must read

What Are The Basic Requirements To Teach English in Japan?

Wondering how to become an English teacher in Japan? International TEFL Academy (ITA) advisor and former English teacher in Japan, Chelsea Hendrickx, walks you through the qualifications you need to teach English in Japan including education, citizenship, visa, and age requirements.

Download Your Japan TEFL Guide

Is the land of the rising sun beckoning you to its shores? Do you dream of having a picnic under cherry blossoms by day and drinking sake at the karaoke bar by night? You're in luck because the Asian market, and Japan in particular, is one of the largest in the world for English teachers.

Let's look into the requirements, qualifications, and key aspects aspiring ESL teachers need to consider when pursuing an English teaching career in Japan.

Want to listen to this blog post? Grab a pair of headphones and press play!

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become an English Teacher in Japan?

To teach English in Japan, you must have a TEFL certification and a 4-year college degree. Being a native English speaker without a criminal record is essential. The average salary for an English teacher in Japan ranges from $2,500 to $3,000 USD per month.

Read more: Teach English in Japan

Is There a High Demand for English Teachers in Japan?

There is a high demand for English teachers in Japan and high competition. Japan has one of the longest traditions of employing English instructors. In addition, thousands of Americans and other foreigners teach English in private language institutes that cater primarily to adults. The Japanese Government started an official English Teaching Recruitment Program as far back as 1978, bringing native English speakers to the various islands of Japan to help teach Japanese speakers.

How to Teach English in Japan

Let's look at the following requirements for teaching in Japan in detail:

  1. Hold citizenship from a recognized English-speaking country

  2. Have a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university

  3. Possess a clean criminal background check

  4. Pass a health exam & drug test

  5. Meet the age requirement

  6. Pay basic start-up costs

  7. Hold a TEFL certification (typically required)

1. Hold Citizenship from a Recognized English-Speaking Nation

Citizens from the 'Big 7' (U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) are highly desired. However, highly qualified candidates from English-speaking countries in the Caribbean may also get hired in some cases. 

Citizens from other countries may also be eligible for a work visa if they meet the following conditions: they must possess documented 12+ years of education in an English-speaking school or hold 3 years of experience teaching ESL. However, bear in mind that many schools still prefer to hire exclusively from the Big 7.

2. Have a University Degree

Another requirement for how to be an English teacher in Japan is having a university degree. A Bachelor’s degree/diploma from an accredited college or university (4 years in the U.S. or 3 years in the U.K.) is required to teach English in Japan. This degree does not need to be in Education.

Read further: What are The Basic Requirements for Teaching English Abroad

3. Possess a Clean Background Check

By clean background check, we mean an original national-level criminal record check (from the FBI for those in the U.S.) free of charges or convictions. A criminal background check is not technically required to receive a work visa to teach English in Japan. However, many schools will require it. If something shows up on your record, it will be up to the school to decide if they want to extend an offer or not based on the offense.

For the JET Program specifically, an FBI background check is required. Furthermore, if you have ever been arrested, charged, and/or convicted of any offense other than minor traffic violations, including any juvenile offense, you will not be eligible for the program.

Read more: How Do I Get a Criminal Background Check for Teaching Abroad?

4. Pass a Clean Health Check & Drug test

Japan is very intolerant of drug offenses as a whole. Anything drug-related will likely bar you from most schools in Japan, as will violent crimes or crimes against children. Many schools will also conduct drug tests for their teachers.

Two English Teachers in Japan eating sushi

5. Meet The Age Requirement

The mandatory retirement age for Japanese citizens is 60. As such, schools are often reluctant to hire teachers above that age.

In practice, schools strongly prefer teachers in their 20s and 30s due to various cultural perceptions of English teachers.

However, if you’re outside the demographic and have your heart set on Japan, don’t give up hope just yet. If you show patience during your job search and flexibility with the schools, you may still be able to secure a position in Japan. Additionally, knowing that you can be hired in advance from abroad means there is little risk in trying.

6. Save For Start-Up Costs

While schools in Japan tend to pay very well and provide great benefits, we recommend teachers go to Japan with between $2,600 to $4,200 in savings. 

Japan has a high cost of living. Landlords sometimes employ a concept called “key money,” which is a mandatory “gift” payment to the landlord upon rental of the apartment. This is usually anywhere from 1 month’s rent to 3 months’ rent which you won’t get back (think of it as a security deposit that doesn’t get returned when you move out).

Not every landlord will request key money. If your tenant does, you should have enough savings to be able to pay it upfront. Rest assured, given the high pay for teachers in Japan, you’ll be able to recoup this cost throughout your contract and still be able to save money.

Read more: How much can you earn teaching English in Japan?

ITA grad Gustavo Olivares - Teaching English in Japan"Before deciding to pack up everything and leave, give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead and save enough money for the move and the first couple of of months of living expenses."

- ITA alumnus Gustavo Olivares - Taught English in Nara, Japan

7. Hold a TEFL Certification

Reputable private language schools in Japan will typically require that their teachers be TEFL certified. Though TEFL certification is not technically an application requirement to teach in Japan with the JET Program, it is highly recommended due to the competitive nature of the program. 

Here are some recommended options for getting your TEFL certification for teaching English in Japan:

an English teacher in Japan in her classroom

Necessary Documents During Application and Visa Processing:

Finally, during the process of applying and interviewing for English teaching positions, prospective teachers should expect to be able to produce the following documents. This list also works for when you're getting your visa processed at the consulate after signing a contract:

  • A Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degree/diploma
  • A Sealed college or university transcript
  • An original national-level criminal background check (FBI in the U.S.)
    • Note: Some schools will require this while others do not
  • Passport photos
  • The Original contract (to be provided by your employer for visa processing at the consulate)
  • An original passport that is valid for at least one year


Further Resources:



Posted In: , , , ,

Want to Learn More About Teaching English Abroad & Online?

Request a free brochure or call 773-634-9900 to speak with an expert advisor about all aspects of TEFL certification and teaching English abroad or online, including the hiring process, salaries, visas, TEFL class options, job placement assistance and more.