Your time in Japan has come to an end. It could be that you’re a study abroad student and you have to move back to finish your degree, or maybe you’re at the end of your work contract. Regardless of your reason, there’s a long list of preparations you’ll need to make.
The 4 steps in this guide will tell you what you need to do to leave Japan and move back home.
It’s a good idea to read up on reverse culture shock first. It’s rough on most people who return after long periods abroad, but it can be especially hard for people affected by specific circumstances.
People who come home involuntarily (such as set-term study abroad students), people who return unexpectedly (due to a death or illness in the family), and people who return home from abroad for the first time are all more likely to suffer severe reverse culture shock. Learn about the signs to help make your transition easier.
Step 1: What To Do With All Of Your Stuff
You’ll need to start downsizing once your plans are concrete. I’ve moved home from Japan twice now, and my personal advice is to split your possessions into five different piles: things to sell, things to give away, things to toss, things to ship home, and things to pack into your suitcases.
Why not just toss everything you’re not bringing back? Throwing away large objects in Japan involves paying a fee to your local government. It adds up pretty quickly, so the less you have to throw away, the better!
It’s actually quite common for people to throw “sayonara sales” when they move back to their home country. It’s a great way for budget-conscious individuals to furnish their apartment. Really intense hagglers may try to take advantage of your desperation to sell, so avoid advertising it as a sayonara sale until the final two weeks or so.
You can also try your local recycle shop for electric appliances.
Give it Away!
Who doesn’t like free stuff?
If you can’t sell it but you think it’s still useful, you can try to give it away. Interested friends are the best market for giveaways, so send out notifications on social media. If you can’t find anyone willing to take your stuff, you can post ads on Gaijinpot and Craigslist.
Don’t Want It? Toss It
Smaller items can be sorted with your normal trash. City policies on trash separation can vary, so make sure you follow the procedures for your specific area. Most furniture will require a fee and an appointment with your city’s garbage disposal unit.
Why do you need to pay? There was an issue with large trash blocking the streets in post-war Japan and the government wanted to incentivize recycling. They implemented the current system in the late 1990s to discourage people from simply throwing stuff away.
The fee can usually be paid at your convenience store. The keyword is sodaigomi (粗大ごみ). You’ll receive stickers to write your name on and then you can place your items out with the trash.
It’s important to remember that appliances do not count as sodaigomi. If you purchased your appliance from a retailer and you kept the receipt (easier to do now with online purchases), you can usually return it to that retailer. If they won’t accept it or you lost the receipt, you may need to contact your local municipal office to figure out how to recycle it.
An alternative is the Tokyo Truck Guy. I’ve never used their service, but they offer disposal quotes.
There’s always some risk associated with shipping things via the mail. I recommend trying to keep the box weight down as much as possible, even if it means you’ll need to ship more boxes. Overpacking can strain the cardboard, which increases the risk of the box breaking during transit. I speak from experience when I say the boxes will rip if they’re too heavy.
Don’t ship valuable, important, or sentimental things. The best items to ship are clothes, shoes, and knickknacks. Avoid packing paper products unless you’re very careful because the weight adds up quickly.
You shouldn’t need a moving service unless you plan on bringing back a whole house’s worth of goods. JP Post should be sufficient for most people.
Most airlines allow for two checked bags up to 23 kg (50 lbs), one carry-on suitcase, and one personal item. Make sure to check your ticket, because baggage allowance varies widely depending on fare, destination, and airline policy.
I recommend packing the things that are most important to you, like critical documents and medication, in your carry-on luggage. Less important things can go in your checked bags.
Step 2: Inform (Basically) Everyone About Leaving Japan
There’s a pretty long list of places you’ll need to contact if you want to move home the “right” way. Forgetting a few or ghosting entirely may leave you with hefty fines if you ever return to Japan.
Tell Your Employer
Inform your employer that you’ll be quitting with at least one month’s notice. Two or three months’ notice is ideal if you want to leave on good terms. I also advise asking trusted managers for letters of recommendation if you think you’ll need them once you return to your home country.
You should consider writing your coworkers thank you cards as well. It’s a little touch that goes a long way toward maintaining your relationships. You can write them individually or write one for the entire office.
Visit City Hall
Much like your first visit to your local city hall, this visit will handle a lot of paperwork. It’s best to do this visit at the end of your time in Japan. You’ll be turning in your My Number and NHI cards, so make sure to have them with you. In theory, your My Number will be reissued if you ever return to Japan.
There is conflicting information online about paying your residence tax. I highly recommend you do so to prevent problems if you ever return. My city hall actually worked with me, so I was able to pay on the spot. It’s usually around 100,000 yen for a full year, but this varies depending on your city and income.
Inform Your Landlord
This is usually the quickest of the move-out procedures. You schedule a specific move-out date with your landlord and someone will come to inspect the apartment on your last day. They’ll deduct a cleaning fee at that time, which is usually around 20,000 yen. This can be deducted from your deposit if you have one.
