Congratulations, you’ve landed in Japan! After disembarking from your flight, you’ll find yourself following a sea of people through immigration.
If you’re still in another country but plan to move to Japan soon, check out our Preparing to Move to Japan article to help with your journey. Or if you are already in Japan, but plan on moving back home, check out our guide on how to leave Japan and move back home.
The immigration official should issue you a residence card as part of processing your visa. This card will serve as your government ID in Japan, and you are required to keep it on you every time you’re out in public.
At the Airport
If you have a Yakkan Shoumei form for your medications, make sure to mention it to the customs officer. They’ll probably want to inspect your bags, but don’t stress too much. Japanese officials tend to be polite and fair in their search.
I recommend finding an ATM as soon as you enter the arrivals terminal. Japan is still very cash-based and the sooner you have some cash, the better. My suggestion is to withdraw about 20,000 yen. If you’re arriving around major holidays (such as New Year’s), consider withdrawing as much as 50,000 yen to get you through the coming days. ATMs in Japan observe bank holidays!
You’ll probably have a lot of luggage, which can be rough to handle all by yourself. If you don’t want to wrangle all of it onto public transportation with you, I recommend dropping the excess off with Yamato Transport or Sagawa Express. They’ll forward your luggage to your hotel or accommodation with same or next-day shipping!
They charge between 2,000 and 3,000 yen. I usually go with Yamato Transport, but that’s just because I’ve used them before. Both services are top notch.
Regardless of your method of entering Tokyo, I highly recommend getting an IC card at the airport. You can get PASMO or SUICA; there is almost no difference between the two. The only advantage with SUICA is a slightly higher acceptance rate outside of Tokyo, and that it’s accepted in the Tohoku region.
There are two main ways of getting into Tokyo from Narita—by bus or by train.
The fastest option is to take the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori or Ueno Station for 2, 400 yen. The Narita Express is more expensive, but goes directly to major stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama, and Omiya. This makes the Narita Express the most convenient option, in my opinion.
The cheapest train is the Keisei Main Line to Nippori or Ueno Station for 1,200 yen. It takes about 80 minutes and can get congested during rush hour. If you have a lot of luggage, this might be stressful.
While Japan’s bus system is probably one of the most reliable in the world, it’s still subject to traffic. Fortunately, getting into town doesn’t hold the same time pressure as going to the airport.
Th Airport Limousine Bus goes to the largest number of destinations within the Tokyo area. While they do have an online reservation discount, I do not recommend purchasing your ticket in advance because of the possibility of flight delays and the stress of finding the bus pick-up location in the airport.
There are also a large number of individual bus lines that serve Narita. I can’t go into all of the available options here, but if you’re not staying in central Tokyo on your first night, ask your employer if they know of a better way to get to your final destination.
Important Things to Do ASAP!
There’s a bit of legal paperwork you’ll need to complete when you move to your new home. All of this must be done within two weeks of moving to Japan and should be done as soon as you settle.
Your first step is a visit to your city hall. They’ll stamp your residence card to validate that you are a resident. They’ll also send you a very important document in the mail. This will be your temporary My Number card and your employer will need it. If you’re unsure of what to do once you receive it, please follow this link for instructions.
You will also probably need to be enrolled in National Health Insurance (NHI), unless your employer specifically states that they provide insurance. NHI covers about 70% of all your medical costs. The monthly payment varies depending on your previous year’s income. You can enroll during your first visit to city hall.
Although it’s not required, I also recommend learning your local earthquake and tsunami procedures. These disasters can strike at any time, so familiarize yourself with evacuation zones as soon as possible. Your city hall should have a list that you can ask for. The keyword is hinanbasho (避難場所).
Moving Into Your Apartment
If you haven’t already found an apartment and are staying in temporary housing until you do, check out this apartment hunting guide. If you haven’t set up temporary housing, you can look into working with a LeoPalace agent or check out a share house company like Oakhouse or J&F Plaza . I’ve personally used all three options in the past.
If you’re in company-owned housing, make sure you know what belongs to your company and what belonged to the previous tenant. You don’t want to accidentally throw away something you shouldn’t!
I usually advise my friends against living in company housing, though. Many companies use their housing as a means to gain leverage over their employees. Some require you to move out on the same day as your last day of employment and may charge exorbitant move-out fees to discourage you from quitting.
I’ve heard of companies overcharging for rent, too, but it can be an attractive option because of the costs saved from setting up your own apartment.
