Wednesday, February 29, 2012

JET vs Interac: An Objective Comparison

When comparing JET vs Interac, there are many different factors to take into account.  For the curious, enterprising ALT, I'll give the short answer:  If money's your game and you're feeling lucky, apply to JET.  Or go to Las Vegas.  Is there really a life changing difference between JET and Interac?  No.

In the first collaborative post between myself and The Sushi Complex, read on for the full comparison between JET, a government-run ALT provider, and Interac, the representative for private ALT dispatch companies!

Did You Say JET or JERK?

Interac, and other ALT providers, receive a bad rap from JET ALTs.  Whether this stems from their much harder application process (the belief that JET is better because it's exclusive) or from their higher salary (the belief they deserve the extra money), I have no idea.  The majority of JETs are good people, but usually you get a vocal one rampaging forums declaring JET as the be-all and end-all in ALT positions, and decrying Interac et al for past mistakes or misunderstood reasons.  Just to be clear:  JET and any other ALT position have, essentially, the same job.  And it's because of this I'd like to highlight the differences between them.

Money, Cars, and Lilliputian Houses

Comparing JET vs Interac, it's easy to see JET has a rather beefy salary with subsidized living expenses.  Interac's pay schedule is rather harder to pinpoint... Most big city placements receive only ¥230,000.  Rural placements (common, and often more suburban in nature) receive ¥240,000, and those in a rural area and given a car to drive receive ¥250,000.

New model Kei car (Interac)
Interac and JET both pay transportation costs in the vast majority of cases when it is work related.  However, Interac will provide a car to those in non-driving positions--definitely a plus, as buying a car on a JET salary may be difficult.  The salary comparisons are further convoluted here, since Interac's with a car receive a driving bonus of ¥10,000.  But since a car comes with a monthly leasing fee, maintenance, and licensing fees, the Interac ALT will still take home less money at the end of the day.  Then again, having a car in Japan and paying minimal costs thanks to Interac's subsidies... well, that's a pretty sweet deal too.

JET is the king of subsidies, however, so you can expect to be repaid housing costs--which amounts for 20% or more of the typical ALTs salary.  If you think that means JETs typically go for bigger apartments, you're right; Interac ALTs are usually forced into Leo Palace apartments, reminiscent of dorm rooms both in amenities and size.  JETs can live in anything, from similar LP apartments, tenements, or even living with a Japanese family who have an extra room for rent.  Typically, though, you can expect a JET to have a regular apartment that is larger than you'd find in Interac.

Typical LeoPalace apartment floorplan

So I Want to Take Time Off...

This is just stupid.  JET and Interac have completely opposite methods of vacation days.  JET has a standard 20 days paid vacation.  Interac has 10 paid vacation days, plus "forced" vacation days when school isn't in session which results in reduced pay during certain months.  On the surface, Interac seems to have more vacation days--and they do--but looking at PAID vacation, the two companies are about even.  There's fancy math involved.  Just take my word for it.

Whatever, I'm Applying to Both

If that's the case, then welcome to Interac!  JET has a very strict, highly competitive application process.  It's very drawn out, resulting in months of waiting.  Chicago's Japanese Embassy says it best when describing JET:
"64% of applicants were granted interviews, and 58% were selected as short-list candidates.  This adds up to an overall success rate of 37%."
In comparison, Interac's application process is very short and almost entirely online.  Be sure to read my entire description of Interac's application process on my earlier post.  Interac also boasts a much higher success rate and, with adequate preparation and personality, a job is definitely possible.

I'm Only Interested in the Bad!

