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How To Live As An Expat In Japan


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Tammara Diehl



Living as an expat in Japan offers a unique and enriching experience. With its rich culture, advanced technology, and stunning natural beauty, Japan attracts people from all over the world who are eager to explore its wonders and build a life in this fascinating country.


As an expat, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a society that seamlessly blends tradition and modernity. Whether you are moving to Japan for work, study, or adventure, navigating the challenges of expat life can be both exciting and daunting.


In this article, we will guide you through the key aspects of living as an expat in Japan, providing valuable insights and practical tips to help you make the most of your experience. From finding accommodation and obtaining a visa to understanding Japanese customs and etiquette, we will cover all the essential information you need to know.


Additionally, we will discuss the importance of learning the Japanese language and provide guidance on navigating the healthcare system, managing your finances, and finding employment opportunities. We will also delve into the intricacies of transportation in Japan and offer advice on embracing the local culture.


By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to live as an expat in Japan, allowing you to embark on this exciting journey with confidence and ease.


Finding Accommodation

One of the first and most important steps when moving to Japan as an expat is finding suitable accommodation. Japan offers a wide range of housing options, from modern apartments in bustling cities to traditional Japanese homes in more rural areas.


The most common types of accommodations in urban areas are apartments, known as “mansion” in Japan. These apartments are often equipped with modern amenities and are available for both rent and purchase. It is recommended to work with a real estate agent or use online platforms to find available apartments that fit your budget and preferences.


Another popular option for expats is share houses. Share houses provide an affordable and sociable living environment, where you have your own private room and share common areas, such as the kitchen and living room, with fellow residents.


If you prefer a more traditional living experience, you may consider renting a machiya. Machiyas are traditional Japanese wooden townhouses with unique architectural features. While they offer a glimpse into Japanese history and culture, it is important to note that they may require more maintenance compared to modern apartments.


When searching for accommodation, it is crucial to consider the location, proximity to public transportation, and nearby amenities such as supermarkets, hospitals, and schools. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are popular choices for expats due to their vibrant international communities and excellent infrastructure.


Lastly, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the rental process and associated costs. You will typically need to provide a security deposit, key money (reikin), and agency fees upon signing the rental contract. Monthly rent payments are usually made through bank transfers, and utility bills such as electricity, gas, and water are often separate from the rent.


Overall, finding the right accommodation is a crucial aspect of living comfortably as an expat in Japan. Take your time to research and explore various options to find the perfect place that suits your needs and helps you feel at home in this incredible country.


Obtaining a Visa

Before you can legally live and work in Japan as an expat, you will need to obtain the appropriate visa. The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose of your stay, such as work, study, or family-related reasons. Here are some common visa categories for expats:

  1. Work Visa: If you plan to work in Japan, you will need a work visa, which is sponsored by your employer. Your employer will need to provide certain documents and demonstrate that they are unable to find a suitable Japanese candidate for the position.
  2. Student Visa: If you are planning to study at a Japanese educational institution, you will need a student visa. The institution in which you are enrolled will provide the necessary documents to support your visa application.
  3. Spouse Visa: If you are married to a Japanese citizen or permanent resident, you can apply for a spouse visa. This visa allows you to live and work in Japan.
  4. Working Holiday Visa: Some countries have reciprocal agreements with Japan, allowing young people to obtain a working holiday visa. This visa allows you to work and travel in Japan for a limited period.

It is important to note that visa requirements and application processes can vary depending on your home country. Before applying for a visa, it is recommended to consult the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in your country for detailed information and guidance.


Once you have obtained your visa, it is crucial to adhere to its conditions. For example, a work visa typically requires you to work for the specified employer and may have restrictions on changing jobs. It is important to stay updated on visa regulations and ensure that you renew your visa before it expires if you plan to stay in Japan for an extended period.


