As most foreign residents are probably aware, Japan has been phasing out the old Alien Registration Cards (often just called the ‘gaijin cards’) and has replaced them with Residence Cards. The new system came into effect on July 9, 2012 and there was a three-year grace period for changing over. However, the deadline is looming and you must get your Residence Card by July 8 of this year.
Permanent residents, in particular, may be dragging their feet on making the change (and I was one of them), but with the deadline less than three months away, the Immigration Department advises against leaving things to the last minute. So, last week I bit the bullet and headed down to my local Immigration Bureau and changed over to the new Residence Card.
The whole procedure is simple: All you need are your passport, your Alien Registration Card, a passport-sized photo and a copy of the application form. (You can either pick up a copy at the Immigration Bureau or download and print it here. There is no charge for getting the card and yes, you can smile in the photo! I did.
It took me less than five minutes to fill in the application form and hand over everything at the counter, and then around 90 minutes for them to call my number and present me with a new Residence Card. (I was also given my now defunct Alien Registration Card with a lovely hole punched through it.)
The Residence Card lists your name, date of birth, sex, nationality, address, status and period of stay. Unlike the old Alien Registration Card, it doesn’t carry information about your passport, date of entry to Japan or place of birth.
The new card is valid for seven years for permanent residents, while for most other visa categories the maximum visa term has been extended from three years to five. One major advantage of the new system is that you no longer need to obtain a re-entry permit if you leave Japan for less than 12 months. Visa/status information will no longer be stamped in your passport, so you must always ensure you have your Residence Card when travelling in and out of Japan.
There is one other major difference between the Alien Registration Card and the Residence Card that doesn’t seem to come up much in the media: Along with the Romaji on the old card, you could also have your name recorded in Japanese (known as your ‘tsumei’ or ‘alternative name’). However, this option isn’t offered for the Residence Card. This could be potentially problematic, particularly for long-term residents or those married to a Japanese. For example, if your name is recorded in Japanese on your bank accounts or other important documents, it will no longer match that on your Residence Card if used for ID.
If you have a Japanese driving license, it is possible to have your ‘tsumei’ recorded on it, but there is now another way for you to have your name in Japanese on official ID: It is known as the ‘Juki Card’ (short for the Jumin Kihon Taichou Card). Along with the introduction of the Residence Card system, there have also been changes to the way foreign residents are registered in their local municipality. Under the old system, foreigners and Japanese were registered in separate systems, giving rise to such farcical situations as a foreigner not being included on household records with their Japanese spouse and children. Now, any foreign national residing in Japan for more than three months will be part of the ‘resident registration’ system, and as such, is eligible for a Juki Card.
You apply for the Juki Card at your local city office. There are two types—with a photo and without. If you are going to use the card for ID, it seems better to get the photo card option. In this case, you must supply a passport-sized photo. There is also a form to fill out and a 500-yen handling fee, and you must supply two kinds of ID (e.g. passport, Residence Card, insurance card, driver’s license).
As with the old Alien Registration Card, your ‘alternative name’ in Japanese can be included on the card, but space is somewhat limited. (My full name is English is long, so there was no space left on the front and my ‘alternative name’ ended up on the back, for which the staff member apologized.) You will also be asked to select and key in a four-digit numerical pin for your new card, to safeguard the data and your identity. Since I already have my name in Japanese on my driver’s license, there probably wasn’t any pressing need to get a Juki Card, but it never hurts to have extra ID.