The TranSenz Guide to Applying for a Certificate of Eligibility and Spouse Visa for Japan
I wrote this guide based on my own experience. Sawa and I were living together in Bangkok, Thailand when we decided to move back to Japan so we had to rely heavily on my parents-in-law in Japan for assistance. You will need someone in Japan to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) on your behalf- whether that be family or an attorney. I will walk you through what that person needs to do as much as possible.
Difference Between Certificate of Eligibility and Visa
Even though the title of this article says “Spouse Visa,” the first and most difficult step is acquiring the “Certificate of Eligibility,” (CoE) or 在留資格認定証明書 (zairyu shikaku nintei shomeisho). The CoE takes anywhere from 1-3 months to acquire. Once you have it in hand, applying for your visa takes about one week.
A CoE is essentially a mandatory prerequisite to applying for your visa, no matter what type of visa you want. It is technically possible to apply for a visa without a CoE, but you will have to submit all of the same documents that you would submit for the CoE, plus a convincing explanation as to why you couldn’t apply for the CoE first. In this case, you are basically applying for both CoE and visa simultaneously but, since the CoE process is conducted only in Japan, all of your documents will have to be mailed back and forth, lengthening your application process significantly especially if there are any mistakes in your application.
The Immigration Bureau has Certificate of Eligibility application instructions on its website, but we learned during application that the instructions in English and the instructions in Japanese are, in fact, vastly different in specificity. If you follow only the English procedures, you’ll likely wind up in months of tsuika shorui (追加書類) hell. Tsuika shorui means submitting additional documents and accounts for the reason the process takes 1 to 3 months: One month if you follow the Japanese directions (or my translation, below). Three months if you content yourself with the English explanation and then submit supplemental documents, one-by-one.
Certificate of Eligibility Application Documents (English and Japanese)
|English List||Japanese List||Japanese list translation|
|Application form [PDF] or Application form [Excel]||在留資格認定証明書交付申請書 [PDF] 1通 or
|Photos (4cm×3cm) 1 copy (The photos must be clear enough without background, must be taken within 6 months before the application procedure and cover upper body with uncovered head.)||写真（縦４cm×横３cm） １葉
| Photos (4cm×3cm) 1 copy
*The photos must be clear enough without background, must be taken within 6 months before the application procedure and cover upper body with uncovered head.
*Write applicant’s name on the reverse of the photo and paste it to the appropriate place on the application.
|A return-mail envelope affixed with stamp(s) worth 404 yen (for the recorded delivery purpose)||404円切手（簡易書留用）を貼付した返信用封筒
|Return-mail envelope with a 404 yen stamp (for registered mail)
*Return address should be clearly written on the envelope
(Note: this is for domestic post, within Japan)
|Documents certifying that the person concerned is a spouse of the Japanese national and the copy of his or her resident card.||配偶者（日本人）の方の戸籍謄本 １通
|Japanese spouse’s Koseki Tohon 1 copy
*If the marriage is not recorded in the Koseki Tohon, then a Certificate of Acceptance of Application for Marriage must additionally be submitted.
*Documents must be issued within three months of the application.
|Residence Registration Certificate (Juminhyo) of the Japanese spouse, showing all family members.
*Documents must be issued within three months of the application
|Documents certifying that the profession and the income of the person concerned or his or her spouse.||配偶者（日本人）の住民税の納税証明書（１年間の総収入、課税額及び納税額が記載されたもの。） １通
|Japanese Spouse’s Certificate of Receipt of Juminzei (Residence Tax) Payment, that shows both the amount of tax and amount of payment for one entire year, 1 copy.
*If the Residence Tax certificate does not show both the amount of tax and the amount of payment received, then separate certificates of taxation and of payment must be submitted
*Documents must be issued within three months of application.
|A letter of guarantee by the person living in Japan. (PDF)||配偶者（日本人）の身元保証書 １通 [Japanese] or 配偶者（日本人）の身元保証書 １通 [English] or
|Letter of Guarantee written by the Japanese Spouse.
