The J-Find Visa enables recent graduates to engage in activities such as job hunting, business startup, and other income-generating endeavors within Japan — opportunities that were previously inaccessible to do so. I was one of the first recipients of this visa, which provided me with the legal foundation to reside in Japan for the initial year, allowing me to make pivotal connections, lay the groundwork for starting a business, open a bank account, secure housing, and more. This article highlights my personal experiences with the J-Find Visa and how the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC) has played a crucial role in helping me overcome challenges associated with these endeavors.
Why I embarked on this journey
My childhood fascination with Japan reached new heights in 2019. That year, I had made several trips to Japan during the spring, summer, and winter, immersing myself in the culture and lifestyle. Particularly exciting for me, given my background as a graduate in Communications and Japanese Linguistics from the University of Zurich. That last winter trip was especially impactful, thanks to a homestay with a lovely 73 year young grandmother in Kanazawa, Ishikawa-Prefecture. However, in February 2020, my journey encountered an unexpected turn when COVID necessitated my return to my hometown of Zurich.
There I was, a graduate student, with part-time working experience as a Marketing Manager and Communications Consultant, albeit over many years. I did not have a lot of choices back then. In this period of uncertainty, I decided to get a Master’s Degree (post-grad) in Communications and Linguistics, a decision that not only advanced my academic credentials but also helped me refocus on my goal of returning to Japan.
When Japan’s borders reopened in October 2022, I took the opportunity and returned in February 2023 on a regular tourist visa, staying for five months. To work around the limitations of the tourist visa, which typically allows for a stay of up to 90 days, I temporarily left Japan to visit Seoul after the initial three months on my visa. I then re-entered Japan, which effectively reset my visa and allowed me an additional three months in the country. This approach served as an alternative to formally applying for a tourist visa extension within Japan.
Choosing the right visa
This time, my objective was clear, and I was ambitious: I wanted to start my own Communications business in Tokyo. The main obstacle in my path, however, was obtaining a suitable visa. I evaluated several options:
1. Language school enrollment
While this path could have provided me with a student visa, ultimately leading to a working visa, it was not a viable option for me. Having already graduated in Japanese studies as my minor, I was not ready to return to a classroom setting. My focus was on practical application and moving forward in my career.
2. Seeking employment
Given the financial barriers associated with the already well-known Business Manager Visa, my plan involved obtaining a regular working visa as a stepping stone to starting my own business. The job search process, however, proved to be a major hurdle. Despite numerous applications and interviews, I constantly faced the same issue: companies were reluctant to sponsor my visa without prior work authorization in Japan. Although my ability to network and forge connections as a Communications professional led me to various business owners, none were able to assist with my visa situation. This emotional rollercoaster was marked by enthusiastic initial responses that often dissipated, leaving follow-up plans unmaterialized.
3. Government’s Visa Initiative
And then, it happened. End of April 2023 marked a crucial moment in my journey, as the Japanese government announced the innovative J-FIND and J-SKIP visa programs. This groundbreaking development presented a ray of hope, cutting through the complexities of traditional visa routes. Made for self-sponsoring individuals, this visa opened up a new niche in Japan’s business landscape: Freelance Entrepreneurs. With the advent of the J-FIND and J-SKIP visa programs, my strategy took a significant turn. This initiative not only aligned perfectly with my goals but also simplified the process of establishing my business in Japan, or so I thought at first. I shifted my focus to this self-sponsored visa, recognizing it as a practical and direct route to realizing my entrepreneurial ambitions in Tokyo.
With the rollout of the J-FIND and J-SKIP visa programs, I was presented with a choice. The J-SKIP option, however, was impractical for me due to its requirement of an annual income exceeding 20 million yen. Being a couple of million yen short of this threshold, I realized that this path was not viable for my situation, steering me towards the J-FIND visa as the only suitable and feasible option.
What is the J-FIND visa?
