Other than being a full-time employee, there are more career options you can explore as a foreigner working in Japan. Freelancing is one of them. It is highly possible to be a freelancer, especially after remote working has become a trend lately.
Can you do a freelance job?
If you live in Japan, it is possible to freelance as a side gig or turn it into a full-time career. Freelance is popular among translators and interpreters, consultants, IT engineers, and creative content creators. However, there is no limit to what kind of job freelancers do. As long as your visa allows, you can do a freelance job.
Can you move to Japan as a freelancer?
Unfortunately, you cannot move to Japan as a freelancer. There is no such thing as a freelance visa or a self-sponsored visa. To get a working visa, you will need a Certificate of Eligibility. The CoE letter is submitted to the immigration on your behalf by the employer in Japan.
To get into Japan for the first time, you need a regular job and a company that sponsors you. If you want to have extra income later, you can do freelance jobs. If you quit the job and work as a freelancer under multiple companies instead, you can renew your visa. However, you have to prove you have a stable income of at least 200,000 yen per month.
Steps to becoming a freelancer
1. Check if the visa allows your freelance work
The very first thing you have to do is to check your visa. Japanese immigration will not allow you to work outside the visa category you currently hold. For example, if you are an IT engineer with a Humanities/International Services/Engineer visa under the Engineer category, it is okay to do IT development as a freelance side job. Both jobs fall within the same visa category. You can’t work as an English teacher because it is a different category.
If you want to work outside your visa category, you have to apply for permission from Japanese immigration. The permission form is called Application for Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted or 資格外活動の許可.
Dealing with Japanese immigration can be tricky. If you are not sure, don't hesitate to contact immigration lawyers. They can help you determine what you should and shouldn't do.
2. Do market research and find clients
Freelancing is similar to building your own company. You have to research the market and find customers to sell your products—in this case, your skills. (Read: Popular Programming Languages in Japan 2022)
There are several ways to find your first client. You can start through the internet by making an online portfolio. Attend professional events to build a network. Also, don’t forget your network from your previous job. Personal connections and recommendations are crucial in Japan.
It is possible to have clients outside Japan. However, it is safer to have more Japanese-based clients. If you have multiple clients, make sure the main client is based in Japan. It will help with immigration and your visa.
3. Organize health insurance and tax form
Another thing you have to do is manage a bunch of paperwork, especially if you decided to resign and fully work as a freelancer. After leaving your company, you have to enroll in Japanese national health insurance and pay it yourself. You also have to register your new employment status.
To enroll in national health insurance, visit your local city hall bring your identifying documents, like your residence card (在留カード) and previous company details. To register as a sole proprietor, you have to submit the 個人事業 (kojin jigyo) form to the local tax office. 個人事業 means working as a one-person business.
Renewing visa as freelancer (self-employed worker)
Renewing a Japanese visa can be a little bit of a hassle, so it is better to do it months before. Moreover, if you are working as a freelancer with multiple clients, you will need to prepare it beforehand.
As you know, you can't get a freelancer or self-employed visa. What you can do is ask one of your Japanese-based clients to sponsor your visa. It is crucial to have a Japanese-based client to emphasize the necessity to stay in Japan. The company sponsor won't have to pay anything, but they have to fill out a detailed form about the company. Therefore you should ask your client in advance.
After renewing the visa, you can use Permission to Engage in Activities to register for your other jobs. You have to bring the application form, a document describing the activities, your passport, and residence card to the local immigration service office.
Benefit of Freelancing
As a freelancer, you can set your own hours. A freelancing job also often does not require you to go to the office every day. You can work comfortably from home or your favorite cafes. The flexibility also comes in workload. You get to choose when you want to work on a busy project and multiple clients or if you want to relax a little bit.
Multiple sources of income
Some people may think that freelancing is not a stable job. However, working full time in a single company also can be unstable. If something happens at the company, you can be fired and lose your only income source. Freelancing gives you a chance to have many income sources at the same time. It doesn’t have to be about the amount you received, but also the security. Nonetheless, freelance work usually gives a higher rate per hour than full-time work.
As a freelancer, you are the boss. Of course, you have to satisfy your clients' need to get paid, but you always have the authority. If potential clients show signs of unpleasant contracts, you can turn them down. Also, you don’t have to wait for a salary raise. You decide your rate by yourself.
Now that you have learned that freelancing is a great opportunity, go try to find one! It may be hard at first when you don't have many clients. However, skills and connections will develop over time. Soon your freelance job can be the way to live comfortably in Japan—who knows?
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