*This letter must be filled out by the spouse if they are residing in Japan
|A document that proves the status (if a legal representative or agent submits the application form on behalf of the applicant)||代理人の身分を証する文書等||Documents proving the identity and validity of the proxy, if necessary.|
|(No instructions provided in English)||申請人の国籍国（外国）の機関から発行された結婚証明書 １通
|Wedding Certificate issued by the foreign spouse’s country, 1 copy
*If the applicant’s country also issues family registers (e.g. Korea), then a copy of the family register showing the marriage may be submitted instead.
|質問書[PDF] １通||Questionnaire Form
The form is also available in other languages, but if written in another language, it must be accompanied by a Japanese translation.
|スナップ写真（夫婦で写っており，容姿がはっきり確認できるもの）２~３葉||Snapshots of the husband and wife together that clearly indicate married relationship, 2-3 photos|
This chart is meant to show that, while the English site’s general descriptions give the false impression that a wide range of documents might be acceptable, they are in fact looking for very specific proofs- proofs that would not be immediately obvious to anyone who hasn’t done this before. I will go over each of these requirements in more detail below.
One more piece of advice on turning in documents: If you require an exception to a particular condition- for example, your spouse does not have proof of residence tax payment because s/he is not employed in Japan, call the immigration bureau nearest your spouse’s hometown ahead of time to confirm what would be accepted as an alternative. Also, tell your representative in Japan to insist on turning in every document that you have prepared. The person at the desk may say that they are not all necessary, but our experience is that the person who told us that was wrong. If you have been told at any point (over the phone, etc.), or remotely suspect, that a particular document is necessary, turn it in, regardless of the desk worker’s protests. In our case, a document that was determined to be “unnecessary” at the desk, was requested by phone less than 24 hours later. Our parents, who had driven over an hour each way to the Immigration Bureau the day before had to drive back to turn it in again.
Applying for a CoE When Husband and Wife are Both Overseas
It’s easier to apply for the CoE if your Japanese spouse is working in Japan and has an established record of working there. But, if that were your case, you probably wouldn’t need this guide. If both you and your Japanese spouse are working overseas or if your Japanese spouse is in Japan but not working, the process requires a few extra steps, and a lot of mail between you and your representatives in Japan.
If your Japanese spouse is also working overseas, s/he will not have a current Juminzei and will not be able to fill in the letter of guarantee. You will also need a proxy applicant. According to the Immigration Office’s website, family members of either spouse who are legally resident in Japan can serve as the proxy. If you do not have family members in Japan, then a person with a letter of attorney or a legal scrivener can apply on your behalf.
Before You Apply: Are You Changing your Name?
If, following your marriage, either partner wants to change their legal name, do so before continuing with the CoE process (and make sure to update your name in the Japanese spouse’s Koseki!), so that you have the same legal name throughout your paperwork. Since we were moving to Japan, I decided to adopt my wife’s Japanese name. Laws on name changes vary by country (and US State), but I was able to change mine with no more documentation than a certified translation of our wedding certificate.
Important: If you change to a Japanese last name, know that you are not legally allowed to use kanji to write your name. You must continue write your name in English letters! I screwed this up and it has caused me no end of trouble.
Application Documents in Detail
Attention to detail and accuracy are absolutely critical in Japan, whether you’re applying for a CoE, college admission, or a job at Seven Eleven, so be extremely careful! Careless errors will lead to delays or possibly rejection of your application. Fill in forms digitally when possible. If using a pen, make sure it is a black, ball-point pen, and write in all capital letters. Forms will be rejected over the use of blue pen. To make corrections, do not use correction fluid. Draw a double line through the mistake and write the correction above it.
Documents below are listed in the order that they appear on the Japanese checklist. Japanese bureaucrats like it when documents are submitted in order, with multi-page documents joined by paperclips, not staples. (The first thing anyone will have to do with your document is to remove the staples to make photocopies, and careless staple removal may physically damage your application. I’ve seen it happen.)
1. Application for Certificate of Eligibility
Download from: the Immigration Bureau website. Be careful, as there are different forms for different visa types!
Notes for completing the application:
- The “Regional Immigration Bureau” is the regional HQ, not the branch office to at which you plan to apply. For example of your representative in Japan will apply in Kyoto, the regional bureau is Osaka. You can find a list of the regions and their offices on the Immigration Bureau website.
