Japan is a country that has been enticing EFL teachers for decades. With a fascinating culture, ancient traditions, and a strong TEFL jobs market it’s easy to see why.

Qualified EFL teachers can find a huge range of opportunities to teach English in Japan – from teaching in one of the many language centres across the country, to working in state-run schools and even within companies teaching business English. But the government-run Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme has long been a popular choice with recent university graduates.

The JET programme allows participants to live and work as a teaching assistant in Japan. With more support than a typical TEFL job it’s a great option for new teachers and those who have little experience living abroad.

But what are the requirements, what’s included for participants, and how do you apply? We take a look at everything you need to know about securing a coveted place on the JET programme!

What is JET? 

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme is run by the Japanese government with the aim of improving language learning and promoting cultural exchange in Japanese schools. It was first established in 1987 and since then more than 4000 graduates have taken part in the programme.

There are three roles within the scheme: ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), CIR (Coordinator for International Relations), and SEA (Sports Exchange Advisers), but the vast majority of JET participants work as ALTs, which is what we’ll be focusing on in this article.

Neon lights in Japan

What are the requirements for the JET programme?

To be eligible for the JET programme applicants must have:

  • A BA degree
  • Nationality of a participating country
  • Not lived in Japan for more than 6 years within the last decade
  • A keen and genuine interest in learning about Japan and Japanese culture

What’s included?

The package offered to ALTs in the JET scheme provides a good salary and a level of support you wouldn’t necessarily get with other employers in Japan. This makes it ideal for those who would be teaching English abroad for the first time. The employment package includes:

  • 1 year contract (contracts can be renewed for a maximum of 5 years)
  • 36 million yen annual salary (£24,000 / $31,500)
  • Accommodation assistance
  • Flights
  • 10 to 20 days paid annual leave

What do Assistant Language Teachers do on the JET programme?

Assistant Language Teachers act as assistants to Japanese English teachers, so you’re not expected to take classes solely on your own. For newly-qualified EFL teachers this can be a great way of easing yourself into teaching as you’re not fully responsible for classes and have the support of another teacher.

The exact duties of ALTs can vary depending on the school, but typically you’ll be involved in preparing teaching materials, teaching classes alongside a Japanese teacher, taking part in extra-curricular activities, and possibly working across different schools in the same area.

Children in Japan start learning English in schools at the age of 10, but with English education largely focused on reading and writing, speaking skills are often not as advanced. As a fluent English speaker your role will be to help enhance these communication and oral skills.

A geisha in Japan

Do you need a TEFL qualification for JET?

A TEFL qualification isn’t listed as an essential requirement, but it will give your application a real boost. Keep in mind that positions on the JET scheme are competitive, so to be in with the best chance of securing one a 120-hour TEFL qualification is highly recommended.

Can non-native English speakers participate in the JET scheme?

Yes, as long as your country is listed as a participating country then you’re able to apply.

Can I choose where I’m placed?

While JET allows you to list your top three preferences there’s no guarantee the placement you’re offered will be in any of them – in fact, it’s quite common for it not to be.

If you have your heart set on Tokyo, Kyoto, or one of the other major cities then JET is probably not for you. Your chances of being placed in a big city are small, so applicants really need to be open to the idea of working anywhere in the country.

Can I apply if I’m in my final year of university?

Yes, as long as you are due to complete your degree before the programme starts in July/August you can still apply. You’ll need an official letter from your university to confirm your enrolment and when you’re due to complete your degree.

Japanese lanterns

What does the application process for JET involve?

First of all you need to complete an online application, which can be done via the JET website. Applications usually open around October.

Next, you’ll need to get your application pack ready. There are a lot of different documents you’ll be required to attach, including several photocopies of each. Once it’s complete everything needs to be sent to the Japanese Embassy before the deadline.

It’s important to note that you won’t be reimbursed for the cost of acquiring the various documents required during the application process and anything you send off won’t be returned to you. The JET application process is very strict so you really need to take care at every stage that you’ve done everything correctly.

How long does the process take?

Applications usually open in October with the deadline for submission set sometime in November. If your application progresses you’ll be invited to an interview in January at the Japanese embassy and find out if you’ve secured a position sometime March/April.

Successful applicants usually start in July/August, but there are a small number of early-start positions in April.

To find out more and apply for JET visit their website.

Don’t have a degree but want to teach English in Japan? Find out how.

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