Japan has been a popular destination for newly-qualified and experienced EFL teachers alike for many years. It’s a country with so much to offer teachers – an abundance of teaching jobs, good salaries and benefits, and an incredible culture and history.
Like many Asian countries, Japan has strict visa requirements, and in order to get a work visa to teach in language schools or with the government-run JET programme you must have at least a Bachelor’s degree. But is there any way around this? While there’s no negotiating with visa requirements, there are a few options to teach in Japan if you don’t have a degree, so let’s take a look at them!
How to teach English in Japan without a degree
If you want to teach English in Japan and you don’t have a degree then, unfortunately, your options are pretty limited. A degree – in any discipline – is required to get a work visa to TEFL in Japan, so without one, you aren’t eligible.
Your options to teach English in Japan without a degree require you to have one of the following:
The working holiday visa
Out of these four options, the Working Holiday Visa is likely your best bet and is what most of this article is going to focus on. But let’s look at the others briefly before moving on.
The student visa
If you go to Japan to get your degree, you can work part-time teaching English on the side. There are options to study in English at certain Japanese universities, or you can study in Japanese if you have the language skills.
The spousal visa
If you marry a Japanese national, you’ll have the right to work teaching English in the country on a spousal visa. Keep in mind that most employers do prefer teachers to have a degree, but you will have the advantage of being an easier hire as employers won’t have to deal with the paperwork involved with sponsorship and hiring from abroad.
The final option requires you to have Japanese citizenship. If you have a Japanese passport, you’ll have the right to work in Japan and be able to find work teaching English even if you don’t have a degree. If not, then there’s not really much hope of obtaining one as naturalisation requires you to have spent at least 5 years living in the country.
Teaching English in Japan on a Working Holiday Visa
If you’re desperate to live and work in Japan, it can be seriously disappointing to discover a degree is required when you don’t have one. But the good news is Japan offers a Working Holiday Visa, which can enable you to TEFL in Japan – no degree required!
The primary purpose of a Working Holiday Visa is hinted at in the name – it’s to take a holiday. This means that while you can legally work teaching English on this holiday visa, you can’t do it full time, and it should primarily be to fund your travels. So, if you love the idea of exploring Japan for a year and teaching English on the side, then a Working Holiday Visa is perfect for you.
Who can apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan?
The Working Holiday Visa has strict requirements, so it’s not an option for everyone. You’re eligible for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan if you:
- Are aged between 18 and 30
- Possess a passport from one a partner country
- Are in good health
- Haven’t previously been issued a working holiday visa
What you need to apply for a Japanese Working Holiday Visa
- A valid passport from a partner country
- A visa application form
- A passport-sized photograph
- A CV, resume or personal history
- An itinerary for your time in Japan
- A written reason for applying for the Working Holiday Visa
- Either £2,500 in cleared funds or £1,500 and a return ticket
A passport from a partner country
Nationals from the following partner countries may be eligible for a Working Holiday Visa in Japan: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Czech Republic, Lithuania.
The application form
Visa application forms can be downloaded online from the Embassy website. They are pretty simple to fill out, covering basic personal details and some additional information.
It’s generally not necessary to hire an immigration agent to assist you. However, be sure you read each question carefully and review your responses before submitting the form. Any errors could lead to a delay or denial of your visa.
The passport-sized photographs
You need to include a (45mm x 35mm / 2in x 1.4in) passport-style photograph of yourself, which must have been taken within the past six months.
Your CV details your qualifications and employment history. Everything from your education to any work experience should be stated on it. It should be clear and easy to read and no longer than two sides of A4. For some great tips for writing a CV, check out our CV Guide.
The itinerary details what you intend to do in Japan and provides information about any pre-arranged employment you may have found. It’s essential the Japanese authorities know where you are in case of an emergency or in case they need to contact you. Try to put in as much detail as you can. If you don’t provide enough, you could only be granted a holiday visa, which you can’t work on. The working holiday visa is primarily about holidays, so it’s important to remember this – the reason you’re allowed to work on this visa is for you to be able to fund your travels while in the country.