- “Nationality” in Japan means “country of nationality”. For example, “America” is correct, “American” is not. Your application is not going to get rejected over this, though.
- “Name”: Refer to the line near the bottom of the information page of your passport. You should see a code like: P<USATRANSENZ<<TRAVIS<TARO<<<. Ignore the three-letter country code (USA in the example) and write your name in the exact order it appears. Everything before the double < is your “last name” and everything after it is your “first name.” Japan considers middle names to be part of your first name.
Vietnamese applicants: Write your name in this order, even if the last name in the list is your “first name.”
Thai applicants: The “last name” field in your passport may show Mr. or Miss, but do not write that as part of your name!
- “Place of Birth” and “Hometown”: If these appear in your passport, then what you write in the application must match the passport. Otherwise, write the name of the city and country.
- “Occupation” should be your job before emigrating to Japan, regardless of your intended profession once you enter the country.
- “Address in Japan” and phone numbers: Enter the address of the person who is applying on your behalf (with their concurrence, of course).
- “Accompanying Persons”: Write the number and their relationship. (i.e. Wife and 2 children, total 3 persons.) If you have none, write “None”
- “Family in Japan”: It is only necessary to enter your wife or children if they are already in Japan. If you have no immediate family in Japan, write “none.”
- If you got married under Japanese law, like we did, you may not have had to register your marriage legally in your home country. Leave question 22(2) blank.
- Fill in Section 27 with your proxy’s information and have them sign. Section 28 is only necessary if you’re having a lawyer, etc., file for you.
2. Japanese spouse’s Koseki Tohon
If you were married outside of Japan and your marriage has not been entered in your Japanese spouse’s Koseki, you will need both the Koseki and a Wedding Certificate (with translation, if the certificate is not Japanese). The Koseki will have to be acquired from your spouse’s hometown city hall and the wedding certificate from wherever you legally registered your wedding.
These documents are there to prove your relationship to your spouse. Even if your marriage is not recorded in the Koseki Tohon, you still have to submit it. . . in order to prove that your marriage is not recorded therein, otherwise your alternative documentation might not be accepted. Yes, this is as ridiculous as it sounds.
3. Wedding Certificate issued by Foreign Applicant’s home country
If you are from a country that has a similar family register system (e.g. Korea), then a Koseki-equivalent, that shows the marriage will also suffice.
If you were married under Japanese law and are from a country that doesn’t issue any certification for marriages conducted under foreign law (such as the US), write a note titled “Foreign Wedding Certificate” and explain in one-to-two sentences that your country does not issue them. Have your spouse translate this into Japanese and sign it.
4. Japanese Spouse’s Certificate of Juminzei (Residence Tax) Payment
This serves as the “Proof of occupation and income.” Specifically, Immigration is looking for proof of employment (sufficient funds to support your lifestyle) in Japan. Tax records overseas aren’t sufficient here, since it’s assumed that overseas employment will no longer be valid once you’re living in Japan. If both spouses lack employment records in Japan, you will need a Japanese sponsor, such as a parent-in-law, to submit their Juminzei and act as your sponsor (this person incurs additional paperwork responsibilities, too, including your Letter of Guarantee).
If neither you or your spouse have income in Japan, and you have no family in Japan to provide this certificate on your behalf, contact the Immigration Bureau directly to find out what to submit.
For maximum coverage, you could also submit your overseas employment records, accompanied by an explanation of exchange rates and what the same/ similar job would pay in Japan (we did). However, submitting these documents alone will not be sufficient.
Juminzei records are issued in June and refer to the 12-month period that ended with the preceding December, so you/your spouse would have to be employed full-time in Japan a minimum of 18 months, if you timed it perfectly, in order to have a report that covered one full year. In some cases, a Certificate of Employment (在職証明書, Zaishoku Shomeisho) and Tax and withholdings report (源泉徴収票, Gensenchoshuhyo) may be an acceptable substitute. As always, make sure you get approval for substitutes before trying to submit your package.
5. Letter of Guarantee written by the Japanese Spouse
Even though it clearly says “written by the Japanese Spouse,” the spouse is ineligible to fill out the letter if they are not living in Japan. The Letter of Guarantee must be written by a Japanese citizen who is working inside the country. Generally speaking, whoever submitted the Juminzei for your application should also fill out this letter.
