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Tips For Becoming An Expat In Japan


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Phylis Victoria



Planning to become an expat in Japan is an exciting and life-changing decision. Japan, known for its unique blend of ancient traditions and modern technology, offers a rich cultural experience and a high standard of living. As a foreigner, navigating the ins and outs of daily life in Japan can seem daunting, but with proper research and preparation, your transition can be smooth and fulfilling.


In this article, we will provide you with essential travel tips to help you make the most of your expat experience in Japan. From visa and immigration procedures to finding accommodation, employment opportunities to understanding cultural norms, we have you covered. By following these tips, you will be able to adapt seamlessly to your new surroundings and create a rewarding life as an expat in Japan.


While the process of becoming an expat may initially seem overwhelming, with the right information and support, you can navigate through the challenges and embrace the amazing opportunities that lie ahead. So, let’s dive into the tips that will help you make your transition to Japan as smooth as possible.


Research and Preparation

Before embarking on your journey to become an expat in Japan, conducting thorough research and proper preparation is crucial. This will help you gain a better understanding of the country’s culture, lifestyle, and the necessary steps to make your transition successful.


Start by gathering information on various aspects of living in Japan, such as the cost of living, healthcare system, transportation, and safety. Familiarize yourself with the cities and regions in Japan that interest you, considering factors like job opportunities, climate, and proximity to amenities and attractions.


Additionally, it is essential to research the visa requirements and immigration procedures. Japan has different types of visas, including work visas, student visas, and tourist visas. Determine which visa category fits your situation and familiarize yourself with the requirements and application process.


Another crucial aspect of research is understanding the job market in Japan. Look into your industry and assess the demand for your skills and qualifications. Consider networking with professionals already working in Japan or joining expat forums and communities to gain valuable insights and guidance.


Language is also a significant factor to consider before moving to Japan. While English is commonly taught in schools and some businesses, having a basic understanding of Japanese will greatly enhance your experience and interactions with locals. Consider enrolling in language classes or utilizing online language learning resources to start studying before your arrival.


Finally, financially prepare for your move to Japan. Calculate your estimated expenses, considering accommodation, transportation, utilities, food, and lifestyle choices. Save a sufficient amount of money to cover initial costs and any unexpected expenses that may arise during your transition.


By conducting thorough research and adequately preparing yourself, you will have a solid foundation upon which to build your expat life in Japan. Remember to gather all the necessary documents, gather important contacts, and take any necessary steps well in advance of your departure date. Taking the time to be well-prepared will make your transition smoother and more enjoyable.


Visa and Immigration

When planning to become an expat in Japan, understanding the visa and immigration procedures is crucial. Japan has specific visa categories, each with its own requirements and limitations. It is important to determine which visa type is appropriate for your situation.


Common visa categories for expats in Japan include the work visa, student visa, spouse visa, and working holiday visa. Each visa category has different eligibility criteria, such as educational qualifications, work experience, or sponsorship from a Japanese company or educational institution.


If you plan to work in Japan, you will likely need a work visa. This involves obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) from your employer or sponsor, which is then submitted to the Japanese embassy or consulate in your home country to receive the actual work visa.


For those pursuing higher education in Japan, a student visa is required. You will need to obtain a CoE from the Japanese educational institution you plan to attend. Once you have the CoE, you can apply for the student visa at the Japanese embassy or consulate.


Obtaining a spouse visa is an option for those who are married to Japanese citizens or permanent residents. Proof of marriage and other required documents will need to be submitted to the Japanese immigration authorities to obtain this visa category.


Japan also offers working holiday visas for citizens of specific countries. These visas allow individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 (or 25, depending on the country) to work and travel in Japan for a specified period of time. The requirements and limitations of the working holiday visa vary depending on the applicant’s country of citizenship.


It is essential to thoroughly understand the visa application process and ensure that you have all the necessary documents and meet the eligibility criteria before applying. Keep in mind that visa processing times can vary, so it is advisable to begin the application process well in advance of your planned departure date.


Once you arrive in Japan, it is important to adhere to the immigration regulations. This includes registering your address at the local ward office within 14 days of arrival and renewing your visa if necessary. Failure to comply with immigration regulations can result in fines, deportation, or other legal consequences.


By familiarizing yourself with the visa and immigration procedures, you can navigate the process smoothly and ensure that you have the appropriate visa to legally live and work in Japan. Make sure to stay updated on any changes in the visa regulations and consult with official sources, such as the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or consulate in your home country, for the most accurate and up-to-date information.


