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Emigrating to Japan: Immigration, renting and living costs

While Japan has been relatively conservative about immigration, its burgeoning influence on Western culture has encouraged thousands from across the world to consider it a place to call home.

Between tradition and modernity, which meet in a buffet of delicious cuisine, urban cities, ancient culture, picturesque landscapes and cultural festivities – it’s no wonder Brits are choosing to relocate to Japan for retirement, work, or their next escapade.

It is also one of the safest countries to live in according to recent statistics, as the national crime rate in Japan is four times lower than the national averages in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Not to mention, Japan boasts the third-largest economy in the world by nominal GDP – an attractive proposition for investors, or those seeking job opportunities as a strong economy plays a significant role in reducing poverty and increasing salaries.

If it’s in your plans to immigrate to Japan, you’ll be glad to know that the Japanese government has made it easier for foreigners to obtain a visa, especially if you’re a “highly skilled” applicant, due to the country’s ageing population.

But while Japan’s visa policy is more open than those of the United States or Canada, applicants will still have to prove that they meet the criteria to be granted a visa.

Regardless of your reason for immigration, it is essential that you understand Japan’s visa requirements, and have a broad idea of rental prices and living expenses before you emigrate to avoid exposure to unwanted costs.

Our complete guide to immigrating to Japan will walk you through the pros and cons of living in Japan and how to best manage your finances to ensure you maximise your income and make the most of life in your new home country.

Immigrating to Japan

Obtaining a Japanese work visa

Renowned for its unique culture and booming economy, Japan is the perfect place for emigrants seeking employment opportunities!

Some of the world’s largest international companies are headquartered in Japan, and the country is a rising magnet for foreign talent, as its flexible employment programs make it an attractive workplace destination.

Currently, 68 countries can travel to Japan without a visa up to a maximum of 90 days – check to see if your passport allows visa-free travel to Japan online.

However, if you’re planning to stay in the country for employment, you will need to apply for a work permit, which you can do so at your local Japanese embassy.

While there are several different types of work visas, if you’re planning on applying for a Specified Skilled visa, your employer will need to sponsor your application. You will also be required to:

  • Demonstrate proficiency in Japanese
  • Submit evidence of any relevant skills, training or experience in the industry of employment
  • Provide a Certificate of Eligibility
  • Complete a visa application form
  • Produce a valid passport
  • A recent photograph

If you’re applying for a Highly Skilled Professional visa, you will only need to submit documentation of the last four points. Immigration authorities will assess your application on a points-based system to determine whether you score above the threshold and are eligible for the visa.

The Certificate of Eligibility will need to be obtained from your Japanese employer, or educational institution if you’re applying for a student visa.

We advise checking whether there are any additional requirements with your local embassy or on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MFAO) before you begin the application process as the criteria can vary from country to country.

However, most Japanese work visas will set you back between JPY 3000 (GBP 21) and JPY 6000 (GBP 43), depending on whether you are applying for single or multiple entries.

That being said, unlike most countries you have another set of requirements for emigrants wishing to become permanent residents, all foreigners arriving into Japan for mid to long-term stays will receive a Zairyū card (resident permit).

Please note that once this is issued, you must carry it on your person at all times, as you could be charged a fine of up to JPY 200,000 (GBP 1435) and be given a one-year prison sentence if officials run an identity check and you do not have the card at hand.

As Japan does not acknowledge dual nationality, you might find that you are splitting your life and your income between two countries and having to transfer your local currency into Japanese yen (JPY).

If this is the case, you might want to avoid using banks to fulfil your international currency transfers and source a foreign exchange specialist such as Halo Financial, who can save you more on your overall costs.

Protect your international money transfers

A large majority tend to believe that banks are the answer for international money transfers; however, there are services specialist currency providers can offer that banks can’t.

Unlike banks, Halo Financial, which is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), can offer a tailored service that better suits your needs and protects your money against fluctuating exchange rates with several currency arrangements.

While many people continue to move abroad irrespective of COVID-19, the uncertainty that has stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic has created an ever more challenging valuation environment.

Now, more than ever, greater diligence is needed to prevent losses. Halo Financial can limit downside risks and hedge against volatile exchange rates to ensure their clients have a competitive advantage and maximise their currency transfers.

Banks also tend to levy hidden charges in the exchange rate. Moreover, as foreign exchange isn’t their area of specialism, few employ FX specialists who can provide invaluable insight into the often unpredictable currency market or their clients’ currency transfers.

