Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
This is probably the most common question I get.
I’m going to break it down for you in three parts. Feel free to comment if you need some clarification for your specific situation.
You need to speak English as your native language or at native level. Schools are looking for citizens from The US, Canada, The UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and anyone else who is a native English speaker or has been in an English speaking school for at least 12 years.
This is not super strict as it depends on the company you work for and your ability to qualify for a work visa. The case with mostly English speaking South Africa is difficulty to qualify for work visas – usually based on political reasons. I have met teachers (with great English) from South Africa, Jamaica, The Philippines, India, Nepal, Malaysia, Kenya, and Zambia working as English teachers in Japan. The school or level you want to work at, your education, and your experience can be bigger factors. In fact, some of the people I’ve met from the above countries were working at the junior high or even college level. Most jobs teaching in Japan at public junior high or high schools prefer native English speakers with a North American accent. You have more flexibility teaching students in elementary school or younger, at English conversation schools, and if you have more education or experience.
You need a bachelors degree. This is only a requirement for getting a work visa with Instructor status so you can legally teach in Japan. There is no getting around this if you want a ‘full time’ job in a public school but can’t qualify for another type of visa that allows you to work in Japan. (Now I have a spouse visa and don’t need an Instructor visa, but the bachelors degree doesn’t hurt.)
You Can apply for jobs if you plan to graduate soon, although you will need to provide proof of graduation or expected graduation to get the visa.
Conversation schools sometimes require Humanities (or student) visas, although they do not always sponsor visas or provide full time work with a one year contract. This may be a good option if you want to try teaching English but do not want a one year contract. It can be possible to qualify for a Humanities work visa with three years of relevant experience if you have no degree.
Many countries (unfortunately not the United States) participate in a “Working Holiday” program with Japan, so you might be able to live in Japan for a limited time and work part time in various positions without a degree.
All positions teaching English in Japan will expect you to be healthy and flexible. I don’t mean they want you to be able to do yoga. I mean that moving to another country is stressful, plus, to be a good teacher, being adaptable is really helpful. If you get really upset or stressed by things getting changed on you last minute, this may not be a good job for you. If you have never left the country you were born in, you might be okay, but be prepared to be open minded.
Your whole world will be different after you move to another country, so little things like being willing to try different foods (and living without familiar foods) will help you adapt to your new life. Having a good attitude and being open to try new things is VERY IMPORTANT.
Currently US citizens do not need a background check for a work visa in Japan. You don’t want to have anything on your background check, so be good, they may start to require it in the future. (Working in S. Korea requires a National FBI Criminal Background check.) Jobs with some companies, like the Jet Programme, do require a background check after you are hired.
If you currently have hand, face, or neck tattoos, this isn’t the job for you. If you’re thinking about it, I would strongly advise against it. Keeping a tattoo hidden means you have to be careful even outside of work during hot summer months. Plus hot springs in Japan are amazing and a lot of them don’t allow tattoos.
Professional positions (such as teaching) don’t allow visible tattoos and you will most likely lose your job if you have one that is seen. It’s mostly about being a good example to students and a good representative of your country. Partially because teachers have a high status (and are held to higher standards) in Asia and partially because tattoos are associated with gangs and criminals, they will be frowned upon by most Japanese. I’ve heard of exactly one company that will allow teachers to have visible tattoos, to ‘share foreign culture.’ I feel the culture around tattoos in Japan is changing, but slowly and reluctantly.
By the way, to work overseas you need a passport so you can travel outside of your country. If your passport is going to expire during the time you would be working, you need to get it renewed before applying for the work visa, which will be placed in your passport.