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Finding A Job In Japan
Japan remains a popular choice among expat workers: it is prosperous, safe, and has an interesting culture. But how easy is it to find work in this Asian nation? Japan currently has a shortage of workers, due in part to an ageing population, and is hiring overseas personnel to address this in a number of sectors. Teaching English remains a popular choice and can be lucrative, depending on your qualifications and experience, but there are a number of other sectors, such as IT, in which the country is booming. You will therefore find a number of opportunities if you are aiming to find work in the region and we will look at some of these options below.
You will need a work visa, but this is obtainable if you have an offer of a job. Working holiday visas are available, but not for US citizens and not if you are seeking work employment in bars, nightclubs, or gambling establishments.
It is not legal to work without a visa if you are outside the ‘permitted’ categories (for example, if you are not married to a Japanese national or if you do not have permanent residency). You can be deported and your employer may be fined.
There are currently 2 kinds of working visa: Two types of visa are available, namely the Specified Skills Visa 1- SSV1 and Specified Skills Visa 2- SSV2.
the SSV1 is for a period of five years and will allow for limited renewals (note that you will not be allowed to bring family members in on this visa) the SSV2 (beginning in 2021: this will allow holders to bring family members in and can be renewed indefinitely)
If you are applying a work visa, you will need:
• a passport
• a completed visa application form
• an up-to-date police clearance record
• your CV/resume
• 1 x photo
You will also need a Certificate of Eligibility (this is proof that you fulfill all the requirements of the job). Your employer will need to complete this on your behalf but you will need to take it to the local department of immigration. To apply for a COE you will need:
• 1 x passport photo
• a signed work contract
• copy of your qualifications
• the address of your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate-General
• dates of your previous visit to Japan (if applicable)
If you have lived in Japan for over 10 years, you may apply for permanent residency (eijyuken; 永住権) and this will mean that you are able to work without the need for a work permit.
The JET programme, which is a joint Japanese/English teaching programme, is still going strong and if you are interested in teaching English in Japan you may like to explore this option.
Although TEFL is a major contributor to employment, there are also opportunities for qualified personnel in the tech industry, engineering, investment banking and other sectors. There is also work available for translators and interpreters.
Bilingual personnel are in demand, so if you speak Japanese, you will have an advantage, particularly if you are working for a local rather than an international company.
Typical working hours in Japan are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Average working hours per week are currently set at 40 hours. Japan also has flexi-time working hours. Overtime is available: in practice Japan has very high working hours, however, and there are efforts to decrease these.
Full time employees are guaranteed a minimum 10 days of paid annual leave per year after serving an initial 6 months of employment. This may rise to 18 days after a longer period of employment. Japan currently has 12 days of public holidays to which you will be entitled, although employers are not obliged to pay you for these.
Maternity leave will cover you for 6 weeks prior to giving birth and 8 weeks after. Your maternity leave will be paid out of social security and labor insurance. There is also an option for paternity leave.
The average hourly minimum wage in Japan is currently ¥874 ($8.20).
If you are a non-Japanese national who is married to a Japanese national or permanent resident of Japan, you will be eligible to apply for a spouse visa (haigusha; 配偶者) and engage in paid work while in Japan. A spouse visa is normally renewable after 3 years. Note that if you are not a Japanese national or permanent resident, your spouse will not be granted an automatic right of employment and in addition, if you have a SSV1 visa, you will not be able to bring your spouse into the country.
You may wish to apply to a recruitment agency. There are a number of online jobs boards covering vacancies in Japan.
It is recommended that you apply for work before you arrive in Japan, because the cost of living is quite high and you will need sufficient funds to cover your stay.
You can also apply to Japanese companies directly.
Applying For A Job
It is recommended that you have your CV/resume translated into Japanese.
Men and women are equal under Japanese law. It is not legal to discriminate against someone on the basic of disability. Anti-discrimination is also in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Qualifications And Training
It is recommended that you get any certificates or diplomas translated into Japanese and, to be on the safe side, have your qualifications apostilled.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
Japan is one of the world’s major tourist destinations, and it is also an appealing employment destination to some expats. Visiting the country from most Western nations is usually straightforward, but you will find some additional regulatory requirements if you want to work there.
