Ultimate Guide to the Zairyu Card in Japan

By Norie Matsumoto Revised by Ava S. McKee | September 30, 2021 

An example of what a Zairyu Card in Japan looks like when it is filled with personal information. It is a card with a light green background, light blue highlighted headings, a space on the right hand side for a photo, and it is full of information in both English and Japanese

Ever heard of a 在留カード ・Zairyu Card? Chances are if you have looked into moving to Japan, you will know it as your Residence Card. If you’re thinking of coming to Japan for study, work, or to just explore the country for a long time, you’ll want to be well informed about the Zairyu Card. Living in any new country, you need a residence card. It’s used to identify you and show how long you’ll be staying. You are required to get one when you step into the country and you can’t go out without one. This helpful guide will let you in on all the necessary information about the Zairyu Card and any questions you might have, such as, the process of getting one, the application form, renewal, what to do when moving, leaving the country, extension, permanent residence, help, losing the card, status change, and more.

This article is part of our extensive series on learning about Japanese Culture through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.

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    What is a Zairyu Card?

    Before 2012, there was the alien registration card or 外国人登録証明書・gaikokujin-toroku-shomeisho. Now, we have the Zairyu Card. Easier to say, right? Under this newer program, it is not necessary for a visa stamp in your passport, so your Residence Card is the proof of your visa in Japan. Every foreign citizen living in Japan for more than 3 months needs to file their residency. When you are registering as a foreign citizen, the Zairyu Card is supplied. It is basically an ID, and a way to identify you that is crucial to keep with you at all times. It has an embedded IC chip.


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    Why do I need a Zairyu Card?

    Why go through the trouble of obtaining one, what is  the big fuss about it anyway? Well, it’s evidence of your identity when you want to open a bank account, rent an apartment, or set up utilities or any services. So basically, you need it to live in Japan. 

    Citizens from 50+ countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong will be able to stay in Japan for 90 days without registering for any visa if you are just touring the country. Meanwhile, citizens from the United Kingdom can stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa too, but can additionally request a visa extension up to 6 months during their stay. You can check the list of countries with visa exemptions at Exemption of Visa (Short-Term Stay).

    Temporary visitors cannot work or do paid activities. Even tourists have to keep their passports on them at all times. 

    *Note: Due to Covid-19 these rules have changed so it is best to keep checking the official immigration website for up-to-date information.


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    Do I need to carry my Zairyu Card at all times?

    Yes, if you are over 16 years old. Consider your Zairyu Card to be more important than your phone when you go out.  Police in Japan often stop foreigners on the streets to check if you have your Zairyu card on you, and you do not  want to be caught without one. Do not worry too much if you get randomly stopped by Japanese police officers. They most likely just want to know what you are doing, check your ID, and make sure that you are legally allowed in the country. In general, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, so they have the time. Just know, if an officer stops you and asks for your identification, you are legally required to display it and it is considered illegal to be a foreigner walking around Japan without your Zairyu card or passport with you. If you do not have it with you when checked, you may have to pay a fee that can be as high as ¥ 200,000, and in the worst case scenario, may be sentenced to a one-year prison sentence.


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    A Japanese women wearing a Yukata as she looks into a forest of tall green bamboo

    How do I get a Zairyu Card?

    If you are someone looking to study or to work in Japan,  you must first apply for a visa at a Japanese embassy. Here are the requirements that you should not forget!

     You will need to provide the following in your application: 

    • Name
    • Birthdate
    • Gender
    • Nationality
    • Address
    • Visa Status
    • Visa Expiration Date
    • Photo

    First time in the country

    Most Zairyu Cards are given at the airport in Japan when you first enter. 

    These airports include: Narita, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai, New Chitose, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka Airport. 

    Otherwise, you should go to the office of your municipality to inform them that you moved in and you can get your Zairyu Card through the mail instead.

    The general flow goes like this:

    1. Show your passport, visa, and any other related documents.
    2. Give your fingerprints and take a photo, so make sure to look your best, even after you just got off a long flight!
    3. Get your details to input into their immigration data.

    After you leave the airport

    Do not forget that within 14 days of moving into your new residence you must register your new address with the local authorities of your ward. Individual numbers, or ‘My Number’, will be given to all registered residents.

