Starting a Business in Japan as a Foreigner

Moving to a foreign country without the ability to speak or read the native language can be a challenge.  Starting a business can make the challenge even greater.


Networking and building a support system is critical.  There are many things for a foreigner to navigate through to start a business:  acquiring a business manager/investor visa, opening a business bank account, securing a business location/office, hiring Japanese staff.  Some of these are just a few of the requirements for applying for the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to obtain the visa.


The Certificate of Eligibility (COE) is the first step and it is a long process.  Before a visa can be issued, the COE is an application and background check conducted by Japan’s immigration services.  The process can take up to two months.  It will verify criminal background check, the eligibility of experience for which business visa you are applying for, financial ability and other personal verification.  It is advisable to begin the process in your home country at one of the Japanese Embassies.


To gain residency in Japan as a foreigner starting a business, the Business Manager/Investor visa is the type of visa to apply for.  While the COE is in process or after the COE approval, there are requirements for the Business Manager visa.  First, a detailed business plan to include such details as: profit/loss forecast, marketing plan, business location, description of the product or service, assessment of market,  break-even analysis, management organization and staff.


Next, it is necessary to have an office or business location.  This seems counterintuitive since residency is not approved yet.  The steps and requirements will often overlap and that is a large part of the challenges to overcome.  There are many temporary/virtual offices to consider in Japan.  Be aware of the office details.  Some local government offices require to see floor plans of the office.  Some specifications may include, an enclosed office with four walls and a door.  Also it is common that the business have a sign.


The third requirement for the Business Manager Visa is capital.  Applicants must have a minimum of ¥5 million (approximately $50,000).  The amount is considered to be used as investment to the business in japan.  There are several ways to present assets as part of the financial plan.  However, showing proof of cash available on hand to start your business will better ensure the approval process.


Finally, it is required to hire Japanese staff or have at least one full time employee that is a Japanese resident.


These are just the initial steps of starting the business before having the ability to legally move to Japan as a resident.  Obviously, the COE process can be initiated in your home country.  But many other requirements and decisions may require your presence in Japan.  A tourist visa is valid for 90 days.  Trying to accomplish everything simultaneously can be a challenge within the 90 day period.  After the COE and Visa application process, the next step will be obtaining business registration, license, permits and bank accounts