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Moving to Japan? Here's everything you need to know

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buying property foreigner Japan

Everything you need to know before buying real estate is included in our Japan Property Pack

If you're reading this, chances are you're contemplating the exciting possibility of moving to Japan. Whether you're seeking an escape from the mundane, a new career opportunity, or just an incredible experience, this expat guide is your go-to resource for making that leap to that country.

In this article, we'll dive into all the essential aspects of relocating to Japan, from visas and accommodation to cultural etiquette and local cuisine.

Also, if you're interested in making a property investment in Japan, please note that you can get our pack of documents related to the real estate market in Japan. This pack will also give you unlimited access to our team of experts, allowing you to ask them anything related to Japan.

Moving to Japan

The expat population in Japan

The allure of Japan lies in its blend of traditional culture and cutting-edge technology, along with its high standard of living and distinct lifestyle.

The cultural aspect of Japan is a significant draw. The country has a rich history and traditions, ranging from tea ceremonies to martial arts, which are still very much a part of modern life.

The reverence for nature, seen in practices like cherry blossom viewing and traditional gardens, offers a serene backdrop to the hustle of city life.

This cultural richness is something that's quite specific to Japan and not as prominent in neighboring countries.

Technologically, Japan is a leader, especially in fields like robotics, electronics, and automotive engineering. This attracts professionals and enthusiasts from these sectors.

The country's infrastructure, including its efficient public transportation system and cutting-edge urban planning, makes daily life convenient and is a point of admiration for many.

The quality of life in Japan is another major factor.

It's known for its safety, cleanliness, and excellent public services. Healthcare and education systems are highly regarded, making it an attractive destination for families and individuals seeking a stable, well-organized environment.

However, it's not just professionals and families who are drawn to Japan.Students are attracted by the prestigious educational institutions and unique study opportunities, especially in fields like technology and language studies.

Additionally, the country's pop culture, including anime, manga, and video games, has a global fanbase, drawing younger crowds wanting to experience the birthplace of their favorite entertainment firsthand.

Despite these appealing factors, moving to Japan is not without its challenges.

The language barrier can be significant, as English is not widely spoken outside major cities. This can make everyday tasks and integration into the community challenging.

Furthermore, the work culture in Japan is known for being intense, with long hours and a strong emphasis on conformity and hierarchy, which can be a difficult adjustment.

Culturally, while the traditions are appealing, they can also lead to a sense of isolation for foreigners who might find it hard to fully integrate into society.

Japan's society is quite homogeneous, and cultural differences can sometimes lead to a feeling of being an outsider.

Visas and immigration in Japan

Japan offers a variety of visa types for expats, each tailored to different purposes and durations of stay.

Firstly, common visa types include work visas, student visas, family-related visas, and specific visas for highly skilled professionals.

Work visas are usually granted for fields like engineering, humanities, international services, and intracompany transfers. A student visa is necessary for those planning to study in Japan. If you have a Japanese spouse or child, a family-related visa is applicable.

The highly skilled professional visa is a points-based system aimed at attracting individuals with advanced skills and expertise.

Obtaining a visa in Japan can be more stringent compared to some other countries. The process typically requires a solid proof of employment or academic enrollment, financial stability, and sometimes a guarantor or sponsor in Japan.

The documentation required is detailed and must be meticulously prepared. It's important to start the process well in advance of your planned move.

Regarding legal issues like visa renewals, it's vital to be aware of the expiration date of your visa and start the renewal process several months before it expires. Japan is strict about visa regulations, and overstaying can lead to serious consequences, including deportation.

The renewal process usually requires similar documentation to the initial application, along with proof of continued eligibility (like ongoing employment or study).

For those seeking long-term residency, Japan offers a Long-Term Resident visa, which can be granted under specific circumstances, such as having Japanese ancestry or being a refugee. The requirements vary widely depending on the reason for applying.

After a certain period of continuous residency (usually 10 years), expats can apply for Permanent Residency. This status requires a demonstrated ability to support oneself financially, a clean criminal record, and a history of obeying Japan’s laws and regulations.

