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?
The Asian market is one of the largest in the world for English teachers. Japan, in particular, has one of the longest traditions of employing English instructors. 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. In addition, thousands of Americans & other foreigners teach English in private language institutes that cater primarily to adults.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Become an English Teacher in Japan?
There is a high demand for English teachers in Japan and high competition. To teach English in Japan, you will need a TEFL certification and a 4-year college degree. You must be a native English speaker without a criminal record. You can expect an average salary of about $2,500 - $3,000 USD per month.
Qualifications to teach English in Japan
Now let's look at the following requirements to teach English in Japan in detail:
Hold citizenship from a recognized English-speaking country
Have a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university
Possess a clean criminal background check
Pass a health exam & drug test
Meet the age requirement
Pay basic start-up costs
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 condition: 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./3 years in the U.K.) is required to teach English in Japan. This degree does not need to be in Education.
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 English Abroad? [U.S. citizens]
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.
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 over the course of your contract and still be able to save money.
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 English 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:
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.