When it comes to teaching English in Japan, the JET Program versus Interac is the Coke versus Pepsi debate of the ALT community. JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) is a government program. Interac is a private company.
Both provide Japanese public schools with Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). While the average workday of an ALT is similar for both positions, the subtle differences between them will impact your Japan experience.
During my ALT career, I was a JET for three years (the limit for JET program participants at that time) and an Interac ALT for eight. I loved both experiences.
If you enjoy being an ALT, you will enjoy working for JET or Interac. To get the best possible experience out of your time in Japan, you need to understand the differences between them and adjust your expectations accordingly.
The Workplace Situation: The Biggest Difference
The biggest difference I experienced between JET and Interac was my interaction with my schools.
JETs, especially those with a base-school, receive assignments directly from the school staff. Cultivating a good relationship with your OTEs gives you some control over your classes and schedule.
However, the increased involvement in school-life made it harder for me to say no to teacher’s requests. When OTEs didn’t want to be tied down to a schedule or discuss lessons plans, I had no recourse.
Interac ALTs have the opposite problem. Japanese labor laws mean only Interac can assign work to their ALTs. Schedules must be submitted to Interac in advance. The material covered and the ALT’s role in each class is defined on the schedule, allowing you to effectively prepare for each class. Interac staff will also play bad-cop on your behalf, diplomatically dealing with unreasonable demands from schools.
There will always be last-minute schedule changes and unhelpful OTEs, and nothing to prevent ALTs negotiating a schedule with their schools—I did! But having a reliable schedule made a big difference to my working life.
Ambassadors or Teachers?
JETs are regarded as cultural ambassadors. The JET Program is a Japanese government initiative, emphasizing cultural exchange as well as teaching.
Interac ALTs are marketed to the Board of Education as teachers—with an emphasis on “market.”
Interac contracts ALTs to BOEs, selling the ability of its teachers to provide the service of effective and targeted language instruction.
These attitudes are the key to the difference between JET and Interac. There are exceptions. Your expertise, personality and talents impact how your schools utilize you, as do the needs and expectations of the school and individual teachers within your school.
In the Classroom: JET Team-teaching
Any JET ALT follows a similar schedule. Whether you’re based at one junior high school or visit multiple elementary schools, your work placement will have more impact on your schedule than the actual people you will work with. Once you enter the classroom, the first major difference becomes apparent.
JET is based on team-teaching, pairing an ALT with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE), or an OTE (Official Teacher of English) to be politically correct (since not all English teachers in Japan are of Japanese ethnicity).
The division of roles is clear. The OTE teaches and usually leads the class, while the ALT assists. Your role in class depends entirely on what your OTE wants. Team-teaching at its best makes English fun and easy for the students to learn, as well as making the class fun to teach for both the OTEs and ALTs. A good relationship with your OTE should also involve planning classes together and even chatting for fun (if and when they have free time).
Team teaching at its worst makes the ALT look like a robot instead of a legit English teacher. It’s pretty common for ALTs to be relegated to the dreaded position of being a human tape recorder and just repeating words out of the textbook.
High School ALTs have more control over their classes in general, but in JET, how much teaching you do depends solely on the preferences of your JTE, leaving you free to explore other ways to engage with your students.
In the Classroom: Interac – ALT Led Instruction
Before you step into the classroom as a new Interac ALT, you’ve already had an intensive week of training that included planning and presenting a full English lesson to an audience of your peers. A true trial by fire!
Whether or not you use any of your newfound knowledge depends on your JTE, but I noticed I was taken more seriously as a teacher with Interac.
Team-teaching as an Interac ALT is out. The ALT portions of the class are taught solely by the ALT, with the JTE present but only acting to maintain discipline.
Initially scary, this provides the chance for an ALT to prove they know their stuff and gives the students more of an impetus to try to engage in English.
Application Process: JET Tortoise vs. Interac Hare
The JET Program’s application process is long and daunting. It will take quite a bit of work and preparation on your part. Every year, many potential JETs miss out purely by not getting their paperwork in on time.
