Teaching English in Japan: What salary can I expect?

23.08.17
6 minute read
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Japan is known for a lot of things, from the incredible traditional culture to the bright and colorful scenes that dominate the streets of Tokyo today. From excellent (and healthy) food, reliable public transport, beautiful countryside to polite people and an outdoorsy island culture, Japan packs a lot of appeal in a small geographic radius.

So what’s the best way to move to the Asian nation? For most, the easiest path is to become an English teacher. Known for an abundance of positions and an eagerness to learn English, the island country offers a bustling job market and competitive salaries. Watch out for long work weeks, however; Japan isn’t known for its lackadaisical work ethic.  

So, where should you start looking for a teaching job? And what can you expect to be paid?

This guide will walk you through the most important steps and information you will need to know about working as an English teacher in Japan.

What you’ll need: Qualifications and visas

Qualifying to teach in Japan is pretty easy: in fact, if you come from an English-speaking country all you’ll really need is your bachelor’s degree.

As is the case with all jobs, more qualified candidates are more likely to find positions, so it doesn’t hurt to have your master’s or an English teaching certificate like a TESOL, TEFL, or CELTA. If you don’t have those things, though, don’t worry; there are very few situations in which either is required.

It’s, however, a good idea to think about requirements as they vary from place to place. Qualifications are different based on the locale.

Teaching English in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and other major cities is usually a little more difficult. For positions there, you’re going to want to make sure you have a certification, and you’re more likely to be considered if you have an advanced degree. This is due to a saturation of expats hoping to find positions in the city.

For positions in the more rural regions and less popular cities, however, the “just a bachelor’s degree” rule will likely suffice.

What’s more important than expert teaching qualifications in Japan, however, is a work visa. Luckily, visas are pretty easy to obtain as long as you have a sponsor.

What’s a sponsor, exactly? And why do I need one in Japan?

A sponsor is a Japanese company that’s willing to vouch for you and run your visa process. Essentially, they’re your employer. For this reason, it’s a good idea to find employment before you enter the country, so you don’t end up with any visa issues. If you’re struggling to secure a position from overseas, however, it’s admissible to enter the country on a 90-day tourist visa, find a job during your stay and apply for your work visa while already in Japan. Just make sure you don’t accidentally overstay your tourist visa: if you do, you’ll likely be deported and disallowed to re-enter the country for some period of time.

If you’re worried about qualifying for a visa, don’t be; the only thing Japan requires of work visa applicants is a bachelor’s degree. If you want to learn more about Japanese visas, check out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

JET: Japan’s most popular teaching program

If you’re a U.S. citizen, you’re in luck: you’re eligible to participate in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program.

The JET program is an employment opportunity for young American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealander and Irish professionals (in addition to a host of other participating countries) to find work and live in Japan. JET participants are usually Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) working in public and private institutions across the island nation.

The competitive program takes on about a thousand participants each year, though typically 5,000 or more apply. Acceptance to the program means employment, assistance with visas, and help with finding housing and adjusting to life in Japan.

English teacher salaries for public, private and independent foreign schools

While Japanese teacher salaries don’t vary much across cities or grade levels, you’ll be paid differently depending on whether you’re working in a public or private school.

For public schools, the average salary is around ¥250,000 (approximately $2200 or £1800)per month. If you have a position in a private school or an independent foreign school (eikaiwa), however, you might be looking at a monthly paycheck closer to ¥300,000 (approximately $2600 or £2150). At private schools you’ll also have the opportunity to work part time, which usually pays about $1500 or £1200 per month.

And if you’re a highly qualified candidate with the ability to teach English at a university level, you’re looking at a salary equivalent of between $2700-5500 or £2100-4350.

Japan’s cost of living

Living in Japan isn’t all that expensive, however, prices have gone up in recent years. For the purpose of this guide, we’ll focus on cost of living in Tokyo. It’s important to note that these prices are estimates and are likely significantly higher than the same goods might cost in suburban and rural regions.

Rent in Tokyo averages around $1100 / £875 per month for a one bedroom apartment, which is lower than cities like San Francisco or London. Most English teachers in Japan find shared rooms in larger apartments, which significantly drives down the cost. Living with a roommate will cost as little as $440 / £350 per month. A savings that’s hard to pass up.

For goods, it’s important to remember that Japan is an island; the cost of importing non-native items is reflected in the price. The prices for some common items are, on average:

  • Gym membership: $88/ £70 per month
  • Movie ticket: $16 / £13
  • Liter of milk: $1.75 / £1.40
  • Loaf of bread: $2 / £1.60
  • Bottle of wine: $18 / £14.30
  • Bottle of (domestic) beer: $2.65 / £2
  • Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: $8.75 / £7
  • Cappuccino: $3.50 / £2.70

These prices are only estimates, but once you’re in Japan, you can always find the exact cost of goods by using an online currency converter to check the current price of Japanese Yen against your home currency.

If you’ll be funding your bank account in Japan from yours back home, you’ll also want to use an international transfer service like TransferWise to not only help cut out expensive international transfer fees (money is sent by local bank transfers in both your home country and Japan), but also to give you the actual mid-market exchange rate. That means you’ll end up with more money to spend during your time in Japan.  

Getting started on your job search

If you’re ready to start your job-search, sites like Aeon or Teach Away can be good places to begin looking.

If you’re hoping to get a little more informed before you make the plunge, Reddit’s Japan Life thread is constantly bustling with ideas and information. Not to mention you can also ask questions of your own. If you’d rather start with something a little more basic, Expat Arrivals has a pretty comprehensive guide to life in the Asian country.

If you’re ready to start your job-search, here are some helpful links for more information on teaching in Japan and Japanese teaching programs:

With that, you’re all set! Good luck on your upcoming adventure, or in Japanese, ganbatte kudasai!

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