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START in KOBE (3) – What is Startup VISA?

1. Introduction

In this series of articles of SUGEE Kansai, we are focusing on Kobe city, a city that has been selected as a Global Startup Hub City by the Japanese government, and is attracting attention from Japan and the rest of the world as a “Startup City”.

In the second part of this series, we introduced the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator, an acceleration program offered jointly by Kobe City and 500 Startups. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, check out this article! [START in KOBE (2) What is the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator]

 This is the third in the series, and in this article, we will introduce the new visa system for foreign entrepreneurs, the Startup Visa, which was started in Japan in 2018. Up until now, non-Japanese nationals needed to obtain a business administration visa, a visa with strict requirements to start a business in Japan. However, with the advent of the Startup Visa, this situation is about to change. Let’s take a look at what a Startup visa is and how to get one!

[Series: START in KOBE]

  1. Why Does Kobe focus on Startups?
  2. What is the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator?
  3. What is Startup VISA?
  4. What is UNOPS and Global Innovation Center Japan?
  5. Why You Should Start in KOBE Now?

■Check out the key phrases in this episode.

✔︎ Business Administration VISA

 This visa is required to set up and run a business in Japan. Until the advent of the Startup visa, it was necessary to obtain this visa to start a business in Japan. However, there were strict requirements for entrepreneurs who had just arrived in Japan to get this. Such requirements include employment of at least two full-time employees living in Japan and having a total capital or investment of at least 5 million Japanese yen.

✔︎ Startup Visa

A new visa system was launched by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) in 2018 to increase the number of foreign entrepreneurs in Japan. Local governments recognized by the METI will create and operate a program to support and manage foreign entrepreneurs who obtained this visa. Foreign entrepreneurs selected by the local governments to receive support for their business startups will be eligible for this visa. Currently, ten local governments in Japan have been certified to operate this program, including Kobe City, Osaka City, Kyoto Prefecture, and Mie Prefecture in the Kansai region.(

2. Interview

Interviewer: Haruki Morikawa
Atsunobu Kasagi, an Innovation Specialist from New Business Promotion Division, Kobe City
Ai Endo from New Business Promotion Division, Kobe City

> I would like to ask you about the Startup Visa. Could you give us an overview of the system?

This is a one-year visa guaranteed by Kobe City for foreign entrepreneurs wishing to start a business in Kobe. Until the arrival of this visa, it was necessary to obtain a business administration visa to start a business in Japan. However, there were quite strict requirements for obtaining a business administration visa, such as minimum capital and number of employees, and it was difficult for those who had not yet started their own business to obtain it immediately after arriving in Japan. With this as the basis, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) established the Startup visa system in the fiscal year 2018, which allows people to conduct preparatory business activities for one year until they can obtain a business administration visa. From the fiscal year 2019, Kobe City has also been operating as an authorized municipality offering the Startup visa.

> I understand. So, obtaining a Startup visa means people can have a year in preparation to obtain a business management visa.
What are the actual procedures to obtain this startup visa?

The first step is to contact the city of Kobe for consultation. They will review your business plan, your living plan in Japan, and your capital plan. If there are no problems, you will be asked to submit an application form to Kobe city. You will then receive a certificate from the city of Kobe, and you can apply for a startup visa with it to the immigration bureau.

Also, after you come to Japan and start your business activities, you will need to renew your visa after the first six months. You will also be asked to report your progress once a month, and in the sixth month, if your business is recognized that it has enough potential to scale up in the next six months, you will be allowed to renew your visa for the remaining six months.

> Is there also support, such as being able to check your progress every month?

Yes, the city of Kobe provides support for visa recipients in their activities, including support from lawyers, business support, and referrals to consultation services when needed.

> In the future, the fact that you have a Startup visa may be a status in itself to manage startups!
What is the future outlook for Kobe’s Startup visa system?

We have only had one applicant since the program was launched last year. However, we have received many inquiries recently. Due to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to get people to come to Japan right away, but we have plans to bring many overseas startups to Kobe through the 500 Startups program, UNOPS programs, and other programs, so we’d like to support the companies that have participated in them.

 Also, from the view of the 0 to 1 support for fostering entrepreneurs I mentioned before,(Please check the article (1) Why Does Kobe Focus on Startups?), the Startup visa system could be used as a one year preparation period until establishing a startup for those who have studied in Japan and graduated from a university and are thinking about starting a business in Japan.

 Historically, Kobe has developed as an international trading port since 1868. It has foreign settlements and Nankin Town for Chinese, it has the largest number of international schools in Japan, along with Yokohama, and the largest number of religious facilities in Japan. With this in mind, I think this city has a pleasant environment for foreigners to live in, and this makes Kobe the easiest city to use a Startup visa in Japan. Although only one case has been adopted in the past, we believe this number will increase in the coming years.

< From SUGEE Kansai

Why is Kobe the best city to live and work?
This website explains all!!
KOBE live+work []

3. Summary

In this article, we introduced a new visa system for overseas entrepreneurs called the Startup visa.

Here’s the recap!
✔︎ Startup Visa is offered to foreign entrepreneurs for a year for preparatory activities in starting a business in Japan.
✔︎ There is a renewal assessment after the first six months, and if the applicant is allowed to carry on, the period can be extended for another six months (a total of one year).
✔︎ After using this visa for a year, you have to switch to a business management visa to continue the business.
✔︎ This is a great visa system for international students and entrepreneurs!
✔︎ Kobe is a great place to live and work with this visa!

The theme of the fourth article will be the Global-Scale Startup Support Program, which is provided by Kobe City in collaboration with UNOPS, an operational arm of the United Nations.
Stay Tuned!!

Check them out too!

■Kobe Startup Support Department: Global Website

■500 Startups Kobe Accelerator

■Urban Innovation Japan: English Website

■The Startup Visa from Kobe Startups support department: Global Website

■KOBE live+work

■START in KOBE Series Past Article
(1) Why Does Kobe focus on Startups?
(2) What is the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator?


Interview: 3rd, September 2020


[1] Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. 2020. 外国人起業活動促進事業に関する公示. [Website] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 August 2020].

[2] Kobe city. 2019. 神戸市スタートアップビザ制度について. [Website] Available at: <>[Accessed 12 August 2020].

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