To me, the path to securing the novel J-FIND visa was one that necessitated thorough research and a keen understanding of the required documentation. The Japanese government aims to draw in younger, highly skilled, and well-experienced foreign professionals through its new visa initiatives. This move is in response to Japan’s urgent need to counterbalance its swiftly aging population and persistently low birth rates, which have led to a critical shortage in the workforce. While Japan’s immigration approach has historically been somewhat closed off, often not aligning with the dynamics of the global market, these new measures indicate Japan’s awareness of the growing necessity to welcome international businesses and talents.
So, while the J-SKIP visa expands upon the existing Highly Skilled Professional (HSP) visa program, the J-FIND visa introduces a new category as a part of Japan’s economic revitalization strategy. Permitted activities under the J-FIND visa included job hunting, start-up preparation, and employment to supplement funds for these primary activities.
But one of the initial challenges I encountered was the novelty of the J-FIND visa program. Being a new and untested option, there were no law firms or agencies equipped with the experience to guide applicants through this specific process.
As I did my research, I found that to qualify for this visa, applicants were required to fulfill the following:
- Educational Background: A degree from a university ranked in the top 100 in at least two world university rankings, or completion of a graduate course at such an institution.
- Timeliness of Graduation: The visa application needed to be made within five years of graduating, as the target is recent graduates.
- Financial Preparedness: A minimum of 200,000 yen for initial living expenses in Japan, evidencing the applicant’s capability to support themselves initially.
Meeting these requirements was necessary for my application. Fortunately, my educational background aligned perfectly with the criteria, and I had graduated within the stipulated time frame. Additionally, I had secured enough funds to meet the financial requirement for initial living expenses in Japan. The only downfall of the visa seemed to be the limited duration: it is initially valid for a maximum of one year and can be renewed only once for an additional year. Contrary to what some might believe, this visa is not intended for ‘digital nomads.’ Instead, it serves as a business preparation visa, designed to facilitate the initial stages of establishing a business in Japan.
Applying for the J-FIND visa
Step 1: The Certificate of Eligibility
The next obstacle I faced was obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE), which typically requires a sponsor in Japan, such as an employer, school, or relative. Without any of these in place, the conventional route to a CoE was not an option for me. And I needed the CoE in order to apply for the visa in the first place.
This is where the J-FIND (and J-SKIP) visa offered a distinct advantage. Unlike other visas, it allowed me to be my own guarantor, a significant deviation from the standard requirement. The process of obtaining a CoE within Japan generally takes 1 to 3 months and requires a Japanese address for correspondence. Because the J-FIND visa was a new and unknown territory to all involved stakeholders at that time, I was not allowed to apply for the CoE overseas at the Japanese Embassy of Switzerland. To navigate this requirement, I later used the address of my best friend in Japan, a decision I transparently communicated to the immigration authorities, while I was in Tokyo.
Step 2: Preparing the Documents
This stage required thorough organization and attention to detail, as the completeness and accuracy of these documents are critical for a successful application. What I needed to prepare were following documents to apply for the CoE:
- CoE application form
- One photograph (that meets the standard requirements)
- Documents proving that I had graduated from a university ranked in the top 100 in at least two world university rankings
- My Curriculum Vitae
- A description of intended activities (here I had mentioned the J-FIND visa)
- A document showing my current balance of my savings account
Step 3: Applying for CoE at Shinagawa, Tokyo
I headed to the immigration office in Shinagawa, Tokyo, to submit my CoE application. Fortunately, I had digitized copies of my important documents stored on my laptop, which made it easier to print them out at a nearby 7-Eleven. This step was all about ensuring that every required piece of paper was in order, accurately filled out, and ready for submission.
Surprisingly, even the staff at the immigration office were not fully acquainted with the J-FIND visa, a testament to its novelty. I had to explain the new visa to the staff, using the official government website as a reference. I think this was one of the biggest challenges in the whole process, because it seemed to me as if everyone was lost: the staff didn’t know the visa, and the lack of familiarity with the J-FIND visa left me questioning whether my application would be processed correctly, or if I would receive any response at all.
Step 4: The Wait
Following the submission of my CoE application, a period of waiting ensued. One month passed without any news, and I made the decision to return to Zurich in June. This move was rather strategic, allowing me to prepare for what I hoped would be my relocation to Japan. In July, my best friend came to visit family in Zurich. When we met, I was faced with an unexpected but welcome surprise: he was holding a yellow-ish letter, the harbinger of good news. It was my Certificate of Eligibility, finally in my hands.