6. Residence Certificate (Juminhyo) of the Japanese spouse, showing all family members
If your Japanese spouse is not residing in Japan, they will not be able to get a Residence Certificate, so you will need to submit the Juminhyo for whoever provided documents 3 and 4, above. At this point, you may want to also consider getting this person a thank-you gift.
Get ready for an invasion of privacy unlike anything you have experienced outside of a counterintelligence interrogation cell. This sneaky form doesn’t show up on the English checklist, and does not appear to exist in English. It has to be filled out in Japanese, so you’ll likely be turning to your spouse to fill it out.
According to the instructions at the top of the form, this is an important form for consideration of your application, all answers should be as detailed as possible, and any falsehoods will result in the rejection of your application for a COE.
The foreigner is the “Applicant” (申請者 , shinseisha) and the Japanese Spouse is the “Spouse” (配偶者, haigusha). Here is the information you will need to enter:
- Applicant’s nationality, name, and sex.
Spouse’s name with furigana, nationality, address, phone number, household members
Spouse’s type of housing (owned/rented), monthly rent, and number of rooms (in LDK format)
Spouse’s employer (including address and phone), position, and date he/she started working there.
*In this case, fill out the spouse’s information, regardless of whose documents you turned in for 3-5, above.
- When, where, and how you first met and a detailed explanation of your relationship up to the date of your marriage. Include dates and be as detailed as possible. You may attach additional sheets, as necessary, and may also attach photos, letters, and international phone bills to verify your statements. (We did not attach any of the latter).
Were you formally introduced (matching service, etc.)? If applicable, enter all of the following:
Nationality, name, sex, birthday, address, phone number, residence card number of your match-maker
Date, location, and method of your formal matching introduction
Relationship between the applicant and the matchmaker as well as the relationship between the spouse and the matchmaker, in detail. Writing “friend” or “work colleague,” is not sufficient.
- What language do you use in your home?
What are the applicant’s and spouse’s native languages?
To what degree do you understand each other’s native languages?
If the applicant understands Japanese, describe in detail where and when he or she studied it.
When you can’t understand one another’s language, how do you make yourselves understood? (If you use an interpreter, the interpreter’s details are necessary)
- If you were married under Japanese law, fill in your witnesses’ information.
- Fill in the details of your wedding ceremony/reception, if you held one.
- Fill in information about the applicant’s/spouse’s previous marriages, if applicable.
- Fill in the number of times, dates of, and reasons for the applicant’s previous visits to Japan. If the applicant previously resided in Japan, then the “reason” should refer to the residence status at that time.
- Fill in the number of times and dates of the spouse’s visits to the applicant’s home country, before & after marriage.
- Has the applicant ever been deported (received a deportation order) from Japan?
If yes, fill in the reason, date, your passport information at that time, and whether you and your spouse had lived together in a married state before that time.
- Fill in details of the husband’s family, wife’s family, and your children, including relationship, name, age, address (enter “dead” for deceased relatives), and phone number. If you have no children together, you must enter “none” (なし) in table (2)
- Circle the family members that are aware of your marriage.
8. Snapshots of you as a couple.
Two to three standard-size photos that clearly show both husband and wife and indicate that you are a couple.
9. Application photograph
4 cm high by 3 cm wide, showing head and shoulders face-on, with no hat or head cover and no background. Pictures must be taken within the past six months, have the applicant’s name on the reverse, and be glued to the appropriate place on the application form. Japanese bureaucrats will compare the photo you submit to your passport photo and any other photos of you they have and check the dates to see if they can prove that the photo is more than six months old. If they determine that it’s too old, your application will be held up until they get a new photo.
10. Self-addressed envelope with at 404 yen in stamps (thanks to reader Iifu for pointing out the price change with the recent tax hike!)
You must apply for the COE within Japan, so there is no provision here for an international reply. Once again, you’ll have to rely on your domestic sponsor to receive your documents and forward them to you by EMS, etc.
Other items may be necessary, depending on your situation.
- Your Guarantor’s inkan (personal seal). Alternatively, the guarantor can simply seal the document in advance, but if your guarantor is Japanese, the chances are good he/she carries his seal everywhere, anyway. A Ginko-in is sufficient (but a shachihata, rubber stamp, will not be accepted).
