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How to ensure a smooth transition when you change jobs in Japan

By 6 min read

Summer holidays are here. Whilst some teachers are fortunate enough to have about 6 weeks holiday at this time of year, for direct local government hires like me, “the show must go on” as they say. Despite the lack of classes, or indeed any meaningful work to do, we still have to clock in and clock out as it were. This time of tranquility also gives us time to reflect, on what we have accomplished in the first half of the year and what we hope to achieve before the year’s end.

It is perhaps for this reason, that August/September is the second most popular time in the calendar year, behind March/April, for people in Japan, especially those in the English teaching game, to change jobs. Now, I’m not sure if my employers read my blog or not, but in case you are reading this: Don’t panic! I’m quite happy in my job and not planning to quit anytime soon!

However, I do have a number of friends and colleagues who will be taking the proverbial leap of faith over the next couple of months and switching to new jobs, both inside and outside of Japan.
Depending on where you come from, the culture when it comes to changing jobs may vary drastically. Some countries’ laws require a considerable notice period, others none at all. Some countries may require you to compensate your employer if you break your contract, others do not. So here, from own experience, I present a brief guide on how to switch jobs in Japan, in the most professional and amicable way possible.

Firstly, when you resign from your job, it is usually best to serve your employer with a written notice of your intent to do so. Personally, I feel it’s better to present the letter in person to your boss, and schedule permitting, perhaps have a brief chat with the boss to explain why you are leaving and where you are going next. If your boss genuinely cares about maintaining a healthy working environment then they should welcome your feedback. At this point, you should also agree a timeline with your boss, as too how much notice they want you to work, what your final salary will be and when it will be paid. For your own protection and peace of mind, I recommend trying to get these sums in writing, where feasible.

You may also find yourself invited to attend an exit interview in the final days of your contract, to further elaborate on your experiences working with the company and why you are leaving at this time. Again, it’s best to exercise diplomatic restraint here, and not “burn your bridges” as it were. Keep your criticisms as constructive as possible, but also be honest. As I said before, a genuinely competent manager will value your input.

Serving an appropriate period of notice is also important. Whilst many companies will have 30, or sometimes even 60 day, notice periods written into their contract guidelines, these have no actual legal basis. For ordinary workers in Japan, the legally required notice period is 2 weeks. However, as a common courtesy to my employers, wherever possible, I have always tried to give at least 4 weeks’ notice. Regardless of how you may feel about the school or company you are about to quit, remember that if you walk out before they have had time to find a replacement for you, the ones who will suffer the most are your students and your fellow English teachers. As a professional educator, you have a responsibility to them.

With your notice handed in, it’s now time to get your other affairs in order. What you do next will largely depend on your next job. Some jobs may require a change of visa status. If you are working as an ALT in public schools, or a university lecturer then you will need and “Instructor” visa. However, if you are planning to work for an Eikaiwa, or a private Japanese company, then in most cases, you will require a “Specialist in Humanities” visa. As a bonus, when you change your visa status, you will automatically be granted a one year extension from the day you made the status change.
For example, I moved from Hong Kong to Osaka on a one year visa in February 2013. In July of 2013, I switched to my current job and was automatically granted a 1 year extension to July of 2014. The original visa would have been due to expire in February of 2014.

With salaries for teachers not quite what they once were, and increasing number of ALTs are also opting to do additional Eikaiwa work in the evenings to top up their income. If you wish to do this, then you will need to apply for a “special permission” to do so. This process isn’t complicated and basically just involves a further trip to immigration to get an extra stamp on your ID card. Some less reputable companies may tell you this is not necessary but please be aware you risk deportation if you choose to undertake work you are not authorized to perform in Japan.

It is also a good idea to visit your local city hall, or ward office, to ensure that your insurance, tax and other such affairs are in order. This is important if you are leaving Japan as all outstanding tax issues will have to be fully settled before you can try to claim back your pension contributions made while you were here.

Please also be aware that a number of employers in the English teaching industry may not, as a general rule enroll new teachers in government health insurance and pension schemes. So to insure you receive continuing health coverage you will have to enroll in public health insurance yourself. And conversely if you are moving from a company that does not provide coverage to one that does, you will need to register the appropriate details with the ward office to ensure you don’t end up paying twice for the same thing.

Finally there is the issue of residence tax. In the event that you move to a new city, you will not be require to pay that city’s residence tax until you have been living there for at least a year. However, as tax is charged retrospectively for the previous year, you will still have to settle up last year’s tax from your previous city, whilst you live in your new one. It is of course possible to ignore this, and indeed many people do, however, in recent times the government has become more rigorous in its enforcement of tax regulations, to the point where some people have had visa renewal requests denied because they haven’t met their tax obligations. So don’t forget to pay up!

It is often said that getting married, moving house and changing job are the three most stressful things a person will do in their life. Hopefully, after reading this, I’ve helped to make at least one of them less stressful for you. Wherever you are going and whatever you are planning to do next I wish you well.

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