Whether or not you will need a visa depends on your nationality, the proposed length of your stay and your reason for visiting Japan. There are 68 countries whose citizens can enter visa-free for tourism or business. In general, if you come from one of these nations, which include the UK and the USA, you will have a grace period during which you will not need a visa. But if you plan to take up employment, you will need a work permit.
Tourists can also apply for a double-entry visa for two short trips within a six-month period.
Some nationalities need a transit visa to stop over in Japan on their way to another destination. However, many travellers will not need this, so long as they stay within the allocated zone and do not leave the airport.
If you have a British passport, you can enter Japan as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa. You may need to provide evidence of a return or onward ticket. Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
If you are a US citizen, you will need a valid passport and an onward/return ticket for tourist/business visa-free stays of up to 90 days. Your passport must be valid for the entire time you are staying in Japan. US citizens cannot work on a 90-day visa-free entry. As a general rule, visa-free entry status cannot be changed to another visa status, unless you depart and then re-enter Japan with the appropriate visa.
If you are planning on spending a longer time in Japan, for example for recreational or cultural reasons, you can apply for a long term visa, which is applicable for six months. This can be extended to a year once you are in the country. This visa has strict financial regulations. To apply, you will need to be 18 years or older and have savings equivalent to more than 30 million Japanese yen (US$273K). You will also need to submit:
• Your passport
• Your visa application form (with a photo)
• An original certificate of eligibility and a duplicate copy
If you submit a certificate of eligibility, you do not need to submit the documents below.
• Schedule of stay
• Documents, such as a bankbook, to prove that your savings are more than 30 million Japanese yen (US$273K), along with records indicating the current balance as well as deposits and withdrawals for the past six months
• Documents to prove that you hold private medical travel insurance
If you apply from outside of your own country, you will also need to submit documents to prove that you legally reside or work in the country you are applying from.
It takes at least a week to process a visa application. You can either attend the embassy in person or use a registered visa agent to apply for a visa, unless the application is for a student visa, a working holiday visa, or a spouse or child of Japanese national visa.
The Japanese government has plans to establish an e-visa from 2020, which is intended to streamline the visa application process.
The fees are about 3,000 yen (US$27) for a single-entry visa, 6,000 yen (US$55) for a double-entry or multiple-entry visa, and 700 yen (US$6) for a transit visa. Fees are collected in the currency of the country (region) in which the embassy / consulate general is located.
You will need a work visa if you want to take up employment in Japan, but this is obtainable if you have an offer of a job. Working holiday visas are available, but not for US citizens and not if you are seeking work employment in bars, nightclubs, or gambling establishments.
It is not legal to work without a visa if you are outside the permitted categories – for example, if you are not married to a Japanese national, or if you do not have permanent residency. You can be deported and your employer may be fined.
There are currently two kinds of working visa: the specified skills visa 1- SSV1 and the specified skills visa 2- SSV2.
The SSV1 is for a period of five years and will allow for limited renewals. Note that you will not be allowed to bring family members with you on this visa.
Beginning in 2021, the SSV2 will allow you to bring family members with you, and can be renewed indefinitely.
If you are applying for a work visa, you will need:
• A passport
• A completed visa application form
• An up-to-date police clearance record
• Your CV/resume
• One photo
You will also need a certificate of eligibility, which is proof that you fulfil all the requirements of the job. Your employer will need to complete this on your behalf, but you will need to take it to the local department of immigration. To apply for a certificate of eligibility, you will need:
• One passport photo
• A signed work contract
• A copy of your qualifications
• The address of your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate general
• Dates of your previous visit to Japan (if applicable)
ResidencyIf you have lived in Japan for over 10 years, you may apply for permanent residency (eijyuken; 永住権), and this will mean that you are able to work without a work permit.
There is also a temporary business visa for stays of up to 90 days, which can be a single-entry visa, or a double-entry visa, if both trips are within a six-month period. Business purposes include conferences, meetings, signing contracts, and market surveys.
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer "Moratorium" or is it "Full underwriting" and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
If you’re looking to stay in Japan for the short- to medium-term and want to rent property, you’re in luck, as the process is pretty straightforward. However, be prepared to pay for extra costs, on top of rent, such as realtor fees and insurance premiums.
Typically, apartment contracts last for one or two years in Japan, and are breakable if you give two months’ notice. They usually come unfurnished and do not include utilities. To find an apartment, you’ll probably have to go through a realtor, as the vast majority of properties are not rented out directly by landlords. Before you sign a lease and officially move in, you’ll need to secure a guarantor, who must be a Japanese citizen, and pay a series of fees. You can hire a guarantor from a company if you don’t have someone who can serve as one for you.