- If you are applying by way of a proxy, documents that prove the proxy’s relationship and suitability to serve in that position.
In the case of Spouse Visa, acceptable proxies include family members. Your proxy’s Juminhyo (if it shows the relationship) and government ID should be sufficient. If your proxy is your guarantor, they they’re already submitting their Juminhyo anyway.
If a lawyer or legal scrivener is applying for you, you’ll need a letter of attorney or contract, in Japanese, of course. But then, the lawyer or scrivener ought to be able to supply that.
- Anything else that is arbitrarily determined to be necessary at any time during the evaluation of your application.
Submitting Your Application
The decision on where to submit your applicant will depend on your location: if you reside in Japan, or your spouse/proxy’s location. It is rumored that the more distant the Regional Office is from major cities/ concentrations of foreigners, the faster it will be able to process your application, but it really depends on the office’s backlog at any given time. It is certainly best to avoid areas that have a lot of international college students in the Feb-Mar and Jul-Aug time frames, as these offices tend to get flooded with applications from the area colleges.
In our case, we applied to the Sendai Regional Office during January and got approval within a month, despite a few delays that resulted from the Immigration Office flip-flopping on whether certain documents were necessary (insist on turning in everything, regardless of the desk clerk’s opinion).
My mother-in-law did all the running back and forth to the Immigration Office (an hour drive each way) and my father-in-law provided all the necessary certificates. Without their help, this process would have been even more of a nightmare, so I am eternally grateful!
Validity Period and Entering Japan
Check the validity period on your Certificate of eligibility- it should be 3 months from the date of issue. You have to be in Japan before the CoE expires, so get going on your visa application and travel arrangements right away! The last thing you want to do is go through all that work a second time, right? (Thanks to Vernon Reid for pointing out that this should be in here.)
Now, it’s time for the Visa
The Certificate of Eligibility is the hard part, so once that’s done, only a simple application and a week or so of waiting stands between you and your visa! Generally, Japanese embassy websites will tell you that the visa application process takes 1-3 months, but that is assuming that you don’t have a Certificate of Eligibility and are completing both processes at once. If you have a CoE, then the visa will be a breeze.
In most places, you’ll apply directly to the Japanese Embassy or Consulate for your visa, following the instructions on their website. In Bangkok, however, the Embassy has contracted out management of the application process to a private, Thai-owned business called the Japan Visa Application Center. I assume this is due to the volume of applications received in Thailand. The JVAC office was larger and busier than many travel agencies I have seen, and appeared quite profitable, despite charging about 500 baht for their services.
*Trusting my passport in the hands of a private Thai business seemed like a risky proposition to me, based on past experiences, but when I called the Embassy to ask if the business was trustworthy, they got offended at my question. The JVAC is on the up-and-up, so don’t be worried.
Requirements for the Visa Application
Fortunately, there are no sneaky differences between the Japanese and English explanations here. The visa application process is straightforward and simple and takes about a week to complete.
- Certificate of Eligibility
- Applicant’s Passport
- 5 cm by 5 cm ID-style photo (see above for description and warnings
- Visa Application Form
- (Another) Questionnaire
*Whether or not this questionnaire is necessary seems to depend on the country from which you are applying, rather than your nationality. The primary purpose of this questionnaire appears to be a weak effort to stop Trafficking in Persons (TiP).
- Visa fees (There are no fees for Americans, but if there are fees for your country, don’t get upset- fees are based on your country’s visa treaty with Japan, and whether or not your country charges visa fees to Japanese.)
Single- or Multiple-Entry?
It doesn’t matter. Once you’re in Japan, you’ll get a residence card that will double as a re-entry permit for almost all situations. Multiple entry only matters if your period of stay in Japan is 90 days or lesss, because you don’t get a residence card in that case. Not a problem for Spouses.
Congratulations! It’s time to book your flight!
If you’ve been following our guides from the beginning, you’ve probably been working on this process for nearly three months, or so, beginning with your international marriage. Now, you’re finally ready to move to Japan! お疲れ様です!
If you found this guide useful or if you have anything that you think we should add, please let me know in the comments below!