How to Get a Startup Visa To Build a Company in Japan: A Complete Guide

Sasha Kaverina
8 min readMar 16, 2020

Taking all that myth around immigration and making it very crystal clear: how to apply to the startup visa in Japan, relocate and build a thriving business.

DISCLAIMER: The article has been written based on the March 2020 information. This area of immigration law changes quickly, and it is vitally important to be aware of the current situation. Please, check the METI page for any updates.

UPDATED MAY 2020: Kyoto city announced launching Startup Visa program in Kyoto which will allow foreign entrepreneurs stay in Japan for up to 1 year. Check official website.

As Japanese government is now adopting strategies to entice the migrants’ entrepreneurial innovations, we see a dramatic shift in an immigration policy. So-called Startup Visa is one of the recent initiatives approved by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to help skilled entrepreneurs start an impact business in Japan. However, getting approved for a visa that will allow you to migrate to Japan is full of hurdles that an entrepreneur will face. I sat down with Miho Tanaka, a Tokyo-based professional consultant and a bona-fide expert on a startup visa running StartupJapan, to walk through the process. It’s certainly a complicated system, and half the battle is empowering aspiring entrepreneurs with the right information.

Miho Tanaka presenting at the Tokyo event. Image courtesy of v.j.luna ©2020. Used with permission.

Miho Tanaka: Former Public Relations Manager at Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center. Now Founder of Startup Japan connecting legal advisors to entrepreneurs entering the Japanese Market. The services include legal advice, incorporation, bank account opening assistance, visa application, and more, all in English.

What is a Startup Visa?

Startup visa program, unofficially labeled as Startup Visa, is a temporary conditional residence permit for entrepreneurs who want to build a company in Japan but don’t have enough time and money to apply for a business manager visa. To qualify for the visa, it is necessary to prove that the applicant will launch and operate an innovative business in one of the selected municipalities, or so-called National Strategic Special Zones. The startup visa scheme allows entrepreneurs for a maximum of one year to get an innovative new business off the ground.

Local municipalities offering a Startup Visa (as of May 2020)

IMPORTANT: long-term Japanese visa (student, working, spouse, dependent etc) holders are not qualified for a startup visa.
Updated July 2020: So far, this applies for Tokyo startup visa scheme. In Kyoto, a possibility to transfer from a long-term visa was confirmed. Please check with other cities or let me know in comments if something changed.

The general procedure for obtaining a startup visa, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Source: METI

What is the difference between a startup visa and business manager visa?

‘Startup visa’ is not recognized as a specific visa category under the immigration law. Simply put, it is a scheme for startups with less strict eligibility requirements than business manager visa. Unlike business manager visa, it does not require founders to fulfill a capital or employment metric.

  1. No need to have some established operations in Japan before applying.
  2. No need to deposit a minimum of 5 million yen capital.
  3. No need to have an office space before applying

While a startup visa is a viable option for many immigrant entrepreneurs, it can’t be a long-term solution or replacement for a business manager visa. All ‘startup visa’ holders are supposed to convert their visa to business manager visa after their startup visa expires.

Can I apply for a Startup Visa from overseas?

Yes, you can. However, you need to hire an administrative scrivener (行政書士, gyosei shoshi), often known as a immigration specialist, to submit all the paperwork on your behalf. You can’t ask any Japanese person or friend residing in Japan — it should be a certified person with an appropriate license.

Read Miho’s article: How can we find a good Immigration Specialist?

Can I apply for a startup visa as part of a team?

The answer is yes, but the judgement will completely depend on the municipalities.

If the founders are planning to establish godo kaisha (GK), both of the directors are supposed to get Business Manager Visa in the future, so technically they can. However, there are not many cases where two applicants apply for a Startup Visa to establish the same company.

How to Apply for a Startup Visa?

Step 1: Prepare all documents.

The requirements for a startup visa in Japan vary slightly between the regions where they are offered. However, in general applicants need to submit all the following documents. Please be aware that everything should be written in Japanese.

  • New Business Implementation Confirmation Application Form
  • New Business Implementation Plan
  • Resume/CV
  • Copy of applicant’s passport
  • Document that can clarify where the applicant will be residing for 6 months after coming to Japan.
  • Other necessary documents(e.g.: copy of bank book, documents that show account balance)

NOT REQUIRED BUT A GREAT PLUS: If you’ve already launched a company in your country and have experience as a business manager.

Example of first pages of New Business Implementation Plan for Fukuoka startup visa. Source: Fukuoka City

Step 2: Submit documents to the government office and pass the interview.

