What You Need To Know Before Moving to Japan

Moving to Japan

There are so many people who think about venturing away from their homeland and moving to Asia, specifically Japan. There is so much rich culture in Japan and many find that once they start researching the country, they find it irresistible.

From martial arts to anime, to the food and history of Japan, there are so many things about the culture to fall in love with. While this sounds like an incredible adventure, there are some important things to think about before you buy your tickets.

Here is a list of some of the major things to keep in mind before moving to Japan.

Table of Contents

Acquired a VISA

First and foremost, you will need to get your visa in order. While it is possible to visit Japan for up to three months on a tourist visa, if you plan on living there, then you will need to get sponsored by your job.

Usually, the first visa acquired by expats will be a one-year visa with the option of renewal. This is paramount if you are planning on staying in Japan for any length of time over three months.

Having your visa granted will give you access to the country and will get you a “gaijin” or foreigner card. This is your main form of identification in Japan and will need to be on you at most times.

Once your visa is settled with your job and immigration, this will open you up to actually establishing yourself in Japan. It is highly recommended that you get your visa status sorted out before entering the country.

Job Hunting in Japan

Night Shot of Shinjyuku Tokyo
Greater Tokyo area cityscape at night.

As mentioned before, most jobs that are open to foreigners will sponsor your visa. If you are able, you can kill two birds with one stone by looking for an appropriate job first, which will then in turn support your visa sponsorship.

When job hunting, there are many different options to choose from as an expat.

The main job that most people will get is some form of English instructor. This can be through companies like Altia Co. Ltd. which work directly with public school systems to place foreigners in assistant English teaching positions.

There are also private schools and international schools which provide slightly better salaries and working conditions. These types of schools often give more leadership positions to foreigners, as opposed to the ALT positions, in which the teacher is usually supporting a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE).

There are other opportunities for expats like teaching in high schools or universities, however with these positions, you will need to have previous teaching experience as well as some form of educational background.

A new expat moving to Japan must understand that while the cost of living is lower in Japan, the salaries for these positions are not like many Western jobs.

An ALT position will likely only give you around a 250,000 JPY ($2100) per month salary.

Private and international schools are where the salary gets a bit higher, but tend to max out around 350,000 JPY ($3000) per month.

Being an English teacher in Japan does not pay very much and many foreigners in Japan will likely have a few side hustles to make more money.

This is mainly because many foreigners who move to Japan do not often stay for more than a year or two. Therefore, companies will not give very high salaries.

While it is possible for foreigners to establish businesses in Japan, it is much more complicated and often requires a Japanese partner in the endeavor. This is usually related to those that wish to start their own English school, or perhaps a bar, or music venue.

However, in these situations, it is better to have a Japanese liaison to help with additional paperwork and translations.

Finding A New Home in Japan

Once you have established a job with proper visa sponsorship, it will be time to start looking for where you will live.

Depending on the company, they will likely help you find an apartment or at least bring you to one of the many real estate companies that will help you look for a place to live.

This is done much more easily after you have actually arrived in the country, however, this can be done before you get there. Apartments are labeled differently in Japan than other countries, so be sure to understand what kind of apartment you are getting before you sign any contracts.

It should be mentioned that many foreigners often will take any job and any apartment in their first year just to get them established in Japan. After that first year and a bit better understanding of the country, they will then find a better job and better living space.

Furthermore, while you may request and want to live in Tokyo, you may not be positioned there.

So keep yourself open to living in other parts of Japan.

Do some research on other areas of the country so that you can give your company a few different options. Most expats that request Tokyo or Osaka are usually not positioned there for their jobs. These companies need people in more rural areas of the country.

Culture Shock

Shoes Taken Off at Entrance of Home Japan
Taking your shoes off at the entrance of many buildings and homes is a common Japanese tradition.

While many people study about Japan before they get there, it should be noted that foreigners get a massive shock when they are exposed to the culture of Japan. There are many things that are different about the country.

Many Japanese people tend to look the other way when a foreigner does not fully understand the cultural norms, but occasionally, some Japanese people will take it upon themselves to stare you down or yell at you for not knowing the rules.

One common example of this is how Japanese people take their shoes when entering certain buildings and homes.

Or how it is considered rude to talk on your phone on public transport. Little cultural rules like these can be researched before you arrive in the country, but do expect some misunderstandings to occur.

Japanese people pride themselves on proper manners and while, as a foreigner, you are forgiven for certain cultural faux pas, it is expected that you adapt to the culture.

Saving Money

With all of the costs that will present themselves before you move to Japan, it is necessary for an expat to have several thousand dollars ready to go before making the move.

Obviously, the more money you have beforehand, the easier the transition will be, but overall, you should be looking at around $3000 of cash in the bank. This will handle any cost of living that you will need before your first paycheck.

This is partly due to the cost of the flight, down payment of an apartment, necessities, and many other costs that will come up in your first few months.

Apartments will run you a lot as there are down payment costs, which can run a full month’s rent. Rent in Japan can be anywhere from 60,000 – 100,000 JPY ($600 – $1000) per month, depending on how large the apartment is and its location.

Many apartments also require a “key money” charge to the landlord, which is around a full month’s rent, and a cleaning fee, which is around 20,000 JPY ($200).

There are also additional costs that tend to pop up for new expats, so having some backup money on-hand will make the transition so much easier. This is also partly due to the fact that unlike many other countries that pay workers every two weeks, Japanese companies will only pay you once a month.

On top of that, a new person working in Japan will usually have to wait two months before they see their first paycheck, so it is important to make sure to have at least a few thousand dollars saved up before you go.

Rebuilding Your Life

Pack light. It may be a bit intimidating to move to another country, but rest assured, Japan is not so different from most Western countries. Anything that you own in your home country can easily be acquired in Japan.

Therefore, make sure you prioritize what you will need in the first couple of months. Once a steady paycheck starts coming in, you’ll be able to buy anything else that you need. It often takes new expats a few months to have a fully furnished apartment.

That being said, take only what you need to survive the first few months. Do not plan on packing anything that you can buy over there. Otherwise, you are just overburdening yourself.

Make the transition easier by only packing necessities like clothes, some toiletries, any other specialty items that you think you might need.

Moving to Japan can be a rewarding and amazing experience, but make sure to do your due diligence before you make the move. Research different companies before just blindly accepting a position that will make you miserable.

The last thing anyone wants to do is to put themselves in a bad situation.

Get on social media platforms and speak to others who have already done it. Most foreigners will be happy to share their experiences with you and help you along your way.


I've been a college coach for going on 20 years now and that career has led Jen and I on quite the journey. We've lived in 7 different states and have moved a dozen different times. We've learned A LOT over the course of all those moves and we want to pass on our knowledge to help others going through the moving process.

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