If expats encounter legal issues or need advice on visas and residency, besides seeking assistance from organizations, there are several options.

Consulting an immigration lawyer is a common approach. Many law firms in Japan have English-speaking lawyers who specialize in immigration law.

Additionally, some community groups and non-profit organizations offer free or low-cost legal consultations for foreigners.

Another option is to seek advice from your country's embassy or consulate in Japan. They often provide basic legal guidance and can refer you to reputable local lawyers or legal services.

Finally, online forums and social media groups for expats in Japan can be a valuable resource. Members often share their experiences and advice on dealing with legal matters, although it's important to verify any information with a professional.

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Renting or buying a property in Japan

If you consider buying a property in Japan, we have prepared everything you need in our property pack for Japan.

Housing in Japan offers a range of options, each with its own set of characteristics and peculiarities that reflect the unique nature of the Japanese real estate market.

For rentals, apartments are the most common option, particularly in cities. They range from small, one-room studios (often referred to as '1K') to larger, multi-bedroom apartments.

In suburban and rural areas, detached houses are also available, offering more space but typically located further from city centers.

Traditional Japanese houses, known as 'minka', are also an option, though less common and often located in more rural areas.

The Japanese real estate market has some particular features. For instance, when renting, you may encounter costs like 'key money' (a non-refundable payment to the landlord), a refundable security deposit, and a non-refundable commission to the real estate agency.

Additionally, it's common to renew the lease annually, which may involve additional fees.

Rental prices in Japan vary significantly depending on the region and the city. Tokyo, as the capital and largest city, has some of the highest rental costs, especially in central areas and popular neighborhoods. Other major cities like Osaka and Yokohama also have higher rental prices. In contrast, suburban and rural areas tend to offer more affordable housing.

Several factors influence rental costs in Japan. Location is paramount. Properties in central city areas, near popular districts, or close to train stations command higher rents.

The age and condition of the building also play a role, with newer buildings generally costing more. Amenities like air conditioning, modern appliances, and building services (like security or maintenance) can also drive up the price.

Regarding property ownership, foreigners can buy and own real estate in Japan without significant restrictions. There's no requirement for residency or citizenship, making Japan relatively open compared to some other countries in terms of property ownership by foreigners.

However, owning a property in Japan doesn't grant any particular residency rights, so if you're not a resident, you'll still need to comply with visa regulations.

When buying property, foreigners face the same process as Japanese citizens. This includes finding a property, securing financing (if necessary), and going through the legal process of transferring ownership.

It's advisable to work with a real estate agent familiar with working with foreigners, as they can help navigate the unique aspects of the Japanese market and handle the necessary paperwork, which is often in Japanese.

One potential limitation for foreigners is securing financing from Japanese banks. Some banks may be hesitant to provide mortgages to non-residents or those without a stable income in Japan.

As such, many foreigners opt to buy property in cash or secure financing from overseas.

Retirement in Japan

Retiring in Japan is a choice that some people make for various reasons, though it's not as common for foreigners as it is for locals.

The typical profile of a retiree in Japan often includes those who have developed a deep affinity for Japanese culture or have established personal ties in the country, such as through marriage or long-term residence.

These individuals usually have a strong understanding of the Japanese language and are familiar with the local customs and way of life, which is crucial for a comfortable retirement in Japan.

Some expats are drawn to retire in Japan due to its high standard of healthcare, safety, and public services. Japan is known for its excellent healthcare system, which is accessible and affordable, especially for those enrolled in the national health insurance system.

The country's low crime rate and clean, well-maintained public spaces also contribute to its appeal as a retirement destination.

There are specific areas in Japan that are popular among retirees, including both Japanese nationals and expats. These areas often have a milder climate, natural beauty, and a relaxed pace of life.

Places like Okinawa, famous for its subtropical climate and beautiful beaches, or the rural areas of the Kansai region, known for their natural scenery and cultural heritage, are attractive to those looking for a peaceful retirement.

However, retirement communities in the Western sense are not as prevalent in Japan as in some other countries. Instead, retirees might choose smaller homes or apartments in quieter neighborhoods.