Taking the time to fill out the application form thoughtfully and honestly enables the staff to find the best possible placement in Japan for you. That being said, there are no guarantees that you’ll be placed in an area you requested. If you plan on requesting a big city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya, you’ll probably be disappointed. There are very few JETs in huge urban cities, and getting placed there is very, very rare.
Once you receive your placement, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to move. Thinking carefully about what environment best suits you makes all the difference.
Interac’s shorter turnaround is more appealing, but ALTs have very little say in where they’re placed. Competition is fierce for city positions. Most new ALTs are placed in harder to fill rural positions with the option to request a transfer to a city after successfully completing a one-year contract. Priority is given to ALTs with high-performance scores. You’ll have to work hard for that city placement!
There’s no beating the JET salary. No ALT position pays anything like it. Even with the many bonuses that Interac ALTs can accumulate—transportation, rural allowance, Japanese proficiency (JLPT N3+), performance bonus—the Interac ALT takes home far less than their JET counterpart.
However, Interac offers opportunities for advancement (and raises), such as trainer, head-teacher, and manager. Interac ALTs can take on secondary jobs without breaching their contract, as long as it falls within the limits of your visa—an ALT with an instructor visa can work as a private tutor, but not as a waiter. Of course, jobs that can tarnish your image as an educator are not allowed as well. These are jobs such as working for host clubs, bars, nightclubs, etc.
Paid Leave: JET Expectations
Paid leave in Japan comes with a myriad of expectations. Japanese teachers rarely use paid leave for anything beyond medical leave (and often not even then), so ALTs who use paid leave to travel during the school term will possibly receive a cold reception when they return—if permission to travel is granted at all!
JETs receive 20 days of paid leave per year. As a JET, your requests for leave go through your schools, so cultivating a good relationship with your colleagues can result in faster vacation approvals and more flexibility.
Some unused paid vacation days roll over to your next year. Many contracting organizations allow JETs to attend approved Japanese language schools without taking vacation leave. There also special paid days off for things like a death in your immediate family or marriage. Female JETS have additional menstrual leave, though Japanese teachers rarely use this.
Paid Leave: Interac Paperwork
Paid leave requests for Interac are filtered through the branch office and travel the entire office and BOE hierarchy before approval. Requests to travel during normal working days are rigorously examined, and extremely slow to be answered.
Interac ALTs start with 5 days of paid leave though you can’t use them during the first 3 months of your contract. You get 5 more vacation days in addition to this, but your branch will decide and schedule these days for you (i.e., you have no say in the matter).
Summer vacation and winter vacation are written into the annual schedule, with a corresponding PAY CUT for the months of August and December.
The JET ALT must go to their school or BOE during the vacation, even when there are no classes. The Interac ALT can travel locally or stay at home (but unless they’re prepared to take an assignment, must request vacation time).
It comes down to whether you want the extra cash or freedom to explore.
Living Arrangements for JETs and Interac ALTs
Most JETs live in apartments rented by their contracting organization and sub-leased to the JET. It is extremely rare for a JET to have to pay key-money. Apartments range from modern 1DKs (1 bedroom, a dining room, and kitchen) to an entire run-down house.
Since most JETs take over a departing ALTs apartment, they usually move into a partially furnished apartment. Some JETs even find themselves in cheap teachers housing.
Interac has an agreement with Leopalace (apartment rental company) and will place ALTs in these apartments whenever possible. Leopalace apartments are partially furnished and require less set up, but are tiny with a pitiful amount of cooking space.
There are exceptions to the Leopalace rule. My second Interac placement was a rural town with one Leopalace that was full when I moved. I leased an apartment that I chose with Interac as my guarantor.
Couples: Can You Live Together in Japan?
JET places married ALTs together, and will provide spousal visas for non-ALT wives/husbands, but only for ALTs with marriages recognized in Japan.