After everything is prepared, you or your administrative scrivener have to submit these documents along with your application to the local government agency.

For example, Tokyo: Business Development Center in Akasaka

Osaka: Business Innovation Center Osaka

Fukuoka: Fukuoka City Startup Café

Screening usually takes around one month. If your application is successful, you will be invited to the agency for an interview and final assessment. The interview, which is designed to scrutinize an applicant’s credibility, is held in Japanese so bear this in mind when preparing. Administrative scriveners can go to the interview on behalf of the client but it is recommended to be present in case any questions need to be clarified. Based on the screening result, you will be issued a Certificate of Confirmation of Business Startup Activity, the key document to certify you are eligible for a startup visa program.

3. Apply for a visa

If you don’t have a long-term Japan visa (came to Japan on a tourist visa or applying from overseas)

Once you are granted a Certificate of Confirmation of Business Startup Activity, it should be submitted to the local immigration bureau within three months along with a set of documents prepared for the governmental agency earlier. Please retain a copy of the full set of application documents for your own records. After completing the application, you need to wait for 1–2 months to get the result of your application and Certificate of Eligibility (CoE).

After you receive CoE, you will need to go to the Japanese embassy in your home country and apply for a long-term. Please check with your local embassy as requirements may vary depending on the country.

As much as I don’t want to steer you away from the startup visa, I need to be honest — immigration and granting visas involves an uncertain period of time. If you came to Japan on a 3 months tourist visa, it is better to start all procedures right after your arrival. Partnering with an administrative scrivener also increases the likelihood of achieving your specific immigration or visa goals.

If you have long-term Japan visa (student, working visa, spouse etc)

If you hold a different long-term type of visa, you CAN NOT apply for a Startup Visa in Tokyo — only short-term visa holders (tourist visa) can apply. Regarding the other cities, you should ask individually, for instance, Kyoto representatives confirmed to me that long-term Japan visa holder can apply for a startup visa.

You can apply for a Startup Visa to set your business in Tokyo only with a short-term tourist visa. Source: Wiki

4. Arrive to Japan

With a visa in your passport, you land in the Japanese airport. Congratulations on taking your first step toward having a startup in Japan!

How I got my startup visa in Japan: first-hand experience

When I first met Maxim Makatchev, a full-stack social robotics and conversational UI engineer, at the ‘Globalise Kansai’ event in Kobe, he was in the middle of his startup visa application process. Now Maxim is a second entrepreneur who successfully received his startup visa in Osaka. Below is the story of his personal journey towards becoming an entrepreneur in Japan.

Maxim Makatchev and Osaka Business Innovation Center’s Kazuki Ishimine (石嶺一樹) are all smiles after signing a letter of Osaka startup visa approval. Source: Maxim Makatchev

Maxim: Personally, I wanted to try living in Japan because of a long-term interest in its culture. Business-wise, I think Japan is interesting because many challenges that the country has been facing for a while (aging population, rural population decline, waste management) are also becoming acute in other regions of the world.

I’ve started the process with Sansokan (Business Innovation Center Osaka) remotely via phone and email. After a couple of months I came to Osaka to submit the documents to Sansokan in person and to have an interview with them. Also, I had to be present in Japan to apply for the Ministry of Justice’s Certificate of Eligibility at the Osaka Immigration Bureau.

Steps that I took in order to receive a startup visa:

  • Prepared the documents (business plan, financial statements, personal information) and verified they are satisfactory with the Osaka’s Business Innovation Center liaison.
  • Submitted the documents to the Business Innovation Center Osaka.
  • Had an interview with the Business Innovation Center Osaka.
  • Received a letter of support from the Business Innovation Center Osaka and brought it to the Immigration Bureau to apply for the Certification of Eligibility.
  • Had the Certification of Eligibility mailed to me and took it to the Japanese Consulate outside of Japan to receive the initial 6 month visa that says ‘“’for start-up”
  • Entered Japan as an entrepreneur.

I don’t think it would be possible to get a business manager visa unless the company would have been already open in Japan. So, unless your company is already registered and satisfies the requirements (2 full-time employees OR 5,000,000 yen initial capital), to be able to legally work on your startup in Japan, applying for a startup visa is the best solution.

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A huge thanks to Miho Tanaka and Maxim Makatchev for helping me to prepare this guide! Hope it will help many aspiring entrepreneurs get started in Japan. In the next article, I will navigate you through the process of startup visa renewal and important steps that should be done upon your arrival.

Stay tuned!