Finding Accommodation

Once you have sorted out your visa and immigration requirements, the next step is to find suitable accommodation in Japan. The availability and types of housing options may vary depending on the city or region you choose to reside in.


One of the most common options for expats in Japan is renting an apartment or house. Rental properties can range from small apartments to spacious houses, depending on your budget and preferences. Real estate websites, rental agencies, and local classifieds are good resources to start your search.


It’s important to consider factors such as location, proximity to transportation, amenities, and price when choosing your accommodation. Japan has excellent public transportation systems, so living near a train or subway station can make commuting more convenient.


If you prefer a more immersive experience, you could consider a guesthouse or share house. These establishments offer furnished rooms with shared common areas, providing opportunities to interact with other residents, including both locals and fellow expats.


Another popular option in Japan is the “gaijin house” or “foreigner house.” These houses are specifically designed for expats and often come furnished with essential amenities. They provide a great opportunity to meet other expats and build a network of friends in a foreign land.


Before finalizing your accommodation, it is essential to understand the rental terms and conditions. Lease agreements in Japan typically last for two years, with a required deposit (often equivalent to several months’ rent) and additional fees for utilities, maintenance, and key money. Ensure that you carefully read and understand the terms of the lease agreement before signing.


If you are unsure about the process or language barrier, consider enlisting the help of a real estate agent who specializes in assisting foreigners. They can guide you through the rental process, assist with communication and translation, and help you find a suitable rental property.


Remember to factor in the cost of living in Japan when budgeting for accommodation. Prices can vary significantly depending on the location and size of the property. It’s a good idea to set a budget and prioritize your needs to ensure that you find a comfortable and affordable place to call home.


By carefully researching and exploring different accommodation options, you can find a place that suits your preferences, budget, and lifestyle. Take your time, visit different neighborhoods, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek assistance from professionals. Finding the right accommodation is a vital step in making your expat experience in Japan comfortable and enjoyable.


Employment Opportunities

As an expat in Japan, finding suitable employment is often a top priority. Japan offers a wide range of job opportunities across various industries, and being well-prepared and proactive in your job search can greatly increase your chances of success.


One of the first steps is to update your resume to align with Japanese standards. Research the preferred resume format and make sure to highlight relevant skills, qualifications, and experiences. It may also be beneficial to have your resume translated into Japanese to cater to local employers.


Networking is essential in Japan’s job market. Attend job fairs, industry events, and professional networking events to connect with potential employers and build relationships. Joining industry-specific organizations and online forums can also provide valuable insights and connections.


Utilize job search websites and recruitment agencies that specialize in assisting foreign professionals. These resources can help you navigate the job market, provide access to job listings, and offer guidance on the application process.


It’s worth noting that proficiency in Japanese language is often a requirement for many job positions in Japan. Consider taking language classes or improving your language skills to enhance your employment prospects. Some companies offer language training programs for their employees, so take advantage of such opportunities.


For those interested in teaching English, Japan offers numerous opportunities through English conversation schools (eikaiwa), private tutoring, or working as an assistant language teacher in schools. English teaching positions often have specific requirements, such as a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate like TEFL or TESOL.


Keep in mind that the work culture in Japan may differ from what you are accustomed to. Japanese companies value dedication, teamwork, and a strong work ethic. It is essential to be aware of cultural norms and customs in the workplace in order to establish positive relationships with colleagues and superiors.


Lastly, be prepared for the job application and interview process. Research common interview questions and practice your responses in advance. Dress professionally for interviews and maintain proper etiquette throughout the process.


By actively searching for employment opportunities, networking, and adapting to the Japanese work culture, you can increase your chances of finding fulfilling and rewarding employment in Japan. Stay persistent, proactive, and open-minded as you pursue your career goals as an expat in Japan.


Learning the Language

When living in a foreign country like Japan, learning the language is essential to fully immerse yourself in the culture and enhance your overall experience. While many Japanese people can communicate in English to some extent, having a basic understanding of Japanese will open doors to deeper connections and opportunities.


Start by enrolling in Japanese language classes, either in-person or online. There are various language schools, community centers, and universities that offer Japanese language courses for foreigners. Learning the language will not only help you with daily interactions but also make it easier to navigate essential tasks like grocery shopping, ordering food, and interacting with local service providers.


