So you have got a job in Japan, or you are relocating to the Japan branch within your company.
It’s gonna be an exciting and eventful time.
I had the chance to experience this a year back, moving to Tokyo without knowing much Japanese (save for the usual arigatos and ohayos).
You can get by quite comfortably in Tokyo without Japanese language skills, since most retail staff in touristy and CBD areas (Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku) speak English. No worries on that. I can’t say the same for other cities, or in the more residential areas in Tokyo. That said, Japanese folks are polite and friendly, and will go out of their way to understand you and help you to understand them. Sign language and facial expression works wonder. Just be polite and humble, and you will be fine.
As with any country, moving to a new place without knowing the language can be daunting initially. Fortunately, Japan (or at least Tokyo) has a huge amount of foreigners and is used to English speakers.
There are many things to set up (bank, phone, apartment), and the order matters.
And with the aid of this guide, you should face relatively few issues in getting your life set up.
So I am assuming that you have an approved work Visa provided by your company. In my case, it is attached to a page in my passport. When you reach the airport, the friendly folks at the immigration counter will create a residence card for you. Keep it safe, as that is your identify card in Japan. You will need this card at airports, and also when you are applying for other stuff.
On the back of your residence card, you will see space for your address. What you need to do is to go to the ward office in your residence area to update your address. It doesn’t matter if your initial accommodation is temporary. Head down to the ward office, fill in some forms, and have your address updated. You will need this information of your residence card to get a phone number and open a bank account.
When you move to your permanent apartment, be sure to head to your old ward office to settle the “move out” procedures, and pop by your new ward office to “move in”.
Yea, some leg work required. But the staff and friendly and speak decent English, so you should be done pretty quickly if there isn’t a queue.
At the ward office, you can also get a form to confirm that you are indeed staying at that ward. Some property agent requires that to help you secure your permanent accommodation so it might be worthwhile to get it the first time, to save you from making another trip. That cost around USD$3-4.
The next thing you need is a Japan phone number. The most natural choice is Softbank, as they are one of the biggest telco company in the country, and their retail shops are everywhere. I find that their phone plans are quite expensive, at around 50USD for the most basic level, and you don’t get much. There is also a 2 year contract, which is usual for most companies anyway.
Search online, and you will find some smaller companies who are able to give you cheaper alternatives.
Some say that the service level is lower, the connectivity may be an issue etc, but I have friends who sign up for a couple of them and they don’t face much more issues that they were in their home countries.
Try stores such as LABO or BIC Camera in touristy areas such as Shibuya. They have pre and post-paid plans. I am assuming you will need a post-paid plan if you are gonna work in Japan for a while.
Ask the staff if the plans are available for foreigners, and if you can pay with a foreign credit card. I got mine from Yahoo Mobile, which uses the signal from Docomo. I don’t face much issues since I mainly use it for the data. It may not be the cheapest so do shop around. My plan is around 30USD for 4-5GB.
Online providers can offer a rolling monthly contract. Retail shops usually require you to commit to 2 years. If you need to leave Japan before 2 years, the termination fee is around USD100-200 for Yahoo Mobile. Do check this detail for other telcos.
Once you have a phone number, you can create a bank account. You will need that to credit your salary to it for avoiding exchange rate, and perhaps to transfer cash to and from Japan.
Not all banks cater to foreigners. My friends and I use Shinsei bank. Check out their website to look for outlets with English speaking staff. In Tokyo, there are 2. Pop by to get a queue number and await your turn.
From experience, it takes some time. From meeting the staff assisting me to walking out with a bank account, it took around 45 mins to an hour. You also get to choose the colour of your ATM card. You can get 6-7 default colours immediately. For fancier choices (they have lots of those), you will need to wait for a week.
It might be hard for foreigners to apply for credit cards. Shinsei bank has something called a Gaica card, which acts as a cash card. You can transfer funds from your bank account to your Gaica account, and use it for online and offline purchases. It is pretty convenient.
When I was signing up with Shinsei, they told me that if my balance falls below a certain amount (I think is USD$10,000), there will be a charge of around USD$1 whenever I make a withdrawal from an ATM. That’s crazy in my opinion. But to remove the withdrawal fee, all I had to do is to apply for a Gaica card, for free. Since there is no loss and the Gaica card is useful, I went ahead with it. I think you should too.
Certain companies in Japan requires you to have a name stamp, instead of your signature. This may be required when you are signing the contract for your apartment, or official work documents.
The huge discount store Don Quijote has a machine in certain stores where you can create these stamps yourself, for less than USD$10. You can also find retail shops that carves it for you, starting at USD$20. They have many options. You can go for the pricer options if you want to keep that as a souvenir. Take note that the name has to match your name on your residence card.
Due to the size, the stamp will usually contain just part of your name.
You can also get an official form for your name stamp at the ward office if your company requires it.
This is a private number that you will need to access your personal information in Japan, which I believe relates to tax and pension. It will be sent to your first address. If you are moving out of your temporary accommodation within weeks, request for the owner or hotel staff to forward the mail to you.
Now comes the exciting and taxing part. You will need a housing agent who speaks English. Search online, ask a friend, or check out the various property shops scattered around town. They are obvious to find as they have floor plans all over their shop front.
Prepare for 1-2 months of security deposit, 1-2 months advance rent, 1-2 months “key money”, and a USD$200-300 for lock changing and insurance.
Key money is a concept in Japan where the money is given to the landlord to thank him/her for the opportunity to rent the place. Yea, that’s what it is. Luckily, not all landlord enforces that, so you can ask your agent to look for a unit that doesn’t have such a thing.
All in all, whatever your monthly rental Budget is, you will need to prepare 4-6 months of that to be paid when you move in.
And when you move in, the apartment will be empty. So you will need funds to get a bed, washing machine, fridge, TV etc.
Yes that’s a lot of cash required. If you are not particular about owning second hand items, join Facebook groups such as “Sayonara Sale” and “Mottainai Japan” to get items for cheap or even free. You might need to arrange for a lorry to pick up bulky item. There are English services for that so no worries. All the information are available in those groups. Just ask.
Apartment contracts are usually 2 years as well, with a penalty of 1-2 months if you break it early.
You may also want to check out community apartments, where you have privacy of your own unit, but there are common spaces to hang out with other residences. Contracts are shorter and the rent is slightly higher, but it is good for making friends.
Wish to find out how much you earn after tax to estimate your rental budget? Use this link for a very rough gauge.
ATMs are available in convenience stores, which are basically everywhere. Always keep some cash with you, as there are eateries that do not accept cards (especially those traditional stores selling authentic and delicious food).
Inter-bank transfers are expensive. Go with Transferwise. The fees are slightly lower, and they are pretty reliable. I think they should pay me for giving them a shoutout.
If you are getting around by bus or train, you will need a Pasmo card. You can easily get it at any subway / metro station. They have English options on the screen. If you face issues, just ask the train staff. Also consider getting the train pass, available per month, 3 months and 6 months. Once you have picked 2 stations (generally your home and your office), you can take u limited trips among any stops within these 2 stations. You will be saving lots of cash with these passes. The train pass will be encoded within your Pasmo card
And that has been my process for moving in and adjusting to life in Tokyo. I can’t speak for all cities, but Tokyo has been a really easy place to get comfortable in, once you are done with all the nitty gritty of moving in.
Be polite to the locals, smile, slow down your pace of speaking English, take up some Japanese classes, and you will have a great time.