Our resident working-in-Japan writer, James Winovich, answers your questions on everything from finding a job to networking to having more fun during school lunches and more. Got a question you’d like to ask James? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No degree = no-go?
I’ve been teaching English in Thailand for 15 years, but now I’m interested in teaching in Japan. However, I don’t have a college degree, which seems to be a requirement for every teaching job I’ve seen. Should I just give up on heading to Japan?
— Troubled in Thailand
Let’s settle this once and for all.
In short, it is 100% possible to find work in Japan without a degree. So if teaching in Japan is what you want to do, you absolutely shouldn’t give up. However, it will be significantly more difficult than if you did have one.
The important question then becomes, how can you make it happen?
With fifteen years of experience, you clearly fulfill the International Services visa requirement of having at least three years of professional experience in your field. As long as you can prove this to the Japanese government with the correct paperwork, you are eligible for that specific visa (you can read more on the details of this visa here.)
The more difficult part for you will be finding a company that is willing to sponsor your efforts in being granted a visa.
Employers needs quality teachers, and with your 15 years of experience, I would venture to guess that you are a good one. However, since you don’t have one of the listed requirements for most teaching jobs (the aforementioned degree), your resume and performance in your interview will need to be so strong that they are willing to go to bat for you.
As you can imagine, this isn’t easy and will have a huge element of luck. Some companies will throw your resume in the trash as soon as they see that you don’t have a degree. Others might give you a chance if your application documents help to generate a feeling that you are worth the investment. The four-year degree requirement is a hard rule for some companies and a soft guideline for others, but the three years of experience in your related field is a mandate for the International Services visa.
The four-year degree requirement is a hard rule for some companies and a soft guideline for others, but the three years of experience in your related field is a mandate for the International Services visa.
My advice for you specifically as you continue to work in Thailand is to apply, apply, apply to jobs in Japan. Gaijinpot and other large job-hunting sites usually have an email alert system that will help you be among the first to apply for jobs that fit your criteria, and that speedy response could be the difference in your resume getting a one-way ticket to the trash or receiving a second look.
One other option you might have (but that I wouldn’t really recommend) is to acquire a student or tourist visa and pound the literal pavement in Japan for a couple weeks. The amount of time and effort (and money!) that would go into that path makes the process not worthwhile in my book. Especially when you consider that you won’t be at much of an advantage over someone putting in heavy hours online.
In closing, if you want to work in Japan without a degree, it’s a lot like passing the Japanese driving test or the JLPT N1 on the first try. It’s difficult, but not impossible if you’re willing to put in the time.
If you put together a great resume, apply to as many places as you can, and if the moons and stars align, you will be granted some interviews. If you ace those, you may find a company that sees the mountain of visa-related paperwork as worth the effort, and you’ll be on your way to Japan sooner rather than later.