I got a lot of demands for an English translation to this one. It took some time but here it is, the translation of my original article. While I was preparing my application for a working holiday visa, I obviously had to read through a great deal of web pages, blogs and forums only to find very inconsistent and contradictory information. In this article, I would like to sum up the main points that I think are essential to make your application successful.
The main advantage of this one year visa instead of the three months tourist visa is that you are allowed to work full time in the country. It gives you total freedom of your whereabouts and you are sure that you won't be taken back home if your employment terminates itself (as would happen on a normal working visa). I hope that this article, by showing how easy a working holiday visa is to get, will encourage people to take the chance and go on with this life changing experience.
Before I start with the technical aspects, please note that as a French citizen, I submitted my application in France. Although the procedure is fairly similar from one country to another, there are a few differences that I'll try to cover. Please correct me if anything I write does not apply to you.
When I say that I am wondering why so few people know about, let alone try to apply for a working holiday visa, it is backed up with what officials told me both in France and in Ireland: the quotas of applications for a year (550 in France from the January 1st to December 31st 2004, up to a 1000 in the UK) are rarely reached. The numerus clausus was my main concern at first. I wanted to submit my application as quickly as possible at the start of the year to make sure that most places were left but it really seems that I was worrying for nothing.
Although this is an administrative procedure, I must say that the people I dealt with on the phone or at the embassy were very helpful, both in France and Ireland. The policy being to encourage young people to travel abroad, administrative agents will do their best to advise you and help you get your working holiday visa, as long as your application looks serious. This fact is actually one of the few points of agreement among all the various sources I have read.
I actually strongly advise you to turn up early at the embassy's office opening time (9h30 in Paris) since it is likely that you will have to make some more or less important modifications to you application based on the employee's advice. The person receiving the application is not the one who will decide whether it is accepted or not. However, she knows her colleague well and will tell you what the official will want to see written in your application in order to accept it. The person at the counter will read through your application and give you some advice. I also advise you to write down what she says in order to make the appropriate amendments.
Perhaps a good thing to do would be to give the embassy a call in order to confirm exactly what you need and make sure that you are eligible for a working holiday visa.
Ok, let's get into the technical points now.
People between 18 and 30 can apply in France and in the UK. This limit is 25 years old in Ireland.
This one might make you smile but you would be amazed by the number of continental Europeans who do not own a passport. Travel is so easy from one country to the other that people rarely see the point of owning one unless they really need it for traveling out of Europe.
Have not previously been issued a working holiday visa
According to what I have seen, this only concerns working holiday visa previously issued for Japan. In fact, when I submitted my application, I met a woman who had just spent a year in New Zealand on a working holiday visa and she got her visa for Japan at same time as me.
Pretty cool isn't it?
The Japanese embassy in London
Here is the point of most disagreements. From my experience, it is absolutely not necessary to own a plane ticket at all. To be honest, I tend to consider it a bit silly to buy a plane ticket while not being absolutely sure that you will get the working holiday visa.
Of course, not everybody can save up to €4,000 for their application. According to what I have heard (I certainly do not encourage people to do so...), some individuals ask their family or friends to lend them the money for a few days, just so that they can ask for the paper from their bank. Note that this option is a bit more complicated for British citizen who have to provide the last 3 months bank statements. Any suspicious funds movement might raise suspicion... For the lucky non-British, a letter from the bank stating that the individual has the sufficient amount of money at the time of application is just fine. Make sure that you get a signed and stamped letter from your bank because a simple printed Internet statement will not do.
Nothing too complicated there, pick it up at your respective embassy or download it directly on their website.
Unlike the pictures for passports, this one can be taken pretty much everywhere. It will be used for their archives and the actual picture on your working holiday visa will be a copy of your passport photograph.
The format is quite loose but Japanese people are usually required to put a picture on their CVs. Since you will most likely be using it in order to find a job in Japan, I would suggest that you do it right from the start and put some efforts into it. About the picture, gentlemen should wear a suit and a tie. Also, please make sure you have a neat and tidy haircut and avoid facial hair. Your picture should not be taken too close; your shoulders should be visible. The Japanese tend to think that people providing close up pictures try to hide their overweight... Be succinct in your description of yourself, only target the aspects that are really relevant to the type of job you want to do. Japanese employers prefer people that are good at one thing rather than people mediocre in many things.
