The Cultural Activities Visa is for Applicants who wish to study Japanese culture, art, or skills. This is a very broad category that could include study of such things as Taiko (Japanese drumming), Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), tea ceremony, judo, aikido, etc.
Cultural Activities is a non-work visa category the proposed activity should be unpaid.
SIX STEPS TO OBTAIN A JAPAN CULTURAL ACTIVITIES VISA
In order to obtain a Cultural Activities Visa to study in Japan, an Applicant will need to complete the following six steps:
Confirm that the proposed activities in Japan are consistent with those permitted for the holder of a Cultural Activities Visa.
The permitted activities under a Cultural Activities Visa are as follows:
- Academic or artistic activities that provide no income,
- Activities for the purpose of pursuing specific studies of Japanese culture or arts,
- Activities for the purpose of learning and acquiring Japanese culture or arts under the guidance of experts.
Assemble the documents required to support a Cultural Activities Visa application.
Once an Applicant has confirmed that her proposed activities in Japan are consistent with those outlined above in Step 1, specific supporting documentation needs to be prepared.
In the case of a Cultural Activities Visa, the authorities require documents that provide details of the following:
- Where the Applicant will engage in academic or artistic activities or study Japanese culture or arts:
- Documents certifying the activity and its duration and an outline of the organization where the Applicant will engage in such activities.
- Documents certifying the Applicants career (academic, professional, etc.)
- Documents certifying that the Applicant is able to meet all expenses associated with her stay in Japan.
- In cases where the Applicant intends to learn Japanese culture or arts under the guidance of an expert.
- The documents listed in 1. above, and
- Materials showing the career and the achievements of the expert.
Submit an application for a Cultural Activities Visa Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”).
Once the Applicant’s activities have been confirmed and the appropriate documents assembled per steps 1 and 2 above, the next step in most cases will be to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (abbreviated as “COE”).
A COE is a document issued by the Japanese immigration authorities. It certifies an Applicant’s eligibility to undertake specific activities in Japan – in this case, the activities associated with the Cultural Activities Visa application.
An application for a Cultural Activities Visa COE must be submitted in person at a regional immigration office in Japan. The COE application cannot be submitted by mail or at a Japanese embassy outside Japan.
Where the Applicant is not personally available (for example because she is not in Japan or due to a busy schedule) Japanese law allows a certified immigration specialist to submit a Cultural Activities Visa COE application on behalf of the Applicant.
Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists are able to handle all the procedures associated with preparing and submitting an application for a Cultural Activities Visa COE.
Await Approval of the Cultural Activities Visa COE.
The processing time for a Cultural Activities Visa COE is generally four to six weeks.
Once approved, a notice is sent to an address in Japan advising that the COE is ready for collection at the regional immigration office where the COE application was originally submitted.
Where Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists are handling the Cultural Activities Visa application, the notification from the immigration authorities is sent to our office. Japan Visa then collects the COE from the regional immigration office and either forwards it to the Applicant or prepares a change of status application (see Step 5 below).
Obtain Cultural Activities Status of Residence (SOR).
Once an Applicant has the Cultural Activities Visa COE in hand, the next step is for her to exchange the COE for Cultural Activities “Status of Residence” (usually abbreviated as “SOR”).
Technically speaking, it is the Cultural Activities SOR that will form the basis of the Applicant actually living in Japan.
There are two methods for doing this:
1. Exchange the Cultural Activities COE at a Japanese embassy or Consul outside Japan.
This is the traditional route for obtaining Cultural Activities SOR.
The Applicant first exchanges the Cultural Activities Visa COE for a Cultural Activities Visa at a Japanese embassy or consul outside Japan. The process generally takes two to three business days.
The Applicant then travels to Japan and is granted Cultural Activities SOR at the port of entry.
2. Undertake a Change of Status to Cultural Activities SOR in Japan.
In some cases, an alternative may be for the holder of a Cultural Activities COE to enter Japan under the Japan Visa Waiver Program or some other form of short-term entry. The Applicant then applies for Cultural Activities SOR via a change of status at a regional immigration office in Japan.
A change of status takes approximately two weeks. During that time, it is not possible for the Applicant to travel outside Japan.
Where the change of status route is utilized, Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists can undertake the necessary procedures at the regional immigration office in Japan.
Japan Residence Card
Whether you receive your Cultural Activities SOR at the airport upon entering Japan (see Step 5 above) or via a change of status application filed at a regional immigration office in Japan, you will receive a Residence Card.
This is an official identification card that includes an IC chip. The Residence Card contains personal information such as name, address, birth date, residence status (in this case, Cultural Activities SOR), period of stay, etc.
You are required to carry your Residence Card at all times.
Consider applying for a Japan Re-entry Permit.
Up until July 2012, if you held a Cultural Activities Visa and wished to temporarily leave Japan (e.g., for vacation, business, etc.) it was necessary to obtain a Re-entry Permit for Japan in advance of travelling.
However, it is now possible to leave Japan for up to 12 months without a Re-Entry Permit.
If there is any possibility that a trip outside Japan will last for more than 12 months, an individual holding Cultural Activities SOR should ensure that they have a Re-entry Permit. This can be obtained at regional immigration office in Japan.
Some Important Considerations AFTER Receiving your Cultural Activities Visa
There are three particularly important tax matters to bear in mind as you live and work in Japan:
1. Japanese Tax for holders of Cultural Activities SOR
Cultural Activities SOR is basically a non-working category so in most cases you will have minimum involvement with Japanese taxes. However, in some cases, you may obtain permission to undertake limited party-time work. In such cases, your employer will likely handle most Japan tax matters on your behalf. This may be done by way of withholding tax deducted each month and a year-end adjustment as part of the December payroll.
If you have multiple jobs or if you have other sources of income you may need to submit a Japanese tax return by 15 March each year. It is very important that you understand your Japan tax obligations since no extensions are available.
Complying with your Japanese tax obligations is essential in order to renew your visa.
2. US Tax for holders of Cultural Activities SOR
If the holder of Cultural Activities SOR is a US citizen or green card holder, they may continue to have US tax obligations even while living in Japan.
The US rules applicable to Americans living overseas are complex and constantly changing. In order to avoid possible penalties, anyone with a US tax filing obligation should seek specialist advice to ensure that they fulfill their US tax obligations.
3. Taxes when the holder of Cultural Activities SOR leaves Japan
Before leaving Japan, the holder of Cultural Activities SOR is required to fully settle her taxes or appoint a tax agent.
It should also be noted that Japanese local tax is assessed based on where you live on 1 January each year. As a result, departing Japan prior to 1 January may result in tax savings.