Things to Know Before Moving to Japan

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It’s a dream for many to be able to move to Japan and live there for an extended period of time, or even for the rest of their lives. Whether it will be a longer or shorter stay, the experience of living in Japan will surely enrich you and you will create many memories in the Land of the Rising Sun that will stay with you forever. Emigration is a very big step, and the process can be difficult, on the business side of things as well as mentally. But if you prepare well and know what to expect before you move, the start of your life in Japan will be a lot easier. Here, we will share some important things to know before moving to Japan that will help you on your way to a better start of your life in Japan. 

Understand the Different Japan Visa

First of all, you have to decide on which medium or long term visa you are going to enter Japan. There are many different options, of which the most common ones are the Working Holiday visa, a work visa (usually with a ‘humanities’ or ‘instructor’ specialty), a spouse visa, or a student visa. If you are from a south-east Asian country you can also try to qualify for the trainee visa. There are other visas as well, but they are mostly harder to get unless you have special circumstances or a very good financial situation. On the official homepage of Japan’s MOFA you can see an overview of all long term visas.

All visas have their own rules as to how much you can work and what jobs you can work. You have to make sure that you understand the rules for your visa category so you won’t break them and run the risk of being deported. For example, if you’re here on a student visa, you can legally work 28 hours per week next to your studies. And if you’re here on an instructor visa, you can’t take a job as a programmer unless you change your visa category. Only if you are here on a spouse visa or permanent resident visa will you have the freedom to take any job you like and work any amount of hours you like. Another good thing to know is that you are obliged to carry your residence card with you at all times.

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Plan the Must-Dos for your First Days in Japan

Within the first 14 days of moving in, certain business has to be taken care of. The very first thing to take care of after arrival is getting registered at the municipal office of your ward. Without doing that first, you, for example, can’t open up a bank account. It is a good idea to bring someone with you who can speak and read Japanese, but there is often a helpful clerk who will help you fill out the necessary documents with Google Translate. You can arrange your health insurance in the same visit if you need public health insurance.

Your next stop should be the bank. If you don’t have a job lined up yet, JP Bank will be your best bet as they accept anyone with a longer term visa also if you don’t speak Japanese. You can always open up a second bank account at a different bank after you get a job, because JP Bank doesn’t offer credit cards.

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If you want to drive in Japan, you should have an international licence or translation of your licence (depending on which country you are from) if you are planning to stay less than a year. If you are planning to stay longer, make sure to get a Japanese licence. If you are lucky, you can get one without having to take a driving test. Read this article for more information about driving in Japan.

If you are planning on using public transportation in Tokyo, get a PASMO or Suica card right after you arrive at the airport. This will make traveling by public transportation a breeze.

Learn Some Japanese

Granted, learning Japanese is not easy and will require quite a lot of study hours and practice, but it is very much worth the effort. In Japan, many people don’t speak English at all and many who do speak basic English are too shy to use it. That means that you will need some Japanese just to do your daily things. If you are planning to stay more than a few years, you will need it when you go to the doctor’s office or if you have to deal with any kind of official business. Plus, your social life will definitely become richer because of it!

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The best way to learn Japanese is also the most expensive way, and that is to go to a serious language school full-time for a while. Learning some Japanese before you come is always a good idea, and after you land you can continue. There are many great language schools in Japan’s larger cities, and another great option is going to the low-cost or even free classes that are offered in most municipal ward offices. It is a great opportunity to meet people too who are in a similar situation as you, and many people end up making friends there.

As reading will take time to learn with around 2,000 basic kanji to study before you can read like an adult, you may want to download a good translation app before you go. There is no shame in checking what kind of meat you are buying in the supermarket! The free Google Translate app is always helpful, and if you want to translate Japanese text online you can use the free website Deepl.

Get to Know the Prefectures

Of course, one of the best things about moving to Japan for an extended period of time is the opportunity to extensively travel around the country. Where most tourists only have a few weeks to try and squeeze in as much as they can, you can take your time and take many day trips, weekend trips, and longer trips without your departure date looming ever closer. And there is so much to see here! 

Wild nature in Hokkaido, endless coastlines in Tohoku, highlights like Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Takayama in the middle and south of Honshu, a pilgrimage in Shikoku or Wakayama, unique natural beauty and onsen in Kyushu, and a beach holiday in Okinawa. These are just some examples, and a lifetime is not enough to see it all.

Make it a thing to cross off places from your bucket list at least once per month, as you will definitely regret it if you live in Japan and don’t grab the chance to travel around and see all that Japan has to offer. While you can’t take advantage of the JR Pass like tourists can, there are other great discount programs such as Seishun 18  available for all Japan residents.

Learn about Natural Hazards

As you are probably aware, parts of Japan are prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, and floods. While there is no need to panic even before your plane touches down in Japan, it is good to be aware of the procedures during a disaster or after a disaster happens. You may also want to look for an apartment or house that is not in a flood hazard area or that was not built to withstand multiple heavy earthquakes. 

The Tokyo government has prepared a manual in English that is easy to understand and explains well what you can do to minimize the impact a disaster would have on you and your family. We recommend you to read this before you come to Japan, and to make sure where the disaster evacuation areas are in the neighborhood you are going to be living in.

Meet Online Friends in Japan

Nowadays, things are so much easier when it comes to getting to know people from all over the world compared to how it was when we still depended on snail mail. So why not try to make some friends in Japan online before you actually move there? It feels a lot better moving somewhere new when you already have a few meetings with new friends lined up. Many Japanese people are interested in language exchange where you teach them your native language or English, and they teach you Japanese.

You can also focus on people who are in the same boat as you and moved to Japan (recently) from abroad, as it can be easier to connect with people who go through a similar experience and with whom you can discover Japan together. Or even better, why not try meeting a few Japanese people and some fellow expats? With different friends you can talk about and have different experiences, which can only enrich your Japan adventure.

After Arriving in Japan

One of the best things to do just after you arrive in Japan, also for long-termers, is to do a private tour with an experienced local guide. This way, you will not only have a fun time and hear the ins and outs about Japanese culture, history, and the places you visit, but you can also ask a real insider for their best local tips. Any question you have about the area can be answered according to the latest information, and they can introduce you to everything a new local should know. 
We offer private tours in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and other smaller cities in Japan. Check out all our tours here: Japan Wonder Travel Tours!

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Happy travelling!

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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.

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