If you are already in Japan on a tourist visa or visa-free stay, it is generally not possible to convert that into a long-term visa. It is advised to leave the country and apply for the appropriate visa from outside of Japan.


Obtaining the right visa is an essential step for living as an expat in Japan. Ensuring that you have the proper legal permission will give you peace of mind and allow you to fully enjoy your time in this captivating country.


Understanding Japanese Customs and Etiquette

Japan has a rich cultural heritage and a strong emphasis on social etiquette and customs. As an expat living in Japan, it is important to understand and respect these cultural norms to navigate daily interactions smoothly and show appreciation for the local culture. Here are some key customs and etiquette guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Bowing: Bowing is a common form of greeting in Japan. It is important to know when and how to bow appropriately. In general, a slight bow with a nod of the head is suitable for casual greetings, while deeper bows are reserved for more formal or respectful situations.
  2. Removing Shoes: It is customary to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home, traditional Japanese establishments, or certain parts of temples and shrines. Look for shoe racks or designated areas to store your footwear.
  3. Respecting Personal Space: Japanese people value personal space and are generally more reserved in public. Avoid standing too closely or touching others without permission. Be mindful of your volume when speaking in public places.
  4. Gift Giving: Gift giving is a common practice in Japan and is often done as a gesture of gratitude or respect. When giving or receiving gifts, use both hands and avoid opening the gift immediately in front of the giver.
  5. Table Manners: When dining in Japan, it is customary to say “itadakimasu” before you begin eating and “gochisousama deshita” after you finish. Wait to be seated or invited to sit at a restaurant. Use chopsticks properly, and avoid playing with them, pointing, or sticking them upright in your food.
  6. Public Transportation Etiquette: In Japan, it is important to respect the rules of public transportation. Avoid talking loudly, using your phone, or eating on trains and buses. Give up your seat to elderly, pregnant, or disabled individuals.
  7. Language and Communication: Learning a few basic Japanese phrases and using them in everyday interactions can go a long way in showing respect and building rapport. Politeness is highly valued, so using honorifics such as “san” after someone’s name is appropriate.

By familiarizing yourself with these customs and etiquette practices, you can show respect for Japanese culture and make a positive impression on the people you interact with. While mistakes may happen, the locals generally appreciate your efforts to learn and understand their way of life.


Learning the Language

Learning the Japanese language is not only a valuable skill but also a way to enhance your experience as an expat in Japan. While it is possible to get by with just English in major cities, making an effort to learn the language will allow you to communicate more effectively, connect with locals, and fully immerse yourself in the culture.


Here are some tips to help you on your journey of learning Japanese:

  1. Enroll in Language Classes: Consider enrolling in formal language classes either before or after your arrival in Japan. Language schools offer various courses to accommodate different proficiency levels and learning styles.
  2. Practice with Language Exchange Partners: Language exchange programs allow you to practice Japanese with native speakers who are learning your native language in return. This is a great way to improve your speaking and listening skills while making new friends.
  3. Immerse Yourself in Japanese Media: Watch Japanese movies and TV shows, listen to Japanese music, and read Japanese books to expose yourself to the language on a regular basis. This will help improve your vocabulary and familiarize yourself with the nuances of the language.
  4. Utilize Language Learning Apps: There are numerous language learning apps available that can assist you in learning Japanese. These apps offer interactive lessons, vocabulary drills, and language practice exercises.
  5. Make Use of Language Learning Resources: Take advantage of textbooks, online resources, and language exchange groups. There are also language learning websites and forums where you can ask questions and seek guidance from experienced learners or native speakers.
  6. Practice Speaking with Locals: Don’t be afraid to practice your speaking skills with locals. Engaging in conversations with native speakers will not only help improve your language proficiency but also provide valuable cultural insights and connections.
  7. Be Patient and Persistent: Learning a new language takes time and dedication. Don’t get discouraged by occasional setbacks or challenges. Stay consistent with your studies and practice regularly, and you will see progress over time.