My Canadian JET predecessor arrived in Japan with her common-law husband, only to find that while legally married in Canada, they had to marry in Japan before the BOE allowed them a shared apartment.
Individual BOEs differ in strictness—I know a JET ALT who successfully lives with her fiancé, so be sure to talk with your potential BOE about your situation.
Interac is more flexible, and where possible, treats ALTs who come to Japan together as a married couple and tries to place them together. This extends to gay and lesbian couples.
Huge, over-whelming, and intense, the Tokyo JET Orientation is a rite of passage. New arrivals are greeted with a plethora of information crammed into two days before travelling to their placements.
ALTs form strong friendships with fellow Group A or B arrivals that become the foundations of their new life. A second orientation follows once ALTs have settled in, with training sessions presented by current JET ALTs. The Mid-Year Conference, a two-day seminar, occurs later in the year.
Interac ALTs arrive to a week-long orientation focused on equipping ALTs for the classroom led by trained head-teachers and trainers. New teachers are observed by a trainer during their first three months, and, where possible, once a year after that. Four, half-day training sessions follow throughout the year, with a strong focus on communicative English teaching. However, this schedule may differ depending on which branch you work for.
Support: Daily problems
The JET community is one of the best things about the program. Active AJET chapters organize social events throughout the year, and the special interest groups offer opportunities to engage with new friends.
There are also numerous JET support groups on Facebook. For daily problems, your supervising teacher is your go-to. How helpful they are depends on their level of English fluency and your relationship.
Interac employs an IC to help ALTs with setting up their apartment and purchasing a phone and car. Requests for an IC go through the office, and once settled in, you will find yourself going to City Hall alone and calling the office for translation help. Although slow to build up a social network, Interac now has a Facebook community for teachers to help each other.
Life After Japan: Leaving the ALT Life Behind
JET hosts a returners conference for JETs of two or more years. Your school or BOE must give you permission to attend, and you pay your travel costs. JET also covers your flight home. Once back in your home country, the JET Alumni associations provides links to Japan related opportunities and chances to network.
Interac doesn’t even provide ALTs with a reference. Once your announce your decision to quit, you receive minimal support. The office grudgingly helps you cancel apartment-related expenses, but for personal things like your phone or Internet service, they leave it up to you.
JET vs Interac: Which One is Better?
As in the Coke versus Pepsi debate, it comes down to personal preference with a side of “every situation is different.”
Your schools are the biggest deciding factor of your ALT experience. I recommend Interac if you want to develop teaching skills and JET if you’re passionate about cultural exchange.
However, I also participated in all sorts of community events as an ALT with Interac.
As long as you know what you want to achieve and understand the expectations you face, you can get the most out of your time as an ALT whether with JET or Interac.
Have you worked for the JET Program or Interac before? Or are you thinking of applying to either of these positions? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.
I worked on JET program for 2 years and loved it, i’m currently teaching in Korea but looking to move back to Japan again at some point. I can’t re-apply to JET for a while so was interested in Interac. But I’m a little confused on what you’re written with regards to the vacation times and pay etc. If I go through Interac how many paid days leave will I get for 1 year contract, and will my salary be cut during all school vacations like August, April and December because of fewer school days? Sorry, I don’t quite understand. Please would you explain a bit more as I usually like to travel during school breaks but if my salary is cut then that will be tragic hahaha 🙂
Hi Boniswa. I can’t speak for Louise, but I can talk about my experiences with Interac. Depending on the location and branch of Interac you work for, the salary (and possibly benefits) will be different. I forget the exact number, but I believe I had 5 paid days off per each 1 year contract. Although keep in mind that you may not be able to take any of your paid vacation until you work at least 6 months with the company. Also, I believe the amount of paid days off increases each time you recontract for another year. If I remember correctly, you got 1 extra day of paid leave for every year you recontracted with them. There was a limit to this though.
