The Ultimate Guide to Moving To Japan

If you dream of fresh sushi, strolling under blossoming cherry trees, participating in tea ceremonies, or riding your bicycle to the market every day for fresh produce -- you really need to read our guide about moving to Japan.

Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Fuji at Fujiyoshida, Japan with cherry blossoms

Imag​​​​e via: Woman and Home

I lived in The Land of the Golden Sun for three years, and am here to tell you that moving to Japan was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. My day-to-day encounters with the Japanese people ranged from the traditional to the completely unexpected.

But be warned:

If you think moving to Japan is like moving across the country, you’re in for a surprise.

Japan, like any country, has its own rules and you’ll need to understand them before you book that flight.

Follow along as we talk about the things that make Japan special, the steps you’ll need to take to move there legally — and what to do once you’re there.

Japanese woman wearing yukata and umbrella

Image via: Sasint on Pixabay

Top 7 Reasons to Move to Japan

There are a million reasons why moving to Japan is a great idea, but we’ve managed to narrow them to the top seven.

1. Moving to Japan for the culture

The Japanese culture dates back to 12,000 B.C. And while tradition is still an enormous part of the culture, modernity has entered the mix.

Take this, for example:

While walking the streets of Tokyo, you will see geishas strolling down the street against the backdrop of high-rise buildings. Old-school Japanese attend the cherry blossom viewing alongside youth with green hair.

The mix of old traditions and modernity is a site to see, and one of the best reasons for moving to Japan.

Did You Know?

Japan has over 5 million vending machines — one for every 23 people. You can buy almost anything from them including puppies, fish soup, umbrellas, and surgical masks.

2. Moving to Japan for the job opportunities

Japan has a high cost of living, and if you plan on moving to Japan, you will likely need to get a job.

The good news is that Japan offers many job opportunities.

The bad news is that not all of them are available to Americans.

Depending on your qualifications, you can get a job teaching English, or work in a Japanese corporation under some circumstances.

3. Moving to Japan for the public transportation

Getting around in Japan in a car can be a challenge.

Check this out:

I once decided to take my visiting mother to this adorable Japanese restaurant where all the food came to you on plates floating on a “stream” that meandered through every private room.

But although the restaurant was only about 10 miles away from my house, it took us almost 3 hours to get there by car.

It would have taken about 15 minutes had I been smart enough to take the Shinkansen (bullet train).

Japan’s public transport system is punctual, clean, and offers great service. The Shinkansen offers nine lines that spread out all over Japan. You can access it using the Japan Rail Pass.

Did You Know?

The Japanese culture revolves around group identities rather than individualism. As a foreigner in Japan, you will automatically stand out and may be asked to take pictures with locals or find yourself being stared at. A. Lot.


In other words, they will treat you like a rock star.

4. Moving to Japan for the food

Where do I begin? If you’re a foodie and haven’t yet made the trip to Japan, I suggest you book your plane ticket.

Now.

Japan is well-known for its food, and when moving to Japan, you will have to get used to some new flavors. But trust me; soon you won’t be able to live without them.

Here are a few Japanese foods you will experience when moving to Japan:

You will find all of these — and more — delectable dishes in restaurants, from street vendors, or at the local (and very crowded) noodle shops.

5. Moving to Japan for the low crime rate

It’s not uncommon to find Japanese businessmen sleeping on a park bench because they enjoyed too much sake the night before and couldn’t quite make it home.

But here’s the thing:

Their wallets, watches, and jewelry are likely to be undisturbed.

Japanese woman sleeping on the staircase

Image via: BBC

Crime is uncommon in Japan. Experts believe the low crime rate stems from the fact that violence is considered shameful, the country has an efficient legal system, strict gun laws, and low rates of poverty, drug use, and unemployment.

6. Moving to Japan for the low-cost healthcare

When moving to Japan, you will be required to purchase health insurance.

You can do that one of two ways:

If you work for a Japanese corporation, they will automatically enroll you in the Japan Employee Health Insurance Program (Kenko Hoken). With this program, your low monthly premium is determined by your salary.

Or

If you decide to teach English or go to school in Japan, you should visit the Residential Affairs Division in your city or your local ward office and sign up for the Japan National Health Insurance plan (Kokumin Kenko Hoken). Your premium is determined by your age and last year’s salary.

7. Moving to Japan for the city life — or countryside living

At first glance, you may think that all of Japan is as overcrowded as the cities you visit, but once you venture out of them, you’ll find peaceful and serene landscapes to soothe your soul.

