Late last week, I finally went to renew my visa. Although not my first time doing a renewal, I had a lot of anxiety going into it.
The biggest reason for my anxiety was that my visa had technically expired. If you’re also a foreigner living in Japan, I’m sure you already know about this. Because of coronavirus, all visas were granted an extra three month grace period to help people who could not yet return home, and also to try to minimize the amount of people going to renew their visa at one time.
A bit of anxiety
Even knowing that my visa was actually still valid, walking around (and sometimes having to show) a residence card that clearly had an expired date written on it was definitely a bit stressful. On top of that, going to the visa office meant being surrounded by a lot of people, both on the train and in the waiting room itself. All things considered… I was not excited. I wanted to search online for a “visa office status report” or something that could kind of give me an image of what to expect, but alas there was little to be found.
Take a number
I arrived at the visa office probably around 8:50 AM, 10 minutes before it opened. To my surprise, the office had already pulled up their shutters and people had taken waiting numbers. I walked in and got my number, 34.
I was pretty okay with being 34th in line, as it would give me more than enough time to go downstairs and get an application photo taken, glue it to my application form, and then buy a ¥4,000 yen stamp for the renewal fee. These days I always just get my visa photo taken at the machine in the basement of the same building, because it has the exact size for residence cards. When I’ve gone to random photo machines, the size tends to be just slightly off. However, in my experience, the staff aren’t actually that picky about the size.
There were a few things different about the office than usual.
First, they had gel-type hand sanitizer near the entrance. There were a decent amount of people I noticed who completely ignored it, which is not exactly what you want to see since you have to press a button to get your waiting number. I actually had a bit of sore throat the day after, but luckily that is not a symptom of coronavirus!
In the waiting area there are a bunch of blue sofas that can seat probably three to four people. In the middle of those sofas, they had taped large green X’s in an effort to encourage social distancing. Most people understood the meaning immediately, although unsurprisingly some of those who were there with friends or family members just ignored this.
Lastly, they had installed transparent plastic sheets around the reception windows to prevent transmission of droplets. That seems to be pretty standard basically everywhere now though, so that was not a surprise.
Oh, and everyone was wearing a mask! Again, standard. There wasn’t anyone going around to make sure visitors were wearing masks, but luckily I can’t remember noticing anyone who wasn’t wearing one. However, I do distinctly remember a man who sat next to me who had a mask on. But the mask wasn’t covering his nose.
How long it took
As for the actual business of the office and waiting time… it was pretty good! I think I probably waited for maybe an hour to an hour and a half, which I can’t really complain about. I think that the government actually did manage to thin out the amount of people going at one time. While the office was certainly still busy, most people were still able to adhere to the rules implied by the social distancing tape. I’m pretty sure the first time I went to renew my visa, I was waiting for at least two to three hours, and there were times when no seats were available.
After leaving the visa office, I was also surprised to see how few people were at the station. By that I mean, I was literally the only person there.
Notes to myself for next time
I would also like to take this opportunity to write down a few things I would like myself to remember for next time I go to renew my visa.
If you’re anything like me, because there is around a year at the shortest between submitting each renewal application, by the time it gets to the next one I forget how the entire process works and what documents I need. In fact, this time I completely forgot to even print out a copy of my work contract until the day before. I hope that these random tips/reminders might also help you in the future when you need to renew your visa.
It’s not a huge deal if you forget a document (within reason). In my experience, all of the charts and lists of documents you need for a visa renewal seem to be slightly different, and never very specific. That always results in me panicking about not having the right documents before I head in for renewal. This time it turned out there were two additional documents I needed, but luckily they provided me with an envelope to mail my missing documents, within two weeks. Beware though that you need your own stamp to send it back!
The ¥4,000 revenue stamp for the renewal is only needed when you go to pick up your residence card! Literally every single time I have gone to renew my visa, I forget about this and buy it when I submit the renewal application. Then I have to keep track of a tiny, ¥4,000 stamp for two months while I wait for my visa result. At the very least this means you don’t have to worry about buying it later, but honestly I would rather just not have to worry about misplacing it.
Going to the visa office, while never enjoyable, has generally proved itself to always be not as horrible as I expected. I cannot speak for different offices (I have never been to the one in Tokyo, but I have heard horror stories…). I think if you need to renew your visa soon, you should not have to worry about it much more than usual. I definitely wish that the government would take some of my tax money to install air conditioners though.
Lead photo: “The back of my proof of renewal slip that was stapled into my passport. Now with Covid-19 information!” Photo by Nathan
Nathan works for the GaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!