Japan is home to a unique and vibrant culture, along with stunning natural landscapes and exciting, ultra-modern cities. Additionally, Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. While there are many advantages to living in Japan, moving to any new country requires careful preparation and a lot of adjustment. If you want to live in Japan, you will need to secure the right documents, find a place to live, and make sure that you have a source of income. Learn how to manage the ins and outs of daily life in Japan, and take time to get familiar with Japanese culture.
EditMoving to Japan
- Obtain a passport. You will need a passport to enter Japan. The passport must be recent enough that it will be valid for the entire period of time that you intend to stay in Japan. If you don’t have a passport already, you will need to apply for one well in advance of when you plan to go to Japan.
- In the US, a routine passport application may take more than 4-6 weeks to process. If you need a passport more quickly, you can apply for expedited service for an additional fee.
- Acquire a Certificate of Eligibility. In order to qualify for an extended stay (6 months to 5 years) or residency in Japan, you will need a Certificate of Eligibility. To get a Certificate of Eligibility, you will need to specify what types of activities you plan to carry out while in Japan (e.g., working, studying, or living in Japan as the spouse or dependent of a permanent resident), and provide evidence that you will have financial support while you live in Japan.
- It may take 1-3 months to complete the application process.
- You can submit the application yourself, or the application may be completed by a staff member at an organization sponsoring you in Japan (e.g., a company that has hired you).
- You will need to submit a copy of your application form, along with a by 3 cm (1.6 in by 1.2 in) photo of yourself, a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and any required supporting documents. Send these materials to the regional immigration office where you plan to reside.
- Visit the Immigration Bureau of Japan’s website on applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to get application forms and view a list of supporting documents (these vary depending on what you plan to do in Japan): http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/01.html
- Apply for a visa to live or work in Japan. Once you have a Certificate of Eligibility, you can apply for a visa. The procedure will vary depending on what you are planning to do during your stay in Japan. You can apply for a visa at your local Japanese consulate. You will need:
- A completed visa application form, available here: http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/j/download/VISA_APPLI.pdf
- A passport-sized photo.
- A copy of your Certificate of Eligibility, along with any other required documents for the specific type of work, study, or other activities you plan to do in Japan.
- Get a resident card. Once you are in Japan, you will need to obtain a resident card. If you arrive at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, or Kansai Airport, you can get your resident card at the same time that you get your passport stamped. Otherwise, the Regional Immigration Office in the area where you plan to live will mail the resident card to you at your place of residence in Japan within a few days of your arrival.
- Once you have your resident card, carry it with you at all times. The Japanese Police are legally authorized to ask to see your card at any time.
- If you make any changes to your place of residence, you will need to inform your municipal office so that your card information can be updated.
- You can apply to have your card replaced or your residency period extended at your Regional Immigration Office.
- Find a place to live. If you are working or studying in Japan, your employer or school may help set you up with a place to stay. However, you may be able to save money or find a place you like better by finding an apartment on your own. If you want to find your own lodgings, check out listings on foreigner-friendly housing sites like apartments.gaijinpot.com or realestate.co.jp.
- Unless you are very proficient in Japanese, it is easiest to find a find a place with the help of a real estate agent. Most agents charge a fee that is equivalent to 1 month’s rent in the property that you choose.
- Most landlords in Japan will not rent to you unless you have a guarantor who is willing to vouch for your ability to pay rent. Ask your employer, a friend, or a relative in Japan to be your guarantor.
- Be prepared to pay substantial upfront charges when you move in, including a security deposit and a “key money” (reikin) fee that may be equivalent to up to 3 months’ rent.
- While you’re looking for a permanent home, you can save money by staying in a share house.
EditGetting Work in Japan
- Research the requirements for the job you want. There are careers available in numerous industries for people who want to immigrate to Japan. The work and visa requirements may vary depending on the kind of job you are looking for. For example, while some types of work may require a 4 year university degree, others may only require that you have a certain amount of experience in your field.
- For example, to get a work visa as an Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services, you need either 3 years of experience in your field or a university degree.
- Even if your work visa does not require a degree, you may need a degree for the specific job you are interested in.
- Find out if the jobs you are interested in require other qualifications. For example, if you want to teach English, you may need a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA).
- Make use of Japanese job boards to find postings. There are several job boards that specialize in jobs for foreigners looking for work in Japan. Explore websites like Daijob.com or GaijinPot.com to find jobs in your field.
- Create an appropriate resume. Many jobs in Japan require that you submit your resume in a very specific format. The company may provide its own resume form, or you can download a standard template from the web. Do an internet search for “rirekisho template” to find standard resume forms.
- The resume typically includes sections on your academic history, employment history, other qualifications (e.g., licenses or language certifications), general information (this is where you would describe your personal interest in the job), and requests (e.g., salary requirements or desired work hours).
- If you are not proficient in Japanese, ask someone who knows Japanese to help you fill out the application form.
