How to Get Your Japan Residence Card

By Donnie | Foreigners In Japan

Why do I look like a registered sex offender in this photo? I don't really know. But I'm really not...I PROMISE!

In a previous post I mentioned to you that there have been some pretty significant changes to Japan’s Immigration System, many of which are changes for the better. For example, those with a valid Japan work visa, unless you’re staying out of the country for longer than a year, you reentry will be as simple as showing your new card to Japanese officials at the airport. The maximum visa length has also been extended to five years instead of three. Rumor has it that it’s a little more difficult to obtain permanent residency, but I’m not sure how true that is because I’ve haven’t applied to be a permanent resident. Now that you know some of the changes that have been implemented by the Ministry of Justice, I think it’s a good idea to show you how to get your new card.

Before we get into the actual how-to’s of getting your new card, here are the four things you’ll need to successfully change your Alien Registration Card:

1. Resident Card Application Form
2. Your Old Alien Registration Card (ARC)
3. Your Passport
4. A 4cm x 3cm Passport Photo

Step 1: Get Your Resident Card Application Form
I’m sure that each Immigration Bureau has a different setup, but there should be an information desk, of some sort, near the main entrance. At the Tokyo Immigration Bureau on the first floor, you’ll see it directly in front of you as a you walk in. Go to the desk and you should see the forms in plain view. If not, you may have to ask on of the clerks for the form.

In Japanese, the word Residence Card Application looks like this:

在留カード交付申請書 (KANJI & KATAKANA)
ざいりゅうカードこうふしんせいしょ (HIRAGANA & KATAKANA)

So you can ask the clerk :
“Zai ryuu ka-do kohu shinseisho wo onegaishimsu.” or
“Zai ryuu ka-do shinseisho wo kudasai.”
This means, “A Residence Card Application please.”

If that’s hard for your to remember (It is a mouthful of Japanese),

Take out your old Alien Registration Card and say, using your best gesture for changing something:

“Sono ka-do wo chenji wo shitai.” Which means I would like to change this card. That should be good enough to at least get you the application form. If talking fails. If you can’t speak Japanese just yet, don’t sweat it. Copy and paste the kanji characters above into your cell phone/smart phone or jot down the hiragana on a piece of paper and just show it to the clerk.

Step 2: Fill Out the Residence Card Application and Affix Your Photo
Hopefully you got all of the things you needed before heading to Immigration Bureau. However, for those of you who didn’t, and you’re going to the bureau in Shinigawa, you’re in luck! I personally walked in with nothing but my passport and my old Alien Registration Card and I came out of the bureau with a brand new residence card.

At the Shinigawa Bureau (and I’m guessing most others as well), there are several instant passport photo booths you can use to take pictures cheaply and easily. It cost me just 700円 for a sheet of passport photos. The Shinigawa Bureau even has this snazzy little cropping device to cut your pictures to the exact 4cm x 3cm size requirement with the push of a lever. They even have scissors and glue you can use free of charge.

After filling out the short application form, glue your photo to the picture box in the upper right box on the form.

Step 3: Take Your Application to the Next Station for Processing
After all is filled out you’ll take your application to the next counter for processing. I can’t remember the exact booth I went to upstairs. I want to say it was counter number two, but don’t quote me on that. There will be signs in English that will direct you to the proper counter. If in doubt ask the clerk at the information desk. You can just walk over with your filled out form, look confused and say “Dou suru?” and he’ll tell you which booth number to go to. You’ll give the next clerk your application along with your passport and previous Alien Registration Card.

Step 4: Get Your Number & Wait
Once the processing clerk has your application you’ll get a number in exchange. Take your number and get comfortable (especially if you’re there during peak late morning/early afternoon hours).

This can potentially be the hardest part of the entire process. I had to wait for a couple of hours to get my card because I went during a peak time. Please keep in mind that if you get there early and you’re one of the first ones in, you can get out fairly quickly. The early bird catches the card…er…worm.

STEP 5: Get Your New Residence Card
If all went well, your number will show up on the screen, you’ll go to the counter and get your brand new, residence card. CONGRATULATIONS!

If you have questions about the process, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I will do my best to answer any questions you might have and if I don’t know the answer, I will do whatever research I can.

Thanks for reading,

Donald Ash

About the Author

  • Gabriel Blanchfield says:

    About 6-8 months ago, you made a post entry about changing status, it helped me a lot over the last few weeks. Thanks a million.

  • jordan_wyn says:

    Thanks Donald. I just found your blog searching for the word for “normal account” that the 郵貯 uses, but I’ve found a wealth of info in addition to that.

    I second the “go early” recommendation – when I went to get my residence card, I was there when the doors opened and I was out in about an hour and a half. When I went to get a part time work permit I went around 2pm and was there until 6pm. Never again.

    So now that we have residence cards, does that mean we have to go to the immigration office, not the ward office, when we move?