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    Who won’t get a Zairyu Card

    • Those that have “Temporary Visitor” status of residence
    • Those that have an “Official” or “Diplomat” status of residence
    • Those that are a staff member of the Japanese office of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association
    • Those that are a special permanent resident
    • Those that have no status of residence
      • Those that are visiting as tourists
      • Those that are staying in Japan as a refugee


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    How do I renew my Zairyu Card?

    You have to go to your local immigration agency where you live and renew it. This needs to be done within 30 days of your Zairyu card's expiration date.

    When your residence card is nearing its expiry date, you should go to your local immigration office to get it renewed and you must get it done within 30 days of your Zairyu Card expiring

    Here’s what to do:

    • Make an appointment if necessary at your local immigration agency.
    • Go to the agency, bringing your residence card, passport, and other related documents.
    • Visit the office, taking along your Zairyu Card, passport, and any other required supporting documents

    Renewal application form

    Click here to fill out the Renewal Application form.

    After submitting your application

    If there are no issues with your request, your application should take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, then you will get a postcard in the mail. On the postcard will be a timeframe in which you can go to get your new Residence Card. Bring the postcard and your passport as proof of identification for the immigration agent. After a little bit of a wait, you will get your new Residence Card, therefore, completing the renewal procedure.

    *Note: Don’t lose the postcard because if you don’t get your Zairyu card in the time the postcard says, you will have to start all over from the beginning.


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    What happens to my Zairyu Card if I move?

    Moving within Japan

    Within 14 days of your move, you have to notify your ward office that you are moving and notify the change of address by presenting your residence card or special permanent resident certificate at your new ward office. Your new address will be updated at the city office counter. 

    Moving out of Japan

    Is it time to say sayonara

    You have to return your residence card to an Immigration agent at the airport when you are leaving the country.

    How to change my status or extend my period of stay?

    If you want to alter your status of residence, you have to request for a change of status of residence at a Regional Immigration Services Bureau.

    Click here to access the Application for Permission to Change Status of Residence.

    To extend your residence card, just request an extension at your local immigration office.

    Click here to access the Application for Residence Card Validity Period Extension. 

    Our Guide to Useful Japanese Phrases can help you with a few important phrases for speaking with immigration representatives.

    What happens to my Zairyu Card if I leave Japan?

    If you want to go back to your home country to see your family and friends or travel to a new country for a vacation, the Japanese government wants to know about it. If you are thinking of going on a quick trip, less than a year, you do not need to do anything and you can come back to Japan.

    Before leaving

    If you are thinking of being out of Japan for a longer time, you have to request permission to return to Japan before you actually leave.

    Special re-entry permission is typically given for up to 5 to 6 years. When you are leaving Japan, make sure to show your Zairyu Card and on the Embarkation-disembarkation card for Special Re-entry Permit holders, check the box showing your purpose to leave (and come back in) under the Special Re-entry Permit System.


    If you leave Japan with a re-entry permit but are unable to come back to Japan within the valid time of the permit, you will have to give back your residence card. 

    There are two types of reentry:

    • Special re-entry permit if you are coming back within a year. 

    If you come back to Japan within a year, the re-entry permission procedure at Regional Immigration Services Bureau will be free to come in as long as they have Residence Card and valid Passport.

    • Re-entry permit if you are coming back to Japan after 1 year or later. 

    If you request a re-entry permit at a Regional Immigration Services Bureau, you can come back to Japan with your current status of residence and timeframe of stay up to five years.


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    A man with a phone in his hand who is rubbing his eyes in frustration as he deals with losing his Zairyu Card in Japan

    What if I lose or damage my Zairyu Card?

    Yikes, if you happen to lose or damage your sacred Zairyu Card, you might be really worried. No worries, it happens to the best of us!  You will have to register for a new one at your local immigration department depending on where you live. You will have to write up documentation that you lost the card. If it was stolen, report it to the police in case they are able to locate it. You may need an appointment to go to the immigration office. Just apply for a new residence card. You will have to request for re-issuance of a Zairyu card at the Regional Immigration Services Bureau within 14 days of the day you lose it.

    What you need to have to get another one:

    • Passport
    • Photo of yourself 
      • 4 cm long x 3 cm wide 
      • Taken within the last three months. 
      • No photo required for anyone under the age of 16
    • Police report if it was lost or stolen
    • Application for lost card

    Where can I go for help with my Zairyu Card?

