Startup Visas for Foreign Entrepreneurs in Japan’s National Strategic Special Zones

There are three (3) types of startup visas for foreign nationals who want to start a business in Japan. The startup visas for the National Strategic Special Zones are a system that is specially approved in areas designated as National Strategic Special Zones for the purpose of promoting the business startups of foreign nationals.

The areas currently designated as National Strategic Special Zones include the following:

The greater Tokyo area (Tokyo proper and Kanagawa Prefecture as well as Chiba City in Chiba Prefecture and Narita City); the greater Kansai area (Osaka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, and Hyogo Prefecture); and Niigata City, Yabu City, Fukuoka City, Kitakyushu City, Okinawa Prefecture, Sendai City, Semboku City, Sendai City, Aichi Prefecture, Hiroshima Prefecture, and Imabari City.

This article  provides an overview of startup visas for the National Strategic Special Zones. Since the requirements for the startups may vary slightly depending on the local government, please be sure to check the details for each local government.

Features of the National Strategic Special Zone’s Startup Visas

The company’s incorporation can be done within 6 months after the visa is granted.

The startup visa for the National Strategic Special Zone allows you to obtain a 6-month “business manager” visa before establishing a company.

Normally, to get approval for a business manager visa for a foreign national who wants to start a business, in addition to establishing an office, the foreign national must meet certain requirements at the time that the application is submitted to the Immigration Bureau. The other requirements are employing at least 2 full-time staff or having at least 5 million yen in capital or total investments.

On the other hand, you can still get a startup visa even if all the above-mentioned requirements are not completely met.

The applicant submits a “Plan for Business Startup Activities Form”, among other documents, to the local government, which confirms whether you are likely to fulfill the requirements for the Business Manager visa (i.e., the three requirements mentioned above). Based on this confirmation [from the local government], the Immigration Bureau will examine the confirmation and grant approval for a 6-month business manager visa.  

The requirements mentioned above (i.e., the three requirements mentioned above) only need to be completed within six months after a visa  is obtained. This means that foreign nationals who are starting a business can make progress on the procedures for [incorporation]  while operating the business.

Loosening of Office Requirements

Normally, one of the requirements for a business manager visa  is the establishment of a physically, independent office.

However, for foreign entrepreneurs with business manager visas in the National Strategic Special Zone, the office requirement mentioned above has been loosened. More specifically, this means that co-working spaces and shared offices are also considered to meet the office requirement from the first renewal of visa until the next expiration date (about one year).

Details for Businesses Eligible for Subsidies and Support

Not every business can be approved for startup visas in the National Strategic Special Zone.

Each local government decides which businesses to recognize.  We suggest that you check with each local government about the relevant details. However, in general, the target is a business involving advanced technology, such as IT, healthcare and the environment.

The purpose of the National Strategic Special Zones is not just for starting and earning a profit; one of its purposes is also to generate jobs and revitalize local economies. For that reason, a business that only benefits the individual entrepreneur, such as the export of used cars, are not eligible.

Application for Startup Visas

In order to get approval for a visa (business manager) using this system, it is necessary to prepare a Plan for Business Startup Activities Form submit it to the local government where business will be operated, and get approval for the startup business activities.

Confirmation of business start-up activities involves an examination by the local government of the likelihood that the business plan described in the business start-up activity plan, etc., will be approved for regular status of residence (management/administration) after a stay of six-months.

A "Certificate of Confirmation of Business Start-up Activities" will be issued to those who have received confirmation of business start-up activities. After receiving the certificate, the applicant will then apply to the Immigration Bureau for approval of status of residence (management/administration) to obtain a business manager visa.

Please keep in mind that when applying for status of residence, the applicant entrepreneur must be physically  in Japan. Please note that it is not possible to have someone else apply on your behalf while you are abroad.