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Moving to Japan

If you’re planning a big move to the other side of the world, it’s important to know some key information in advance, from the visa you’ll need to live and work there to whether your clothes match the climate. That’s especially true when your destination is a country as well organised as Japan.

In this article, we’ll give you the key information you need to know before you move. We’ll cover the legal requirements to immigrate, an overview of the job market, the average salary and what to do about the language barrier.

Moving to Japan: requirements

Wondering how to move to Japan in the first place? It all starts with getting a visa.

When applying for a visa to live in Japan, the process is the same no matter where you currently live. You will need to contact your local Japanese Embassy or Consulate-General to apply for whichever visa is relevant to your reasons for moving to and living in Japan.

Japan’s visa categories include:

  • Temporary Visitor Visa
  • Work or Long-Term Stay Visa
  • Working Holiday Visa
  • Volunteer Visa
  • Spouse or Child of Japanese National Visa
  • Medical Stay Visa
  • Long Stay for Sightseeing and Recreation Visa

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan has restricted some of the public information it provides around visas as it is not routinely issuing them. While you should check with your embassy for specific requirements, it is likely that when you will need to provide the following when applying for your visa:

  • Your passport
  • The visa application form
  • A photograph of yourself (taken within last six months)
  • Your Certificate of Eligibility and a copy of it

If you’re planning to relocate or stay in Japan long-term, you must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Ministry of Justice in Japan. The certificate can only be acquired by your Japanese sponsor (your employer, school or spouse etc.). They will have to contact their local immigration office to apply on your behalf.

The fee for your visa will depend on your nationality. A single-entry visa is free for US citizens and costs around ¥3,308 (£22) for UK citizens. Multiple-entry visas cost about twice as much as a single-entry visa, while a transit visa is much cheaper (around ¥750 or £5). Check with your embassy to find the appropriate fees for your visa.

In terms of other expenses, the cost of shipping over your possessions will vary depending on where you send them from and the size of house. For example, shipping between the UK and Japan ranges from £2,000 to £6,000. A car shipped by sea freight will cost between £5,000 and £8,600. Depending on your lifestyle, you should have $3,000-$5,000 (that’s £2,172-£3,619, or ¥341,700-¥569,447) worth of savings to tide you over until your first paycheck.

Read our guide to the cost of living in Japan for more information on living expenses.

Finding a job

If you’re planning on working in Japan, you will need to find a job before you relocate, as your employer will need to sponsor you and get your Certificate of Eligibility. Of course, if your employer in your current country of residence is relocating you to Japan, you will not need to apply for a new position. If that’s not the case, however, here are some tips for finding a job in Japan.

English-speaking jobs are most abundant in Tokyo, but larger cities such as Osaka or Yokohama also offer similar opportunities.

The most popular employment option for people moving to Japan is to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). No teaching certification is necessary to do this, but a TEFL qualification would help and you will need a Bachelor’s degree and a clean criminal record. Salaries tend to start from $2,250 per month – although some schools offer considerably more – and rise as you become more experienced.

Consider looking for roles in some of Japan’s most popular industries, including:

  • Agriculture
  • Information technology (IT)
  • Tourism
  • Banking
  • Manufacturing
  • Transport

To find your dream job, you can browse sites like JobsInJapan, Daijob and GaijinPot Jobs.

Read our guide 'Business etiquette in Japan' to better understand the rules you should follow to increase your chances of making a good impression on potential employers.

Salary

The average salary in Japan is ¥4.09 million ($35,167/£25,462). However, the average salaries in large cities like Tokyo, Yokohama and Chiba are more than the national average. The highest-paid occupations are consulting and auditing, planning and management, engineering and technology, while the highest-ranking industries for pay are manufacturing, finance, trading, IT and communications, and medical.

Where to live

If you are moving to Japan on a work transfer, you may not have a choice where you live. But if you’re free to choose where in Japan to start your new life, here’s a quick guide to the major cities:

Tokyo

Being the capital, Tokyo is Japan’s teeming central hub. One of the world’s most populous cities, Tokyo home to around 13.2 million people – around 4% of whom are expats. The city also boasts one of the world’s dizziest skylines: you’ll find yourself surrounded by skyscrapers at every turn. There’s also a thriving cultural scene that features traditional Japanese heritage as well as hyper-modern technology. You’ll find plenty of job opportunities, too.

