Before we get going, the AAJ Editorial team wishes to remind readers only to apply for spouse visas if you are actually married to your partner. Cases of fake marriages to get visas are always an issue, and the immigration bureau has been coming down hard on those they discover. While living in Japan may be your dream, please do not break the law to try and make it come true.
For our LGBTQ readers, we will be covering the options for gay and non-binary couples in an upcoming article, so keep your eyes peeled! In the meanwhile, check out a new wedding service that specializes in Japanese-style LGBT weddings.
1. Marriage Paperwork
First things first, you need to prove you are legally married in Japan before you start the visa procedure. The following forms should be all you need, but be sure to double check with your embassy, as procedures may differ a bit depending on your nationality.
・Affidavit of Competency to Marry (婚姻要件宣誓書・konin yoken gubi shomeisho)
This legal form basically confirms that you are legally eligible to get married in Japan. You can usually obtain these sworn affidavits from the Japan branch of the embassy/consulate of your home country. There are some cases where a similar document may be necessary.
・Request of Registration of Marriage (婚姻届・konin todoke)
This is the form you will submit to your local city or ward office so you can get the official form that proves you are married (explained below). You will need two witnesses who are at least 20 years old or over to sign it. While they can be of any nationality, it might be a good idea to have at least one Japanese friend sign it. Having at least one inkan seal stamp on your form can make it look more legit.
・Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage (婚姻届受理証明書・konin todoke juri shomeisho)
Congrats, once you have this piece of paper you can officially say you are married! Be sure to keep it in a safe place and make a few copies so you can use them as part of your application.
2. Spouse Visa Paperwork
Applying for a spouse visa entails a lot of paperwork, so give yourself plenty of time to get together all the various official bits of paper you will need for your application. Most of the official forms need to be issued no more than three months prior to your application for the visa, so keep that in mind as well.
For your application you will need to submit:
・Certificate of Eligibility (在留資格認定証明書交付申請書・zairyu shikaku nintei shomeisho kofu shinseisho)
What a mouthful! Download the form from here and fill it out carefully. Double check that you have everything, or you may be asked to refile your application.
・A 4cm x 3cm Photo
Be sure to look clean, put together and friendly in your photo. The photo should only be from the shoulders up, just like a passport photo. There are photo kiosks basically everywhere, so this should be quite easy.
・Copy of Japanese Spouse's Family Registry (戸籍謄本全部事項証明書・koseki zenbu jiko shomeisho)
This is to prove that you and your spouse are legally married in Japan.
・Affidavit of Competency to Marry
Mentioned earlier. You will need this or other proof that you are registered as married to your partner in a different country.
・Resident Certificates (住民票・juminhyo)
If the non-Japanese spouse already lives in Japan, get certificates for both people just to be on the safe side. Showing that you are properly registered is always helpful.
・Municipal Tax Records (住民税証明書・juminzei shomeisho)
Same as the Resident Certificate, if the non-Japanese spouse has been paying municipal taxes, get records for the previous tax year for both partners, as it helps prove you are a good, law-abiding citizen. You can get both forms at your ward or city office. If both partners earn a similar income, it can also serve to show that the applicant doesn't require financial support.
・Guarantor Letter (身元保証書・mimoto hoshosho)
Available here, the Japanese partner needs to sign this to attest they will be responsible for their spouse's expenses and behavior.
This rather intrusive document will ask you lots of questions about how you met, how long you have known each other, what language you use speak to each other and charmingly which relatives know about your marriage. You can download it in English here and Japanese here.
・Photos of You & Your Partner (Together)
While they only ask for two or three photos, if possible submit photos taken over the duration of your relationship. Surprisingly, purikura can be really useful for this, as they often have the date stamped on them. Wedding photos (or engagement photo shoots) are also good.
Affixed with ¥392 worth of stamps.
・Copy of Residence Card
They'll likely want to see your actual card as well. As a resident you always have it on you, so...
Bring a printed copy of it as well, just in case.
・Your Inkan Stamp
You know, if you have one.
3. Dropping Off the Paperwork
Once you have finally completed all the various forms you need, head to the closest Immigration Bureau office. You can find a list of all the branches across Japan here. We recommend getting there very early in the morning—if not you can expect long waits. Be sure to bring a good book, a charger for your phone and something to snack on.
Be pleasant and polite to the officers on duty, who have a tough job and are (hopefully) not trying to make your life difficult on purpose.
Once you have dropped off the paperwork, you should hear back about your visa within one to three months via the self-addressed envelope you included in the application materials.
・The Immigration Bureau of Japan's website is distressingly unhelpful when you are seeking information about how to apply for a spouse visa. We have also figured out that the instructions for applying on the Japanese and English pages are different, with several important pieces of information missing from the English version, so follow the instructions on the Japanese page to the letter! If jargon-filled Japanese is not your forte, have your spouse or a friend walk you through it.
・If you can wait, it is best to apply for a spouse visa a bit after getting married. If the non-Japanese partner already has a work visa, stay on that for at least three to six months (or more, as in my case I waited almost nine) so that it doesn't look like you are scrambling.
・It seems that writing out the application in Japanese, particularly for the non-Japanese spouse, gives a better impression. It shows that you are integrated into the culture, can speak the language and thus are less of a risk of being part of a sham marriage. Even if your kanji writing skills aren't great, making the effort may well get you approved more speedily.
Good luck, and congrats on your happy nuptials!