Common fees include:
• Guarantor fees: usually 50% to 100% of one month’s rent
• Insurance fees: starts at $190, but can be more expensive depending on the size and location of the apartment
• Realtor fees: usually 100% of one month’s rent
• A cleaning fee: starts at $190, but can be more expensive depending on the apartment
• “Key money” (literally translated to gratitude money): this started during the housing shortage of 100 years ago as a “present” to the landlord, but has now become mandatory, and usually equates to 100% of one month’s rent
• Changing lock fee: $100 or more
• Maintenance fees
You may also have to make additional deposits, such as if you have a pet or are renting a furnished apartment.
In order to sign your lease, you’ll need money for all the above deposits and fees, as well as your visa or residence card. You can’t rent property on a 90-day tourist visa, but most other visas, including study and work visas, are valid for renting. You’ll also need a Japanese phone number, proof of income (usually a statement from your Japanese bank and a letter from your employer) or savings, an emergency contact, and a signature stamp. Signature stamps, called hanko or inkan, are your official signature in Japan. You can get them at Hankoya shops or online, and they usually cost about $30 and are ready in a few days.
If you want accommodation for just a few months, your best short-term option would be a gaijin house, or guest house, which is a shared house run by companies marketing to foreigners. They come furnished and don’t require a guarantor. Often, they’ll have shared common spaces, including kitchens and bathrooms, and private bedrooms.
Expats who are looking for properties to rent can start by checking out online listings at Suumo and CHINTAI, both of which are in Japanese but can be translated. Alternatively, you can use Apts.jp, which is in English and specialises in helping foreigners find one- to two-year rentals.
Prices vary depending on exact locations, but in general, rent in Japan is relatively high due to its large population and small size. Accommodation is cheapest in the countryside and more expensive in major expat destinations, including the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Example rents in those cities include:
• A one-bedroom in Tokyo will cost an average of $1,200/month
• A three-bedroom in Tokyo will cost an average of $2,800/month
• A one-bedroom in Kyoto will cost an average of $640/month
• A three-bedroom in Kyoto will cost an average of $1,400/month
• A one-bedroom in Osaka will cost an average of $700/month
• A three-bedroom in Osaka will cost an average of $1,300 /month
If you’re planning on starting the rental process, keep in mind a few Japan-specific tips:
Most rentals in Japan aren’t listed in ways you might be used to. For example, apartments aren’t sorted into ‘studios’, ‘one-bedrooms’ etc. Instead, an ‘L’ is used to refer to an apartment with a living room, a ‘D’ is used for dining room, a ‘K’ for kitchen, an ‘S’ for storage or extra room, and an ‘R’ for an apartment that is one single room (what you might know as a studio). So a 1K is an apartment with one bedroom and a separate kitchen. A 2LDK is an apartment with two bedrooms and a larger space that is the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Even if they are standalone spaces, they likely won’t have doors separating them. All accommodations come with a bathroom, though it’s usually a small room with the toilet in the shower.
Within listings, room sizes are usually listed in tatami, or woven mats. A six-jo room is a room with six tatami, or 9.6 square metres (one tatami is about 1.8m x .9m, or 1.6 square metres).
If your apartment has tatami floors, or traditional woven mats, be careful about the type of furniture you use. Heavy wooden or metal pieces can damage the mats, which are difficult to replace.
Keep an eye out for stigmatised property, or jiko bukken. These properties are places that were home to unfortunate incidents, including deaths or suicides, and are often hard to rent to Japanese people. As a result, rents for these properties are often cheaper by 20% or more.
If you’re planning to stay in Japan long-term and want to own property there, you should have no problems in making this happen. Unlike many other countries, Japan makes it fairly easy for expats to buy property. For example, you don’t need to be a citizen to buy a home.
If you’re looking for property for sale, try using popular websites, such as Summo, At Home, and O-uccino. Also, you can look for a realtor to help you find properties that have yet to hit the market. Century21 is popular in big Japanese cities, and several expat-focused companies exist, including Real Estate Japan.