Step 5: Japanese Embassy in Bern, Switzerland
With the Certificate of Eligibility, I wasted no time in progressing to the next step. I immediately contacted the Japanese embassy the following Monday and secured an appointment for Friday the same week. The embassy did not accept online submissions for visa applications, so I prepared to present my documents in person. To my relief and excitement, I received notification after just one week: my J-FIND visa was approved and ready for collection. I promptly visited the embassy again, and there it was, my visa firmly attached to my passport. End of July, I found myself in Tokyo.
Challenges after re-entering Japan: banking and housing hurdles
Upon re-entering Japan with my new visa, I encountered two significant challenges that again tested my resilience and adaptability.
Challenge 1: Opening a personal bank account
Contrary to the usual straightforward process of opening a bank account in Japan, my situation was overly complicated by the unique nature of the J-FIND visa. The typical routes to a bank account in Japan include 1) being accompanied by an employer / lawyer on the first day of work, 2) having a school as a guarantor for students, or 3) residing in Japan for over six months. The J-FIND visa, while permitting work, job seeking, and business setup, paradoxically complicated the process of opening a bank account. Despite having an official statement attached to my passport confirming my eligibility to work and start a business, the barriers of trust persisted.
The solution eventually came from an unconventional approach. I declared myself self-employed on paper, which technically aligned with my freelancer and sole-proprietor status. To my surprise, this strategy worked, and I was able to open a personal bank account after five ridiculous months. Throughout the initial bank-less period, I relied on WISE International for financial transactions, ensuring I could pay rent and meet daily expenses.
Challenge 2: Renting a Place in Tokyo
My inability to open a Japanese bank account initially prevented me from renting an apartment in the conventional manner. Share houses were not a viable option for me, and the requirement for a Japanese bank account to rent a place posed a significant hurdle.
Eventually, I found a solution through Weave Living, a foreigner-friendly real estate company specializing in move-in ready and fully furnished apartments with design-forward furniture and appliances. They offered a reasonable price and accepted credit card payments from foreign banks, providing me with a much-needed temporary housing solution in Tokyo.
Currently, I do have two key considerations that occupy my thoughts. Firstly, the renewal of my J-FIND visa in July 2024 presents an unknown challenge, as no one has yet gone through this process. I’m uncertain about how things will unfold, but I plan to keep my network updated through my LinkedIn and Medium blog.
Secondly, I’m considering transitioning my J-FIND visa to a Business Manager Visa. This shift is driven by having more work at my sole-proprietorship with aomelab.com, coupled with the development of a second business venture. Also, I would have to get another visa anyways after the end of the two year lifespan of the J-FIND visa.
One crucial, yet pioneering support I received in this decision-making process was from the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC). I was introduced to TOSBEC last year by Anthony Griffin, a seasoned business consultant and friend who has been my mentor over the last five years. With his profound understanding of establishing a business in Japan, from sole proprietorship to his registered business entity SAGA CONSULTING, Anthony guided me to TOSBEC. Engaging with TOSBEC was a novel challenge for both parties, requiring us to maintain regular communication to update and learn from each other.
Reflecting on obtaining the J-FIND visa, while I realize that it was an unforgettable experience, with my current knowledge I would advise others to consider simpler options like pursuing a student visa or securing employment first. I usually have a preference for the unconventional, yet this process involved numerous uncertainties, substantial time and financial investments, and immense effort.
Though in one sense flexible, the J-FIND visa also proved to be quite limiting due to its unfamiliar nature in the immigration landscape. Consequently, I am now committed to advising those seeking the J-FIND visa, aiming to reduce their struggles and provide support wherever possible.
Despite the hurdles, I wouldn’t necessarily change my approach, as the novelty of the visa meant that initially, no one quite knew how to navigate it. And it is thanks to visionary leaders like Paul McMahon and supportive businesses like TokyoDev that journeys like mine receive the necessary attention and support, fostering a community of growth, innovation and change.