Remember, every effort you put into learning the Japanese language will enhance your overall experience as an expat in Japan. It will open doors to deeper connections, cultural understanding, and a greater appreciation for the country and its people.


Navigating the Healthcare System

Understanding and navigating the healthcare system is essential when living as an expat in Japan. The country boasts a high-quality healthcare system that provides comprehensive coverage for residents. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Health Insurance: All residents in Japan are required to have health insurance. This can be either through the National Health Insurance (NHI) or employer-provided insurance. Enrollment in the NHI is compulsory for individuals residing in Japan for more than three months.
  2. Medical Facilities: Japan has a vast network of medical facilities, ranging from clinics to hospitals with advanced medical technology. The quality of healthcare services in Japan is generally high, with well-trained medical professionals.
  3. Appointment System: It is common in Japan to make appointments before visiting a medical facility. In non-emergency situations, it is advisable to call ahead and schedule a visit.
  4. Language Barrier: While some doctors and medical staff in Japan may speak English, it is not always guaranteed. Consider using translation apps or having a Japanese-speaking friend accompany you to your appointments to ensure effective communication.
  5. Prescription Medications: In Japan, prescription medications may have different names or variations compared to those in other countries. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for the correct medication and dosage information. It is also important to note that some medications may not be readily available in Japan.
  6. Emergency Care: In case of emergencies, dial 119 to reach the ambulance service. Japan’s emergency response system is prompt and efficient, providing immediate medical assistance.
  7. Healthcare Costs: While Japan’s healthcare system offers comprehensive coverage, patients are required to pay a portion of the medical expenses known as “co-payment.” The amount varies depending on factors such as age, income, and medical treatment received.
  8. Mental Health Support: It is important to address your mental health needs while living in Japan. There are various mental health support services available, including counseling and therapy.

It is recommended to research and familiarize yourself with the specific details of the healthcare system in your area of residence in Japan. This will ensure that you are prepared to access the necessary healthcare services and understand the associated costs.


Lastly, taking care of your physical and mental well-being while living in Japan is crucial. Stay informed about preventative measures and seek medical attention when needed. By prioritizing your health, you can enjoy your expat experience in Japan to the fullest.


Managing Finances

Managing your finances effectively is essential for a smooth and comfortable expat experience in Japan. From setting up a bank account to understanding the cost of living, here are some key tips for managing your finances in Japan:

  1. Opening a Bank Account: It is recommended to open a bank account in Japan to manage your finances conveniently. Look for banks that offer services in English and have branches near your residence or workplace.
  2. Understanding Currency and Exchange Rates: Familiarize yourself with the Japanese currency, the yen (¥), and stay updated on exchange rates. Consider using reputable currency exchange services or ATMs to avoid unnecessary fees.
  3. Budgeting: Create a monthly budget to track your expenses and income. Consider factors such as rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, healthcare costs, and entertainment. This will help you stay within your means and plan for savings.
  4. Cost of Living: Research and understand the cost of living in your area of residence in Japan. Cities like Tokyo and Osaka tend to have higher costs compared to more rural areas. Factor in rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other necessary expenses when assessing your budget.
  5. Tax Obligations: Familiarize yourself with the tax system in Japan, including income tax and consumption tax. If you have a full-time job, your employer will deduct income tax from your salary. It is also important to keep records of your income and expenses for tax purposes.
  6. Saving and Investing: Consider setting aside a portion of your income for savings. Look into savings accounts or investment options to grow your wealth over time. Consult with financial advisors or research reputable investment opportunities.
  7. Insurance: Protect yourself financially by considering insurance options such as health insurance, life insurance, and property insurance. Research different insurance providers and policies to find the coverage that suits your needs.
  8. Managing Debts: If you have any outstanding debts from your home country or previous obligations, create a plan to manage and pay them off in a timely manner. Prioritize debt repayment to avoid accumulating interest and additional financial stress.