    Contact and Inquiries

    There is an option for telephone, in-person and email questions in Japanese and foreign languages.

    Immigration Services Agency of Japan 

    Available anywhere in Japan.

    Tel: 0570-013904

    03-5796-7112 (for IP phones and calls from overseas)

    Weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

    Supported languages:

    Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Nepali, Indonesian, Thai, Cambodian, Myanmar, Mongolian, French, Sinhala, and Urdu. 

    Important information about Zairyu Card

    Be careful of deportation, as it can be serious if you don’t follow the laws of your residency and visa rules. 

    Here are some ways to get deported:

    • Staying in Japan after the given timeframe of stay (even a day of overstaying can mean bad news!)
    • Doing an activity that is not allowed in your residency terms, such as working and getting paid over what is allowed in your visa 
    • Committing some crimes 

    Additionally, there is a free residence card checker app that displays the information stored in the Zairyu Card’s IC chip. It is available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. The app checks and shows the information (like the card holder’s name) that’s kept on the IC chips of Zairyu cards and special permanent resident certificates which help users to know that the card is not forged.


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    How can I get permanent residence in Japan?

    Say you end up loving Japan and realizing your residence card is expiring soon but you actually want to stay a little longer, or actually, forever! Is that possible? Yes. The good news, for people who want to live in Japan permanently, you can register for permanent residency. 

    Click here to access the Application for the Permanent Residence Permit.

    What kind of benefits are there for permanent residents? The benefits of the Permanent Resident visa are:

    • You can live in Japan just Japanese people regularly do
    • You do not have any restrictions on where you can work and what you can do like you do with a student or non permanent resident visa
    • You do not need to do any more visa renewals because the Permanent Resident visa is good for life, wow! 
    • You will have an easier time receiving a loan from Japanese banks

    *Disclaimer: You will still have to renew the Residence Card and Re-entry Permit if you will be outside of the country for over one year.

    The requirements that you need to get the Permanent Resident visa application are :

    • Good conduct and no criminal records
    • Have enough money or a firm job to make a living 
    • Properly following all the conditions of your current visa
    • Live in Japan already for 10 years+ (you need 5 years of living in Japan under a work visa) 
    • Pay taxes to Japan’s social security program during the necessary timeframe and paid them on time
    • Have a guarantor for the application
    • Have stayed in Japan physically for more than 6 months

    10 years of living in Japan as a requirement sounds crazy long, but it can be shortened in these circumstances:

    • Japanese nationals’ spouses and Permanent Residents being married for over 3 years and have lived more than one year in Japan
    • Child of Japanese nationals and Permanent Residents who have lived over one year in Japan
    • If you have a Long Term Resident visa or 
    • Refugee status living over 5 years in Japan
    • If you live 5 years in Japan and are known for making an important contribution to Japan relating to economically, culturally, diplomatically, and socially.


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    What if I marry a Japanese National?

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    Once you are married to a Japanese National, you can get a Spouse of a Japanese national visa. But also, even if your partner isn’t a Japanese national, there are other options for visas.

    You can get a:

    • ‘Spouse of permanent resident visa’ if your spouse is a permanent resident visa holder
    • ‘Long term resident visa’ if your spouse is a long term resident visa holder
    • ‘Dependent visa’ if your spouse has a work visa or a student visa

    Once you are married to a Japanese person and you want to live in Japan with them, you need the Spouse of a Japanese National Visa. You should report your marriage to your ward office of where you live. You can’t get this visa if you live together but are not married. 

    The immigration authorities may check to make sure your relationship is not a marriage of convenience if you have not spent a lot of time together. Although it seems silly, it is ideal to put proof of authentic intimacy like a letter or email communication. 

    There have been many cases of fake marriages, therefore immigration offices can be skeptical and the examination of foreign nationals particularly from a country that has a history of a lot of counterfeit marriages can take a long time, about 4 to 6 months. 

    The documents you need to apply:

    • The official copy of your Japanese partner’s family register
    • Employment, tax, and tax withholding certificate


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    Hopefully, this article makes your transition into moving to Japan easier. It may seem overwhelming because there are so many different processes, but just be careful with the documentation and get help from the official websites if you get confused! 


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