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Going Freelance with an Engineering Visa


#1

I’m currently working as a full employee (正社員) at a Japanese company and have a five-year Engineering visa that’s good until 2020. For various reasons I’m thinking of quitting my job and going freelance in the near future.

Does anyone have experience with this? I’ve heard a lot about the requirements for renewing or acquiring a visa while freelance, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to show to Immigration to demonstrate I’m still self-supporting after quitting my job until my next renewal. I’d often heard you could kind of do anything until you needed to renew, but some people I’ve spoken to recently and official documents seem to indicate some kind of proof of work is needed within three months of quitting.

I’m contacting Immigration directly and looking for legal assistance, but if anyone has experience with this any advice or clarification would be much appreciated.


#2

Hi,

I’m in a similar boat and have also heard exactly what you have, and was also thinking of visiting immigration to see what’s necessary. At a minimum, in order to do freelance work, I believe you’ll need to register with the tax office. This is required even if you’re Japanese and do contract work (a Japanese friend of mine recently started contracting for a company abroad and had to do this).

One additional unknown is whether the sums of money required for self-sponsorship must be from local Japanese companies, and whether or not it must be in JPY, in the case that the visa change is required.

Unfortunately the closest to referencing this I’ve found is this article from 2012 and an outdated post on Gaijin Pot.

If I get to the immigration center first I’ll try to post back here, otherwise please do the same as updated information is valuable.

Cheers


#3

And the GaijinPot link since this site limits me to 2 links per post for some reason.


#4

I don’t have a whole lot of expertise in this area, but I quit my job to freelance a few years ago. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I just rode out my humanities visa for two years until it needed renewal, at which point I applied for a change of status to engineer. For that I needed to show my degree (Comp Sci), contracts with clients, website and some other bits (I don’t remember all).

I’m not sure I’d recommend that to everyone though, as I’m not sure I was really playing by the rules. I’d speak to an immigration lawyer about it if I was to do it now. However, getting my change of status (and therefore extension) was no problem, and I’ve even been able to sponsor another person’s visa via my sole proprietorship.

Yes, you’ll need to register as a sole proprietor with the tax office. I don’t think they and immigration really talk much.

Nakai immigration service helped me with the change of status (http://www.tokyovisa.co.jp/), and Legal Office Cosmopolitan helped me to sponsor another person’s visa with a sole proprietorship (http://www.legal-service.jp/en/). Both were good.


#5

Thanks for the advice guys! I didn’t know the part about the tax office - if they don’t speak to Immigration much that would explain why it was hard for me to connect the dots.


#6

Hey Freelancer, were you maybe able to figure this out? I’m in a similar position, got a few problems:

  1. when you leave your job you are supposed to inform the immigration office within 14 days, when you get a new one you’re supposed to again inform the immigration office within 14 days. Furthermore you have only 90days to find one or they start revoking your status of residency… With freelance work how would that work?
  2. even if possible, do you think it’s necessary to have at least one Japanese customer? as Engineer status requirements say it’s a status for technical work for Japanese company…

I got a pretty cool client that would take all my time (40h/week) so I’d have to quit my current job but has no branch in Japan so I dunno if I should take the gig…


#7

So after consulting with a lawyer and talking with people I recently decided to give up on going freelance for the time being, and I’m looking for a normal next job.

Speaking to a lawyer, Immigration doesn’t really care whether you’re freelance or not, but they need you to have:

  1. long-term employment (informally at least a year contract)
  2. from a Japanese company
  3. that is enough to live on (roughly three million yen a year)

And those all need to be in the same job. So, if you have a company that will pay you 3M but it’s for a short job (like three months), that’s not good enough, even if you have a backlog of contracts like that.

I was interviewing with a US company that doesn’t have an office (allows full remote work) and so specifically asked the lawyer about your #2, and they said that had no chance of being approved by immigration.

Assuming you have a job that fits the three points above, if your Japanese company is OK with you taking work outside you can then create a company in your home country (for example), tell immigration you’ll take work through that as well. Otherwise (if you were to take work directly) you are technically supposed to inform Immigration of every work contract you take on (since you’re a direct party).

The above lines up with patio11’s description of starting Bingo Card Creator; what I didn’t realize from reading what he’d written was that “having enough work from Japanese companies to live on” had to be in relatively long contracts - I have specialist knowledge and was hoping to do more one-off jobs, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy Immigration.

