Teach English in Japan – Beginners Guide

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 07/20/19 •  Teach Abroad

Teach English in Japan – Everything You Need To know

Japan is one of the most famous destinations for ESL teachers. Though the popularity of the country has waned, Japan still attracts thousands and thousands of teachers every year.

The best way to get a teaching job in Japan is to work with one of the four major English-teaching school chains known as an “Eikaiwa.” Eikaiwa’s are privately owned language schools that students attend after regular class at a public school.

Japan also has an alternative to these language school jobs which is to become an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). ALT’s are positions where you would work side-by-side with a Japanese teacher in an elementary or high school.

About Teaching English in Japan

The most common job is to work at a language school. Language schools provide you the curriculum that needs to be covered. This is helpful for first time teachers, but can be a bit restrictive to teachers who already have experience.

With the curriculum, expect to be provided with teaching materials to use in class. Materials like tapes, books and work sheets. As with any teaching job, you’re expected to be prepared for class on your own time.

Japan is also known for it’s work ethic and this will be no different as a foreign teacher in Japan. You will be expected to put in 40 hours minimum a week. A normal work week will consist of 20 to 25 hours of in class teaching with the rest of the time spent as office hours.

Classes at Eikaiwa’s are held early afternoon all the way into the evening. The classes are small, with a real focus on teaching English. Office hours consist of grading work, taking notes, preparing for class and helping students.

Most prospective teachers would prefer to work as an ATL. You can obtain a position as an ATL through a program like the popular government JET program. As an ATL, you’ll be placed into a Japanese community somewhere in Japan for 1 year. You’ll have normal working hours of 8 am to 5 pm with weekends and national holidays off and a good salary.

Legal and Educational Requirements to work as a teacher in Japan:

Japan has only two requirements for ESL teachers:

Surprising right? These two items are the only legal requirements Japan imposes on prospective teachers.

Native English Speaker

Japan wants English teachers to be native speakers of English. If your passport is from a native speaking English country you’ve already meet the first requirement. There are also two provisions to help non-native English speakers  work in Japan as an English teacher.

The first is if you have 3+ year of ESL experience, you can apply for a teaching position. This is to help individuals from countries like the Philippines who work as ESL teachers in other countries like Thailand, still have an opportunity to work in Japan.

The next provision is to have 10+ years of schooling in English. So if you’re born and raised in a non-native English speaking country but you went to say an international school where all the subjects were taught in English, you can legally apply to be an ESL teacher in Japan.

Bachelors Degree

No surprise here. You need to have a 3 or 4 year university degree (depending on where you’re from). It can be in any subject. If you have an associates degree, you’re only able to obtain a Specialist in Humanities visa and the work you’re able to do will be limited.

Additional Requirements Imposed by Schools

While there are only two legal requirements, schools will set additional standards you must meet in order to secure employment. Here are the most common:

Teaching Experience

Not a legal requirement, but obviously schools will give preferential treatment to those with applicable experience as well as a TEFL certificate.

Background check

Background checks are becoming standard practice in the ESL world. For Japan, a local background check is adequate for private language centers currently. For the JET program you will need a national background check (FBI for Americans).

TEFL Certificate

Public schools can be more selective due to the popularity of working as an ATL. Having a TEFL helps give you a competitive edge when applying for positions at a public school

Masters Degree

University positions require applicants to have a masters degree at a minimum.

Under the age of 60

60 is the retirement age in Japan. While not impossible to find work, it will be more challenging if your older and approaching the age of 60.

Requirements by School

Requirements by school vary. The less desirable positions are less strict, more desirable positions can be more selective. Here is what you should expect at each type of employment

Private Schools (EIKAIWA)

For private language centers don’t expect any additional requirements beyond the basic legal requirements of a bachelors degree and being a native English speaker (or meeting the two provisions outlined before). Private school jobs are night and weekends and tend to keep the requirements simple as a way to attract potential candidates. With that said, due to their private nature, these language schools can impose any requirement they see fit.

