With incredible infrastructure, fast internet, transparent/clean government and banking, and a low cost of living, Japan would be a great place to be a digital nomad. There’s just one problem: Japan has no digital nomad visa. But that may change before too long.
Digital nomad and Mt Fuji
First: Why Japan Would Be Great for Digital Nomads?
Everyone thinks of places like Bali and Chiang Mai as natural hubs for digital nomads. But if you’ve ever lived in Japan, or even visited for a few weeks, you know that it would be a great place to be a digital nomad. Why? Well, consider the fundamental reason for becoming a digital nomad: The ability to live in a place with a cheap cost of living and earn money from clients/consumers in wealthy countries. What this usually means is moving to a place in the developing world. However, moving to the developing world usually means accepting less developed infrastructure, confusing and opaque visa formalities, lack of advanced medical facilities, and lack of access to the products and services you’d find in a wealthy developed country. But this is not the case in Japan.
Digital nomad hard at work in Japan
Japan Is the Cheapest Country in The Developed World
The most important thing to understand is this: Japan is arguably the cheapest country in the developed world. Check out my recent article called Japan Is Cheaper Than You Think. You’ll see that the cost of living in Tokyo is equal to that of Mexico City, Porto (Portugal) and Sofia (Bulgaria). And that’s Tokyo! When you get out into the countryside of Japan, the cost of living falls dramatically. Just Google around a little bit on topics like “buying a cheap house in Japan” or “buying an akiya (empty house) in Japan” and you’ll see what rural real estate runs in Japan (hint: less than places like Costa Rica or Mexico). And, rents are equally cheap, even in some of the cities. I recently rented a large house in Kyoto right next to one of the city’s most beautiful temples for US$700 per month. And I rented a small apartment to use as an office for US$200 per month.
World-Class Infrastructure at Developing World Prices
Japan offers you what no other digital nomad destination can: First-world infrastructure that is likely far superior to what you have in your home country and a cost of living that rivals that of eastern Europe or Portugal. That means fast and reliable internet so you can Zoom your clients without any lag. It means high-quality and affordable medical care (think US$100 for a CAT scan etc). It means a postal system and courier companies that are fast, reliable and freakishly cheap, which is huge if you need to ship physical goods. And, of course, Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, so many of the things you’d worry about elsewhere won’t even enter your mind in Japan.
Digital nomad at work in a coffee shop/span>
Here’s The Rub: There’s No Digital Nomad Visa for Japan
The problem with all this is that there’s no digital nomad visa for Japan. However, the Japanese government has recently been floating the idea of creating a digital nomad visa. This was reported in many publications, including this article that appeared in the Japan Times. I’m not confident that a digital nomad visa for Japan will actually materialize. And, if it does, I can easily see it being like Japan’s new Highly Skilled Professional Visa, where the requirements are so strict and the application process so difficult that almost no one actually gets the visa. However, we might be pleasantly surprised.
Is There a Workaround?
There are several illegal workarounds including working on a tourist visa or working on a cultural visa. We cannot recommend any of these methods and the Japanese authorities are much stricter about this than they used to be. We know of one person who was working illegally on a tourist visa, and ducked out of the country briefly and tried to return on another tourist visa and he was detained at the airport and forced to buy a one-way ticket home (at airport counter prices).
Another option would be to get a work visa for a normal job and do your digital nomad stuff on the side. But you must work within the field for which you’ve received your work visa and you won’t have much time left over after doing your main job. If you’re an actual journalist and you work for a well-established media company, you may be able to get a journalist visa and you could then do your own media work on the side. Just keep in mind that Japan does not grant these visas easily (I know, because I’ve had these visas in the past).
Other than marrying a Japanese national, the only legal way that a foreigner could work as a digital nomad in Japan would be to get a Business Manager Visa. This requires significant capital and you’d be less of a digital nomad and more of an expat living and working in Japan. For more on this visa, check out this page.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world