Contact Your Utility Companies
There should be a number on your utility bills for you to call for cancellation. You can usually have the turn-off done the day you move out, but try to call a week or two in advance to schedule it. If you don’t have a high level of Japanese, I recommend having a Japanese friend help you. You’ll need to cancel each separately.
Your internet will be similar to cancelling your other utilities, but I hit a snag once with Yahoo BB. They only permitted cancellations at the end of the month and refused to send my bill early. I ended up using my friend as a forwarding address. I left them with a large sum of cash to pay the unspecified cancellation fee. This was in 2013, though, and I haven’t had this problem since.
Your phone contract will also need to be terminated. You may be charged a cancellation fee if you have a set-term contract (usually one or two years). The fees for breaking contract can be high and there’s usually only a brief period in which you can avoid paying it. You’ll also need to pay off the rest of your phone if the price was divided into monthly payments.
Don’t forget the little services either. Your Japanese Netflix, Amazon Prime, gym membership, etc. will all need to be cancelled as well.
Step 3: Money Matters
Foreigners are legally required to close their bank accounts when they leave Japan. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Oftentimes your last paycheck will be deposited after you leave. Bills set for autopay will continue to try to deduct directly from your account, so you may risk missing your final payments. Some bills are even staggered a full month like your salary!
Thankfully, the Japanese government usually won’t force you to close your accounts. If you plan to come back to Japan in the future, having a bank account already established may be in your favor.
If you want your last paycheck sooner than your next visit, I recommend setting up online banking well before you leave. Then you can transfer your final paycheck to your accounts in your home country with TransferWise. You may need to be able to read Japanese to do this.
Foreigners are entitled to receive Japanese pension after working in Japan for 10 years. It was previously 25 years, but that was changed in August 2017.
Some companies illegally avoid paying pension for their employees. One of my previous employers (an eikaiwa school) did not enroll their staff in the national pension plan. This is a red flag.
If you’re moving back to your home country and are positive you will never move back to Japan, I recommend looking into receiving your pension payments as a lump sum from the Japanese government. You will need to find a trusted Japanese person to act as your liaison in Japan.
Step 4: After You Move Out
Japan is known for its punctuality, but I highly recommend not moving out the day of your return home in the event that your apartment inspection is delayed.
Consider booking temporary accommodation instead. You can book it at the airport or in a major city close to your departure airport. Hostels and Airbnbs are great low-budget options. You can also stay with a friend.
Double check to make sure your visa won’t expire before your departure date. If it will, visit Immigration to request a temporary visitor visa.
Most officials probably won’t give you a hard time for the request, but I advise coming prepared with documentation. I brought a copy of my return flight confirmation, a copy of the letter from my employer confirming my contract had ended, and proof of funds for my remaining time in Japan. You’ll also need your residence card, because they’ll invalidate it as part of the procedures.
Getting Your Stuff to the Airport
I’ve traveled twice with heavy baggage between Narita and Tokyo and I can say with confidence that it isn’t for everyone. It’s absolutely exhausting.
If you’re willing to pay a bit of money and don’t want to struggle on public transportation for an hour or more, you should consider shipping your luggage to the airport. Both Yamato Transport and Sagawa Express have same- or next-day delivery options.
The prices are also pretty reasonable. It costs between 2,000 yen and 3,000 yen for one large suitcase. While I still recommend using luggage locks when you ship with either service, both companies have a solid track record for being careful with deliveries.
I aided a friend in moving home with her two cats and could probably dedicate an entire article to traveling internationally with pets, but I’ll be succinct.
You’ll need to check animal quarantine procedures in your home country first. Japan is a rabies-free country, so most countries will only require that your fur-babies be properly vaccinated before importing them. You may be required to bring a veterinary certificate that states your pet is in good health.
Many airlines have very strict pet policies. If you only have a small pet (a small dog or cat), you can usually bring them as carry-on luggage if you have a pet carrier made to airline specifications. Otherwise, you’ll need to check them. Regardless of which option you choose, your airline will probably charge a hefty fee. Also note that you’ll only be permitted one carry-on pet.
Some airlines might require you to file an application on behalf of your pet. This can include recent veterinary certificates, photos of your pet, and submitting the specifications of your pet’s travel crate. This application may be subject to approval, so be as thorough as possible.
Don’t forget to make an appointment with the Japanese Quarantine Authority and fill out export forms for your pet. This usually only takes 15 to 20 minutes, but it can be hard to find at Narita.
You’ve Got This!
Leaving Japan can be rough. There are a set of hurdles you’ll need to overcome, but be confident! You’ve got this. You figured out how to move to Japan, so you can do what you need to do to go back home.
Have you moved back recently and want to share your story with us? Do you have questions that weren’t answered here? Leave us a comment below!