japan: prologue

Thanks to the good graces of my employer Voltron Data, I will soon be moving to Japan on a 5-year engineer visa1.

We don’t have an office in Japan (or any offices at all), but this is still possible thanks to an “employer of record” arrangement with Deel, the company we use for payroll. Essentially, Deel’s Japan subsidiary hires me and sponsors the visa, and Voltron Data pays my salary and employs me through them.

The process was mostly hands-off. Deel was the one that actually applied for the visa (via yet another intermediary that handles the details for them), and all I needed to do was provide paperwork—diplomas, a résumé, and so on. The first and longest step was to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). After submitting my documents to Deel, they submitted the application, and it took a few months to hear back from the Japanese government. That resulted in an email that basically says “yes, David is qualified to apply for a visa of this type and duration”.

I found out that I had received the COE via email, with the COE as a PDF attachment. I then filled out some paperwork from my local Japanese consulate—conveniently in downtown Detroit—and made an appointment to apply in person. The paperwork is also fairly straightforward, and honestly the hardest part of this was trying to find the consulate inside the GM Renaissance Center. As it turns out, you walk down to one end of the building to check in at the security desk, then walk to the other end to take the elevator. All I had to do was drop off the paperwork and a copy of my COE; there was no interview or anything. They told me it should be available in one week, and when I got home, I made a second appointment with the embassy to pick it up. Sure enough, one week later, I came back, and after a short wait they returned my passport to me with the visa inside.

An aside: the application specifically wanted a Japanese size passport photo. I’ve seen people online ask about how to get this. In my case, it turned out that the Kodak kiosk used by my local CVS could actually handle different sizes for different countries, not just US passport photos. The staff were kind enough to dig around the machine until they figured out the option.

  1. Not the recently-announced digital nomad visa, which as of this writing still can’t actually be obtained.