Marriage and childbirth can be exciting but also stressful times. And the sense of anxiety is particularly palpable when they happen in a foreign country, amid an unfamiliar language and processes for legal paperwork and registration. For foreign students considering getting married or giving birth in Japan, the uncertainties can also come from the potential impact of these events on their studies, scholarships, and visa statuses.
Three former and current scholars living in Japan, respectively hailing originally from Indonesia, Argentina, and Australia, spoke about their personal experiences, to alleviate the sense of stress and provide more clarity on just how a foreign resident can go through the process of registering marriage and childbirth in Japan with the least possible hassle.
How Do You Properly Register a Marriage in Japan?
Having your marriage formally recognized by government authorities in Japan is a two-step process. For a foreigner, the process often starts at the home country’s embassy or consulate in Japan. Both the Argentine and the Australian scholar stated that to get officially register their new marriage in Japan, they first had to provide proof that there is no legal impediment for them to get married. For the Australian scholar, this involved getting an official Certificate of No Impediment, whereas the Argentine scholar had to undertake a formal declaration of singlehood at the embassy before being issued an official document as proof.
With embassy-issued official evidence that they can get married in Japan, foreign residents can then go to their local Japanese government offices to get the marriage registered. The Argentine scholar advised that, along with the proof of singlehood, the couple needs to provide identification documents as well as two witnesses to the marriage, in the form of physical presence at the time of the registration or their personal stamps on the registration documents. The Australian scholar stated that, once the registration process is complete, the foreign resident can be listed as the spouse of the Japanese national on the latter’s Koseki (family register).
However, the process for two foreign residents can be different, and for some countries, it may be better to consecrate the marriage at the embassy before providing the proof of its completion to the Japanese government. The Indonesian scholar stated that, because some countries do not recognize Japanese marriage registrations, it may be wise to consider registering the marriage first at the embassy. After the embassy registers the marriage, it is then able to provide an updated document showing the newly married couple’s family relationship. The Indonesian scholar was able to then take the embassy-issued statement of family relationship, which she self-translated and had certified by the embassy as genuine, to the local Japanese government office to register the marriage there as well.
What About Visas and Scholarships? Are They Impacted by Marriage?
The impact of marriage on the visa statuses of foreign scholars varies depending on the original visas the partners had before marriage. The Indonesian scholar and her husband, both of whom were on student visas at the time of their marriage, retain their visas without any issues. Only after both of them graduated and her husband found a job and switched to a work visa did she change her visa to a spouse visa with part-time working rights. The Argentine scholar, who has Japanese grandparents on both sides of her family, was able to secure a “child of a Japanese national” visa and secure a long-term resident visa for her Argentine husband that is different from a normal spouse visa.
Foreign residents should weigh the benefits and costs when considering whether to switch to a spouse visa. The Australian scholar stated that some spouse visas may only have one-year validity requiring regular renewal and will be lost through a divorce. She added that in some cases, years of residence under the spouse visa may not count toward the number of years needed to apply for permanent residency (PR). The Argentine scholar also noted that when a foreign resident switches to a spouse visa, the number of years in residence in Japan, for PR application, resets to zero. But on the flip side, the Argentine scholar said that foreign spouses of Japanese nationals may become eligible for PR after only three years of marriage and one year of residence in Japan, whereas a work visa may require five years or more before PR becomes a legal option. Additionally, spouse visa holders may face fewer restrictions entering Japan during COVID-19. Foreign residents already with a valid resident visa in Japan should carefully consider whether or not to take the spouse visa even after marriage.
As for the MEXT scholarship, the experience seems to vary depending on the academic situation. The Indonesian scholar assured that marriage would not lead to the loss of the scholarship, because neither she nor her husband, both of whom were MEXT scholars, lost theirs after marriage. But the Indonesian scholar also struck a cautious note, advising students to speak to their supervisors about the ability to continue regular studies if marriage then leads to a long absence spent in pregnancy and childcare. The Argentine scholar also cited the example of a friend who was advised against officially registering her marriage to another MEXT scholar, to prevent either of them from losing the scholarship. Keeping transparent and consistent communication, rather than marriage or childbirth itself, may be the key to whether scholarships are kept or lost.
What About the Legal Process of Giving Birth Then?
Like registering a marriage, registering the birth of a child in Japan is a two-step process with the government authorities of Japan and the home country. The Indonesian scholar, speaking from her personal experience giving birth in Japan, noted that she had to take the birth certificate issued by the hospital to the local government office and the Indonesian embassy to register the child, respectively within two weeks and 30 days of giving birth. She advised that if two parents have different (non-Japanese) nationalities, they also need to choose which nationality the child will go with to get a passport and a Japanese visa.
When getting the dependent visa for the child, the parents also need to decide on whose dependent the child will formally be. The Indonesian scholar stated that since dependency is registered against one parent rather than both, the procedure may also be different depending on the current visa status of the two parents. In her case, because her husband was switching from a student to a work visa at the time of the childbirth, the child was originally registered as her dependent and then switched to become his dependent after he completed his work visa application process.
The procedure is simplified if one parent is a Japanese national, but potentially to the detriment of the other, non-Japanese parent. The Australian scholar said that she only needed to register her child at the Japanese government office to have the child, assumed to be Japanese due to her Japanese father, added to the Koseki. But getting the child an Australian passport proved to be much more difficult. Rather than just applying for the child to be registered as a dependent at the embassy, she had to apply for the child’s “citizenship by descent” and obtain a passport only after the citizenship is confirmed.
Advice for Other Foreign Residents as They Go Through the Same Process in the Future?
Registering marriage and childbirth in Japan is not without difficulties from a bureaucratic perspective, and knowing the Japanese language can certainly help with navigating the process. Both the Australian and the Argentine scholars cited the lack of sufficient Japanese language proficiency as a handicap, especially when it comes to understanding the fine print on the paperwork. The Indonesian scholar also mentioned that while government offices in bigger cities may have translators for English and other languages available to assist those who do not speak Japanese, the same level of linguistic support was certainly not available in provincial Mie prefecture, where she resided.
Beyond learning the Japanese language, some research on how the relevant processes work in Japan, before getting married or having a child, is essential. The Australian scholar suggested joining Facebook groups or Reddit threads to talk to those who are currently undertaking or have already undertaken the process. The Argentine scholar stated that, if it is an option, one partner should first get acclimated to Japan and get to know what to do, before bringing the other partner and children to the country. Having prior, especially on-the-ground, research before diving into marriage or childbirth would better prepare the family members for the bureaucratic processes.
Planning for marriage or childbirth should also involve thinking about the financial aspect. The Indonesian scholar, while noting that foreign students in Japan, like Japanese nationals, are entitled to government subsidies for children, stated that having children can still mean that expenses can easily outstrip what they can get from scholarship payments. Costs of private daycare are high, often necessitating part-time jobs on top of full-time studies. The Argentine scholar also noted that finding an apartment in the best possible areas to live as a family also involves thinking about the extra costs.
Like it is the case in any country, getting marriage and childbirth registered in Japan has its bureaucratic idiosyncrasies. But as three scholars with their personal experiences attest, going through the processes is feasible as foreign residents, and often quite straightforward. They advise doing some research, talking to relevant people, and learning the Japanese language before jumping in to make it go as smoothly as possible.
Written by: Xiaochen Su, Ph.D., the Managing Director of the Study Abroad Research Institute, a non-profit organization seeking to promote study abroad in Japan.