Working as a tour guide in Japan

According to the JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization), a new record number of 31.19 million people visited Japan from overseas in 2018. This was an 8.7% increase from the previous year. The government is expecting even more international tourists for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the Osaka Kansai EXPO in 2025.


If you go to popular tourist spots in Kyoto and Nara, you’ll probably see groups of tourists led by foreign guides. These guides show them around in their mother tongue. In today’s blog,  I’ll explain about the status of residence of foreigners working as a tour guide in Japan.

You see many international tourists and Japanese students on a school excursion trip even during rainy season!

These are the main patterns of the status of residence when a non-Japanese national works as a tour guide in Japan.

Engineer/ Specialist in Humanities/ International Services

Those wishing to work as a tour guide can apply for the status of residence “Engineer/ Specialist in Humanities/ International Services in International Services” category just like interpreters and translators. In that case, the activities as a guide must be based on a “contract” with public or private organizations in Japan. According to the examination guideline by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, “contract” includes a commissioned contract and an outsourced contract as well as an employment contract. However, the contract needs to be continuous with a specific organization (could be more than one organization).  So you need to find jobs/employers first!


Status of Residence based on personal relationship

Those who hold one of the following status of residence (“Permanent Resident”, “Spouse or Child of Japanese National”, “Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident” and “Long Term Resident”) do not have any limit on types of job, and therefore can work as a tour guide!


Permission to engage in activity other than that permitted under the status of residence previously granted (Shikakugai katsudo)

It is possible for people on the status of residence “student” or “dependent” with the above permission to work as a tour guide up to 28 hours a week.

Please note an important, recent change. It was illegal to work and receive payments as a foreign language speaking tour guide without the national guide license until the change in the law in January 4, 2018. However, currently those who do not have a license can also work as a tour guide without license. 


Yet, I think it is worth obtaining the license since some travel agencies only assign tour guiding jobs to guides with license, and have different payment rate tables for those with license and for those without.

(note: The tests on Japanese geography, Japanese history and current issues are in Japanese. It can be challenging for those with limited Japanese ability, but the amount of knowledge you gain is worth the effort!)

For more details about the foreign language speaking tour guide test.


If you want to work as a tour guide in Japan and have any questions about visa and status of residence, immigration matters such as student visas, changing our visa, etc, please feel free to contact us! We can also help those who want to set up a travel agency in Japan.

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