Applying for a Japanese Visa in Hong Kong as an American Citizen

Allen Chen
August 15, 2017

Tuesday | August 15th 2017 | Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong


Thank you for checking out my blog. My name is Allen and I will be documenting my adventures in Japan here for the Fall semester (August to December 2017). While I’m sure I will be blogging about more exciting things in the future, I am starting off with a more informational, and therefore dense, post about my entire visa application process. As the title suggests, my situation was quite unconventional because I spent my summer studying at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Since their program runs from late June to late August, and IES Abroad Tokyo begins late August, I did not have the opportunity to apply for my Japanese visa in the United States. As a result, I had to do a lot of emailing and research to make sure everything would work out smoothly. Could I even apply for a visa in Hong Kong? What if it didn’t work out? Would I have to give up studying in Japan?! I had a lot of worries, but I am happy to say that everything worked out and that I successfully received my Japanese visa!

What is a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and how to get it (March - May 2017)

After receiving an acceptance from IES Abroad in March, I had a bunch of forms to fill out, the COE being one of them. Simply put, the COE is a required form that communicates to Japan your purpose for entering the country (being a student). The COE form is available in the IES Abroad portal, and besides general information, it also requires your airport of entry/Travel Itinerary (so you need to figure out a plane ticket before submitting), your Financial Support Letter (communicate with your International Programs Office), and passport photos (you need to get them taken). In addition, IES Abroad will need your Medical History & Physician’s Exam before they can apply for your COE. After IES Abroad applies for your COE, it takes a few months before it is completed. IES Abroad usually receives the COEs from Japan in July, meaning the students only receive it in early August. Only then can we go to our local consulate to apply for a Japanese visa. Need I remind you, our program starts in late August! Naturally, this felt really stressful, but IES Abroad reassured us that the visa process is generally pretty fast (about a week).

  • For me, Oxy purchased my flights back in December because I was going to be in Hong Kong for summer research sponsored by the college. Therefore, I knew exactly what date I would be arriving and through which airport. Easy!
  • The Financial Support Letter, written by the International Programs Office, signifies how you will be funded while you are abroad for the semester. It cannot be written before May 15th. I’m not sure why, but this means you can’t finish your COE until the end of May.
  • I got my passport photos taken at Walgreens; any local drugstore should have a photo section. I believe it was around $15 for two passport photos (pricey!!!). Heads up, I smiled with teeth in my original photo and when I was applying for my Japanese visa in Hong Kong, I had to take another photo without teeth. My suggestion would be to not smile, take off your glasses, your hat, etc. from the very beginning.
  • Since I was still in school until the middle of May, I made an appointment with my local clinic after school ended. Therefore, I only had about a week to get a physical and have my clinic sign the IES Abroad form. It ended up taking them about a week to return the form back to me because they were waiting on my blood test. If I remember correctly, I got my form back like the day before the COE was due, which was a little stressful! If I could go back in time, I would have just went to the clinic while I was still in school to have more cushion time.

Waiting game… (June - August 2017)

After completing all those tasks, I had to prepare to go to Hong Kong.



I did as much as I could while in the states, but at that point in time, it was still unclear if the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong would even accept my application. At that time, I started communicating with Melanie Rockoff, the IES Abroad Program Advisor for Tokyo, about my worries and with her advice I was able to find a consulate in Hong Kong. Afterwards, I began emailing the consulate back-and-forth to see what forms/letters I needed to apply for a visa through their office. Firstly, they asked me to write a formal letter explaining my academic situation and the entire timeline. Additionally, I had to provide letters that would confirm my acceptance into IES Abroad Tokyo and my source of funding while abroad. I prepared all these documents while in the states and waited patiently until August.

At the visa office! (August 2017)

After waiting for two months, I finally received my COE in the first week of August.



I immediately made an appointment with the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong the next day. For any Hong Kong readers, I ultimately applied through VFS Global in North Point. Like I mentioned earlier, I had to retake my passport photo, but thankfully, there was a photo booth at the office.



(Pictured: nervous, sweaty, stressed Allen)

After that, I got in line, got my ticket, waited some more, and finally it was my turn. I presented my COE, passport, US driver’s license, Hong Kong student ID, and every damn form I had just to make sure they understood my unique situation and would accept my application. Thankfully, they did!!! The entire application cost me around ~49 USD / 380 HKD (50 HKD for two passport photos, 270 for visa application, and 60 for shipping and handling). The visa office held onto my passport afterwards and returned it in the mail. The visa application worker said it would take around 5-7 business days for everything to be completed, though he did say COE applications tend to move faster. I applied on Wednesday, August 9th, 2017 and was contacted by my consulate on Monday, August 14th through phone and email that my Visa was ready to be picked up. Since I requested for it to be delivered to CUHK, I had my passport in hand the following day on the 15th.


After such a lengthy and stressful process, I am relieved that everything is settled. I have to thank Melanie from IES Abroad for being a huge help throughout the entire process. I could not imagine going through this process completely solo. Therefore, I hope that this blog post is helpful to anybody who happens to be studying abroad immediately before IES Abroad Tokyo, studying in Hong Kong before Tokyo, or for anyone who has apprehensions about the Japanese visa process. If I was able to get a visa, while abroad, I am confident you will work everything out as well!

Writer’s Note

The process of applying for a visa will vary from person to person, so my experiences will probably differ from yours. Therefore, this post is intended to document my experience and emotions while applying. While I hope it is informative, I don’t intend for this to be used as an all-reliable guide. If you have any questions, reach out to your program advisor! Also, sorry if this post is super dense and boring??? Hopefully the pictures help a little :)

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Allen Chen

Hailing from Southern California, I traveled the (not so) great distance of seven miles to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles. At Oxy, my coursework in American Studies and Sociology allows me to explore American history, literature, and culture. While abroad, I aim to broaden my understanding of the American experience, improve my Japanese, and grow as an individual.

2017 Fall
Home University:
Occidental College
Alhambra, CA
American Studies
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