Regardless of what option you use, be prepared to sign a lot of paperwork!
Unless you have an agreement stating that utilities are included in your rent, like in share houses, you’ll be expected to pay for your own utilities. This means you may also have to call your utility companies to turn service on when you move in. Sometimes your real estate agent or company may offer assistance with this, especially if you don’t have a high level of Japanese.
Common utilities include electricity, gas, and water. Depending on your city or rental agreement, you may also have a fee for garbage disposal. Be a good tenant and learn your city’s rules for trash separation.
Internet access is usually another utility that you’ll need to set up. Depending on your contract, you may receive separate bills from the company that owns the cables and your ISP company. Fair warning: some internet companies (I’m looking at you, Yahoo BB,) do their set-up in month-long cycles. If you move in during a cycle, you may not gain access until the start of the next month.
There are two simple ways to pay your utilities in Japan. The first is direct deposit, which will deduct the fees each month directly from your account. If you prefer to pay in person, you will receive a slip in the mail. You can take that slip to a post office or any convenience store and pay it there.
Furnishing Your Apartment
If you get your own apartment, it might come fully or partially furnished, but most will be unfurnished. If you’re in a company-owned apartment, there may be something missing that you want.
If you’re will
Nitori and Ikea are both great options for affordable new furniture, although you’ll have to assemble it yourself. If you’re short on cash, I recommend getting a Japanese-style futon rather than a bed with a bed frame. You can always upgrade later if you want a bed, but a decent futon set only costs about 10,000 yen.
Kitchenware, towels, and other smaller household goods can be purchased from 100 yen shops like Daiso without too much sacrifice in quality. Don Quijote is another low-cost place for household necessities. Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera are also great stores to check. Don’t be deceived by their names—they offer a variety of electronics and appliances.
Setting Up a Mobile Phone
If you brought a phone from home, make sure it’s compatible with the Japanese phone network. There are three main companies to choose from. NTT Docomo is known for being the best in terms of coverage, but they’re also the most expensive. Softbank is the second largest network and has several English-speaking stores. KIDDI au is often seen as trendy, but has the smallest network coverage.
Regardless of your choice, all companies will probably charge you upfront for the price of a new phone. Foreigners are seen as a liability for loans, so it’s very difficult to get a monthly payment plan approved.
If you need a Japanese phone number, but don’t want to deal with the expense of setting up a smartphone, Softbank has a great prepaid phone option. I used one for my entire time in Japan. All carriers have competitive data-only options.
Pro-tip: If you spend a lot of time commuting on public transportation, consider getting an unlimited data plan. This’ll allow you to pass the time more easily during your commute.
Setting Up Your Bank Account
There are plenty of banking options, but your employer may require that you have an account with a specific institution. Your company may also offer assistance in setting up your account, so ask them for details.
Personally, I’ve opened both a Japan Post Bank account and a Mitsubishi UFJ account. JP Bank has the advantage of being easy to find in any part of Japan—you just need to find a post office! MUFJ has better online banking.
Regardless of the company, you will need:
- Your valid residence card (stamped by your city hall)
- Your passport
- Your Japanese address
- A Japanese phone number
- A small deposit of funds, usually at least 1,000 yen
Some companies also require a hanko, or personal seal, instead of a signature. I know JP Bank accounts allow for you to sign your paperwork, but I think I needed my hanko when I opened my MUFJ account.
Within the first year of your move, you will inevitably encounter the dreaded NHK solicitors. They can be incredibly pushy and I make a point not to own a TV out of spite. One man grabbed my door to prevent me from closing it. I’ve even had one tell me that “computers count as TVs” since it’s possible to watch NHK programming from your PC.
The best way to avoid them is to not engage. Pretend to be away from home. If I don’t expect a delivery, I don’t open the door. Period. If they do catch you and you don’t want to deal with paying their fees, speak in English. Or in another foreign language, if you know one, because sometimes they’ll have an English pamphlet.
You should also explore the area around your apartment building! Sometimes you find really great restaurants. You may find a really lovely park or a shortcut to the train station. It’ll also familiarize your neighbors with your face, even if they don’t say anything
Is it Hard Getting Set Up?
I wouldn’t call it hard, but your first month can be pretty stressful. You’re in a new place, experiencing new things, meeting new people, and you’ll have to manage getting everything else sorted too. People tend to find their own self-confidence in the process though!
Have you just moved to Japan? Do you have any tips or experiences you want to share? Leave us a comment below!