There’s no lack of people who’d love to live in Japan. But the country’s immigration laws don’t make it easy to just pack up and go. However, that could change in 2023 if Japan carries through with instituting a digital nomad visa.
(Note: This article is current as of August 27th, 2023. We will update it as new information comes in.)
Becoming a digital nomad is still a viable option
The concept of a digital nomad spiked in 2019 and 2020. As more workers stayed home for public health reasons, many realized they could just as easily do their jobs, not only from their homes, but from anywhere in the world.
That fever may be dying down now that CEOs are insisting people return to the office. Sadly, these calls are usually based more on tyrannical whim than on hard data. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon, confessed his own call for RTO (Return to Office) was a “judgment call” and not based on any actual evidence.
Meanwhile, data shows people love working remotely – even in Japan. A recent survey by online real estate platform FLIE shows that 71% of Japanese workers who work from home are happy doing so.
Despite the global crackdown on remote work, some companies still offer the flexibility of working remotely – even very remotely. Freelancers and entrepreneurs usually have the freedom to roam, as most clients don’t mind where the work is done.
In other words, the fervor for the digital nomad lifestyle will unlikely end anytime soon. I’d actually speculate it could rise as skilled workers become more disgruntled with the heavy-handed demands of corporate leadership and decide to work for themselves instead.
What is a digital nomad visa?
A digital nomad visa is a special visa type that allows recipients to live in a country while working for themselves or companies abroad. A digital nomad visa typically lasts for 12 months, though many countries allow extending them out for several years.
Digital nomad visas are generally a win-win for both parties involved. Workers get to work from wherever and experience cultures and locales they might otherwise never experience. Meanwhile, they help countries drive tourism, tax revenue, and local commerce.
Digital nomads aren’t exactly a small market, either. According to MBO Partners, there are 35 million digital nomads worldwide. And
According to Tracey Johnson of Nomad Girl, 46 countries now offer digital nomad visas. An additional 12 have digital nomad visa plans in the works. In general, many support bringing a spouse with you, although a few limit visa rights to the applicant. Income requirements vary greatly from country to country, though they aren’t strenuous for most white-collar workers.
Digital nomad situations also differ greatly in terms of taxation. Some countries will tax you on the full amount you earn. Others will give you a discount or even write off your tax obligations entirely.
Japan: A digital nomad visa in 2023?
The countries working on passing a digital nomad visa include South Korea, Serbia, Montenegro, Italy, South Africa, and the Philippines.
But I was shocked when I found Tracey’s article to see that one of the countries on her list of those “considering” a digital nomad visa is…Japan!
I hadn’t heard a peep about this in Japanese media. However, with just a little digging, I found that Tracey was right. Yomiuri Shimbun reported in May that the Japanese government is currently “considering” a digital nomad visa. Other reports say that a committee met on June 18th to advance the discussion and that it appears to be moving forward. Discussions seem to indicate that the government could have a system in place by the end of 2023.
Until that passes, unfortunately, options for spending more than 90 days in Japan are somewhat limited. Those with money can get business manager or startup visas if they can show cash in the bank and commit to hiring people in Japan. (On the plus side, such visas are renewable once obtained.)
Other options include working holiday visas (only open to applicants from some countries), student visas, cultural visas, and long-stay sightseeing visas. Each comes with its own restrictions. For example, cultural visa holders can stay for up to three years but can’t work at all. And the long-stay designated activities visa requires 30 million yen (USD 205,000) in savings.
Why Japan could use a digital nomad visa
Currently, Japan does have a generous tourist visa. Tourists from 69 countries are visa-exempt, which means they can obtain a 90-day visa simply by entering the country. And Japan is pretty good about allowing repeat visits within the year.
And indeed, since the country re-opened its doors in October 2022, it’s seen a resurgence in inbound tourism. Visits from countries such as the United States are even exceeding 2019 levels.
However, many people would love to stay longer. 90 days is hardly enough time to see everything Japan has to offer. Plus, many people would love the experience of living here, making friends, and experiencing the country more as a resident than as a tourist.
Unfortunately, the route to a longer-term visa in Japan is fraught with complications. Even if you could take a job in Japan, there are many reasons you may not want to. Wage stagnation in Japan, combined with workplace conditions that require long hours and offer little work-life balance, discourages many from taking full-time jobs with Japanese firms.
Then there’s Japan’s continued “cheap yen” strategy. The yen is once again falling to near-historic lows relative to the US dollar. That’s great news if you’re in Japan with foreign currency. But if you have obligations (like debt servicing) outside of Japan, it means that working here requires a substantial pay cut.
A digital nomad visa would make it easier for various workers and academics to experience more of Japan. And Japan’s strapped economy could use both the income and the additional boost to tourism that they would bring.
I’m crossing my fingers that Japan’s digital nomad visa transitions from “seriously considering” to a concrete plan sometime within the coming months.
What to read next
August 28th, 2023: Previous version stated that business/startup visas were time-limited. Fixed to note they are renewable.
世界を渡り歩くデジタルノマド、専用ビザの発給検討…９０日超えの滞在可能に. Yomiuri Shimbun
デジタルノマドビサ制度導入に向けて、今、準備すべきこと（前編）～デジタルノマドビザの概要とデジタルノマドの特徴から～. JTB General Research
Digital Nomad Report 2023. Flatio
In leaked recording, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy wouldn’t share data for his controversial RTO mandate. Said it was a ‘judgement’ call, like launching AWS. Business Insider
58 Countries With Digital Nomad Visas – The Ultimate List. Nomad Girl
65+ Fascinating Digital Nomad Statistics [Fresh For 2023!]. Dream Big, Travel Far