Japan welcomes digital nomads with six-month visa

Japan is eyeing digital nomads as a way to increase the number of wealthy inbound travellers and tackle overtourism, but challenges, such as visa criteria and stiff competition from neighbouring destinations, remain.

The Immigration Services Agency will offer a six-month visa for digital nomads from the end of March. Digital nomads from 49 countries will be eligible to apply at their nearest Japanese consulate or embassy provided they earn 10 million yen (US$68,300) annually and have private health insurance coverage during their stay. Their spouse and children will also be granted entry.

Japan is offering a six-month visa for digital nomads as a way to increase annual tourism consumption

Although the visa is not eligible for renewal, it may be applied for again six months after the digital nomad leaves the country.

The visa is part of Japanese government efforts to boost economic growth and consumption, particularly through attracting travellers with higher incomes. The Japan Tourism Agency’s Basic Plan for the Promotion of a Tourism Nation, which was launched in April 2023, aims to increase annual tourism consumption, particularly in the regions, to 22 trillion yen annually by 2025.

In recent years, workations and digital nomads have been considered an increasingly important component of this work. In 2023, the Japan National Tourism Organization classified workations as a priority tourism type and the Japan Tourism Agency established the Telework Workation Public-Private Promotion Council.

The council has been supporting telework nationwide via collaboration between public and private sectors, resulting in the proliferation of co-working spaces and high-speed Wi-Fi as well as more accommodation offering dedicated working spaces. Even national parks have workstations and Wi-Fi through recent government initiatives.

With Japan’s domestic workation market expected to be worth 108.4 billion yen by the end of March, up from 69.9 billion yen in 2021, according to Statista, Japan is seeing the potential of welcoming digital nomads from overseas. More than 35 million people are working as digital nomads globally, according to The Japan Digital Nomads Association, and by 2030, the number is expected to reach one billion.

In practical terms, Japan has never been more equipped to cater for remote workers, but experts point to the limitations of its digital nomad visa compared to the offerings of other countries in the region.

South Korea’s digital nomad visa, which became available on January 1 this year, requires applicants to have had a minimum income of 85 million won (US$64,000) in 2023 and hold personal medical coverage. These terms are similar to that of Japan’s but successful applicants can stay for up to one year with the possibility of a one-year extension.

Malaysia’s digital nomad visa also allows remote workers to stay for up to one year, provided they work in a digital domain, such as IT or content creation, and show proof of annual income of at least US$24,000 — much lower than Japan’s level — and private health insurance. The same requirements and offer apply to the Philippines’ digital nomad visa, launched in 2023.

Still, Japan remains hopeful that strong pent-up demand for its tourism offering will entice digital nomads wishing to experience its off-the-beaten-track destinations that can be appreciated with more time.

In October 2023, Fukuoka’s local government invited 50 digital nomads from 24 countries to experience what it would be like to work in and explore the city. Trip participants stayed in hotels equipped with co-working spaces, ate in restaurants serving local dishes, and joined cultural activities such as watching a Bon Odori dance.

Kagoshima Prefecture has unveiled a range of workations promoting wellness, creativity and inspiration in a bid to attract digital nomads. In addition to high-grade working facilities at resort hotels, ryokan inns and co-working spaces, offerings include forest bathing on the World Heritage Site of Yakushima, well-being experiences with horses, matcha tasting among green tea fields, and watching traditional samurai armour being made.

In Nagano Prefecture, the Karuizawa Report Telework Committee, a private sector group composed of tourism and business groups, is working to attract digital nomads interested in spending time in nature and taking part in activities such as hiking, skiing and stargazing.

Although Japan has stricter digital nomad visa criteria than nearby destinations, public and private organisations are working to make every region of the country as appealing as possible, to create a strong selling point amid this competitive market.

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