I assumed that the rules for places I worked if I already had a visa were relaxed but the lawyer I talked to indicated that basically wasn’t the case. The main advantage of already having a visa is that having a less respectable employment arrangement (like being a contract employee as opposed to a 正社員) wouldn’t affect my visa duration until my next renewal.

I did have one person who was seriously interested in hiring me under terms that would meet the above, but several red flags came up during negotiations so I’ve given up on that.

It’s possible I misunderstood something in my discussion with the lawyer, and I suspect that the rules are not always strictly enforced, but I’d rather play it safe with something like my visa status. If you’re looking at going freelance I strongly recommend talking to a lawyer; my visit was a free consultation and was very informative.

It seems that the best way to work independently is to either get a visa status that doesn’t depend on your work (like spouse or permanent resident) or to get a business owner / entrepeneur visa (経営管理者). The entrepeneur visa requires establishing a company with five million yen in capital, which is more than I can handle right now.

Anyway, hope that helps, and good luck!


#8

Thanks a million for this explanation! Clears a lot of stuff up. After calling the immigration and talking with some lawyers I came to the same conclusion: no way to get a new visa/extend the current one/change companies (which legally you have to do at the immigration) if you’re on an Engineering visa and your employer doesn’t have an office in Japan…

I wanted to go 個人事業主 but apparently it seems you cannot do that on an Engineering visa (maybe doable if your customers are Japanese companies), same with other types of companies (kabushiki etc). I know Paul wrote otherwise but it seems officially it’s not possible to set one up without the business owner/entrepeneur visa you mentioned and yeah 5mln investment is out of my reach, too :smile:

Have you thought about having a Japanese friend/girlfriend etc. set up a company and employ you? I just started reading about it so I’m not sure if you need an actual office for that or does a private address suffice if you want to “employ” someone (you in that case). But that’s what I’m looking into now personally.


#9

I thought about that but haven’t looked into it. What I realized after stopping my recent negotiations is that with a decent raise I can save enough to start a company for the entrepeneur visa in just a year or two, which would be much less complicated and therefore probably make the most sense for me.

If you do go the route of having a friend set up a company, it’d be great to hear what’s involved in that, though!


#10

Sure thing I’ll post my update when I’m done! Seems like a lot of paperwork but if you are determined… The only two things I really need to clarify (everything else seems to be well documented online) with lawyers/offices are:

  • what is considered an office space - apparently your residence isn’t an option (would be for 個人事業主) so I’m looking into other options like co-working spaces etc. but not sure if that will work out
  • if you want to have a company that hires a foreigner are there additional “problems” or is it just as simple as 1) set up company 2) draft a contract 3) stamp the notification of employment thing for the immigration

#11

I set up my consultancy (Centax, Inc) last year, after two years of thinking about going freelancing (I have several years of freelancing experience before coming to Japan in 2010) with Engineer visa.

The process is fairly straightforward but takes time. And be sure to hire a good layer to do all the dirty work for you.

I’ll brief the basic process.

  1. You don’t have to quit your current job right away. It’s OK to set up a company with an Engineer visa.
  2. Prepare your fund (5M JPY), business plan (just tell the layer and ask them to help writing it), and contracts (could be just letters of intent). Note it’s better to have at least one local Japan client.
  3. Transfer the 5M fund to a new clean bank account - it should under your personal name. Note: if you have that fund yourself earned by salary it’s just as simple as also preparing your income/tax certification) from local government office. If you transfer that money from outside Japan or borrow from other people, then you’ll need papers to show 1) they/you did earn that money legally, 2) contracts of borrowing and planning of returning that money.
  4. Rent an office under your personal name. Note: my layer told me co-working space or a room at home won’t work perfectly. They might work but the Immigration becomes more and more stick about this.
  5. Register the company (quite some paper work including tax (青色申告), etc).
  6. When the company is set up, change your office renting contact to be under your company’s name.
  7. Note: when doing 4-6, you can use your 5M fund.
  8. When the renting contact is updated, apply for the business/management visa, and of course with tons of other papers.
  9. Get your visa, quit your job and work as CEO of your new company.

Finding renting could take any time between 2 weeks to 2 months (you’ll also need to find a 身元保証人 that you can rent the office).

Registering the company could take 3 weeks to 1 month (there might also be some time before the lawyer can start your work).

And it could take 1 month to 3 months (or even forever) for the Immigration to process your application.

For me and my company, It took two months for the office renting/company setup and 3 full months (actually it’s 3 months and several days) for the visa application.

Some people quit their current job when starting setting up the company. But I believe doing that until you get your visa is just fine.

My suggestion: hire a good lawyer and let them do all the work.