If you are a foreigner in Japan who is staying mid to long term, you will be issued with a “Residence Card”, or also called a “Zairyu kaado” 在留カード (the card’s name as pronounced in Japanese).
You’re expected to register a permanent/fixed address on your Residence Card, but what happens if you don’t exactly have one?
We’re currently travelling around Japan on a Working Holiday Visa and moving very regularly (every 2-4 weeks), so the following is a summary of what we’ve found out and done about the situation of not having a fixed address.
Residence Card For Foreigners in Japan
This card is used as your primary official photo identification (ID) in Japan, and also is used to record your permanent address in Japan as well as your visa status. You’re required to carry it with you at all times while in Japan.
If you’ve entered Japan on anything other than a tourist visa, you receive your Residence Card at immigration when you arrive at the airport in Japan.
You Must Register a Permanent Address
At the airport, we received some information along with our resident card, which gave us some guidance on what to do with it.
One of the main points was that you must register a permanent address where you’ll be residing while in Japan, and this will be recorded on the back of your Residence Card.
They call this Registration of Residence, and the official instructions we received about this were:
“You are requested to bring your Resident Card or your Passport with an indication of “issuance for another day” in the Passport and register your residence with the Ward Office in your municipality within a period of 14 days after you have had a fixed residence.”
What If You Don’t Have a Fixed Residence?
One thing we have come to realize is that the Residence Card system doesn’t seem to be very friendly to those who have special/different circumstances (as opposed to those who come in and plan to stay in a single location for a long time).
By this I mean that the system doesn’t seem to cater well at all to anyone who plans on moving often and therefore doesn’t really have a ‘fixed residence’.
In our case, we entered Japan on a Working Holiday Visa with the intention of travelling around often, and staying in AirBnB’s as we go. To date, the longest we’ve stayed at one fixed address has only been about 5 weeks, and most we might only stay in for about a week or 2 if we are just passing through the area.
Why Should I Believe What You Say?
You shouldn’t – please take this information for what it is – opinion and just one person’s experience. Do your own research and if you feel like helping others out, please leave comments at the end to make this a good resource!
I couldn’t find much information online for this situation (not having a permanent address/moving often). We tried a few things to make sure we were getting the right information, including calling the Immigration Helpline (not much help – they just kept referring us to different numbers that we either couldn’t get through to, or were Japanese only).
We went to our local Ward Office in Tokyo (Ota-Ku) a few days after we landed in Japan to figure out what we should do in our situation – we basically didn’t have a permanent address to register, and didn’t intend to have one for the foreseeable future, or possibly even the entire duration of our time in Japan.
We also didn’t think the intention of registering an address was to list down every place we were staying in (in fact, the Residence Card itself only has 7 slots for addresses on the back).
Not to mention going through the registering an address and then deregistering an address process at each and every ward that we passed through.
Here’s what we found out, for those who might be on a Working Holiday Visa and travelling often (without a permanent address).
Defining a “Permanent Address/ Fixed Residence”
You only need to register an address if it is supposed to be your permanent residence for an extended period of time.
This means that you don’t need to register addresses where you are just staying for the purposes of vacationing/travelling/sightseeing (in most cases).
One of our questions at the Ward Office was ‘when should we register an address as a “fixed/permanent address”?’.
There doesn’t seem to be any written definition of this (that I could find), but the staff at Ota-Ku ward office said it could be considered a fixed address if you intend to stay at that same address for 3 months or more.
However, we didn’t envision ourselves staying for that long in any one location, so by this definition, we’d never have a fixed address. The addresses we were staying at could reasonably be thought of as temporary (no different to the fact that you’d never register a hotel’s address as your own if you happened to be going on a short holiday).
We also didn’t know how long we had until we had to register something – we had initially planned to do a lot of travelling around Japan for our first 6 months, and maybe settling down for a longer stay in a city that we liked in our second 6 months.
However, our Working Holiday Visas were only valid for 6 months (we have to apply for an extension closer to their expiry in order to get the full 12 months total), so we were also worried that if we didn’t have any permanent address registered, we might get in trouble when we tried to apply for our visa extensions.
