If you’re reading this article, you’re probably interested in moving to Japan. And if you’re interested in moving to and living in Japan, then you’ve come to the right place! Japan is a spectacular and beautiful country with a fascinating culture and history, modern cities, gorgeous countryside, and very friendly people. Oftentimes, picking up and moving can seem like the hardest thing in the world, so we’re here to help you figure out everything you need to know about moving to Japan!
1. Do I Need to Speak Japanese?
No, you don’t NEED to speak Japanese. But it will certainly help. While English is widely studied in Japan, many Japanese people don’t use their English frequently and are even too shy to try with strangers. That being said, many signs are translated and you can usually find someone to help you translate in an emergency. But just because you don’t need to speak Japanese, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least learn some. While it may seem daunting at first, the Japanese writing systems of hiragana and katakana are actually pretty easy to learn. And once you can read Japanese, it makes a world of difference in navigating your way around Japan. You can even learn hiragana and katakana for free here.
2. Can I Work in Japan?
If you want to work in Japan, you need to get a work visa. In most cases a work visa will only be granted for highly specialized skills. You won’t be able to get one to work in construction or as a waitress, for instance. If you are a skilled worker such as an engineer or business manager then you may very well be able to get a working visa. There are also working visas in Japan for artists, journalists, researchers, and a whole other list of professions. You can check out the full list of working visas here. Once you have a working visa you are free to move to Japan and pursue a career in your field. The more common way to secure a working visa is to get hired by a company first and they will sponsor you and provide you with a working visa. If you are a skilled professional, it may be time to start looking for jobs! Here is a great website with job listings in Japan and Gaijin Pot is another website that every Gaijin (外人, foreigner) should know about. Their job board has everything and can even be sorted by jobs that require no Japanese skills.
3. I’m not a highly skilled worker, what should I do?
If you don’t qualify for a working visa under one of the categories above, there is another way you can move to Japan: teach English! Teaching English in Japan, and overseas in general, is a very popular way to travel the world. Any school that hires you will provide you with the working visa you need and so long as you have a bachelor’s degree and are a native English speaker, you should be able to find a job! Keep in mind you MUST have a bachelor’s degree AND be a native speaker or have completed most of your education in an English speaking school. Most contracts last for a year, and some schools even provide free housing. You will still need to provide transportation for yourself to Japan from wherever you currently live and have some money saved up to get you through to your first paycheck. We have a much more detailed guide to teaching English in Japan here.
4. I can’t work in Japan, can I still move there?
There are certainly other non-working visas and one of the most popular is a student visa. With a student visa you are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week teaching English or working at a fast food restaurant or something else like that. You do need to apply for permission from the immigration bureau before you start working, however. If you are currently enrolled in a university, check with their study abroad program and see if Japan is an option. If you are not currently a university student, there are still other study abroad options out there. You can go here to see lots of programs that are available. You can even learn Japanese as your study abroad focus! Programs are usually either a semester, a year, or over the summer, so see what works best for you. Your host university in Japan will usually be able to help you in obtaining a student visa.
5. How do I get an apartment in Japan?
So you have your flight and your visa, but where are you going to live? If you’re studying abroad you may be living in the dorms or with a host family. If you’re moving to Japan for work then you may be on your own. Upfront costs of renting an apartment in Japan are significantly higher than they are in the United States. For an apartment that costs ¥80,000 ($675 USD) a month to rent, you will likely pay about ¥400,000 ($3400 USD) in fees. And that is for an apartment that doesn’t require key money. Key money is a large deposit paid upfront that can often equal up to a year’s worth of rent! While it’s becoming more common not to require this, you should be sure you know what you’re getting into. Getting an apartment in Japan isn’t an very easy process and you should definitely look for help from your employer in navigating these waters. Here is a more detailed guide as to what you’ll need. If you’re lucky, your employer may have an apartment already waiting for you! Score!
6. What About a Tourist Visa in Japan?
Citizens of almost every country are granted a 90 day tourist visa upon arrival into Japan. Check this official list before you start making any travel plans. In most cases you do not have to apply for the visa before you go. If you’ve saved up some money you can travel around Japan for up to 3 months, but you won’t be able to rent a long term apartment. You may be able to find a short term lease for that period of time. If you visit Japan on a tourist visa, but then decide you want to get a job, you MUST LEAVE THE COUNTRY before you can apply for a work visa. You can apply from somewhere close like China or Korea, you do not need to travel back to your home country. An exception is made for student visas. If you are traveling in Japan and decide to start studying, you may be able to get sponsored by your new school without leaving the country. People do travel to Japan on tourist visas and find work once they get there, it’s not an extremely uncommon thing. If you’re feeling lucky why don’t you just hop on a plane today and see what happens???
7. OK, I’m leaving soon, what should I bring?
Now that you have everything sorted, you’re almost ready to go! But what will you need to bring with you? Obviously Japan is a modern, industrialized country and you should be able to find almost everything you need for your apartment once you get there such as linens, towels, and other household goods. There are some things that may be harder to find in Japan like peanut butter and decaffeinated coffee. While you may be able to find these things in international or specialty stores, it’s best to bring your favorite tea or spice if you can’t live without it. You should definitely bring clothes with you (duh!) but you will probably want to buy some new things in the fashion mecca that is Japan! If you’re a very tall or big person, you may not be able to find things that fit you as Japanese clothes are not sold in XL sizes as in Western countries. Shoes especially as Japanese people have very small feet!
8. Will it be hard to get around when I get there?
This all depends on you, my friend! If you’re a relatively smart person you shouldn’t have any trouble figuring things out. There are attendants in the subway stations in Tokyo who will help you buy a ticket if you seem confused, and people at the airport will help you with which train you need to get on. Whether you’re going to a hotel or staying with friends Japan isn’t too hard to navigate and you should be able to find your way around. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll probably still get lost from time to time, but that’s half the fun of exploring a new city!
Anything else you want to know about moving to Japan? Feel free to ask in the comments below!
*All Images via Flickr