Your residence card is the single most important document you can have as a foreigner in Japan. From the day you move to Japan to the day you leave, your residence card becomes your best friend, and it’s the buzzword on every application you’ll fill out while living in Tokyo. But what is a residence card? How do you get one? These are the basic questions that plague foreigners living in Japan– but have no fear, we’re here to walk you through the 5 things YOU need to know about your residence card.

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Photo of a Residence Card

Photo from Photo-AC by RRice

1. What is a Zairyu (Residence) card?

A Residence card is a document issued by the Ministry of Justice for any medium-long term residents of Japan. This is NOT a permanent resident card and is also not for special permanent residents, diplomatic officials, or tourists in Japan for less than 90 days.

The card becomes your valid photo ID and contains various information, from your name and date of birth to your visa status and date of expiration. This card is valid until the end of your visa and must be brought to your local immigration office along with your other documents if choosing to extend your stay in Japan. Otherwise, the card is valid for up to 30 days after the end date of your visa.

Remember–you must keep this card on you at all times. Penalties for forgetting your card are rare, but pricey, with up to ¥200,000 in fines; and even worse, a failure to show the card once located can result in jail time of up to a year. 

Photo of your Identification card in Japan

Photo from Photo-AC by matisse

2. Where do I get one?

Your initial Zairyu card is issued when you enter Japan. Most major airports simply include it as part of immigration, collecting fingerprints and your photograph (so be prepared!) as you enter the country.

This initial card is very important as you set up your new life in Japan, so guard it closely as you move through the flurry of your new status as a resident of Japan. Once your visa expires, they’ll either punch a hole in the card as you leave (to ensure you don’t try to use it upon re-entry), or you can take it to your regional immigration office when you re-up your visa; they’ll punch a hole in it there and issue a brand new card with your new visa status and expiration date. 

Immigration photo

Photo from Unsplash by Metin Ozer

3. How do I apply for a Residence Card in Japan

Once you have one, you MUST REGISTER YOUR ADDRESS WITHIN 14 DAYS. The registration process is easy–simply take your passport, card, and proof of new address (like a housing contract or company statement) to your municipal office (NOT the immigration office).

The municipal office will add the information to the embedded IC chip and print it on the back of the card. This municipal office will now claim you as a resident, so any address changes require you to return to that office, remove yourself as a foreign resident, and re-register yourself at the municipal office of your new residence.

For example, moving from Minato-ku to Shibuya-ku requires you to gather the documents and go to the Minato-kuyakusho (Minato ward office), remove yourself from the Minato-ku residents list, and then go to the Shibuya-kuyakusho (Shibuya ward office) to re-enter. Failure to register your address can have consequences down the line, so it’s best to do it as soon as possible.

Photo of the Shibuya Ward

Photo from Photo-Ac by くろてん

4.How can I use my Residence Card?

As previously stated, your Residence Card is essential for vital functions like opening a bank account and getting a phone. It serves as your photo ID and can be used for everything from a hotel room, to renting DVDs, to getting health insurance.

Besides your passport, it is the single most important document to have. If you lose it, be sure to replace it as soon as possible. Bring your passport and visa documents to your regional immigration office within 14 days of losing your card, and they will re-issue a new card.

Snap a picture when you first receive your card, so that if you do lose it, you can save significant time by copying the information directly instead of waiting in line to retrieve it. 

Photo of identification card

Photo from Photo AC by 紺色ライオン

5. My time in Japan has ended. What do I do with it now?

Upon leaving Japan, declare it at immigration– you’ll have to fill out some paperwork, and they’ll punch a hole in it to show it is no longer valid. But don’t throw it away! Besides being a lovely, compact souvenir of your incredible experience in Japan, your Zairyu card has vital information that can help you get your money back from the Japanese government.

Depending on your country of origin, you can get your pension money put into your own country’s retirement scheme (such as Social Security in the US), or simply get a large percentage in a lump sum upon exit. You are also free to come and go in Japan with your passport and residence card, so long as there is still validity left in your visa and the card remains unpunched. However, no matter how long left before expiry, failure to enter or reside in Japan for over a year will automatically nullify the Zairyu card, and any re-entry after that must start over from step 1. 

Living in Japan is a wonderful experience, and despite the challenges being a foreign worker in a new country brings, it’s best to do it with all the knowledge you can and make every step as easy as possible. The more information you have, the better choices you can make; so you can stop doing paperwork, and enjoy your beautiful new life in Japan. 

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Photo of the Shibuya crossing

Photo from Unsplash by Manuel Cosentino