Your written reason for applying for a Working Holiday Visa
The written reason is your own personal statement detailing why you want to obtain a Working Holiday Visa for Japan. Think very clearly about what you are going to write – this is where you need to detail what draws you explicitly to Japan. The statement should present a genuine interest in experiencing Japanese culture.
The money is significant. The Consulate wants to ensure applicants are able to both support themselves in Japan and that they have the means to get home at the end of the visa. Traveller’s cheques, credit cards and overdrafts are not accepted.
You will need £2,500 in your account, or £1,500 if you have booked a return flight (you’ll need to provide evidence of this). You will also need to provide bank statements for the previous three months.
There are a few other requirements to be aware of. Children can’t accompany you, and any spouses or partners you wish to go with must also have a Working Holiday Visa, or a similar visa (and the amount needed for funds will be higher).
Some jobs that are considered damaging to public morals are strictly prohibited for anyone coming to Japan to work on a Working Holiday Visa. These jobs include work in bars, cabarets, nightclubs, and gambling establishments. Failure to comply with the terms can lead to detainment by the Japanese authorities, followed by deportation and even a ban on re-entering Japan.
Teaching English in Japan without a degree: finding work
Reputable Japanese TEFL employers will typically only consider applicants with a college degree.
Why? Because it’s much easier for them to sponsor your work visa if you meet this all-important requirement.
But a degree isn’t the only thing to consider. Japanese employers will skim your resume to look for the following five prerequisites:
- A college degree
- Native English proficiency
- Teaching experience
- A TEFL certificate
- An outgoing, positive, and energetic personality
The more of these criteria you meet, the more chance you have of obtaining work in Japan as a teacher.
The college degree
Scratch number one off the list as you don’t have a degree. Chances are it’s too expensive and time-consuming to obtain one now.
Native English-speaking proficiency
Employers often have a preference for applicants from native English speaking countries. If you’re from one of the “Big Seven” (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the United States), then pop your nationality up the top of your CV. If you aren’t a native English speaker, it’s important that you can provide evidence of proficiency to increase your chances of finding a job.
Experience will make it a lot easier to secure work if you don’t have a degree—but, remember, you can only find teaching work if you also meet the requirements for one of the visas listed above. No amount of experience will compensate for not having a degree for a regular work visa. Japanese employers prefer teachers who’ve worked domestically as they have a solid understanding of the local business culture.
A TEFL certificate
A TEFL qualification will go a long way in helping you secure a position without a degree. If you don’t already have TEFL certification, start studying ASAP. Even if you ultimately fail to land an English teaching job in Japan, a TEFL certificate can help you find work worldwide. The qualification is worth the modest investment for serious TEFL teachers.
A positive personality
Even the most qualified teacher won’t excel in the classroom if they can’t engage with the students. Record a YouTube video showcasing your bubbly personality and outlining your fine-tuned teaching techniques. When it comes to gauging your character, employers would much rather see you in action in a video than rely on words written on a CV.
Volunteer teaching in Japan
Say you’ve got some savings in the bank, and you’re longing to experience the magic of living in Japan. Then why not consider taking on a TEFL volunteer position? A solid network of non-profit organisations operates throughout Japan, many of which offer volunteer teaching positions.
As the requirements are far less stringent than salaried gigs, most organisations will accept teachers without a university degree. Some provide free accommodation and other perks to sweeten the deal, and almost all offer a flexible work schedule—you get plenty of free time to explore.
Volunteer work is generally permitted in Japan on a tourist visa for up to 90 days.
Of course, the downside is you won’t get paid for your efforts. That’s quite a considerable drawback in a high cost-of-living country like Japan.
Teaching private English classes
Private English tuition is one of the best options for teaching in Japan without a degree. While some students insist on hiring university-educated tutors, most will be happy to study with an experienced native speaker.
Private classes pay well. As a sole-trading freelancer, you get to cut out the middle person and set your own rates. In Japan, private teachers often earn more than their salaried counterparts while working fewer hours—you retain full control of your schedule. Plus, there’s always plenty of demand, especially in large, sought-after cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
Most private teachers hold classes at the student’s home or a local café, so you won’t need to fork out for classroom expenses. Just be sure to factor in travel and preparation time when setting your hourly rate.