Keeping track of your finances and making informed decisions will contribute to your financial stability and peace of mind during your time as an expat in Japan. Regularly review your budget, save diligently, and maintain good financial habits to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience.


Transportation and Getting Around

Japan offers a well-developed and efficient transportation system that makes it easy for expats to navigate the country. From trains and buses to taxis and bicycles, here are some key points to consider when it comes to transportation and getting around in Japan:

  1. Trains: Trains are the primary mode of long-distance and intercity travel in Japan. The extensive network of trains, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train), provides fast and reliable transportation between major cities.
  2. Subways and Local Trains: Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka have comprehensive subway and local train networks. These are convenient for daily commuting and navigating within the city.
  3. IC Cards: IC cards such as Suica and Pasmo are rechargeable cards that can be used to pay for train, subway, and bus rides. They can also be used for purchases at convenience stores and vending machines.
  4. Buses: Buses serve as an alternative mode of transportation, especially for reaching destinations not accessible by train. Local buses are available in cities and towns, while long-distance buses connect major cities.
  5. Taxis: Taxis are readily available, but they tend to be more expensive compared to public transportation. Taxis in Japan are known for their cleanliness, reliability, and polite drivers.
  6. Bicycles: Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation, especially for shorter distances within cities and towns. Many areas have well-maintained bicycle lanes and parking facilities.
  7. International Driving Permit: If you hold a valid driver’s license from your home country, you can obtain an international driving permit (IDP) before arriving in Japan. This allows you to drive a car for up to one year.
  8. Shared Mobility Services: In major cities, rideshare services and bike-sharing programs are also available, providing convenient options for getting around the city.
  9. Walking: Japan is a pedestrian-friendly country, and walking is a common way to get around, especially for short distances. Enjoy exploring the neighborhoods on foot and immerse yourself in the local atmosphere.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the transportation options available in your area of residence in Japan. Research schedules, plan routes, and consider purchasing commuter passes if applicable to save money on regular travel.


Using public transportation in Japan is generally safe, punctual, and reliable. Familiarize yourself with essential Japanese phrases and signage to navigate stations and ticket machines more easily. With the combination of Japan’s efficient transportation system and your curiosity to explore, you are sure to have memorable journeys throughout the country.


Finding Employment Opportunities

Japan offers a range of job opportunities for expats, from teaching English to working in multinational corporations. Here are some key points to consider when searching for employment opportunities in Japan:

  1. English Teaching: Teaching English is a popular option for expats in Japan. Many private language schools and public institutions hire English teachers. It is important to have a bachelor’s degree and preferably a TEFL or TESOL certification.
  2. Corporate Employment: Japan is home to numerous multinational corporations, offering employment opportunities in various industries. Networking, leveraging your professional connections, and conducting thorough research are essential when pursuing corporate positions.
  3. Visa Sponsorship: Most employers in Japan sponsor the work visa for employees they hire. Ensure that you have the necessary qualifications, skills, and experience that make you an attractive candidate for visa sponsorship.
  4. Job Boards and Recruitment Agencies: Utilize online job boards and recruitment agencies specializing in Japan to search for job openings. Websites such as GaijinPot, CareerCross, and Daijob are popular resources for expats seeking employment in Japan.
  5. Networking: Building professional networks and attending industry-related events can help you uncover hidden job opportunities. Joining local communities, professional organizations, and attending career fairs can greatly enhance your chances of finding suitable employment.
  6. Japanese Language Proficiency: Depending on the industry and role, Japanese language proficiency may be required or highly advantageous. Enhancing your language skills through formal education or language exchange programs can open up more job opportunities.
  7. Resume and Interview Preparation: Tailor your resume and cover letter to match the specific requirements of the job you are applying for. Research common interview questions and practice your responses to ensure you make a favorable impression during interviews.
  8. Internships and Trainee Programs: Some companies offer internships or trainee programs for foreign nationals, providing hands-on experience and opportunities for future employment. Research companies that offer such programs and reach out to them directly.
  9. Entrepreneurship and Freelancing: Consider starting your own business or offering freelance services in Japan. Research the necessary requirements, regulations, and market demand to turn your passion or skills into a successful venture.