Immersing yourself in the language is equally important. Utilize language learning apps, podcasts, and online resources to practice and improve your Japanese skills. Set aside time each day to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening to the language.


Another effective way to improve your language skills is through conversation exchange programs. These programs pair you with a Japanese language partner who is interested in learning your native language. You can meet up and practice speaking Japanese while helping your partner with their English or another language.


Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when speaking Japanese. Japanese people are usually understanding and appreciate the effort made by foreigners to learn their language. Embrace opportunities to speak Japanese, whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant, asking for directions, or engaging in casual conversations with locals.


Watching Japanese movies, TV shows, and anime can also help you familiarize yourself with the language. This will expose you to different accents, vocabulary, and cultural nuances, ultimately helping you to understand and adapt to the Japanese way of communication.


Lastly, consider participating in cultural activities or joining local clubs and organizations that align with your interests. Engaging in these activities will provide opportunities to practice your language skills while also fostering connections with local Japanese individuals who share similar passions.


Learning the language is an ongoing process, so be patient and persistent. Celebrate small victories and milestones along the way, and don’t be discouraged by challenges. Every effort you make to learn and speak Japanese will enrich your experience as an expat in Japan and deepen your connection with the local culture.


Understanding Cultural Norms

When living in Japan as an expat, understanding and respecting the cultural norms and customs is essential for smooth integration into society. Japan has a rich and unique culture, and being aware of the following cultural norms will help you navigate social interactions and create positive relationships.


Etiquette and politeness play a significant role in Japanese society. Practice basic manners such as saying “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you) and “sumimasen” (excuse me) in everyday interactions. Bowing is also an integral part of Japanese etiquette, so familiarize yourself with the appropriate depth and duration of a bow for different situations.


Punctuality is highly valued in Japan, so make an effort to be on time for appointments, work, and social gatherings. Arriving a few minutes early is considered good manners.


Respecting personal space is important in Japan. Avoid physical contact, such as excessive hugging or touching, unless initiated by the other person. Maintaining an appropriate distance while conversing is also customary.


The concept of “wa” or harmony is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Politeness, patience, and avoiding confrontation are highly valued. Be mindful of your tone and volume when speaking, as raising your voice or showing anger in public is considered uncouth.


When dining with others, it’s customary to say “itadakimasu” before starting a meal, which is a way of expressing gratitude for the food. When finished, saying “gochisousama deshita” shows appreciation to the host or cook. It’s also good practice to wait until everyone is served before starting to eat.


When visiting someone’s home or traditional places like temples or shrines, observe and follow the customs. Remove your shoes before entering a Japanese home or certain establishments, and be conscious of appropriate behavior and dress when visiting religious sites.


In formal settings, such as the workplace or business meetings, hierarchical relationships are respected. Use appropriate honorifics when addressing superiors or elders, and be mindful of rank and seniority. It’s customary to exchange business cards (meishi) when meeting new acquaintances or colleagues.


In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on cleanliness and tidiness. Dispose of garbage properly, recycle as instructed, and keep public spaces clean. Tidy up after yourself in shared spaces, such as restaurants or coworking areas. Demonstrating respect for the environment and cleanliness is highly regarded.


By understanding and respecting these cultural norms, you will be able to navigate social situations with ease and foster positive relationships with locals. Take the time to observe and learn from those around you, and always approach new experiences with an open mind and willingness to learn and adapt.


Financial Considerations

Making financial preparations is crucial when becoming an expat in Japan. Understanding the cost of living and managing your finances effectively will ensure a stable and comfortable experience in the country.


Before your move, create a detailed budget that takes into account your anticipated expenses, including accommodation, utilities, transportation, food, healthcare, and entertainment. Research the cost of living in the specific city or region of Japan you plan to reside in, as expenses can vary significantly.


It’s important to have savings or a source of income that can sustain you during the initial period before finding employment or establishing stable income sources. Consider setting aside an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses.


Opening a bank account in Japan is necessary for managing your finances. Most Japanese banks require a residence card and proof of address to open an account. Research and compare different banking options to find one that suits your needs, considering factors such as fees, accessibility, and online banking services.


Understanding the currency and financial systems in Japan is also important. Familiarize yourself with the Japanese yen and exchange rates, as well as the available payment methods such as cash, credit cards, and mobile payment apps like Suica or PASMO.