Osaka

After Nagoya, Osaka has the third-largest expat population in the country – 250,000 foreigners live there. As well as being Japan’s financial centre and home to companies including Panasonic and Sharp, Osaka also has plenty of historical significance – the centuries-old Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks. You’ll also find a thriving culinary scene here. Look out for Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake whose name literally means ‘whatever you like, cooked’.

Yokohama

Yokohama is a great option if you want to be nearer the busy capital. However, Yokohama is also a major city in its own right – the second most populous city in Japan, in fact. That said, its bustling urban lifestyle is tempered by its location: Yokohama is close to the sea and life is more tranquil than in Tokyo. Be sure to visit Sankei-en, a charming botanical garden popular with tourists, expats and locals alike.

Kyoto

The traditional architecture of Japan is on prominent display in Kyoto. You’ll find over 1,600 Buddhist temples here, many of them more than 1,000 years old. Kyoto is famous for matcha and sake: visit Uji for the former and Fushimi for the latter. The city is a great option if you’re looking to fully immerse yourself in Japanese culture.

Discover more about the culture and lifestyle Japan has to offer.

Finding your home

Before you move, you’ll need to have somewhere to move to. Step one to finding a home in Japan is working out whether you want to rent or buy.

Renting

When renting housing in Japan, you may be expected to provide significant cash up front. You’ll typically need to pay an agency and cover maintenance, guarantor and insurance fees. That's on top of a deposit, key money given to the landlord or property owner (known locally as reikin, which translates to ‘gratitude money’) and key exchange money.

You’ll also need to provide official documentation, including your passport, residence card, proof of residence, Japanese bank account details, tax payment slip, a character reference and a guarantor.

Buying

If you plan to buy a house in Japan, you’ll be happy to know that there are no legal requirements preventing foreigners from owning land or property in the country. However, you will need to provide written notification of purchase to the Bank of Japan within 20 days of completion.

You can use websites like Real Estate Japan and Housing Japan to find a property to rent or buy.

Language

If you don’t speak or read Japanese, you may be concerned about the language barrier. If this is the case, moving to Tokyo is the best option. Not only will more of the population speak English, but the metro lines offer signs written in English.

But wherever you choose to live, picking up a little bit of Japanese is a good idea. Here are some basic phrases to start you off:

Japanese

English

Hai

Yes

Lie

No

O-negai shimasu

Please

Arigatō

Thank you

Dōitashimashite

You're welcome

Sumimasen

Excuse me

Gomennasai

I am sorry

Ohayō gozaimasu

Good morning

Konbanwa

Good evening

O-yasumi nasai

Good night

You can expand your language knowledge by using flashcard apps like DuoLingo and Babbel. Once you feel confident enough to practise with a native speaker, you can check out websites that provide one-to-one lessons, such as Preply and iTalki.

Weather

Japan’s weather conditions offer something for everyone. The climate depends on where you live in the country and the time of year.

For example, while Japan’s Okinawa Islands offer warm sub-tropical weather year-round, Hokkaido’s temperature can drop to -8°C in winter and reach 25°C in summer. On Japan’s mainland, Honshu – home to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyōto, Osaka, and Fuji – winter temperatures range from 0 to 5°C, depending on how far north you travel. The more southerly regions also experience humid summers with temperatures reaching 35°C.

It might be the case that Japan suffers more natural disasters than your home country. This includes earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones. You can prepare by familiarizing yourself with local emergency procedures and preparations. If you do not speak Japanese, stay up to date on crisis situations by following English-speaking Twitter accounts such as Japan Safe Travel (JST), managed by Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

Health care

Japan offers universal health care to anyone living in the country for more than one year – citizens and expats alike. Residents must pay  a 30% coinsurance towards their health care costs – the rest is paid for by the government.

There are two main types of statutory care:

  • Employment-based plans for working residents
  • Residence-based plans for the elderly and unemployed

If you are self-employed or have an income that fluctuates, you can also enroll in the National Health Insurance plan by visiting your local government office. This will reduce the amount of coinsurance you must pay for care and treatments.