HOW TO: Make Your Baby Legal in Japan (if You're American)

Thanks to Ashley Tieman, mom and former missionary from Okayama, Japan, for this post.

For most new parents, the hardest part about having a newborn is adjusting to a demanding new schedule. But for children of foreign parents in Japan, there's a long process to getting your new little one legally registered with Japan and your home country. Hopefully this guide will help!

Please note: this guide was written based on the experiences of two American parents in Okayama prefecture and written to give you a general idea of the process. Procedures may vary in different areas, and may be different depending on your nationality, so please double check with your ward office, regional immigration bureau and embassy or consulate.

Also, if you are a mixed-nationality couple, please note the process is different! This guide can give you a general feel for the process but you will need to seek out additional information for your specific circumstances.

In our experience there were three main tasks:

1. Register with your local ward office or city hall
2. Register with the nearest Regional Immigration Bureau office
3. Apply for your child's passport and other government-issued documents with your home country's embassy

Register with City/Ward Office (in two trips)

Shortly before you are discharged from your Japanese hospital or midwife clinic, you will be given your child's birth certificate (出生届,しゅっせいとどけ, shusseitodoke). One side will have your child's birth statistics; the other side is for you to fill in with your child's name, parent's names and nationalities, etc. Once completed in Japanese, this form needs to be taken to your local city hall or ward office within two weeks. Make sure to bring along your hanko and your Mother and Child Health Handbook (母子手帳, ぼしてちょう, boshitechou).

While you're at the ward office, you may also receive information about a midwife or nurse visit to your home (to make sure it's a safe environment for your baby, talk about vaccines and other information and answer any questions you might have), paperwork on how to receive reimbursement for doctor's visits, and paperwork to receive a child allowance according to your prefecture's policies.

Your/your spouse's workplace may also ask you to submit a certificate of residence (住民票, じゅうみんひょう, jyuuminhyou) in order to add your child to your national health insurance coverage. The form is available at the ward office and mine cost Y300, so you can save yourself a trip if you ask for it at the same time you submit the birth certificate.

In about a week, you will receive a piece of paper in the mail from the ward office showing that you have successfully registered with them. This paper should be cut out and glued to the inside of your 母子手帳 (Mother and Child Health Handbook).

If you're American and registering your baby as an American, go back to your ward office and request a certified copy of your child's birth certificate (出生届記載事項証明書, しゅっせいとどけきさいじこうしょうめいしょ, shusseitodoke kisai jiko shoumeisho) to bring with you to a US consulate or embassy. My ward office charged a Y300 fee. Note that you must bring the certified copy from the ward office to the consulate, not the original given to you by the hospital! The one I received had the information from the original copied in minature on blue/purple paper.

While there, head over to the taxation office or section (税務課, ぜいむか, zeimuka) and get a record of taxes paid (住民税に係る納税証明書, じゅうみんぜいにかかるのうぜいしょうめいしょ, jyuminzei ni kakaru nouzei shoumeisho); you'll need it at the Immigration Bureau.

Register with Immigration Bureau

If both parents are non-Japanese and you plan to stay longer than 60 days after your child's birth in Japan, the next step is to apply for baby's resident card at the nearest Regional Immigration Bureau branch (a list of the eight regional branches is available here ). You have 30 days from your child's birth to complete the process.

In addition to forms that the Regional Immigration Bureau office will give you, you will also need to submit:
  • Both parents' passports
  • Both parents' resident cards
  • The paper confirming you have completed registering your child's birth with city hall / ward office.
  • 母子手性  (Mother and Child Health Handbook)
  • 住民税に係る納税証明書, which you received from city hall / ward office
  • A copy of you or your spouse's certificate of employment (在職証明書,ざいしょくしょうめいしょ, zaishokushoumeisho) or a copy of their employment contract (在職証明書, ざいしょくしょうめい, zaishokushoumei), you/you spouse's employer should provide either one.
  • (Optional) Your baby's passport, if you have it (but you do not need to have it before applying)

Some of the forms the office will give you are bilingual, but at least one of them is only Japanese (and must be completed in Japanese). Also, the Letter of Guarantee (a form given at the Immigration Bureau office) needs to be signed by the head of the household; if that's not you, you may need to go together or be prepared to make a second trip.

After submitting all the paperwork, your baby's alien registration card should be presented to you at the same visit. When you receive it, you'll need to go back to your ward office and have them certify it there as well (by filling out two forms with your name and address). There is no charge for the certification.

Apply for passport and other foreign government papers

Finally, the last step is to apply for a passport with your home country's embassy. The following information is for two US citizen parents on how to obtain your baby's passport, social security card, and consular report of birth abroad. Please note that you will need to make an appointment ahead of time (you can schedule electronically at the consulate website) and that mother, father, and baby must appear together in person for the appointment. You will need to bring these forms (available at the consulate website):

1. Consular Report of Birth application (DS-2029) – completed but NOT signed (you will do this at the embassy in the presence of an official).

2. Passport application (DS-11) – completed but NOT signed (use 000-00-0000 for social security number).

3. Social Security number application (SS-5) – completed and signed.

4. Certified copy of your child's birth certificate (出生届け記載事項署名証明書) you received from your ward office in step one (again it must be the certified copy NOT the original document given to you by the hospital, even though the consulate site says “original”!)

5. English translation of the 出生届け記載事項署名証明書 – a template is available for the translation at the consulate website. You or your spouse can do the translation; you do not have to hire a professional translator.

6. Parents' marriage certificate (bring the original)

7. If either parent has been previously married, you also need to bring divorce decree(s) or death certificate(s) for all prior marriages.

8. If parents were not married at the child's birth, you will need to submit an Affidavit of Parentage, Physical Presence, and Support (DS-5507) that has been completed but NOT signed, evidence of physical presence at time of conception (passport stamps, travel orders, etc.), and proof of your relationship prior to birth (letters, photos, etc.)

9. Both parents' IDs and proof of citizenship (passport)

10. Application fee ($205 USD, payable in US dollars, Japanese yen, or by credit card)

11. Passport photo (2”x2”) of your child against a white background facing the camera with eyes open, mouth closed, and no hands near their face. If you are taking the photo yourself this can be quite the challenge! What worked for us was putting the baby on a white sheet on the ground while one parent held the baby's hands down and the other took photos. The website is a great resource: upload your photo, follow the guide, and you can save the photo sheet to a USB drive and take it to your nearest photo shop to print.

12. A self-addressed Letterpack 500 envelope (available at Japan Post offices and most convenience stores for Y500—just ask for a “retta pakku goyaku”)

13. At the consulate, you'll submit all the paperwork and then swear before a consular officer that the information you provided is true. Once that's done, the consulate will mail your child's passport and consular report of birth abroad (equivalent of a birth certificate) to you in the Letterpack 500. Your child's social security card will come in a few months from the Social Security Administration's headquarters in Baltimore.

Now what happens if you do your best to gather all this information and paperwork, schlepp it to the consulate, but forget something? If it's your passport, you're out of luck—you can't even gain entry into the consulate without one. But if it's one of the documents listed here or if your photograph isn't approved, the consulate will give you instructions on how to mail the needed materials in (and even give you a pre-addressed envelope to do so). In that case, it'll take a little longer but you'll still receive your child's vital documents once the consulate has received the needed materials.

Thanks for sharing, Ashley! If you're a parent in Japan of a different nationality and want to share your experience "making your baby legal" in Japan, please get in touch.

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