Whether you’re an expat already living in Japan, have retirement plans in place or are seeking a new job opportunity, fluctuating exchange rates will make a significant difference to your income and savings.

With Halo’s expertise and level of support, you could achieve up to 3-5% more on your international money transfers and have the opportunity to make more of life in Japan.

Pros and cons of living in Japan

Japan’s high cost of living might be an unwelcome surprise for some; however, its world-class education system, shopping paradises, local delicacies, universal public healthcare and renowned public transport system makes it all worth the expense.

It’s easy to see why it is fast becoming a highly sought after destination! If you’re among those who are considering immigrating to Japan, we’ve covered the pros and cons of living in “Nippon” to ensure you could settle in either of the country’s 47 prefectures.

 Renting in Japan

Renting in Japan

Rental prices in Japan can fetch a high price, especially in metropolitan cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

According to Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in Japan averages at approximately JPY 84,948.46 a month, or GBP 585.

Yet, when compared to the UK and the USA, this may be considered relatively cheap given that a similar apartment in the UK would cost a monthly average of GBP 750.72.

You’ll also likely have to pay a broker’s fee when renting in Japan, irrespective of whether you find a property online or not, so you must factor in any legal costs into your budget.

That being said, most landlords expect you to negotiate the rent price, so you may still be able to secure a good deal. But, if you’re prepared to set up life outside the city in Japan’s suburbs or more rural towns, you’ll find that rent prices are much lower.

Most long-term rentals in Japan also come unfurnished, so we advise budgeting in the cost of furniture and appliances before you emigrate.

However, suppose you can afford a more luxurious lifestyle. In that case, Japan’s capital city boasts a wide range of housing types, from detached houses to multi-story complexes dubbed “mansions” – Tokyo has something to offer all.

Tokyo City

Renting in Tokyo

While Tokyo’s convenient transportations links, vibrant nightlife and youthful culture have made it a hotspot for foreigners, renting a one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo is costly.

According to Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will set you back JPY 125,525.00 a month on average, or GBP 865.

If you’re emigrating from the UK or America, you’ll be glad to know that rent prices in Tokyo are 64% cheaper than in London and 136% lower than in New York, according to Numbeo.

That being said, you will still need a decent salary to support as the cost of living in Tokyo is higher than in other cities across Japan.

Healthcare in Japan: SHI and NHI

Despite its relatively high cost of living, those immigrating to Japan will benefit from universal public healthcare.

Although healthcare in Japan isn’t free, all Japanese citizens can access comprehensive and exclusive healthcare through National Health Insurance (NHI) or Social Health Insurance (SHI) plans at a relatively low cost.

According to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, Japan ranks tenth in the world for healthcare, boasting excellent hospital and clinics, thorough coverage and state-of-the-art equipment at an affordable price.

Currently, Japanese citizens and residents pay approximately 30% of their medical bills themselves and prices are closely regulated and monitored by the government to ensure they remain affordable.

Full-time employees can access SHI, which, unlike NHI, is funded through regular contributions from the employer and the employee, which averages at approximately 5% of salaries.

All other citizens are taxed through NHI, which is managed by municipal governments and covers students, the self-employed, unemployed and retirees.

Education and teaching in Japan

Japan’s education system

According to US News & World Report, Japan ranks 11th in the world for education and number three in the world for overall rankings.

The country is renowned for its elite school system, which prides itself on achievement-based promotion, academic excellence, duty and perseverance.

Like most educational institutions across the globe, school is not compulsory until the age of 6 up until the age of 18 in Japan. However, most children attend some form of non-government-funded pre-primary education before they become of age.

If you’re immigrating to Japan with family or it’s in your plans to settle down in the country, and you wish to send your children to private school, you may do so. However, the standard of teaching between state and private schools is relatively minimal due to Japan’s high-quality education system.

Teachers in state schools are as well trained and efficient as those in public school, and students often leave schools with comparable grades.

Teaching in Japan

Japan also offers competitive salaries and jobs to English-speaking foreigners wanting to teach in the country, albeit you should note that working hours are often long.

If you are moving to Japan and English is your first language, in most cases, all you will need to provide proof of an undergraduate degree to teach in the country.

However, more qualified applicants, such as those with postgraduate degrees or English teaching certificates, are likely to be preferred during the application process.

Suppose you’re a citizen from Canada, America, the UK, Australia or New Zealand (among other participating countries). In that case, you may want to consider the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program, which offers young professionals the opportunity to live and work in Japan by teaching in schools.

Under the program, JET employees usually work as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and support the primary teacher with learning; however, this is a highly competitive programme as thousands apply each year.

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