Ancient Japanese building by the lake in Kinkaku-ji, Japan

Image via: Pexels

Most of Japan’s population lives in the cities, but some people prefer to live in the countryside away from the hustle and bustle.

The truth is:

One Texan transplant blogger says that living in the Japanese countryside is more relaxing, less expensive, and less stressful.

But it does have one drawback:

Not many people there speak English.

Did You Know?

Japanese people are cool with long lines. They learn from an early age that cooperation is the key to good character, and so they don’t get impatient when standing in long lines. They wait in long lines for trains, at restaurants, even to smoke in designated smoking areas.


And some Japanese will wait four hours for a doughnut!

The Downsides of Living in Japan — and How to Overcome Them

Living in Japan is an adventure that’s hard to beat, but as with all good things, it does have its downsides.

Luckily, overcoming them isn’t that difficult.

Living in Japan is expensive

When moving to Japan, many people head to Tokyo because that’s where most of the action is.

The city is full of:

  • Bright lights
  • Shopping
  • People
  • Experiences

But living there also comes at a price.

Tokyo is one of the most expensive places to live, although, with enough searching and an expert on your side, you may be able to find very small properties that are reasonable.

On top of that:

You will need to pay electric, gas, and water.

Experts estimate that a single working person living in Tokyo should expect to pay $1,200 to $1,800 a month for all their living expenses.

How to overcome this:

Live outside of Tokyo, and you won’t pay as much.

The language is difficult to learn

You may have heard that learning Japanese is difficult, but in case you don’t really believe it will be that hard, let me share one little fact with you:

The Japanese language has three alphabets! (Hiragana, katakana, and kanji) And all are integral to its writing system.

The good news is:

Many people do speak English, especially in the big cities. But you should know some basic phrases in Japanese.

How to overcome this:

Japanese tutors are everywhere. Look for one online before moving to Japan or find one in your local area when you arrive.

Working conditions can be intense

If you plan to get a job at a Japanese corporation, you should plan to spend a lot of time at the office. While the official Japanese work week is 40 hours, actual estimates are closer to 50 to 60.

And if you're looking forward to vacation time:

Japan is consistently ranked among the lowest.

How to overcome this:

Get a job teaching English in Japan. You can typically set your own hours unless you work for one of the larger schools.

It’s crowded

That could very well be the understatement of the year.

The metropolitan area of Tokyo is home to more than 36 million residents.

To put that in perspective, the area has a population the size of Greater Los Angeles and Greater New York combined.

But here's the kicker:

It’s only one-tenth of the size.

In other words, after moving to Japan, you will get up close and personal with a lot of strangers.

How to overcome this: live outside of the city.

Not all Japanese people like foreigners

One of the biggest culture shocks for me after moving to Japan was that, as a foreigner, I wasn’t allowed to rent certain places, eat at some restaurants, or even shop at some stores.

Bottom line:

Some Japanese people just don’t like foreigners and openly discriminate against them. For example, you may see signs on the doors of businesses saying:

No Foreigners Allowed!

While this makes it challenging to find an apartment or eat out sometimes, you shouldn’t take it personally. One woman who was turned down for an apartment simply because she is a foreigner living in Japan posted a video about the experience.

She was justifiably upset and confused, but a Japanese national and an American who has lived in Japan for years posted a video in response to hers that tries to explain how Japanese think about the topic.

How to overcome this:

As someone living in a foreign land, you can’t expect people to always act like they do at home. If you’re denied an apartment or refused service at a restaurant, just move on.

Because truth be told:

There are plenty of friendly Japanese people who want to do business with you!

The Japanese like rules. A lot.

At first glance, this may not seem like something that would hamper your plans about moving to Japan.

And it shouldn’t.

But it is something you need to be aware of.

One of the first things you’ll notice after moving to Japan are the rules. The Japanese follow a lot of rules, some of them unspoken but followed widely.

And as a foreigner living in the country, you will be expected to follow them, too.

For example, it’s considered rude to eat on the trains or while walking down the street. Instead, if you buy something from a vending machine or noodle shop, stop and eat it right there.

And then throw it away because trash cans are scarce.

Here's the deal:

If you don’t throw away your trash where you bought the food, you will have to carry it all the way home and throw it away there.

In addition to that:

Since the bullet trains are such a big part of life, you will have to follow many rules when riding on them.