ALT position at a public school

Expect needing teaching experience as well as a TEFL for ALT positions. These positions are more competitive because the pay is the same as a private school, but the working hours are a normal 8 to 5 and you get weekends free.


Universities require a masters degree or higher as well teaching experience as well as a CELTA certification or a TEFL. Universities are for individuals with years of teaching experience and a background and career in education.

English Teacher Salary in Japan

For a a native English speaking teacher with a TEFL and previous teaching experience you should expect to make around 230,000-280,000 Japanese Yen per month ($3,000-3,600 USD roughly). If you obtain a position at an international school your salary could be double that amount.

Salaries for teachers in Japan are on average 3000 JPY an hour. Private learning centers should pay around 250,000 JPY. If you’re accepted into the Japanese government sponsored Jet Program you’ll be paid 300,000 JPY per month.

Types of Schools To Work at

Public  280,000-320,000  $2,500-2,900
Eikaiwa 230,000-280,000  $2,100-2,500
International 250,000-600,000  $2,300-5,500
Universities 300,000-600,000  $2,800-5,500

Public schools: 280,000-320,000

Teachers working in public schools in Japan are known as assistant language teachers (ALTs). Obtaining a position at a public school is more difficult than the private Eikaiwa, but not impossible if you have the right combination of education and experience. At a public school you’ll work normal hours from 8 am to 5 pm, with weekends off for the most part. Some schools will give you one weekday of and one weekend day off. It really depends on your school. The most popular way to become an ALT is to apply to the Japanese government sponsored JET program.

Eikaiwa: 230,000-280,000

An Eikaiwa is a private language center. This is the most common and least desirable ESL teaching job in Japan because you’ll be working nights and weekends. The advantages however are that the job requirements are easy to meet, it provides you an opportunity to live and work in Japan and you get all the benefits of a public or international school. The only disadvantage is the working hours.

International Schools: 250,000-600,000

A high paying salary, normal working hours, free schooling for your own children, and all the benefits Japan gives it’s foreign teachers? What could be better? The catch is that positions at international schools are competitive and rare because teachers who land these position don’t simply teach for a year and move on. They stick around to build a career as an international teacher.

Universities: 300,000-600,000

The most desirable ESL job in Japan. All the benefits of an international school with less hours and more vacation time. The requirements are obviously much more stringent and are only available to the most qualified of candidates.

English Teacher Benefits

Japan offers some excellent benefits to the foreigner teacher who chooses to live in work in Japan. These benefits not only make the already appealing Japan even more appealing, they also help you to comfortably live in Japan and save money.


Japan is a costly place to fly to as it’s the other side of the world. Teachers should expect their employer to pay for flights to and from Japan. Most employers reimburse you on completion of your contract. Some give it to you with the first pay check. You’ll need to discuss the details with your prospective employer.

Bonus Pay

You should expect a bonus when working in Japan. It’s standard practice. How much is the bonus? It’s usually 1 months salary. Depending on where you work, you may also have other bonuses and incentives that can enhance your monthly pay. But the end-of-contract bonus is still an expected, standard practice in Japan.

Transportation costs covered

When working at a private language school, you may be required to go to various locations like companies and other language school locations. Your Eikaiwa should cover these transportation costs on your behalf.

Fixed Housing Costs

A free apartment is rare in Japan. What companies and schools typically do is subsidize  your apartment so it’s a fixed cost and should be no more than 25% your monthly income. This should still be considered a benefit as housing costs in Japan can eat into your income.

Cost of Living in Japan

Japan being a small, island nation has to import most goods. As such, it’s an expensive place to live. If you live in a major city, you’ll be able to save but it will be much more difficult due to temptation of spending money excessively. If you’re out in the country side, it’s reasonable to assume you’ll be able to save about $10,000 USD over the course of a 1 year contract at a language center. Again, it really depends on where you are and what your spending habits are like. If your goal is to save money, find work in a town or smaller city where your money will go farther.