Once you’ve found a property you like, it’s time to begin the house-buying procedure. If you’re trying to buy a new property, you’ll need to fill out an application and submit it to the development company, along with an application fee (which will be $190 or more). If you’re buying a pre-owned home, you’ll submit a letter of intent to the seller. In both cases, you’ll submit “earnest money,” which is a deposit paid to the seller that’s meant to demonstrate the goodwill and serious nature of your intention to buy. It’s usually between 5% and 10% of the purchase price, and it counts towards that payment once all the paperwork is completed. As you’re submitting your letter of intent or your application, you’ll also be preparing your loan application.
The most difficult part of the process is securing a loan. Lenders provide financing to individuals only if they’ll be allocating no more than 25% of their annual gross income to their mortgage payments. To qualify for a loan, you’ll usually need to have permanent residence status, be married to a Japanese citizen, or at least have long-term residency and a work visa.
If the seller is ready to do business with you, they will send you an “Explanation of Important Matters,” or a document that explains, in detail, information about the property, including any property disputes with neighbours, legal restrictions on future builds, location of utility access, any past incidents on the property, any soil pollution, and more.
Once you’ve read and agreed to this document, you’ll sign a Purchase Agreement with the seller, by stamping it with your inkan, which is a seal of your name in Japanese characters, as described above. From there, you’ll formally apply for a loan (if you need one), which will usually take about two months to be approved. Then you’ll sign for the loan, do one final check of the property, and complete the legal transfer of ownership with the seller.
For expats buying property in Japan, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you were planning to rent your property to provide you with a source of income, you may encounter issues. Vacancy rates in Tokyo are north of 30%, and a 2018 law restricts the number of days a short-term rental can be leased to 180. Also, Japan’s geographical location means that it’s prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, so keep in mind the potential damages these can cause.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Japan health insurance
The Health Service In Japan
The Japanese public insurance system is divided into two parts, covering different groups of residents. Employees’ Health Insurance is further separated into:
• Union Managed Health Insurance
• Government Managed Health Insurance
• Seaman’s Insurance
• National Public Workers Mutual Aid Association Insurance
• Local Public Workers Mutual Aid Association Insurance
• Private School Teachers’ and Employees’ Mutual Aid Association Insurance
NHI covers students, the self-employed, the unemployed, and those working fewer than 30 hours per week, and is divided into:
• National Health Insurance for each city, town or village
• National Health Insurance Union
As an expat, you will need to register for public health insurance as soon as you arrive in Japan. Your monthly contributions will be deducted from your pay cheque if you are registered with Employees’ Health Insurance, and the amount deducted will be based on your salary.
Coverage for medical costs will vary depending on which scheme you have been registered with, but overall you will need to pay 10%, 20% or 30% of the costs of your healthcare, with the government covering the remainder. Fees are established by a regulatory committee and they also set monthly thresholds, depending on income and age. If your medical fees exceed this threshold, the excess will be reimbursed or waived by the government.
If you are not insured for any reason you will be liable for 100% of your medical fees, but if your household falls beneath a low-income threshold receiving a healthcare subsidy then the government will pay.
Hospitals must by law be run on a non-profit basis in Japan, and private companies are not allowed to own hospitals. Clinics must be owned by the doctors who work there.
Your employer should register you with Employees’ Health Insurance. If they have not done so, you may need to sign yourself up at the local municipal office. Not all government employees speak English, so you might need to arrange for interpretation.
If you are neither employed nor self-employed, you will need to register for NHI yourself. In either case, you will need to present your Alien Registration Card at the Residential Affairs Division at your local City Office or Ward Office. You must also contact the municipal office if you are going back to your home country; moving to another town or city; or changing your name or address.
You will need:
• your passport
• your residence card
• your My Number ID card, covering social security
You will then be sent a health insurance card in the post. You will need to bring this with you whenever you visit a GP, clinic or prescription pharmacy. It is valid for a year and you will be sent a new card every year until your residency ends.
You will be able to choose your own primary care provider.
Open A Bank Account
Debit And Credit Cards
Department stores, chain retailers and online merchants will accept debit and credit cards without any problem.
However, whilst Japan is a modern, sophisticated society which embraces technology, it is not a cashless society by any means. Therefore, you should always carry some money in your wallet; possibly more than you would feel comfortable carrying around back home.
Typically, small traders will only accept cash. This applies to many cafes and restaurants as well as taxi and bus drivers.
It’s an unwritten rule to leave a cash donation to a temple or shrine when you visit, so do remember this before you arrive.
