HomeExpatsLiving AbroadMoving to Japan: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Moving to Japan: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Moving to any country is a big decision and a difficult endeavor. However, moving to Japan, specifically, has a very specific set of challenges. In this article, we will dive into everything you need to know in order to move to the land of the rising Sun.

Below you can find general information about Japan, what the visa and naturalization process entails, what you can expect from the job market, and more.

Money Transfer Comparison
Fill in the form and we’ll find you the best rates.
United Kingdom

Checklist for Moving to Japan

As in any other country, visa regulations and bureaucratic requirements vary based on a multitude of factors. However, there are some basic steps that you need to take care of and prepare before you begin your journey.

Here is a handy checklist of things you need to bring:

  • Passport

  • Accompanying visa paperwork

  • Drivers license

  • All diplomas and certificates

  • Medical records

  • Marriage certificate

  • Birth certificate

  • Covid vaccine proof

Japanese Visas, Work Permits, and Residency Requirements

Visas in Japan can be roughly divided into two main categories:

  • Short-term stay

  • Long-term stay

There are also special visas for medical stay, as well as visa exemptions for officials and diplomats.

Short-Term Stay

Now, short-term stay refers to visits to friends and relatives, tourism, and business. If you come to Japan for a short-term visit, you cannot stay in the country for more than 90 days. Note that there are more than 60 countries that can enter Japan without a visa. So, a Japanese visa for US citizens isn't necessary, for example.

These short-term visas need to be renewed if one wishes to stay longer. Furthermore, if one wishes to leave Japan before the expiry of the 90-day period, their visa will be void, and they will have to go through the process all over again. Business travelers, however, can apply for multiple-entry visas.

Long-Term Stay

Long-term stay includes several subtypes of visas, such as:

  • General visa

  • Work visa

  • Specified visa

  • Highly skilled professional visa

  • Startup visa

Japan’s visa requirements and regulations are different if you want to stay longer. A work visa can let you stay in Japan anywhere between three months and five years. The work visa includes a whole host of activities, including teaching, arts, researching, nursing, accounting, business management, journalism, religious activities, etc.

To apply, besides the basics like your passport and the right forms from the Japanese immigration bureau, you also need to include documentation for your work. This refers to evidence of your employment, proof of your academic history, and things like evidence of artistic achievement, along with all of the documents your employer in Japan asks for.

The general visa includes exchange students, interns, as well as trainees. It also includes people studying the Japanese language and culture, as well as family members (dependents) of people living in Japan on a work visa.

Documentation can include paperwork from your school or the institution providing you with training. If you're a dependent, you need to have authorized marriage and/or birth certificates.

Highly skilled professional visas are awarded to people who excel in their fields. They, and their dependents, have an almost guaranteed five-year stay and have an easier time moving to Japan.

Startup visas are for people who want to start a company in Japan. They need to present a proper business plan and other required documentation to the right municipality office. They can stay in the country for six months.

Finally, specified visas include spouses of Japanese nationals, or their biological children, as well as spouses of permanent residents. They can also include people with Japanese ancestry.

Permanent Residency and Naturalization

We also have to mention permanent residency. Namely, permanent residence gives one the right to permanently stay in Japan with no restrictions. You can come and go as you please, start a business, find any job.

It also means you won't have to renew your visa, you won't lose your permanent resident status from spousal death or divorce, and it makes it easier to get loans and purchase property.

In order to become a permanent resident, you need to:

  • Have good conduct

  • Have the assets or ability to live independently in Japan

  • Have stayed in Japan for more than ten years, consecutively

  • Have never broken the law

These are just some of the regular rules. On this page, you can read more about the exceptions and special requirements.

However, if you decide to go through the lengthy process of naturalization (gaining Japanese citizenship), then you get some added benefits. Namely, you get the right to vote, it becomes easier to find jobs, and you get the right to work as a civil servant.

Note that in order to become a citizen, you will need to forfeit your previous citizenship, even if your country of origin allows for dual citizenship.