Japan is a beautiful, interesting country and you’ll have the cash to enjoy it as an English teacher. While you may go in with a frugal mindset, once you experience Japanese culture, you’re probably going to want to travel in the country as much you can. Your Yen will go fast, but you’ll have great stories and amazing experiences.

Types of Work Visas in Japan

Japan has a few different classifications of visas you can obtain, depending on where you work. The requirements are generally the same though some particulars exist for specalized employers like a University. Overall, the process is straightforward and much easier than neighboring countries like South Korea.

Japan has three main types of visas, depending on where you work that you’ll be required to obtain in order to work legally in the country.

Specialist in Humanities

If you’re looking to work at a private language school, this is the visa you’ll likely get. It’s a very broad category of work visa for all types of foreign workers. From investment bankers all the way to an English teacher working in private language school. It’s designed to be a broad categorization for workers who do not fit into a more specific employment category.

Instructor Visa

If you are going to be working at a public school as an ATL, you’ll be applying for the instructor visa. This categorization of visa is for those foreign workers who hold positions as instructors at educational institutions.

Working Holiday Visa

Japan offers a working holiday visa for those who want to live, work and travel in Japan. The visa is only valid for 6 months though it can be extended. For more details, visit here.

Lastly, the working holiday visa is only available to residents of the following countries:

How to Obtain a Japanese Work Visa

In order to obtain a work visa you must:

The requirements for Japan are surprisingly easy. If you meet these basic requirements, most schools in Japan are going to want the following things:

Once you have secured a job offer from either the JET program or a private language school you’ll need to do the following:


Your school needs specific forms in order to apply for your COE. Be prepared to produce numerous copies of your resume, degree, passport as well as photos and your degree+transcripts. It’s part of the legal process for obtaining a COE and thus your work visa.

The Visa Application FormCertificate of Eligibility and the Letter of Guarantee can be found on the Residing in Japan page from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Certificate of Eligibility

This certificate states where you will work, who you are working for and your job title. The COE is helpful (though not mandatory) in speeding up the process to obtain the proper work visa for your situation. While you’re able to get a COE on your own, it’s a common practice for your school to obtain the COE on your behalf.

Convert the COE

Once you have the COE you’re expected to use it to obtain the proper work visa (form is here) at your nearest Japanese Embassy or consulate. If you live far away from an embassy of consulate, it’s safe and normal to use a visa service to help you convert the COE into a work visa.

Status of Residence and Residence Card

You obtain this card at the airport upon your arrival. It has a microchip on it and in it, is embedded all your personal information. It acts as your personal identification card while in Japan and permits you access to all social services as you’re now a temporary resident of Japan.

How long does this all take?

Expect 1-3 months from start to finish. It takes some time to get your COE, so the majority of the time will be spent waiting for that single document. Once you have that, you can convert your COE into a work visa which takes 4 days (1 day rush service is available).

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s cover some frequently asked questions teachers have about living and working in Japan as an English teacher.

Can I arrive and work on a tourist visa?

No. Working on a tourist visa in any country is illegal. To do so is to put yourself at risk of fines and deportation.

Can I convert a tourist visa to a work visa?

Yes you can. You simply follow the process outlined above. Be warned though, when you enter on a tourist visa you’re declaring that your purpose of visit is tourism. It’s generally frowned upon to look for work on a tourist visa but it has happened.

A tourist visa is valid for 90 days, the process to obtain a COE can take up to 3 months. If you do find work in Japan on a tourist visa, be prepared to fly out and then back into the country as your tourist visa may expire.

Can I switch my visas from humanities to instructor?

Yes, this is a simple process where you simply fill out a “Application for Change of Status of Residence” form. If you’re looking for more details on the process visit this page.

Teach English in Japan – Conclusion

If you’ve never been to Japan you must visit. It’s one of the most fascinating countries. It’s also an excellent choice to being an ESL career, particularly if you get accepted into the JET program.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.