If you find yourself hungry and without cash, head to the restaurant in your nearest department store, as they will accept your credit card.
ATMs are plentiful in Japan. Cities and towns are densely populated, which means services in busy neighbourhoods are good, as so many people live nearby to use them.
Obviously if you live in a rural area you will have more difficulty accessing ATMs. Post offices and bank branches will usually have them, but these services have restricted opening hours and are closed throughout the weekend.
The ATM menu will often include an option for English. Portuguese may also be one of the languages on offer.
International cards are accepted by the majority of ATMs, although you may not be able to use these cards in the small machines in convenience stores. However, the currency conversion may be a higher rate than market best, and a foreign currency charge of one to three percent may be applied. You may be happy with this if you are just travelling and can look into the terms and conditions of each card to see what your best option are before leaving home.
However, if you are an expat living in Japan, it makes sense to open a bank account locally and withdraw your cash without paying additional charges.
Unfortunately, bank branches in Japan are open for fewer hours than you would find in most countries. They open Monday to Friday, but close for the whole weekend as well as all national holidays. Bank branches usually open at 9am and close at 3pm. As a result, lunchtimes can be busy.
Can I Open A Bank Account In Japan?
Anyone legally living in Japan is allowed to open a bank account there. The application form will ask you to confirm that you are a resident and that you pay your taxes in Japan.
Your residence card and evidence of financial circumstances will be checked. The bank needs to be sure you are a legitimate applicant who will use the account for legal and honest purposes. You’ll have to complete a form confirming this.
If you do not live in Japan, every bank in the country will reject your application.
How To Choose A Bank Account In Japan
You can’t ask your UK or US bank to transfer your account across to their Japanese operations as these banks simply don’t have a presence in Japan. As Jonathan, a UK expat living in central Tokyo, warns: “Opening a bank account may take time as all foreign banks have now pulled out of the market, or are in the process of leaving due to competition in the retail market.”
If you are settling straight into an area for the medium to long term, assessing the banks nearby is a good starting point. That way, you have ready access to ATM facilities and can pop in to the branch easily. In a city, you are likely to have a decent range of nearby banks to choose from.
Have a look at your chosen bank’s website. Some will have pages set up in English, which will be helpful if you don’t speak Japanese fluently. However, do check the site is secure, with a page address beginning ‘https’. If it doesn’t have this, it isn’t safe to use for sensitive information such as payments and online bank account access.
Each bank should publicly list their fees and charges, and any interest they offer on an account. You should be able to find these on the website and in the branch.
If you are unsure which bank to sign up with, why not ask the expat community for their experiences? The ExpatFocus Forum and closed Facebook group both give you the opportunity to ask for recommendations.
As with any other financial matter, be careful not to go into too much detail about your personal finances online. Talking about which banks have good customer service for expats is the kind of information that is fine to share.
Opening A Bank Account
If you live in an expat area, you have a good chance of talking to an English-speaking member of staff when opening a bank account. However, if you make an appointment in advance, the bank has more time to make appropriate arrangements.
Luckily, banks often have tablets which the staff use to provide you with the forms in English. You can complete them on the tablet whilst sitting in the bank branch, and they can be processed at the same time as your evidence is checked.
Don’t forget to bring your residence card, which you are supposed to carry everywhere with you. You will have produced evidence of your identity, address and right to stay in the country to obtain this card, so the bank is usually happy to accept it as proof for all those checks. However, if you want to be sure that everything runs smoothly, taking your passport and proof of address along is a good idea.
The bank will probably want to establish your financial position. So bring along your employment contract, any recent wage slips for your current job, and your most recent bank statement.
Some banks ask for a hanko, or personal seal. Others are happy to accept a signature.
Your Japanese Bank Account Numbers
Your new bank account will have a three-digit sort code and a seven-digit account number.
Your bank card will allow you to access your funds at an ATM, or pay for goods during a trip to a retailer, when you use your four digit PIN. This number is only known to the card holder and must be kept secret. If you tell anyone else your PIN online or in person, the bank is not liable for any theft from your account.
Japan Has A Secure Financial Environment
The official currency of Japan is the yen (¥), which is controlled by the government and the Bank of Japan.
Banking systems in Japan are regulated and monitored, and fraud levels are low.