Moving to Japan

Moving Your Things to Japan

Moving your stuff to Japan is fairly straightforward but note that custom restrictions in Japan are strict. In order to carry anything with you, you need to fill out a Declaration of Personal Effects and Unaccompanied articles form.

Moving Your Pets to Japan

Moving to Japan with pets requires keeping them in quarantine for a specific amount of time (which depends on the animal). Furthermore, the quarantine can cost anything between $100 and $1,000.

Dogs and cats only need to be guaranteed for 12 hours. Both need to have a complete checkup done before you get them into Japan. As an example, they need to have undergone a rabies test within six months of their arrival on the island.

Moving Your Vehicle to Japan

In order to relocate your vehicle to the country, you need to get the CPD (Carnet de Passages en Douane) documentation. Authentication of said CPD documents amounts to roughly $25.

Living in Japan as a foreigner doesn't mean you can stick to an IDP and call it a day. An International Driving Permit allows you to drive in Japan, as a foreigner, for a maximum of 12 months. Also, note that these permits cannot be obtained in Japan but need to be acquired in your home country.

After a year passes, you need to check with the Japan Automobile Federation on whether you can just get a translation of your country's driver's license or if you will need to pass a Japanese driver's exam.

Adapting to Life in Japan


Now, the thing with Japan is that it has very different and varied climates for such a relatively small region. To get the most out of your Japan relocation, you need to get accustomed to the weather. Its climate has four seasons that can be categorized as subtropical in the south while also being subarctic in the north.

Namely, Western Japan has very humid and hot summers, while its winters are relatively mild. Northern Japan, on the other hand, has pleasant summers, but its winters are very cold, and you can expect a great deal of snow in its mountainous region.

Eastern Japan has hot and humid summers, just like Western Japan, but its winters can also get very cold and are accompanied by a ton of snow.

Culture and Language

Note that while 2.19% of the total population in Japan is comprised of expats (roughly 126,000 people), almost three-quarters come from surrounding Asian countries. It will not be easy to find like-minded individuals as a Westerner, but it's definitely possible.

Moving to Japan from the US can be challenging. Culture shock is a very real thing, and getting accustomed to the different food, culture, and language can be a challenge for many Westerners.

One of the major shocks and points of contention revolves around Japanese communication. On one hand, the Japanese are very polite. On the other hand, Westerners might see this type of communication as beating around the bush too much.

Cost of Living in Japan

As in any other country, the cost of living varies depending on the place you live. As expected, life in Tokyo will be much more expensive than life in the countryside. With that in mind, we will do some rough estimates below.

First, a family of four can expect their estimated monthly costs to amount to $3,126.21 (¥430,515.02) per month without rent. Costs for a single person amount to $874.81 (¥120,359.45), also without rent. This is roughly 10% to 20% lower than the US average.

For a 915 square foot (85m2) apartment, utilities and internet, amount to roughly $200 (¥27,500).

A big chunk of the average cost of living in Japan is rent. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $705 (¥97,131.79), while a three-bedroom apartment can cost you $1,354 (¥186,306.74) on average.

When it comes to food, your best bet are local supermarkets. They are always filled with fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruit. Of course, there are also many small diners and restaurants in every part of every city in Japan. And a meal there usually won't set you back more than $7 to $21 (¥1000 to ¥3000).

So, with regular grocery shopping and home cooking, and a treat at a restaurant from time to time, a family of four can expect an average monthly food cost of $581 (¥80,000).

Of course, a move to Japan, or any other country, needs to take into account gas prices. As far as gas goes, it's about ¥617 yen per gallon ($4.5 dollars), which is roughly 25% higher than in the United States.

One thing you should never miss out on is the Japanese karaoke experience, where an hour costs around $15 (¥200). Movie tickets are around $7 to $14 (¥1000 to ¥2000), while concert tickets in Tokyo and Osaka can set you back around $35 (¥6000).

