What is Residence Card in Japan
How to get your Japanese Residence Card (Zairyu Card)
If you are a foreigner living in Japan, you know what the Zairyu Card or Residence Card is all about. For those who are planning to move to Japan and aren’t yet familiar with this card, basically it is and ID card issued by the Ministry of Justice for non-Japanese residents of Japan.
The zairyu card system was introduced in July 2012 as a replacement to the previous alien card (gaikokujin-toroku-shomeisho). While living in Japan you will be asked to show your residence card in many necessary procedures (such as opening a bank account, having a mobile phone line with internet, renting an apartment, employment contract, etc.). So in this article I would like to introduce and explain how it works the Japanese Residence Card, the oficial foreigners identification document.
What is the Zairyu Card (在留カード) or Residence Card?
The Residence Card is a plastic card with your photo, full name, address, date of birth, sex and nationality. But the most important thing about the card is that it contains your visa category os status and period of stay (how long and from what day it starts to what day it ends) as well as an identification number.
Depending on your visa category there are certain rules you must comply with, such as students are only allowed to work 28 hours per week. For workers, not everyone has the same visa status. Depending on the job, there is one status or another (humanities and engineering, educators, etc) and you cannot do a job that is outside of your status unless you have applied for a special permit from the Immigration Office to perform that work(for example you cannot work in a conbini on a humanities visa). On the other hand, you’re obviously not allowed to be living in Japan once your validity period is over (except if you’re in the process of renewing or changing your visa). Finally, the identification number is used to verify that your residence card is real and not a forgery (there is currently a Japanese government mobile phone app that can verify if your residence card is official).
As I said before, the Residence Card is the identity card for foreigners living in Japan. All non-Japanese living in Japan are required to have the Residence Card (except for special cases such as diplomats, etc.). If the police stop you on the street and ask you to show them your residence card, you are legally required to do so (if you don’t have it with you and they ask for it, you may have to pay a considerable fine or, in the worst case, go to prison). I guess it goes without saying that if you’re doing something that isn’t allowed by your visa status (overstaying, working on something you can’t, etc) you’re going to be in trouble.
Where to get your Residence Card?
If you enter Japan through Narita, Haneda, Kansai or Chubu international airports you will get your residence card at the same airport at immigration.
It depends on what type of visa you have, but for example with the student visa the school has to send you the Certificate of Eligibility. With that paper you have to go to the Japanese embassy in your country of residence. For the Working Holiday you have to go directly to the Embassy of your country. They will put a kind of sticker in your passport. When you arrive at the airport, at passport control, you have to show that page to the immigration staff. They will make you wait for a while (the process can be more or less fast depending on the airport) and finally they will give you your residence card.
In the unlikely event that you will arrive through a different airport, then you will have to find your local Immigration office and apply for your residence card there.
Important: Once you have your residence card you must register at your local city hall within 14 days. If you change your address in the future, you must first go to your current city hall to notify them that you are moving and once you have moved you must go to the new city hall to register there.
How to renew your Residence Card or change your status?
The expiration date of your residence card is the expiration date of your visa in Japan, so what you need to do is to apply to extend your period of stay. If you are lucky, your company will be the one to do this boring process for you. If not, you will have to be the one to go to your local Immigration office to do the process.
Generally, you will have to go twice: once to submit the application and once to pick up the result. It depends on each case, but in Tokyo it takes about 3-4 weeks (sometimes more) from the time you submit the application until you receive the letter from Immigration. When you receive the letter, you must go with it, your passport and the required documentation to the Immigration office.
If you want to apply for a change of visa (for example from student to worker, or from worker to spouse), the process is similar: go to your regional Immigration bureau to submit the application and wait for the answer. (*Little ‘trick’: if the letter says that you have to buy a 4,000 yen stamp it’s almost certain that you have been granted the extension/change).
The form to fill out and the required documentation varies depending on each case, so I recommend you to get information on the official website or calling by phone.
Important: Your zairyu card must be renewed/changed within 30 days from the expiration date. In fact, you can start applying 3 months earlier. However, if for any reason you cannot go until a few days before the expiration date and the letter from the Immigration office to pick up your new card is late and the expiration date has passed, don’t worry or panic: if you have already submitted the application to extend your period of stay, you can stay legally in the country until you get a response from the Immigration office (if you submit the application in person, you will probably get a stamp on your zairyu card giving you 2 extra months from the expiration date when you go). On the other hand even if you apply 3 months earlier when renewing the original date of your card will be maintained (example: if your card expires on April 30, 2022 and you do the process in January, even if you get the new card in February, the date will be April 30, 2023/25/27 depending on how many years you get).
Some good news for those who have to do the process themselves is that from March 2022 the Japanese government announced that those who have the My Number card will be able to apply online. The bad news is that according to the first people who have tested this system, it doesn’t seem to be working very well at the moment 😅
What to do if you lose your Residence Card?
Unfortunately for me, last year I experienced first hand the loss of my zairyu card. I was on the train and when I got off the train my wallet was missing from my bag, with my residence card in it. The next day (when it happened it was already late at night) the first thing I did was to go to a police office to file a missing person’s report, wanting to think that I had accidentally dropped it and that it would turn up somewhere. Unfortunately it didn’t, and after waiting a week and a half without hearing from the police, I had to go through the process to reapply for one.
The process itself is not complicated. You go to the Immigration office with a current photograph, wait your turn and report that you have lost your green card. After waiting a few minutes, they call you to give you a new card (although it can take hours from the time you arrive at the office until you can finally be served, depending on how busy the office is that day). When I lost my card I looked for information about it and it indicated that you have to apply for a new card within two weeks. It is also important to go to a police station to report the loss or theft and receive a receipt from them. For foreigners living in Japan it is an obligation to carry the card with them at all times and if you are stopped by the police you must show them your card. In case you don’t have it, the proof of the report proves that you are telling the truth.
Your Zairyu Card when leaving Japan
If your time in Japan has come to an end (or at least for the time being) there are several things you need to do before you leave the country. One of them is to go to your city hall to notify that you are leaving. Once at the airport, you have to tell to the officer that you don’t intend to return (or not for a while) and then the officer will make a small hole in your residence card. No matter how much time you still have left (if for example you have a 5 year visa and you leave after 3 years), that hole in your resident card symbolizes the end of your permission to stay in Japan. If you want to return to live in Japan in the future, you will have to reapply.
If you are leaving Japan temporarily for a trip or a short term (2-3 months), keep in mind two things: make sure you fill out the re-entry permit at the airport (you have up to one year to re-enter the country without problems) and don’t be absent-minded and don’t allow the office do the hole in your resident card (sometimes they can think you are leaving forever and not for a while). As I said once they make that hole the card is no longer valid, so they wouldn’t let you enter with that card.
In Japan, as in many other countries, there is permanent residency. Once you get this you don’t have to worry about renewing your zairyu card anymore as it has no expiration date! This is the main goal of many foreigners living in Japan (the other option is to become a Japanese citizen). The requirements for permanent residency vary depending on the category of your current visa, so I recommend you to check the requirements on the official website of the Ministry of Justice.
I hope this article has been helpful. For more tips or useful information for foreigners living in Japan, feel free to check these articles too!