Bank deposits are insured by the Bank Deposit System. If a bank were to become bankrupt, the money in your account will be safe and will be returned to you. In 2018, regulators began investigating how to incorporate new, technology-based financial businesses, known as fintech, into the same regulatory framework as traditional banks. If this succeeds, banks will not be the only institutions able to hold customer deposits. However, deposit insurance is an important element of this forthcoming regulatory change.
Japan experienced a lengthy period of financial contraction in 1990, which became known as the ‘great recession’. However, economist Richard Koo argued that it was really a: "balance sheet recession". Japan remains an expensive country in which to live, and whilst the country’s debt levels remain high, according to an opinion piece in the Financial Times: “most of the debt is owned by the central bank and the domestic financial system”.
The Bank of Japan
Japan has a central bank, known in English as the Bank of Japan. They have a website in English which offers information about the bank’s functions, policies, news and key personnel.
If you want to know more about Japan’s monetary policy, the Bank of Japan’s website is an excellent and reliable resource.
The head of the Bank of Japan is the Governor. Decisions are made about this position by the cabinet, and announced on the Bank of Japan website.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them "on demand" whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic - your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up - ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution - many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine - but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent - many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money - such as the proceeds of a property - a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Learn The Language
If you are moving to Japan, you may be wondering how best to communicate in this very different culture. Will you have to learn Japanese, or can you get by in English alone? We will look at some of your options below.
Japanese is an ancient language, but it is not the only one that is spoken in the Japanese archipelago. There are a number of Japonic languages, some of which are held by UNESCO to be endangered, including the Ainu language, Evenk, and the Ryukyuan languages. The official language of the country is Japanese itself, which is based on the Tokyo dialect. Japan is a homogenous country, but immigration has become a factor in recent years, so you may find people who speak Korean, for example.
Japanese probably dates from very early times, but Chinese characters were adopted as a written language and became modified over time, so that now, the Chinese and Japanese scripts do not bear a very close resemblance to one another. However, Japanese uses three different alphabets — Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji — which look different and are used differently. Hiragana and Kanji are used to form sentences and Katakana is mainly used for foreign loan words.
When traders from Europe began making contact with Japan, Portuguese and then Dutch became contact languages. Today, Kanbun (Classical Chinese) is taught in Japanese schools and has a similar status to Latin in the European education system.
Many Japanese people in cities will speak at least some English, but use of the language is not widespread across the country and once you get outside the large urban centres, particularly Tokyo where English is more widely understood, and tourist sites, you may find that people do not speak very much English at all. In addition, the Japanese are a reserved people and English language teachers will tell you that whilst their standards of written English and their reading skills are usually very good, they prefer not to speak, due to a fear of getting things wrong. English pronunciation is also hard for native Japanese speakers. This obviously makes spoken communication difficult.
Signage in cities is often in English. Expats report that railway personnel tend to speak quite good English. Some restaurants will advertise that they have English menus.
However, English is not yet widespread as a language of business communication in Japan. You will find it more widely in those companies which are either international, or which have departments dealing with overseas trade. Japanese companies say that they are aware of the lack of English and recognise its importance as an international language, and the situation has started to change in the last few years, with major companies such as cosmetics giant Shiseido and car firm Honda making English the official corporate language. This process, which is known as ‘Englishization,’ was begun in 2010 with e-commerce company Rakuten and has been spreading ever since, with companies providing in-house English classes. Japanese companies are conscious that other Asian countries tend to be more bilingual, thus giving them an edge over monolingual Japan when it comes to international trade. So you may find yourself working for a company which uses English as the in-house tongue – but you may not. In either case, it is strongly recommended that you master at least a few basic Japanese phrases.
Expats also say that learning Katakana will prove very valuable, and also learning essential words (such as the name of your railway stop) in Kanji will prove useful. This is particularly important if you are going to be travelling outside Tokyo.
If you wish to take advantage of an immersive environment while you are in Japan and learn the language, you will find plenty of provision. There are a plethora of private language schools but you may want to enquire about enrolment in your local university, as they will also run language courses. Classes can be expensive, particularly in Tokyo, although enlisting with a language training school – where trainee teachers can practice on you – is a cost effective option and you may find private one-to-one tuition is cheaper, too. Language swaps are also possible, where you team up with a native Japanese speaker who wants to learn English, and there are volunteer-run conversation classes, too.