Cheapest and Most Expensive Japanese Cities

Despite being the size of California, Japan has the eleventh highest population in the world. Its high population density, coupled with vast geographical differences between regions, means that life in one city can be substantially different from another. We might all like the idea of living in Tokyo, but that might not be feasible in reality.

With that in mind, let's consider the most affordable and most expensive cities in Japan.

Top 5 most affordable Japanese cities:

  • Sapporo

  • Kyoto

  • Kawasaki

  • Fukuoka

  • Kamakura

Top 5 most expensive Japanese cities:

  • Tokyo

  • Nermia

  • Shibuya

  • Minato

  • Sendai

Japanese Transport and Infrastructure

Japan’s public transportation system is famous for its efficiency and quality. Its train system can bring you to any part of the country quickly and easily. And the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) network runs at speeds of 200 miles per hour. Any American living in Japan needs to get acquainted with its train system.

Their trains are very punctual, and in places like Tokyo, you can expect one to come every few minutes. However, keep in mind that in large cities, trains, while clean and quiet, are often packed to the brim with passengers during rush hour.

Japan also has excellent taxis and buses, and offers great plane transportation. Keep in mind, though, that taxis can actually be very expensive, compared to buses, where the fare is pretty cheap.

Japan's infrastructure is just as good. Its roads and projects are handled by both private companies and by government institutions. The power grid is stable, the roads are mostly well-maintained, and telecommunications work like a dream.

Working in Japan

Japanese work culture is infamous for its long hours and poor work-life balance. In fact, 25% of full-time employees had over 80 hours of overtime in a single month, while 12% had more than 100. The same behavior is expected of people who came here on Japanese working visas.

Hierarchy is also very important, where an inordinate amount of respect and value is placed on higher-ranking senior employees. Finally, an important part of workplace culture is having a drink with your colleagues after work.

The Japanese unemployment rate is very low, at 2.6%. In comparison, the US is at 3.7%.

As far as job opportunities are concerned, you need to keep in mind that it will be much easier to find a job if you're already in the country. Furthermore, having at least an intermediate mastery of the language is a must. They also expect a university degree. You can also expect better options if you fulfill all the Japanese citizenship requirements and are aiming to become a citizen.

The yearly average salary in Japan amounts to $41,000 (¥4,530,000) per year. However, as with anything else, this depends on the industry and the region you are in.

For example, you can expect higher salaries in Tokyo while working in IT, banking, and finance. The average salary for people in the education industry, language teaching being a common choice for expats, is $31,700 (¥3,5000,000) per year.

Japanese Healthcare

Healthcare in Japan is excellent and free for all citizens, expats, and foreigners. However, there is a caveat. If you're a non-citizen, your stay needs to last longer than a year in order to get access to their universal healthcare system.

In fact, there are even special Japanese visas for medical care.

On the other hand, if your stay is shorter or if you're a student, you need to register through the National Health Insurance system. People on work visas can expect to get a healthcare plan through their employer. If you're unemployed or self-employed, you need to register with the NHI.

School and Higher Education in Japan

The Japanese school system is excellent, with a strong focus on community and unity. Children have six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, and three years of regular high school. Then, you can choose a two- or three-year junior college or a four-year college.

Keep this in mind whether you want to start a family here or if you’re thinking of coming on a Japanese student visa.

Compulsory education includes elementary school and junior high school, nine years in total. The school year begins in April and ends in March, with every year having three semesters.

Japanese students regularly achieve high levels of success in science-related areas. They also have high enrolment levels, where 50% of citizens have at least some college education.

A very strong part of Japanese education consists of student clubs. These are clubs dedicated to various sports, like baseball, basketball, judo, and swimming, as well as activities such as drama, art, literature, and choir.

Japanese Finances, Taxes, and Remittances

As a foreigner, you can only open a bank account if you're currently in Japan (with very few exceptions). Furthermore, some banks might only allow foreigners who have lived in Japan for at least half a year. Having a permanent residency in Japan is your best bet.