If you plan to bring money from your home country, consider the most cost-effective and secure ways to transfer funds. Compare exchange rates and fees charged by different remittance services to ensure that you get the best value for your money.


Healthcare is another important aspect to consider. Japan has a national healthcare system, and all residents are required to have health insurance. Research the options available to you, whether it’s joining the national health insurance program or obtaining private health insurance, to ensure you have adequate coverage for medical expenses.


When it comes to taxes, expats in Japan are generally required to pay income tax. Familiarize yourself with the tax regulations and consult with a tax professional or the local tax office to ensure compliance and take advantage of any applicable deductions or exemptions.


Lastly, it’s wise to keep track of your expenses and periodically review your financial situation. Use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to monitor your spending and savings. This will help you identify areas where you can cut back or make adjustments to meet your financial goals.


By taking the time to understand and plan for your financial considerations, you can ensure a stable and secure financial foundation during your time as an expat in Japan. Proper financial management will allow you to enjoy your expat experience while maintaining financial peace of mind.


Healthcare and Insurance

When becoming an expat in Japan, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the healthcare system and ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage. Japan has a high standard of healthcare, and understanding the available options will help you navigate the system effectively.


Japan has a national healthcare system that provides universal coverage for all residents. This system is known as the National Health Insurance (NHI) and is managed by local municipalities. As an expat, you will be required to enroll in the NHI program.


Enrollment in the NHI program is mandatory if you are residing in Japan for more than three months. The premiums for the NHI are based on your income and will be deducted from your salary or paid through annual self-assessment.


Under the NHI program, you are eligible to receive medical treatment at any registered healthcare facility in Japan. It provides coverage for a wide range of medical services, including doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, and prescription medications. The coverage is typically around 70-80% of the medical expenses, and you are responsible for paying the remaining portion.


In addition to the NHI, you may also consider obtaining private health insurance to supplement your coverage. Private health insurance can offer additional benefits and higher coverage limits for specific treatments or services. It can provide extra peace of mind and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.


Before choosing a private health insurance plan, carefully review the coverage details, including the premiums, deductibles, and limitations. Compare different insurance providers and consult with an insurance agent or broker to ensure that you select a plan that suits your needs.


When seeking medical care in Japan, it’s important to note that some healthcare providers may have limited English proficiency. It can be helpful to learn basic medical phrases and have a list of translated medical terms and conditions in case of emergencies or when communicating with healthcare professionals.


In case of emergencies, Japan has a well-developed emergency medical service (EMS) system. Dialing 119 will connect you to emergency medical assistance. English-speaking operators are available in some areas, but it is beneficial to have basic Japanese language skills or access to a translation service.


To ensure proper healthcare and insurance coverage, it is recommended to keep track of your medical records and prescriptions. Regularly visit a primary care physician for check-ups and preventive care.


By understanding the healthcare system in Japan, enrolling in the necessary insurance programs, and taking necessary precautions, you can have peace of mind knowing that your health needs are covered during your time as an expat in Japan.


Socializing and Building a Support Network

Building a support network and socializing with others are essential aspects of the expat experience in Japan. Having a support system will not only help you navigate the challenges of living in a new country but also provide opportunities for cultural exchange and friendships.


One of the first steps in building your network is to join expat groups and communities. These groups often organize social events, language exchange meetups, and cultural activities. They can provide a comfortable environment to connect with fellow expats who share similar experiences and challenges.


Another avenue to meet new people and make friends is through local activities and hobbies. Japanese culture offers a wide range of traditional arts, martial arts, sports, and recreational clubs. Joining these activities will not only help you immerse in the local culture but also provide opportunities to meet Japanese people with shared interests.


Language exchange programs are also an excellent way to socialize and build connections. These programs pair language learners with native speakers, providing a chance to practice your Japanese skills while getting to know local people. Many language exchange events are held in cafes, schools, or community centers.


Take advantage of community events and festivals, as they provide opportunities to engage with the local community. Attend local festivals, neighborhood gatherings, or cultural events. Participating in these activities will demonstrate your interest in Japanese culture and foster connections with locals.


Utilize online resources and social media platforms to connect with like-minded individuals. Many cities in Japan have dedicated social platforms or online groups where you can find information about local events, ask questions, and meet new people.


Networking is essential for both personal and professional growth. Attend industry-specific events and workshops related to your field of interest. Engaging with professionals in your industry can provide insights, career opportunities, and valuable connections.