Japan is a popular destination for English teachers, and there is a growing demand, particularly, as we have seen above, in the corporate sector. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. In Japan, experience with the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) will be helpful, as the test is widely used in the country.
Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA. You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in summer schools.
It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools require this: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work. Hiring in Japan runs year round and your average salary is likely to be in the region of US$1500 – 2500 per month (note that the cost of living in Japan is quite high, however).
Choose A School
The educational system in Japan consists of:
• nursery school: (ages 3 - 6 - Yōchien 幼稚園)
• elementary school (ages 6 – 12 - Chūgakkō 中学)
• middle school (ages 12 - 15 - Shōgakkō 小学)
• high school (ages 15 - 18 - Kōkō 高校,)
• university (大学, Daigaku) or vocational school (専 門 学校, Senmongakkō (4 – 6 years)
The compulsory education period (gimukyoiku) is nine years: six in elementary school and three in middle school, but in practice the majority of students progress on to high school. There are no tuition or exam fees for the compulsory education period. Note, however, that attending school is not mandatory for expat children – although in practice, many expat children will be enrolled.
Children will learn a standard curriculum including subjects such as history, maths, Japanese and the sciences, but will also learn some traditional elements such as shodo (writing the letters of kanji) and haiku. There are also social elements to early education, too: students are organised into cleaning teams, for instance. Extra-curricular clubs, devoted to subjects such as music or baseball, are also popular. Note that some international schools, too, may include elements of Japanese culture in their curricula.
In addition, Japan has agricultural, industrial, and commercial high schools and five-year colleges of technology (kōtō senmon gakkō) combining general education with specialist technical training for students who wish to move straight out into the workplace once they have completed their education.
The school year begins in April. Japan has one of the longest school days (six hours) in the world, starting at 8.30 am. The school day in the public sector runs from Monday–Friday, with half-days on Saturdays twice a month. Terms usually run from April-June, September-November, and December-March.
The educational standard here is extremely high: Japan is estimated to have some of the best quality education globally, with the standard subjects forming the core of the curriculum but in addition, an ethical and moral component. There is still an emphasis on testing here, and the phenomenon of ‘exam hell’ is one that pertains in the Japanese education system – student burn-out is common - although this is slowly beginning to change. Many students are still enrolled in juku, after-school cramming classes.
Japan ranked second in science and fifth in maths in the PISA educational survey among 72 participating countries and regions, and it scored highest among the 35 OECD member countries in both fields.
Public sector education tends to be quite strict, and students must wear a uniform. They will eat lunch in their classroom with their teacher. Japan is a society which places a high value on conformity and their education system reflects this.
If you enrol your child in the Japanese public sector, the curriculum will be taught in Japanese: although an increasing number of schools teach English classes, the bulk of education will be in the country’s official language.
Whether or not you want your child to be educated in Japanese will depend partly on how long you intend to stay in the country: if you are an expat married to a Japanese national, for instance, you may wish your child to become bilingual but if you are in the country for a shorter time you may prefer to consider education in the private sector, perhaps at an international school (some of these, such as the Jinseki International School in Hiroshima, offer tuition in both English and Japanese). In addition, private sector lower-age pupils have an increased chance of entering popular high schools. If your child is aiming at a Japanese university, you will need to enrol them in an international school which teaches the International Baccalaureate: qualifications from some international schools may not be accepted by Japanese universities.
A number of schools are now offering tuition to students who have already completed part of their education abroad, such as the International Christian University High School. There are a relatively small number of private schools in the country at elementary level but around 26% of Japan’s high schools are private.
International schools themselves are organised into different groups of ‘associations’: the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), for example, offers North American curricula, whereas the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) follows European models. Which you choose will depend on your personal situation and whether, for instance, you are planning to return to your home nation. You may wish to check if your selected school is registered with an international body such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) or the the Council of International Schools (CIS).
Enrolment will vary from school to school but you may need to supply school reports and teachers’ references in addition to other documentation, such as a placement test. Your child may also need to have a language proficiency test and an interview with the headteacher.
Fees will vary but you may find yourself looking at annual costs of 2.5 / 3 million yen (up to US$30K per annum). Private education here is expensive, especially in Tokyo. You will have some additional costs, such as school uniforms and possibly a registration fee.
Homeschooling is legal in Japan and since it is not mandatory for the children of expats to attend school here, this is a potential option should you choose to explore it. There are homeschooling groups at local levels.