit of a hassle to deal with. Running a company requires accurate bookkeeping and a stronger comprehension of the tax system, which you’ll need an accountant for.
So, with all the responsibility and costs attached, this option seems to be only feasible if you’re willing to invest substantially to open the business (or branch) in Japan.
A student visa is another option that gets you residence in Japan, but, of course, this requires you to be enrolled in an official educational institution. It also requires you to be a full-time student.
The student visa does allow some part-time work, though. You need to apply for a special permit, which allows you to work for a maximum of 28 hours a week (40 hours during school vacation seasons).
While this visa isn’t for everyone, an important point to keep in mind if you pick this option is that you’ll be required to attend classes regularly. As you’re primarily a student, failing your student duties and missing too many classes will result in getting your visa revoked.
Why Work Visas and The Dependant Visa Won’t Work
I’ve covered a wide range of possibilities and different visa types that can allow you to work remotely in Japan in one way, shape, or form. However, I didn’t mention the dependent visa that’s issued to spouses and the work visa for a reason.
For one, the dependent visa doesn’t recognize remote work from abroad as a relevant work activity, which puts it in an illegal territory. This means that you’ll have to apply for this non-qualified activity, which will only allow you to work 28 hours weekly at a maximum.
The dependent visa, as it is today, doesn’t allow for full-time work. This is because being dependent on someone is the primary requirement of this visa, which also means that your earnings can’t exceed your dependee’s.
Alternatively, a work visa is another non-option if you want to work remotely in Japan. Working for an overseas company isn’t a valid reason to qualify for a work visa, as your contract has to be with a public or private Japanese company/institution.
So, without a workplace in Japan, the Engineer/Humanities/International Services (技術・人文知識・国際業務)" and "Highly Skilled Professional (高度人材) visas aren’t an option for those looking to work remotely while staying in Japan.
Extending Your Stay on a Working Holiday Visa
The working holiday visa allows staying in Japan for up to a year, and, sadly, it can’t be extended.
It’s possible to cut your stay short and leave early, but staying longer than twelve months isn’t possible on a working holiday visa. You’ll have to leave before your visa expires and reapply for another visa if you want to reenter Japan.
Similarly, those who want to “convert” their working holiday visas to another type, such as the work visa, should also know that this, as a general rule, isn’t possible. Emphasis on the “general” here.
For one, a visa can’t be “converted” but you can apply for another visa should you cease to qualify for the one you’ve applied for or your status changes. This means that even if you get hired and sign a contract with a Japan-based company during your working holiday, you’ll have to apply for a work visa instead of “converting” your current visa.
So, as it stands, the general rule seems to be that if you do find a job that makes you qualified for a work visa, you’ll still have to leave Japan and apply from your country of origin.
That said, it’s important to keep the unique nature of the working holiday programs in mind, which stems from bilateral treaties signed between Japan and individual countries. What this means is that while there are general rules that govern these programs, the specific rules for each country depend on the bilateral treaty between the two countries.
So, depending on the agreements, there may be specific rules for nationals of certain countries that might allow them to apply for a work visa while on a working holiday, but as I said, this isn’t a guarantee and you should check the specific regulations for your country.
Frequently Asked Questions on Working Remotely in Japan
Before I go, I’d like to provide some quick answers to some of the biggest burning questions online regarding working holiday visas and working remotely during your stay in Japan.
Can I Live in Japan and Work For a US Company?
Yes, you can work remotely while you’re in Japan using an Employer of Record (EOR) service, or by obtaining an “intra-company transferee visa” if you’re eligible. Alternatively, you can start a company in Japan and work for your employer as a contractor, which may be costly.
Lastly, you can find a new job in Japan, at a subsidiary of a US-based corporation, which you can find plenty of on the Japan Dev company list.
Can I Work Remotely in Japan on a Working Holiday Visa?
Technically, yes, you can. However, what you need to be careful about is filing taxes and declaring your foreign income, given that your earnings will need to be taxed by the Japanese Tax Agency.
Can You Work Remotely While on a Tourist Visa in Japan?
Yes, you can. The tourist visa allows you a short-term stay in Japan, and the work you temporarily engage in as part of a work conducted abroad is allowed during your stay.
Can I Move to Japan With a Remote Job?
Yes, you can move to Japan while remaining employed at a remote job. However, it isn’t easy.
You can obtain a working holiday visa, but this is limited to one year, and you also need to be under 30 years old (under 25 or 26 for nationals of certain countries). In addition to this, you can use an EOR service, which involves a 3rd party company employing you on behalf of your company.
If your employer is willing to be involved, instead of using an EOR service, your company can hire you as a freelance contractor for the term you stay in Japan. Lastly, if you have the resources, you also have the option to start your own company in Japan.
Of course, if you like Japan, looking for a full-time job while on a working holiday visa can be another option. You can find great opportunities on the Japan Dev job board where we feature jobs from companies with best practices, and some even allow remote work and don’t require any Japanese skills!
Can I Get a Full-Time Job in Japan on a Working Holiday Visa?
If you want to work for a company in Japan full-time while you’re in the country on a working holiday visa, you technically can, as this visa type doesn’t involve any work hour limitations.
That said, the main purpose of the working holiday visa is vacationing, and theoretically, you’re only supposed to be working to finance your travels. If you’ve found a full-time job in Japan, it’s recommended to apply to change your residence status to a more appropriate one, like the work visa types I explored in my How to get an Engineering Visa post.
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