For instance, it’s considered rude to rush in and grab a seat. Instead, enter the train in an orderly manner and take a seat in order. And whatever you do, don’t cross your legs if you do get a seat! (It takes up too much space.)

And if you leave a tip in the non-tipping country? The waiter or waitress may follow you out to give you back your money.

How to overcome this: learn the rules.

Did You Know?

Sleeping on the job in Japan is considered a good thing because people believe it’s an indicator that you’re working yourself to exhaustion. The word for it is inemuri, which is roughly translated to sleeping on duty.

How to Get a Job in Japan

Because of Japan’s strict immigration laws, you will have to get a job or enroll in school before applying for your visa. That’s because the Japanese government wants to know that you can support yourself while in the country.

In fact:

You are required to have a sponsor who vouches for your financial solvency, but we will get to that in a minute.

Getting a job when moving to Japan isn’t difficult, but you will experience some limitations.

You will have two options when moving to Japan:

Two Speech Bubble

Working for a Corporation

You will likely need to have some grasp on the Japanese language in order to become a productive member of a Japanese corporation.

Although there are some exceptions:

My friend worked, for one, and the corporation provided Japanese classes for her, so she learned as she worked.

She worked a lot of hours.

If you want to look for jobs in the corporate world when moving to Japan, check out these websites:

choosing language on a computer

image via Adobe Stock

Teaching English

Most people get a job teaching English when moving to Japan. I did and found it both challenging and exhilarating.

Here's the cool thing:

You will teach adults, children, and even classrooms full of students. You can work for an individual who will set you up with various students, or you can work for a school.

I worked at both, and each has its own charm.

Although teaching jobs are plentiful in Japan, there are a few things you should know before you accept one.

The first is that many English schools advertise that they will sponsor an English teacher, but that isn’t the same as hiring someone from abroad.

What it means is:

If you are already in Japan and teaching English someplace else, they will take over as your sponsor once you pass an interview and get the job.

You may have to take a less than perfect job to get your work visa. You can always change jobs once you arrive.

Very few companies hire English teachers from abroad, although some do. But you will need to prove yourself for an English school to take a chance on hiring you sight unseen.

Here are some things you can do to improve your odds:

  • Most schools require that you have a BA
  • You need some teaching experience. You can get it online before moving to Japan on sites like Cafetalk and Italki
  • If you have certifications such as the TEFEL or TESOL, you’ll get more offers. And if you already have your BA, you can become a certified English teacher in about three months.

Because you need to start your job search before moving to Japan, you will need to look online.

Here is a list of websites where you can begin your search:

How to Get a Japanese Visa

Your next step when moving to Japan is to apply for a visa. The country has strict rules, and you won’t be able to get a job, rent an apartment, or open a bank account without one.

You have a decision to make:

You need to decide which type of visa you want. There are dozens to choose from, but the most common are working visas, student visas, and a specified visa for those with family members in the country.

To apply, you will need an updated passport, a photograph of yourself, and a visa application form. Also, you will need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), which can be a little tricky to get — but not impossible.

What is a COE?

A COE is a written statement from someone living in Japan who agrees to sponsor you. The person who writes this, whether it’s an employer, your spouse or other family members, or a friend, must commit to ensuring you have access to at least $1,600 a month.

If you get a job in Japan, your employer will automatically submit the COE for you. And if you plan to go to school after moving to Japan, the school will take care of the details for you.

Once you’re COE is approved, you are free to book your airline flight. Once you arrive, agents will issue you a Residence Card.

But you're not done yet:

You will have 14 days to register in your district. You will need to do this in order to open a bank account or enter into any other type of contract, such as a job.

Did You Know?

You can immerse yourself fully into the Japanese culture by visiting Studio Geisha Café in Tokyo and letting the artists there transform you into a Geisha!

Woman in black kimono looking at white japanese spitz dog

Image via: Pexels

How to Find a Place to Live

The next item on your list is finding a place to live.

As we mentioned earlier, finding an apartment as a foreigner isn’t always easy. Some landlords fear that foreigners are messy, noisy, or have a lot of friends over.

And if the neighbors aren’t happy with the tenants:

It reflects poorly on the agent.

You will need to put together a few ​things before you begin looking for a place to stay.

Cash — and lots of it

Moving to Japan is expensive, and a large chunk of change goes into your rental. You will need to pay the following:

  • First month’s rent and an equal deposit
  • An agency fee, which equates to about one-and-a-half month’s rent
  • Key money, a fee that some landlords charge that is equal to a month’s rent
  • Property insurance
  • A maintenance fee
  • A key exchange fee

For a typical apartment in Japan, you would pay about $3,600 just to move in.

