Japan’s Residency Management System for Foreign Nationals

Post date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If you’re moving to Japan, one thing you definitely need to be aware of is what’s called the “Residency Management System.” This is what the Immigration Bureau of Japan calls their system for tracking the residency of foreigners in Japan. This system started on July 9th, 2012 and introduces some changes that have made life more convenient for foreigners who live in Japan, including a longer maximum period of residency allowed and an easier process for getting a re-entry permit.

Short Term Residents

If you are staying for less than 90 days, you will just receive a stamp in your passport when you enter the country and that’s it.

It will look something like the below picture.

Mid to Long-term Residents

If you’re going to be living here for any length of time, assuming you’ve properly arranged for your visa before coming to Japan, the below will apply to you.

The Residence Card

As of July 9th, 2012, foreigners who come to Japan with visas allowing for a residency longer than 90 days receive a Residence Card at the airport upon arrival in Japan. It holds basic personal information like your name, your resident status, and your currently allowed period of stay. Below is a sample of what the Residence Card looks like.

(Image Source: www.immi-moj.go.jp)

The card contains an IC chip that contains all of this information as well for ready access when you are interacting with official persons where they can scan your card and quickly confirm your resident status.

An additional note is that your Residence Card will expire after 7 years if you are a permanent resident or when your current visa expires if you are a non-permanent resident.

Residential Registration

Once you finalize your living arrangements, you then need to report to the local administrative office (generally the kuyakusho – ward office – if you live in Tokyo) and complete “residential registration” within 14 days.

The office will probably look something like this.

Once complete, your address will be added to your Residence Card and you will receive a “Certificate of Residence.” If you bring family with you, be sure to bring proof of their relationship, either a marriage or birth certificate, as the case requires so you can register them as family/dependents.

Note: You can allow someone else to complete the residential registration on your behalf as long as you provide a written letter of proxy.

Leaving/Re-entering Japan

One of the benefits of the Residency Management System (as opposed to the older Alien Registration System) is that if you plan to leave and then re-enter Japan within one year after you depart, you are not required to apply for a Re-entry Permit.

If you are planning to re-enter Japan after one year has elapsed from your departure date from Japan, then you will need to apply for a re-entry permit from the Ministry of Justice before you leave the country or your visa will expire automatically. You can get either a single re-entry or multiple re-entry permit that is valid until the end of your residency period (up to a maximum of 5 years). The form can be found here.

The Residence Card in Daily Life

The Residence Card serves as an ID card in daily life. You will be asked to produce a Residence Card that shows your current address on it in many situations in everyday life, like when you buy a mobile phone or open a bank account. It is also likely to be requested in many scenarios where you interact with official persons including immigration officials, police officers, postal employees, healthcare workers, etc.

In short, you should carry your Residence Card with you at all times when out and about in Japan.

If you move within Japan

When you move within Japan, you need to submit to change of address forms at your local ward/administrative offices within 14 days of the move. The specifics of what forms need to be submitted vary by location so please check with your local ward/administrative office for details. Below are the two most common types of forms that need to be filled out when moving:

  • moving‐out notification
  • – “Notification of moving out” at the ward/administrative office for the old address you are moving from
  • moving-in notification
  • – “Notification of moving in” at the ward/administrative office for the new address you are moving to

This is an example form, taken from the English version of the change of address form from Minato Ward in Tokyo.

When you submit your change of address form(s), you will also fulfill the requirement for notifying the Ministry of Justice of your current address. More details can be found here.

The Alien Card

If you moved to Japan prior to July 9th, 2012 with a visa giving you a residency longer than 90 days, then you most likely had to register at your local ward/administrative office sooner after you secured your residence to receive an “Alien Card,” or as it is affectionately known among foreigners in Japan, the Gaijin Card. This identification card contained details of your visa status, your address, and other pertinent details required by the Japanese government.

If you already have an Alien Card, it remains valid for up to three years from July 9th, 2012, depending on your visa status and valid residency period. It will be replaced with a Residence Card the next time you update your visa status. Alternatively, you can exchange it for a Residence Card at any Immigration Bureau office. See more details here.


Forms, visas, residence cards, there is certainly a lot of paperwork to be completed when moving to Japan. When you add all the changes in the immigration and residency management system for foreign nationals in Japan of late, it can be a little disconcerting to think about moving here. In the midst of setting up your life in Japan, you want to make certain that there aren’t any snags related to government paperwork that could hinder your transition. Therefore, we hope that these tips and guidelines have been helpful and will help to ease your transition to Japan. Best of luck!

Helpful Links

We have assembled some links below on immigration to Japan as well as the Residency Management System in case you need some additional references.