I am halfway through a process for obtaining an internship in Tokyo at a big company. Traditionally those internships are paid, and rather well paid.

The problem is that, since I'm not a Japanese citizen, I have to do a visa change + ask for an authorization if I want to engage in activity that gives remuneration. This is at least 2 months if everything goes smoothly, and more realistically 3. Summer internships usually start July 1st or so. and at that time I will probably still be waiting for the authorization to engage in paid activities...

My questions are:

  • Can I ask for the internship to not be paid (there is no need to ask for special authorization when an internship isn't paid) ?
  • Can I negotiate for a later start, e.g. August 1st ?

Would any of those requests have a decent chance to be agreed on ? Is is carved in stone that it must be paid, and , it must start July 1st. ?


  • 2
    Are you certain that not being paid makes a difference? I know exactly nothing about Japanese law but in many countries (in particular in Europe), it's the nature of the activity that constitutes work, not being paid does not exempt you from any visa/authorisation requirement. The logic behind this rule is that you are displacing a local who would be paid, even if you aren't.
    – Relaxed
    May 7, 2015 at 20:30
  • 1
    Fairly sure yes. Unpaid internships do not require any kind of special permit (according to mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/long) as long as you're not under a temporary visit visa, and that the internship duration does not exceed the visa validity, you're quite golden.
    – zebullon
    May 7, 2015 at 22:57
  • One of my friend was in a similar situation when when ended school, the compagny paid his expense (food, rent, etc.) and also provided him with a fund to for other activities at his discretion. I don't know if that is something possible for them. In my friend's case he had to sort the visa (with the compagny help) but he actually got refused for the working visa since he was considered still in school here... kinda stupid, hense why they made that arrengement.
    – Rémi
    May 8, 2015 at 19:05
  • 1
    @Relaxed And on a related note, the nature of the work often dictates whether an internship must be paid or not. If the laws of the locality say the work is classified as a paid internship, the employer and employee cannot (legally) agree to do it as an unpaid internship.
    – nobody
    May 18, 2015 at 23:09

2 Answers 2


I work for a big global company, and we have interns in Japan in my group - and some not from Japan.

The answer is easy. Let their HR work this out for you. Don't mention or concede that you don't want to be paid - unless you are so wealthy that this really doesn't matter to you.

Their HR has figured out this before and they have a team of lawyers to work out visa issues. If you try to go in this on your own you could be having a really awkward conversation in a month. They hired you, they knew you weren't from Japan, they have a great grasp of Japanese visa laws, so let them take the lead. And call them as soon as possible to get the ball rolling (might need to work with hiring manager initially).

If push comes to shove and you need to work initially unpaid, I am sure they can work that out for you - unless they are required to pay you (I am not an expert of Japanese worker law, just had a few interns in Japan and they were paid).

  • Thanks, that is a very useful comment. I have a limited intuition for when it comes to HR strategy :)
    – zebullon
    May 5, 2015 at 4:53
  • @zebullon This of course assumes you were honest with them about your visa status in the hiring process. You were, weren't you? May 5, 2015 at 10:08
  • @NigelHarper It is visually direct to confirm that I'm not a Japanese student, therefore on a foreign visa (the contact was on a campus event in a Japanese lab). Furthermore, I was asked by a H.R if I were going to apply for the "authorisation to engage in activity non covered by your visa status", this is necessary only for non residents on college/cultural visa, and I said yes to that. So, even if the question "hey what's your visa ?" was not directly asked to me, I do not think I misrepresented my resident status... did I ?!
    – zebullon
    May 5, 2015 at 11:43
  • 2
    @zebullon sounds like you were straight with them. If you're already discussed visas with them then definitely liase with HR. They likely deal with this every week, or at least multiple times every summer. May 5, 2015 at 12:01
  • 2
    If you don't have an HR contact you can call, then call the hiring manager. They need to start on this right away.
    – blankip
    May 5, 2015 at 13:52

You can, but you should not.

A paid internship is much more likely to be worthwhile than an unpaid one. Being paid ensures that you have internal visibility. You're paid, so you're in the system. Since the company is spending money on you, you must be worth something. An unpaid intern is nobody and needs to justify themselves for everything: to get an office or desk, to get a computer and a phone line, to get access to buildings and documents, to get a budget for projects or travel, etc. If you're paid, no matter how little, all of these things are much more likely to go smoothly. Even if you have a supervisor who cares about you, the rest of the company needs to know they need to care too.

Since you'll be at a big company, especially an international one, they will have people who know about visas and can get matters resolved quickly (often by paying a firm that specializes in the corporate visa business). Don't be daunted by the prospect of administrative difficulties: you'll probably have to fill in a lot of forms, but you shouldn't have to figure out which are the right forms by yourself.

If you think your visa won't be approved in time, you should let your supervisor know about the risk, and keep them informed about your projected start date as you handle the paperwork with the company's HR, with the visa contractor if any and with the government. Usually internship dates are mainly constrained by your study institution — it needs to start after the lectures finish and before the awarding of the degree. If the start date is really a problem, you may start by working without being paid, if that's financially acceptable for you, but make sure that you're already in the company's books with a future paid period duly entered in the company's databases.

If being paid is really an insurmountable problem for administrative reasons going beyond the delay to obtain a visa, then try to arrange for the company to budget something for you, for example to pay for your housing. Even if you don't need the money, being on the company budget is important.

You sound like you're in Japan already, so you probably know, but keep in mind that Tokyo is a pretty expensive city. What is a decent living income elsewhere (even in Japan) might not pay for housing there.

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