Remember that finding employment in Japan may take time and effort. Make use of all available resources, seek advice from professionals, and remain persistent in your job search. With the right preparations and a proactive approach, you can find rewarding employment opportunities that align with your goals and interests in Japan.


Embracing the Local Culture

Living as an expat in Japan provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a rich and vibrant culture. Here are some suggestions to help you embrace and appreciate the local culture:

  1. Learn the Language: Learning the Japanese language is not only practical but also a way to deeply connect with the culture. Take language classes, practice with native speakers, and explore opportunities for language exchange.
  2. Participate in Festivals: Japan is renowned for its vibrant festivals, known as “matsuri.” Attend local festivals, such as cherry blossom festivals, summer fireworks displays, or traditional dance events, to experience the colorful traditions and festivities.
  3. Try the Local Cuisine: Japanese cuisine is diverse and delicious. Explore local restaurants and try a variety of traditional dishes such as sushi, ramen, tempura, and more. Be open to trying new flavors and dining etiquette.
  4. Visit Historical Sites: Japan is known for its rich history and ancient traditions. Visit historical sites, shrines, and temples to learn about the country’s cultural heritage. Take part in traditional tea ceremonies or meditation experiences to deepen your understanding.
  5. Participate in Martial Arts: Engage in martial arts activities such as karate, judo, or kendo. Join local dojos or clubs to learn the techniques and philosophy behind these traditional Japanese arts.
  6. Explore Traditional Arts and Crafts: Japan is renowned for its arts and crafts, such as pottery, calligraphy, origami, and ikebana (flower arrangement). Take classes or workshops to learn these traditional art forms and gain insights into Japanese aesthetics.
  7. Follow Cultural Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with Japanese customs and etiquette to show respect for the local culture. Practice bowing, removing shoes indoors, and using chopsticks properly. Observe social norms and be mindful of your behavior in public spaces.
  8. Engage with the Local Community: Join local community activities, clubs, or volunteer organizations to meet locals and build meaningful connections. Participate in community events or festivals to experience the warmth and hospitality of Japanese society.
  9. Explore Rural Areas: While the urban areas in Japan are bustling and exciting, consider venturing outside of the cities to explore rural areas. Experience the natural beauty of Japan, visit traditional countryside towns, and appreciate the slower pace of life.
  10. Respect Sacred Places: When visiting shrines and temples, be respectful of sacred spaces. Follow the proper procedures for purification, avoid disruptive behavior, and be mindful of taking photos in appropriate areas.

Embracing the local culture is an enriching aspect of living as an expat in Japan. By engaging with traditions, trying new experiences, and respecting local customs, you can deepen your connection to the country and create lasting memories during your time in Japan.



Living as an expat in Japan offers a unique and fulfilling experience. From finding accommodation to navigating the healthcare system, understanding Japanese customs, and embracing the local culture, your time in Japan can be incredibly rewarding and enriching.


By familiarizing yourself with the key aspects of expat life in Japan, such as obtaining a visa, managing your finances, and finding employment opportunities, you can navigate through the challenges and make the most of the opportunities available to you.


As you embark on your journey as an expat in Japan, remember to be open-minded, respectful, and embrace the beauty of the country’s cultural heritage. Immerse yourself in the local customs, try the delicious cuisine, participate in traditional festivals, and make an effort to learn the language. By doing so, you will develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for Japan and its people.


Living in Japan as an expat may have its ups and downs, but with the right preparation, an open heart, and a spirit of adventure, you can create an unforgettable experience. Embrace the challenges, embrace the local culture, and make lifelong memories in this fascinating country.