- Get a headshot for your resume. Japanese resumes include a passport-sized photo in the top righthand corner. Most metropolitan areas in Japan have numerous photo booths specifically made for taking resume photos. Make sure that you appear professional in your photo.
- Wear formal business attire and a neat, conservative hairstyle. Don’t let your hair cover any part of your face. Shave any facial hair before getting your photo taken.
- Face the camera directly, and use a friendly but restrained facial expression (i.e., alert and smiling slightly, rather than grinning or frowning).
- Take a Japanese Language Proficiency Test to be more marketable. If you want to live and work in Japan, having a good grasp of the Japanese language is a big advantage. Some jobs may require you to prove your proficiency by providing a Japanese Language Proficiency Test certificate. Having a JLPT certificate can also help you earn points toward becoming a permanent resident.
- You can take the JLPT either in Japan or overseas.
- To find a testing location near you outside of Japan, visit the JLPT Overseas Index here: http://www.jlpt.jp/e/application/overseas_index.html
- To take the test in Japan, fill out an application on the JEES website: http://info.jees-jlpt.jp/?lang=english
- Testing dates and application deadlines vary depending on your region and the host institution for the exam. Carefully read all application requirements for your area.
EditManaging Daily Life
- Get familiar with local laws. While you are living and working in Japan, you will need to behave appropriately and follow the law. Penalties for even minor offenses can be fairly severe. If you have any questions about what is legal or illegal in Japan, visit your country’s consulate or embassy for information.
- Be especially cautious when bringing drugs or medications into Japan. Recreational drugs are illegal in Japan, and many prescription or over-the-counter medications that are legal in other countries are prohibited in Japan. Check Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare site to find out which drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices you can bring with you: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/policy/health-medical/pharmaceuticals/01.html
- Assess your transportation needs. Depending on where you live, you may be able to use public transit. If you live in a more remote area or have to commute a long distance to work, you will probably need to use a car. If this is the case, you must get an International Driving Permit (IDP). To legally drive in Japan, you will need both an IDP and a valid driver’s license issued in your home country. The IDP is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.
- Procedures for getting an IDP vary by country. In the US, you can apply for an IDP through your local AAA office or the National Automobile Club. In the UK, you can apply for an IDP at selected Post Office branches.
- Budget for the cost of living in your area. The cost of living in Japan can be high, but it varies depending on where you live. For example, the cost of living in Tokyo is about 10% higher than the national average. Do an online search for the average cost of living in the part of Japan where you plan to live, taking into account your expected salary and family size.
- Be prepared for limited living space. Apartments in Japan might be pretty different from what you are used to. They are typically smaller than apartments in America, for example. A family of 3-4 in Japan might live in an apartment that is about 63 square meters (678 sq. ft.) Additionally, apartments in Japan are typically unfurnished. You will probably have to buy your major appliances (such as the refrigerator and washing machine), and you may even have to buy ceiling lights and curtains.
- Locate the nearest clinic for medical services. Look in your phone book or do an internet search for clinics in your municipality. If you need more specialized or urgent care, you can visit a hospital. Some clinics and hospitals may offer foreign language services.
- If you aren’t proficient in Japanese, bring someone with you to the clinic or hospital who can interpret for you.
- Japan’s public health insurance system will cover about 70% of most medical services. However, some conditions and services are not covered. Ask your employer in Japan about how to enroll for Employees Health Insurance.
EditAdapting to Japanese Culture
- Read up on Japanese customs and etiquette. The rules of polite social interaction in Japan are complex, and may be very different from what you are used to. Before moving to Japan, get an up-to-date guidebook, chat with someone who knows Japanese culture well, and read blogs about life in Japan. Minimize misunderstandings and culture shock by familiarizing yourself with Japanese etiquette. Just a few things to keep in mind include:
- Tipping for service is not usually done, and may be considered impolite.
- If you are invited into someone’s home, you should always bring a gift for your host.
- The exchanging of business cards is an integral part of any introduction in a professional setting, and it is impolite to put away the other person’s business card until you are done conversing.
- Take Japanese language lessons. Knowing the Japanese language will make it much easier for you to live and work in Japan. Before moving to Japan, consider signing up for a course, taking private lessons, or using language learning software like Rosetta Stone or Duolingo.
- Explore and try new things. The best way to get familiar with Japanese culture is to experience it. Ask a friend, a coworker, or a classmate for advice on interesting things to see and do, or see if they are willing to show you around. Take time to explore the area where you live, and get to know your new neighbors.
- If you know any other expats from your own country who have more experience with life in Japan, reach out to them. They may be able to help you connect with your new home and feel more comfortable.
- If you know anyone else from your country who lives in Japan or has lived there in the past, reach out to them before you move. Talk to them about their experiences and ask if they have any useful advice. They may have tips that you won’t find in the guidebooks!