But private teaching isn’t without its pitfalls.
First, you’ll need a suitable employment visa, which can be tricky without sponsorship (the working holiday visa is a good choice). Second, it takes time to build up a decent client base, so don’t expect to get inundated with work from the get-go. Finally, private tuition is less stable and reliable than a salaried, full-time job. Sometimes you’ll be booked solid, and sometimes you’ll be left desperate for work—it’s “feast or famine,” as they say. Ensure you’ve got a healthy buffer in your bank account to stave off starvation during slow times.
Teaching English to Japanese students online
Looking to live the digital nomad dream while still savouring a slice of Japanese life? Then consider teaching English to Japanese students online.
With the advent of high-speed internet (and, more recently, the COVID-induced remote work revolution), it’s possible to build a TEFL career entirely online.
The virtual TEFL sector took a hit when China changed its regulations in 2021. However, numerous Japanese institutions are still seeking online teachers.
If you’re working for a Japanese company remotely while living in Japan, you’ll need a suitable work visa. You could, however, teach Japanese students remotely from your home country. That way, you score a respectable pay check and enjoy authentic interactions with real Japanese people—a win-win.
Does online teaching sound like your cup of sencha? Check out these Japanese online TEFL employers that don’t have degree requirement:
- One Coin English: requires the ability to work in Japan legally
- OKpanda: requires a native English accent
- Best Teacher: requires a TEFL certificate
- Eigox: requires a TEFL certificate
- E-Communication: requires two years of teaching experience
- S-Lessons: requires one year of teaching experience
- Lyngo: prefers a TEFL certificate
- NativeCamp: requires English proficiency
Working on a tourist visa: a word of warning
Some would-be teachers arrive in Japan on a 90-day tourist visa and start applying for jobs. While this easy, paperwork-free path may sound tempting, we strongly recommend against it.
Regardless of whether you actually do any paid work, the mere act of seeking employment (sending out CVs, attending interviews, etc.) on a tourist visa is illegal. Japan is a tightly controlled society with a law-abiding populace. Any attempt to work illegally could see you reported to the authorities, who could detain and deport you.
Deportation is a big deal. With that big black mark staining your passport, you’ll likely never be allowed back into Japan again. Other countries will forever be sceptical of your moral fibre, too.
What’s more, Japan is a costly place to live for the unemployed. Many hopeful ESL teachers have tried searching for gigs on a tourist visa and seen their savings diminish at an alarming rate. Most return home empty-handed with a great gaping hole in their bank account.
Besides, even if you did manage to find work, you won’t be protected by Japanese employment laws until you obtain an appropriate visa. Your employer could withhold payments or force you to work unreasonable hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Do you need a degree to do the JET programme?
A. It doesn’t matter how experienced you may be, you need a degree (or a three-year teaching training certificate) to qualify for the JET programme in Japan. If you’re expecting to graduate soon, you might be in luck. The program will consider applicants with a degree conferred by June in the year of their commencement.
Q. Do you need TEFL certification to teach in Japan?
A. A TEFL certificate is not an official requirement for obtaining a work visa to teach English in Japan. However, the Japanese immigration department and virtually all reputable ESL institutes strongly prefer TEFL-certified applicants. There’s fierce competition for teaching positions in Japan, so it’s worth obtaining a TEFL to stand out.
Q. Why is a degree needed to teach English in Japan?
A. A degree is (generally) required to teach English in Japan because there’s no shortage of applicants. Japan is a popular place to teach due to its high salaries and fascinating culture. With so many teachers trying to move there each year, the Japanese government can afford to be picky about who it lets in.
Q. an I teach English in Japan with an Associate’s degree?
A. Japan requires a four-year Bachelor’s degree for teachers to obtain a work visa, which means an Associate’s degree won’t cut it. There are alternatives, however, such as the popular Working Holiday Visa program.
Resources for Teaching English in Japan
The Working Holiday Visa is an excellent option for anyone wanting to visit Japan and work there for a short amount of time. For more information about applying, you can visit the embassy website. Visit our Teach English abroad page to find teaching jobs in Asia and around the world.