Now this is where most people start having troubles. Information available about this part of the application is very patchy and often contradictory. Once again, I will just tell you what worked for me.
The main thing is that it has to be very precise yet concise too. I personally had to rewrite my entire itinerary by hand when I went to the embassy because it was too long. I had written in detail all my trips and the places I wanted to visit while the Japanese embassy officials are only interested in whether you are going to do some visiting or not. So basically, just write: "from that date to that date - tourism in Kansai area" and so on... It will do just fine trust me. Remember, the official reading your application wants to check if you have what it takes to make it and if you have thought about it enough. They are not interested, nor do they have the time to read about your personal life story or your own version of the Lonely Planet.
It is however very important to write down a precise schedule with a budget. The person at the embassy will basically subtract your expected expenses from your income and if the result is negative, beware... Write down whether you plan to work full or part-time. Be realistic taking in consideration all the things you said that you would do during your stay. Are you going to practice a sport? Take language lessons? A day has 24 hours and you have to sleep every now and then.
A salary estimation will be absolutely necessary as well as an accomodation budget. It is really recommended to write down that you have some contacts (however how diffuse) with companies over there in Japan. Send a few emails around before applying for your working holiday visa, get some answers (negative ones are fine too for our purpose) and drop a few company names in your application.
Do remember that you are applying for a working holiday visa and even though the Japanese government would hate to see you penniless in their country, don't find yourself in a situation where the official will ask you why you did not apply for a normal working visa. Divide your stay into three or four periods in different places, just so it looks like you are going to see a bit of the country rather than taking a job in Tokyo and staying there doing ridiculous hours until the time has come to bugger off home.
It is quite important to provide real information about the places where you intend to stay with their real pricing. Room renting, Youth Hostel, B&B, Hotel... it is up to you but write it down. Obviously, nothing forces you to stick to your program; it just has to look like you took the trouble to plan your trip. Personally, I was lucky enough to have friends who proposed me to put me up while I was looking for a place of my own. I wrote down their addresses on the working holiday visa application and mentioned that I would pay XX ¥/month.
One page should be plenty of space to write all of that. Remove the superfluous but do write down the important stuff.
Here too, be concise, one page is enough. The main thing is to explain why you have chosen Japan instead of New Zealand, Canada or whatever. This is the place where you have to convince them that your decision was not an impulsive one and that you won't be coming back home to mommy after a month spent in the tough Japanese urban jungle. Whether it is because you are a J-Pop, Anime, fashion, martial arts or Japanese language otaku, show some enthusiasm!
I have not seen it mentioned on the website of Japanese embassy in the UK (they just say that you have to be healthy) but you might want to ring them to ask, especially given the current irrational panic about the H1N1 flu. Make sure the certificate is recent.
I would suggest that you get there early in case you have to make modifications to your application. I was living in Ireland at the time I applied and I did have to fly to Paris to apply in person for the working holiday visa. I saw the dad of a lazy teenager being told off because his son did not take the trouble to come down himself to submit his application. Youths these days... :D If everything goes well, you will have to wait about half an hour to get the answer.
This is what my working holiday visa looks like! Note that the departure date on the "landing permission" part is one year from the date of entry, not the expiry of the visa itself. On the top left is my multiple re-entry permit.
I personally had in mind to go to Japan for a few days to attend a wedding between the date when I got the visa and my "real" departure date. It is impossible as your visa will be printed in your passport and it will be stamped immediately as you enter Japan. By the way, do keep in mind that if you were to leave Japan for whatever reason during your stay, you would need a re-entry permit from the Immigration Authorities before leaving Japan in order to be able to come back again under the terms of your Working Holiday visa. A friend of mine forgot this detail... big mistake...
There are dozens of websites that display job offers in Japan. If you are not a native English speaker, I would suggest that you take the trouble of sitting the TOIEC or TOEFL exam. Don't be disappointed if you can't get proper leads while applying from aboard. You have much more chances to actually get a job if you apply from within Japan. They basically want to see you, and make sure that you will actually turn up. The working holiday visa is a huge plus for finding a job as it saves the company the hassle of filling out paperwork for getting you a working visa.
I also wrote an article on how to find a job in Japan. Don't hesitate to let me know if you can think of anything else that should appear in this list or in this article! Good luck to all, I hope you will enjoy Japan as much as I do!
To go further:
Review my Life published another excellent article on the topic