Don’t forget to maintain connections with family and friends back home. Stay in touch through video calls, emails, and social media. Sharing your experiences with loved ones can provide emotional support and a sense of belonging.


Lastly, be proactive in reaching out and initiating social interactions. Approach social situations with an open mind and a willingness to embrace new experiences. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice when needed. Most importantly, be patient and give relationships time to develop naturally.


By actively socializing and building a support network, you will create a sense of belonging and find camaraderie in your expat journey in Japan. Embrace the opportunities to meet new people, be open to cultural differences, and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Japanese society.


Navigating Daily Life

Once you’ve settled into your expat life in Japan, it’s time to navigate the daily routines and activities that will make your experience seamless and enjoyable. Understanding the various aspects of daily life in Japan will help you adapt and make the most of your time in the country.


Transportation in Japan is efficient and well-connected. Familiarize yourself with the local transportation options, such as trains, subways, and buses. Consider getting a Suica or PASMO card, which can be used for convenient contactless payments across different modes of transportation.


Japanese cities are known for their cleanliness, and it’s important to contribute to this by practicing proper garbage disposal and recycling. Familiarize yourself with the local recycling guidelines and separate your trash accordingly. Adhering to these guidelines helps maintain cleanliness and respect for the environment.


Japan has a rich culinary tradition, and exploring local cuisine can be a delightful experience. Embrace new flavors and try different foods that are unique to the country. Whether it’s enjoying sushi, ramen, or traditional Japanese sweets, gastronomic adventures are a must.


Japanese society places importance on order and respect, so it’s important to be aware of social norms. Queueing patiently, keeping noise levels low in public spaces, and being mindful of others’ personal space are common expectations.


When shopping, keep in mind that Japan has a Cash is King mentality. While credit cards are accepted in many places, carrying some cash will be useful, especially in smaller establishments, street markets, or vending machines. ATMs can be found in convenience stores and post offices for cash withdrawal.


Understanding the local healthcare system and knowing where to seek medical assistance is crucial. Locate nearby clinics and hospitals in your area, and save emergency contact numbers. It’s also wise to have health insurance and carry a copy of your insurance details at all times.


Stay updated with local news, events, and weather forecasts to plan your activities accordingly. Many cities have English-language newspapers, websites, or apps that provide valuable information for expats.


Learning to appreciate and participate in Japanese customs and traditions will enrich your experience. Whether it’s attending festivals, visiting historical sites, or engaging in tea ceremonies, immersing yourself in the cultural fabric of Japan will deepen your connection to the country.


Lastly, take time to explore the natural beauty of Japan. The country offers diverse landscapes, from serene mountains and picturesque countryside to stunning coastlines and vibrant gardens. Engaging with nature can provide solace, relaxation, and a deeper appreciation for the beauty of Japan.


Navigating daily life in Japan requires openness, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace the unique aspects of Japanese culture. By immersing yourself in daily routines, engaging with the local community, and exploring the rich offerings of the country, you will create a fulfilling and enriching expat experience.



Becoming an expat in Japan is an exciting and transformative journey. By following the travel tips outlined in this article, you can navigate the challenges and make the most of your time in this captivating country.


From conducting thorough research and preparing for your move to understanding visa requirements and finding suitable accommodation, these tips will help ensure a smooth transition to your new life in Japan.


Learning the Japanese language, embracing cultural norms, and building a support network are essential for integration and creating meaningful connections with locals. Immersing yourself in the vibrant customs and traditions of Japan will allow you to truly experience the country and its rich cultural heritage.


Considering financial aspects, including healthcare and insurance, will provide stability and peace of mind. Properly managing your finances, being knowledgeable about healthcare options, and obtaining the necessary insurance coverage are crucial components of daily life as an expat in Japan.


Lastly, navigating daily life in Japan requires open-mindedness, adaptability, and respect for the local culture. By immersing yourself in daily routines, embracing new experiences, and exploring the incredible diversity that Japan offers, you can create a fulfilling and unforgettable expat experience in this fascinating country.


Remember, every expat journey is unique, and there will undoubtedly be ups and downs along the way. Embrace the challenges as opportunities for growth, and celebrate the triumphs that come with adapting to a new culture and way of life. With the right mindset, preparation, and willingness to embrace the unknown, your experience as an expat in Japan can be truly transformative and enriching.