And YES…your salary will be cut for several months out of the year. So you need to plan accordingly. The biggest pay cut is in August, where you only work 2 weeks max. Since you only work half of the month, you will only be paid 50% of your normal salary. In December, you only work 3 weeks, so you will only get paid 75% of your normal salary. It is often the case that you don’t work a full month in March and April as well. So you might be looking at another 25-50% pay cut in March (or more) and another 25 -50% paycut in April. Yes, that sucks if you really need the cash.
Don’t take my word for it. Their website is pretty up to date, and they are pretty clear about their pay and vacation days when they hire you (although they are shady when it comes to teaching hours and working conditions…in my experience). So I would check their website for more information….you can also contact them directly. They are pretty good at answering your questions…but just be sure to call when they aren’t in their hiring season…they are extremely busy then. It’s been a few years since I’ve worked with them, so its best to contact them for any specific questions.
If you want my honest opinion…I hate them. Mostly because of the staff I worked with. Although I think their pay and benefits are pretty crappy, they are still better than many other companies out there. The one good thing about them is that they are on the ball when it comes to getting your visa. They kind of help you with other things like health insurance and what not (if you’re a normal, contract employee), but you still have to do some things on your own.
Hi Jack…are still on this site?..l have some questions..
Hi Napolioni. What kind of questions do you have? Feel free to ask it here or if you would like, go to our contact us page. I can try to answer them as best as I can.
Wow, thank you so much for the information here! This sure helps! ☺️ I’m planning to apply at either JET or Interac. I’m a Filipino but I’m currently teaching here in Thailand. Won’t there be any problem with that? Because when I checked the application process of JET, it says there that I should go to the Japanese Embassy in my country of citizenship.
Unless things changed, you won’t be able to apply through Thailand if the Japanese Embassy in your country of citizenship is located elsewhere. Well, you can apply, but if you make it to round 2 (the interview stage), you will need to fly to the Japanese Embassy where you applied from. I’m not sure about the Philippines, but as an American, I had to apply though a Japanese Embassy based in the USA. I would definitely check to see if this applies to you too. I have a feeling that it does.
If you can’t make it back to your home country for an interview with JET, Interac is a much easier way to get into Japan with a teaching job, but I highly, highly recommend trying for JET. The pay is much higher with JET and the benefits are probably 10x better with JET program. Generally speaking, the support and feel of the job on the JET program is much better than Interac (in my experience) because at the end of the day, Interac is a company who prizes profits more than their workers. With JET, the focus is more on you as a person than making money. That being said, every situation is different and you could be placed in a very remote area with JET. Interac also has some remote areas in Japan, but definitely not as country as some areas that JET program participants can be placed in.
Overall though, I highly recommend JET. It’s a long and tedious process to go through to get the job, but it’s worth it. On the flip side, I recommend that you avoid Interac if possible. While there are a lot of other worse jobs you could get in Japan, there are also much better jobs as well. The positive thing about Interac is that the pay is not as bad as other companies (although I still think it sucks) and the ease of getting a visa to work in Japan.
Interac only pays for 29.5 hours a week and it says you might have to work up to 40 a week. Is there a way to get out of having to work another 10.5 hours for free? I refuse to work any amount of hours for no pay.
To make myself totally transparent, I used to work for Interac for 2 years or so..and I completely hate them. The staff in my regional office was phenomenal though. Now they are not a horrible company…there are much, much worse companies out there. But they are in the business to make money, and just like your comment says, they try to get as much as they can out of their workers. However, it’s not as bad as you may think.
I hate this saying, but it’s true. Every situation is different. Interac offers different salaries and options depending on the area you are in, as well as your experience. In my time with them, I had 0 problems with time per week of work. I worked 7 hours and 45 minutes per day (including lunch time), 5 days per week (with a couple of Saturdays throughout the year for special events). What I did have a problem with was it totally felt like you were just a number, a robot working mindlessly to make them money. While many of the staff do care about their employees, there were some (like my supervisor) that made you feel like it didn’t matter if you stayed with them, or not. So depending on where you teach and the staff you work with, your experience will vary.