When You Need To Register A Permanent Address By
Within 90 days of arriving in Japan.
After much questioning, we established with the Ward Office that it was not illegal to not register a permanent address, since we indeed did not technically have one (by their definition of ‘intending to stay in the same address for 3 months or more’). If questioned, we could give the explanation that we were ‘travelling’, for our reason for not having a fixed address.
However, the Ward Office and Immigration seem to be two separate entities, even though there seems to be some overlap between their interests when it comes to the registration of an address.
From what I can understand, the two party’s concerns are something like this:
Ward Office: They take care of the registration of addresses. You do need to register any fixed address (an address where you plan to stay for 3 months or more) with the local Ward Office within 14 days of arriving at the new fixed residence.
Immigration: They only care that you have registered some address. You must register some address within 90 days of entering Japan, or you can face penalties, such as having your visa cancelled. (Source)
This is why it’s important for everyone to register at least some permanent address within 90 days of arriving in Japan – to fulfil the immigration requirements. (There are some exceptions, which can be read about here).
I’m guessing that when you register an address with the Ward Office, they somehow go on to notify Immigration automatically – so you don’t need to worry about this.
I sent an email inquiry to Immigration to clarify what I should do if I didn’t actually have a permanent address (because I couldn’t find an answer on their FAQ). They responded as follows:
“As you know, registering a specific address within 90 days in a municipal office is a requisite without fail as for Immigration Bureau of Japan. An address such as hotel, apartment, or friend’s house would be fine. Moving several times around Japan is not prohibited. For more information, please consult with the nearest municipal office where you are staying at present.”
I took this to mean that I need to register an address (any address!) within 90 days of entering the country.
I had heard from some people that they never registered a permanent address during their whole stay in Japan and no one ever came chasing them. But still, I wouldn’t risk it as it clearly states that you may risk fines, penalties and even possible cancellation of your residence status.
What We Ended Up Doing
While we’re still currently travelling, we did most of our short-stay travel in the first 90 days of entering Japan.
As the 90 days was approaching, we booked an AirBnB for a longer stay – about 1 month – and planned to register this as our first permanent address (of courses, checking with the AirBnB host first!).
When we went to the Ward Office to register our first permanent address, they wanted to know what we had been doing since we arrived in Japan 3 months ago!
We had to sign a declaration that explained we had been travelling and staying in hotels (AirBnB’s) and in a Camping Car up until then.
We plan on updating our permanent address periodically whenever we do longer stays at AirBnB’s (probably anything over a month). However, this approach still isn’t the best, as registering and deregistering each time at each Ward Office could be somewhat painful.
I’m guessing that we’d also probably need to explain long periods of not having a fixed address at the Ward Office each time (hopefully this shouldn’t be hard by giving the reason that we’ve been ‘travelling’).
On another note, I have no idea what happens when you complicate matters with National Health Insurance, as we’re yet to have to sign up to that. From what I understand, payments are linked to your registration with each individual Ward Office. I have no idea how this affects your insurance cover (we rely on our own travel insurance so aren’t too concerned with this).
Watch this space to find out what happens, as I plan to keep it updated with our experiences.
If you are a foreigner staying in Japan for a mid or long term stay, you’ll be issued with a Residence Card (Zairyu Card / 在留カード).
Key takeaways are:
- You must keep your permanent address details current on your Residence Card by registering fixed addresses with your local Ward Office.
- You must register a permanent address within 90 days of arriving in Japan (to meet the requirements of the Immigration office). This can be a hotel or friends address if you don’t have an actual permanent address. (According to the immigration department)
- A ‘permanent address’ is one where you intend to reside for more than 3 months at the same address. (According to the Ward Office we visited)
- You must notify your local Ward Office of your permanent address within 14 days of having moved into your new fixed residence.
- It’s not illegal to not register an address if you are travelling and don’t indeed have a permanent address. (According to the Ward Office we visited)