The Japan Startup Visa: A Speedy Guide
The Startup Visa Program, initiated by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), allows foreign entrepreneurs to apply for Startup visas at designated “special zones” throughout Japan.
Note: Please keep in mind that Immigration Law in Japan frequently changes, with addendums and stipulations coming into or going out of effect. Refer to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan or your immigration lawyer for situation-specific questions.
What is the startup visa program in Japan?
The Startup Visa Program was designed by the Japanese government to provide foreign entrepreneurs with regional support—with the desired goal of strengthening Japan’s startup culture and economic growth.
Additionally, the program enables foreign entrepreneurs and foreign nationals who might lack startup capital to find venture capital funding within Japan.
Preferences are given to original business plans with outstanding growth potential, as well as to those with a focus on deep-tech industries and SDG-oriented startups.
National strategic special zone: about startup cities in Japan
There are 10 official local immigration bureau offices where you can apply for the start up visa (links go to Startup Visa pages on each local government’s official site):
With the startup visa in Japan, foreign nationals can enter Japan and stay for up to one year without first securing capital or the other requirements for a Business Manager visa or the Four-Month Business Manager visa.
Some startup cities have outlined the type of projects deemed likely to be accepted. For instance, Fukuoka City provides the following list on their startup visa page regarding the type of startups that are particularly interesting for them to support:
Knowledge creating industries (e.g., fintech, semiconductor related, software development, content production, robot related)
Health, medical and welfare related industries (e.g., drug development ventures, medical technology development, regenerative medicine, welfare equipment development)
Environmental and energy related industries (e.g., greentech, clean energy development, next-generation storage technologies, global information systems)
Logistics related industries (e.g., global SCM services, 3PL services, international home delivery, drone logistics development)
Trade related industries (e.g., businesses that contribute to the development of overseas sales routes for goods produced in Fukuoka, businesses that utilize the functions of Hakata Port and Fukuoka Airport)
Who is eligible to apply for the Startup visa?
There is no capital investment required, nor do you need to have physical office space in Japan to apply, nor a registered startup company. However, each participating local government has specific criteria for accepting applications (refer to official sites listed in the previous section).
The local government asseses applications for startup visas on the strength of the applicant's new business implementation plan and history of successful projects/resume combined with the local government’s industrial focuses.
All documents submitted in the application process must be submitted in Japanese or include a Japanese translation.
You can submit the initial visa application through a proxy, such as an immigration services agency; however, there will be an interview if you pass the initial screening, which is typically done in person.
How is the startup visa different from the business manager visa?
The startup visa scheme allows individuals to come to Japan for 1 full year, during which time they can work toward establishing their business activities that will help them enter the Japanese market.
On the other hand, individuals with visas in the business manager category must have a business office in Japan, investment capital of 5 million yen, employing 2 full-time staff.
Step-by-step how to apply for a Startup visa
For those who wish to come to Japan to start a business, the following is a quick overview of the steps you will need to take.
Prepare a strong CV and documents proving education and relevant work experience (documentation detailing the applicant's credibility).
Prepare your business implementation plan.
Determine where you will be residing during your stay. Prepare to submit this documentation.
Prepare documents showing the balance of your assets.
Submit your business plan, application, proof of assets, location of residence during visa stay, and any other required documents to the local government participating in the Startup Visa Program. (Processing time: Depends on the local government)
If your application successfully passes the initial screening, the local government agency handling your application will call you in for an interview (which is a final assessment).
If you pass the interview portion of your application, you will be issued a Certificate of Confirmation of Business Startup Activity, which you must submit along with a Certificate of Eligibility application to an immigration office. (Processing time: 1 to 3 months)
Apply for your Startup visa. With your Certificate of Eligibility in hand, submit it along with an application to the immigration office for your Startup status of residence (visa status). (Processing time: 1 to 2 weeks)
While the length of time you can be in Japan on a startup visa is 1 full year, you will actually only be given 6 months, and then you will apply for a visa renewal for another 6 months.
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