JETs have less days off, period.  This doesn't interfere with your ability to find a second job, however, because JETs aren't allowed one.  JETs have little choice in their placement, and they're usually placed in pretty small and rural towns.  It isn't well-publicized, but a JET cannot reject his placement without losing the job entirely.  And if you want to be sneaky and accept a job, just to transfer in a year, you can forget about that too.  Once you accept your job, you're at the mercy of your school--they are your employer.  But the absolute worst fact about JET is that you must obey the school's whims, even if (and when) that means showing up when school isn't in session.  As far as bending over goes, JET will have your forehead to the floor.  In comparison, Interac will often give you some choice (at least when your presence isn't a  necessity).
Interac's biggest fault is the pay: we get paid less, and get no subsidies beyond a car and travel expenses. Your airfare to Japan isn't paid, either.  Although working for Interac (rather than the school directly) is nice, Interac varies wildly between branches and there is definite talk of some Interac branches being worse than others.  Your experience likewise becomes highly personalized when you work at schools, since some schools may treat you better than others.  This is, of course, the same even if you are with JET.

Why JET and Interac Are Secret Twinsies

I've mentioned this multiple times: JET and Interac are the same job, quid pro quo (all things equal).  You do similar amounts of work in each, and your experience in both are ultimately in the hands of the employees you work with at school.  Everything else--and I mean everything--is trivial, and my very first paragraph tells you everything you need to know about this debate.  Yet still, people fight for their pride, and there will always be an argument between which is better.


Okay, You're Playing Neutral Norman, But I Heard About...

What, like when Interac fired a man for missing work after the death of his daughter?  Granted, that isn't something Interac would want to bring up at a fancy dress party.  It was a big mess up.  But it was also several years ago, and Interac is gradually reforming.  It's also important to note it's just one person's experience (and unlikely to happen again).  I have heard about some people needing to leave Japan due to death in the family, and Interac allowed them not only to leave but to have a job again upon their return.

I wish I could say JET has its own fair share of screw ups, but it isn't really the case.  Does this mean they're more reliable?  I'd say no.  There are a great many positive experiences from both companies, and you'll see the majority of bad press toward Interac were during the early 2000s.  Interac has 'grown into itself' and I have no qualms at all for working with them.

Quick Comparison Table

If you'd like to see a more detailed table, and another perspective on the Interac vs JET war, please read The Sushi Complex's post on the same subject.  Maybe she'll come to a different conclusion!
(Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme)
¥300,000 per month
¥230,000 - ¥250,000
Reduced pay in March, April, July, August, and December
Start-up Costs
Minimal.  ¥300,000 or less until first paycheck (~1 month)   
Recommended to bring ¥500,000 to cover expenses until first paycheck (~2 months)
10 days leave
15 National Holidays
10 assigned paid vacation days
Reduced workdays in March, April, July, August, and December
Paid for both ways
  • Minimal to no choice
  • Often rural
  • Strong consideration for your placement preference.
  • Rural and suburban with urban placements for experienced ALTs.
Limited to no possible transfer to new locations
Possible to transfer to a new location upon contract completion (exact city not guaranteed)
  • Aid given to obtain apartment
  • Variety of housing
  • Subsidized rent
  • Aid given to obtain apartment
  • Typically LeoPalace
  • Rent is not subsidized
  • Required
  • National Health Insurance
  • Pension options
  • Required
  • National Health Insurance if intent of stay is 1+ years
  • InterGlobal Insurance if intent of stay is 1 year
  • Pension options
Japanese government, under the direct control of the local Board of Education.
Interac. You are not under the control of the BoE and are required only to perform acts as outlined in your contract.
Longer, more difficult process. Less likely to get accepted.
Shorter application process, very likely to be accepted.
Maximum Duration
5 years
'Unlimited' renewals based on performance
Age Restrictions
40 years old max
No maximum age limit. Older applicants able to apply for management if they are former Interac ALTs
Second Job
Not allowed.
Allowed if it does not interfere with ALT duties.
This table is a collaboration between myself and The Sushi Complex.  That means I can steal it and YOU can't!


So Interac has more green points, JET has more red... So what?  To be honest, this is all a pretty pointless comparison.  Interac is a fantastic company that works hard to satisfy its employees.  JET pays a more, and subsidizes more.  You weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself, I'll be buggered if I'm going to tell you who to work for.