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hey Jordan,
      Those wait times can be a beast, ne?
      That’s a good question. Hmm…now that you have your residence card, I would imagine you would go to the ward office of the new city that you’re moving to (it’s more convenient, too). But I’ll have to research that a bit. I can’t see them asking you to go to the immigration office unless your visa is about to expire. I’ll look into this one a bit more. Thanks for your question, Jordan!

    • thejapanguy says:

      Hey Jordan!

      I don’t know why I didn’t see this message. Unfortunately, when you move, you still have to go to the ward office to become an official resident of the new city you’re going to. I found that out when I moved to Yokohama earlier this year.


      • jordan_wyn says:

        No problem, I haven’t moved yet so this info is still useful. ;D

        Hmm, I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that I still have to go to the ward office… but I guess I AM glad there isn’t an additional Immigration Office visit involved in moving. Thanks!

  • nelson says:

    Thank you Donald; I’ve lived in Japan for 9 years and I still learn something reading your articles.

  • BernieK says:

    Donald, were you disappointed you never got the five year visa?
    Would you know any new information on how anybody can get five year visa? How difficult could getting a five year visa be?

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hey BernieK!

      They changed to the five-year system after my visa had already been renewed, so I’m okay. I knew that getting my new card didn’t mean a visa renewal. When my next visa renewal comes up,
      if I don’t get a five-year then, I will be a bit disappointed. Truthfully, I don’t know exactly how it’s decided. Does it depend on the clerk? The company you work for? It’s hard to say.
      Good question, though. I plan on looking into it more.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Hey BernieK,

      I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but I’m still researching on how to get a five-year. I’ve hear there are certain factors that can slightly increase your likelihood of getting one (everything from income to JLPT level), but I’m looking into it now.

      Thank you so much for posting.

  • Out of all the info pages on getting a new card, yours was the clearest and most helpful Donald. Thanks a ton. Most other web pages don’t even seem to have what size photo you need.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Thanks, coffeebot3000. I’ll try to keep things as thorough as I can if it continues to be useful for people 🙂

    • thejapanguy says:

      That’s great news, coffeebot3000! I’m trying to be as thorough as possible because I know it’s not always easy to get these things taken care of on your own.

  • Hayden says:

    Thanks for the information. Clear and concise. Thanks again.

  • Morinaga says:

    Thank you very much!! and you make the guide become funny and interesting!

  • Raybo says:

    Great info thanks! I have three questions for you, I read someplace that this new system will abolish the re-entry permit stamp in your passport, since you have the card can you confirm that is true? Second I live in Karuizawa, but work in Tokyo, do you think I can go to the Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa or will I need to go to the one in Nagano? Third question I heard that you can also get this card at Hanada or Narita, do you know if that is true?


  • Uyanga says:

    thanks for the very clear info. what about kids under 2. do they need to take photo too?

  • DollTV says:

    How much does this cost? If I were to arrive the first time with only a passport and the required photos, could I get the AR card? The same day?

    So with the AR card and the passport, I could open a Japanese bank account?

    I ask because I know a business that will open an account for me, and I don’t even need to be in Japan, but there are recurring fees connected with their service, and I would rather do this myself. Plus it would be fun to visit anyway.

    With that in mind, what place would you consider the best for a first time visit and how long do you think all of this would take?



  • joey garcias says:

    Great information. Thank you!

  • Kate says:

    Hi Donald, Thank you for the information! I have a bit of a problem. In December, I went to Thailand and when they asked me to show my alien registration card, it wasn’t in my wallet! I rarely ever take it out of my wallet. I’ve searched high and low with no luck. Would you happen to know what I need to do in the case of a missing alien registration card? I hope I don’t have to get a new one in order to change to a resident card 🙁 I have plans to go to the US in April.

  • 滋英鼓舞 says:

    Since I’ve come to Japan on exchange most of the processes for getting the card was done with the agency as the middle man. It’s been interesting to say the least.

  • George says:

    Hi, Thanks for your help. I’m coming to Japan on a working holiday visa, staying a week to activate it and then heading off to Australia for 5 months. I’ll then come back for 6 months to Japan. I was wondering if you knew how I can get a re-entry permit or if indeed if I need to. From what I’ve understood, I’ll get a residence card at the airport and then I can just leave a week later. Is that right? Thanks so much, George.

  • ThePretzelHead . says:

    Don’t we need any proof of employment?

  • Laina says:

    Do you need an alien registration certificate to get a permanent residence card? Reason I’m asking is that my girlfriend, and I are both planning to move to Japan in the next year. We want to know what’s the best way of going about it.

  • Jairo Poveda says:

    how do you actually start the process from the very beginning to become a resident? I mean if you have never been there. how do I apply?

  • william mwebaze says:

    am willam real l;would like to get japans suger mum how are you going to help me

  • >