Keep in mind that remittance services usually have a limit somewhere between ¥500,000 and ¥1,000,000 (roughly $4,500 to $9,500). Of course, the fees and the conversion rates depend on the bank.

Your best bet when it comes to sending money to Japan or receiving it while in Japan would be to go with a money transfer service since you will most likely get better rates and lower fees compared to banks.


First, let's talk a little bit about income tax. As long as you're working in Japan, you're going to be paying income tax, no matter if you're a citizen or in the middle of immigrating to Japan. Rates are based on your salary, and they go as follows:

  • 5% for salaries lower than ¥1.95 million per year

  • 10% for income above ¥97,500, for salaries between ¥1.95-3.3 million per year

  • 20% for income above ¥427,500, for salaries between ¥3.3-6.95 million per year

  • 23% for income above ¥636,000, for salaries between ¥6.95-9 million per year

Before the above numbers are calculated, you also have to pay a flat fee of 4% for prefecture taxes. You also have to pay 6% of your annual income in the form of city tax.

All taxes are done for you, and you will just receive a bill in the mail, or it will be deducted directly from your salary. Exceptions to this rule include having to file taxes on your secondary income if you have more than one employer or if you're working for an employer outside Japan.

Keep in mind that many of these things might also be handled and explained to you by your employer if you are on a work visa in Japan.

Starting and Running a Business

In order to start a business in Japan, you either need to be a permanent resident, a spouse or child of a Japanese national or permanent resident, or you need to have a Startup visa.

You also need to have a business plan, a personal bank account and get a Business Manager Visa. In order to get this visa, you need to have already established a business or are a manager or administrator of a business.

Another option is you are already managing or administrating a business that has already been set up in Japan or merged with a Japanese business.

Moreover, you will need ¥5 million as starting capital in order to begin.

Marrying and Starting a Family in Japan

If you want to emigrate to Japan and start a family, you can. Nothing is stopping you, as a foreigner, from finding the love of your life here or bring your family. It is a great idea when you consider the standard of living, high quality of education and healthcare, as well as the wonderful culture.

However, gay rights in Japan are lacking. Same-sex marriage and unions are not recognized in the country, with the exception of Tokyo. Namely, in 2022, Tokyo introduced a same-sex partnership within the city. These are not considered legal marriages.

On that same note, the adoption of children by same-sex couples is impossible since only married couples can adopt in the country.

Buying Property in Japan

A foreigner can own and buy property in Japan, just like any citizen. However, getting a loan approved by a bank will most likely be significantly more difficult. And, of course, if you're thinking of moving to Tokyo, know the prices will be substantially higher than anywhere else.

So, just to give you an example, you will pay ¥672,000 per square meter if you're apartment hunting in Tokyo (roughly $500 per square foot). On average, you won't be able to find a house for less than $230,000, with the national average being around $337,000.

Retiring in Japan

An important part of Japanese culture is respecting their elders. Furthermore, at least compared to the US, Japanese retirees are very active. You can expect a relaxed retirement or one filled with jogging and hiking all around Japan's beautiful landscapes.

As far as pensions are concerned, as long as you are legally living in Japan, you are obligated to pay into the system. Said pension can be boosted by various programs, like your employers matching your contributions or you yourself investing more into it.

Is Moving to Japan a Good Idea?

And there you have it, folks, a complete guide on how to move to Japan! It's not going to be an easy journey, but hopefully, it will be a fulfilling one with positive results. The above article should give you everything you need to begin your new life in Japan.


Does Japan allow dual citizenship?
How hard is it to move to Japan?
What is it like living in Japan?

Aleksandar Hrubenja
Aleksandar Hrubenja
With a BA in English literature and linguistics, training provided by veteran licensed court interpreters, and direct SEO management experience, Aleksandar Hrubenja knows what good content looks like. He’s tackled any topic thrown his way, spending the last six years writing articles on SEO, digital marketing, and finance - just to name a few.