An agent

You need an agent to show you the properties that fit your budget.

Remember, not all landlords will rent to foreigners, so an agent will only show you the properties that you’re qualified for.

But most agents work in local areas, so it’s important to know where you want to live before contacting one.

You won’t be able to see occupied houses or apartments. The agent will only show you properties that are available immediately.

Two forms of ID

In order to apply for a property, you will need to provide the agent with two forms of identification. You can show them your passport, resident card, student ID, or visa.

The copies need to be both front and back, and copies of your passport and visa need to be in color.

Did You Know?

The Japanese are obsessed with expensive fruit. You’ll find $4,000 strawberries, a bunch of red grapes for $800, and you can pay up to $27,000 for a specialty farmed melon. Even normal fruit is insanely expensive!

Employment letter or COE

Agents want to know that you can afford an apartment before they will rent it to you. To prove your income, you need to provide them with a COE, employment letter, and three months of pay slips, your latest bank statement, and if you’re unemployed, your bank book.

Here's the bad news:

Japanese agents will only rent to you if you can prove that you earn three times the price of the rent.

A guarantor

You would think that all this documentation would be enough to secure an apartment...

but it isn’t.

In addition to proving your salary and bank balance, the agent will also insist on a guarantor. This person will sign a document saying that they will be responsible for the rent if you’re unable to pay it.

The guarantor must also prove that their income is three times the rent.

If you don’t have anyone to ask, you can hire a guarantor company for about $100 to sign for you.

Using bilingual brokers

If you haven’t yet learned Japanese, you should look into hiring a bilingual brokerage service to help with finding and renting an apartment. These services work as interpreters between agents who don’t speak English and the foreigners who don’t speak Japanese.

Here's what you need to know:

The broker also helps you set up your utilities such as electric, gas, internet, and water. They will also send you a monthly email to see if you have any questions or concerns they can help you with.

Tokyo share housing

When first moving to Japan, you may not know which area you want to live in. And that’s where Tokyo share houses come in handy.

Share houses are large houses that a lot of people live in. The people who live there can be all foreigners, or it might be a mix of Gaijin and Japanese.

And here's the great thing:

These share houses are where you will pay less of a deposit. Also, you may find one offering a promotion with no deposit at all.

What’s more:

They operate on a month-to-month basis. That means if you decide you don’t like the area, you can move to another one without breaking a lease.

Home stays

If you are moving to Japan as a student, home stays may be ideal for you. When you participate in a home stay, you live with a Japanese family instead of renting an apartment of your own.

The best part is:

It reduces your costs and allows you to immerse in the culture and language fully.

Long-term home stays for students typically last two to three months. After that, you can move into a dorm or an apartment of your own.

A word about company accommodations

When you get a job with an English school, they may offer to arrange for housing for you. But most people who have experience teaching English in Japan will tell you that it’s not a good idea.

Here’s why:

When your company controls where you live, it makes it impossible to change jobs if you want to.

In addition, some unscrupulous English school tack on a lot of charges and the teacher ends up paying a lot more for housing that they would have if they’d arranged their own housing.

Keep in mind:

Not all English schools take advantage of teachers like this, but some do. And that’s why it’s always best to arrange your own housing.

How to Move Your Stuff to Japan

When moving to Japan, you have the option of taking your stuff with you or leaving it behind. But it’s not like driving across the country, so if you’re going to take it with you, it takes some careful planning.

In order to time your move so that you don’t end up in an empty apartment for months, you should work with an international shipping company.

Here's what they'll need to know:

They will ask you about your relocation date, the size of your shipment, the size of your living space in Japan, how many people are in your household, and whether or not they need to crate anything in your home for extra protection.

Documentation requirements

In addition to the documents we’ve already discussed, you will need to provide the following paperwork to bring your things into Japan.

  • An original plus two copies of the Declaration of Unaccompanied Baggage form. This states how many pieces are in each shipment. You can get the documents at the airport.
  • A complete inventory of your things. The Japanese authorities will not accept a list that is not prepared by you — the shipping company must do it.
  • The delivery address and your phone number
  • A set of keys to all your suitcases and trunks

Restricted items

The following items are restricted, and you are not allowed to take them into Japan.

Here's what could happen:

If the customs agent discovers any of these items when inspecting your shipment, it will either be shipped back or abandoned. Either way, you will be responsible for the fees.