As for the 29.5 hours per week for a “full-time” employee, many companies do this on purpose. They limit your working hours per week to less than 30, because if you work more than 30 hours, they are required to provide you with health insurance, and I’m not 100% sure so don’t take my word for it, but I believe they need to pay into your pension as well. However, if you don’t plan on working your whole life and retiring in Japan, having a pension actually sucks…the reason is you have to pay for at least half of it each month, which means you get a smaller paycheck. So even though I was working close to 40 hours per week, I believe I was still classified as a part-time employee. However, for my position, Interac supported my health insurance (you still have to pay monthly fees for this, but its better than the standard issue national health insurace), and they paid for half of my pension every month (you have to pay the other half).
So here is where it gets complicated and is grey area. If you are working 7 hours and 45 minutes per day, 5 days a week like most people at Interac are, that means you are working close to 40 hours per week. That is in your contract. Your contract says what times you have to work from and how long your working hours are. But you get paid a salary, so the amount you get each month is set. So if there are national holidays that month, and there are only 19 working days, you pay would still be the same if you worked a month that had 22 working days. I believe that some branches/companies do put the 29.5 hour contract in their contracts even though you work more so they don’t have to support your insurance..as mentioned above. But if Interac says they will cover your insurance and pension, then technically the 29.5 hour thing doesn’t matter. So the main thing is to ask them about all of this before you sign the contract.
Okay, my rant is going way too long here. I hope this helped. If you have any other questions, please let me know.
What in your opinion is the best way to get a job teaching English in Japan ?
That’s a very hard question to answer without more information. The jobs you can get will depend on where you are and what qualifications you have. Are you already in Japan? Or are you looking to move to Japan? Do you have any teaching experience? Do you have a diploma from an accredited 4 year University?
I’ll assume you are not currently in Japan and are looking for a way to move there. If this is the case, and you have (or will graduate) from a university, I highly recommend applying for the JET Program if you are from a country that offers it. It is a long application process that is comprised of writing an essay, following tons of instructions, and asking for 2 very good recommendations. It also takes months before you know if you will be accepted on the program or not. It is also very competitive. But as far as benefits go, JET is probably the best way to get your foot into the door. It has pretty good pay, probably the most benefits out of any Japanese teaching job (for foreigners), and they just take better care of you that most other private companies. There are some downsides, but if you can, I would apply for that.
If you need a job that will sponsor a visa for you to live and work in Japan, you 100% need a diploma from a 4 year university. If not, it may be possible to get a visa with other methods, but it is very, very, very difficult to do.
If you have a diploma, using a private company like Interac is a semi easy way to find a job in Japan…as you already know, I hate Interac though. But every situation is different, and I know people who actually like working for Interac more than when they were on the JET Program. The good thing about Interac is that they make it easy for you to come to Japan, as they will take care of your visa for you (but might leave you to do other important things on your own).
If you give me a little more information about what you are looking for, maybe I can be of more help. Or I hope the info I typed here helped you out in someway 🙂
does Interac allow ALTs to take their boyfriends with them? is this possible or do they have to be married
Just want to clarify. When you said”take their boyfriends with them,” does this mean just living together in Japan (you work for Interac, but your boyfriend doesn’t)? Or does this mean that if you get hired by Interac, they’ll hire your boyfriend too?
The quick, yet unsatisfying answer is that every branch and situation is different. If you get hired with Interac but your boyfriend doesn’t, you can live together (since Interac doesn’t check up on your at your apartment) but he probably can’t get a visa through them…unless you get married. Of course he can stay with a tourist or working holiday visa (depending on which country he’s from), but that is only temporary. If that isn’t possible, your boyfriend should apply to Interac as well.
If you both get hired, I believe you can request to be placed together, but it’s not guaranteed you’ll be placed in the same area. In my experience, it seems like like lately, but the JET Program and Interac try to place couples together as closely as they can. But keep in mind that one area might only need one ALT, so your chances of being placed together heavily depends on the positions they have available.