  • Flower seeds or bulbs, rice, straw or straw items, and flour
  • Meat products, fresh fruit vegetables with the exception of pineapples and green bananas
  • Any products that come from endangered or protected species
  • Drugs or narcotics, including any cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine
  • Altered or counterfeited currency
  • Politically sensitive or pornographic materials to include pictures books, or sculptures
  • Lethal weapons to include firearms, spears, swords, blowpipes, daggers, bows and arrows, and bolos.

Things you should know about moving to Japan

In addition to the custom’s rules, you need to know about some other important things when moving to Japan.

Don’t take your car

Shipping your car to Japan is expensive and typically not worth the costs.

According to a representative from UniGroup Japan, it can cost upwards of $2,000 to have your car model approved by the Japanese authorities before bringing it in.

And they may ask you to make moderations to it to get their approval. This charge is in addition to any shipping charges you’ll incur.

Your pet will be quarantined

If you plan to take your pet when moving to Japan, you need to be aware of the pet quarantines the authorities impose.

This is what you need:

A health certificate, a certificate for a rabies vaccination, and a certificate showing that your pet is microchipped.

After you show the authorities these documents, they will inspect your pet for quarantine. If your papers are in order, the quarantine will last 12 hours or less. But if they’re not, it can last up to 180 days.

Here's the bad news:

In the end, your pet may not pass the requirements and be unable to enter the country.

Keep in mind that if you bring your pet when moving to Japan, it can make it very difficult to find a house or apartment. Many landlords won’t rent to tenants with pets.

How to Open a Bank Account in Japan

You will need to open a Japanese bank account in order to pay your rent, utilities, and other expenses. Luckily, it’s not difficult to do.

But you do need to be selective about your bank.

For example, if you open an account at a major bank, you might be charged high fees unless you keep a large balance. But one bank gets a lot of good reviews from people who have moved to Japan: Shinsei Bank.

This bank has a department that caters to foreigners moving to Japan and offers services like 24/7 ATMs and overseas remittance.

But don't worry:

The process for opening an account is simple. Just walk into a large branch and tell them you want to open an account.

You will need:

  • Your Resident card
  • Visa
  • Passport
  • Phone number
  • Address

You will also need a hanko seal. This is a stamp that you use instead of a signature, and you should purchase it at a specialty store.

And this is important:

Make sure your seal isn’t smudged, or the bank will not consider it to be valid.

Don’t be alarmed when the bank asks you if you’re a member of a criminal organization. It’s a relatively new law in the Japanese banking industry, and officers will ask all new account holders the question.

Because a Resident Card is required to open a Japanese bank account, you won’t be able to open one until you arrive in the country.

Think about borderless banking

Your other option is to conduct borderless banking. Transferwise now offers banking you can use to send and receive money in any country.

And the great news is:

They only charge a low monthly fee for the service. It’s a good alternative if you don’t want to jump through the hoops of setting up a Japanese bank account.

Did You Know?

The number four (shi) is avoided in Japan because it sounds too much like the word for death. That means buildings in Japan do not have a fourth floor and sake and tea sets come with either three to five cups.


Japanese tea ceremonies never include four people — always three or five.

How to Get WI-FI in Japan

WI-FI is pretty common in Japan, but it can be pricy unless you’re careful.

Here's a tip:

If you only need it occasionally, most hotels and banks offer free WI-FI. You’ll also find internet cafes scattered around town, along with internet kiosks.

If you want your own WIFI, you have a few options:

You can pay a monthly fee for wireless or broadband internet just like you do in the states. Or you can rent a pocket WIFI which will cost you about $5 a day. These handy little devices allow you to get internet service from anyplace in Japan.

Keep Your Resident Card Current

When you first arrived in Japan, you received a Resident Card, remember?

This card is very important to local officials, and it’s your job to keep it current.

For example, if you move locations, you will need to visit the city or ward office of your new location and register with it just as you did when you first arrived. Officials will print your new address on your card.

And if you decide to leave Japan:

You will also need to visit your city or ward office and notify them.

Now Go Have Some Fun!

Autumn scenery in Japan with a Japanese woman wearing Yukata

Image via: MIJ Miner8

Moving to Japan is a great adventure. It is exciting, fun, and at times challenging.

I know I don’t regret it.

Living in Japan opens your eyes to a whole new way of living. Once it gets in your soul, you may never look at things the same way again.

Are you excited about moving to Japan? Do you have any questions or want to share your exciting news? We would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

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