Despite these attractions, retiring in Japan comes with its challenges.

The language barrier is one of the biggest hurdles. Daily life, healthcare, and legal matters predominantly operate in Japanese, and navigating these without proficient language skills can be difficult.

Another challenge is the cost of living, particularly in major cities like Tokyo or Osaka.

While healthcare is affordable, other living expenses like housing, food, and transportation can add up, especially if you're looking for a lifestyle similar to what you might be accustomed to in Western countries.

Social integration is another aspect to consider. Japanese society is quite homogeneous, and retirees may find it challenging to fully integrate into their local communities, especially in more rural areas.

This can lead to a sense of isolation if one does not actively seek out social interactions and community involvement.

In terms of legalities, while Japan does not offer a retirement visa per se, there are ways to reside in the country long-term, such as through a spouse visa or a long-term resident visa under certain circumstances.

However, as already mentioned, these visas come with their own set of requirements and restrictions, which need careful consideration.

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buying property foreigner Japan

Living in Japan

Cost of living

Living comfortably in Japan can vary greatly in cost depending on the city and lifestyle.

In general, to live comfortably in a major city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, you might need a range of approximately 250,000 to 400,000 JPY per month, which roughly translates to about 1,900 to 3,000 USD or 1,700 to 2,700 EUR. This range can fluctuate based on factors like housing preferences, lifestyle, and personal spending habits.

In Tokyo, which is the most expensive city, living costs are at the higher end of this range. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center can cost around 150,000 JPY (about 1,130 USD or 1,020 EUR) per month.

Osaka and Kyoto are slightly less expensive but still require a substantial budget, especially for centrally located housing.

Groceries in Japan can vary in cost. On average, you might spend around 30,000 to 50,000 JPY (about 225 to 375 USD or 200 to 340 EUR) per month on groceries. Japanese supermarkets offer a wide range of products, and while local produce and domestic products can be reasonable, imported goods tend to be pricier.

Dining out is a significant part of Japanese culture, and costs can vary widely. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant may cost around 800 to 1,000 JPY (6 to 8 USD or 5 to 7 EUR), while a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant can cost between 3,000 and 5,000 JPY (23 to 38 USD or 20 to 34 EUR) per person.

Transportation is another important factor. Public transportation in Japan is efficient and widely used. A monthly pass for local transit can range from 10,000 to 20,000 JPY (about 75 to 150 USD or 68 to 135 EUR), depending on the city and the distance traveled. Owning a car can significantly increase monthly expenses due to high costs of parking, tolls, and fuel.

For expats looking to save money, there are several tips to consider.

Living slightly outside the city center can reduce rent costs significantly. Opting for local brands and seasonal produce when grocery shopping can also save money.

Additionally, taking advantage of lunch specials at restaurants and using public transportation instead of taxis can keep daily expenses down.

Comparing the cost of living in Japan to Western countries depends on the specific country and city for comparison.

Generally, cities like Tokyo and Osaka can be as expensive as major Western cities like New York or London. However, the cost can be lower than these cities when it comes to healthcare, public transportation, and certain services.

Smaller Japanese cities and rural areas can offer a much lower cost of living, more akin to smaller cities in Western countries.

Social and leisure activities in Japan

In Japan, expats find a wide array of leisure activities to engage in, reflecting the country's rich culture and the diverse interests of its international community.

One popular activity among expats is exploring Japan's rich cultural heritage. This includes visiting historical sites like temples and shrines, participating in traditional tea ceremonies, and attending cultural festivals.

These activities offer a unique glimpse into Japan's history and traditions, making them a favorite for those looking to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Sports, both traditional and modern, are also popular. Martial arts such as judo, karate, and kendo attract those interested in both physical activity and learning about Japanese culture.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Japan's varied landscape offers hiking, skiing in places like Hokkaido, and water sports along its vast coastline.

Baseball and soccer are widely followed and playing in local leagues or joining fan groups can be a great way for expats to socialize and integrate.

Japan is also known for specific recreational activities unique to its culture. One such activity is 'hanami', the practice of viewing cherry blossoms in the spring, a time when many locals and expats alike gather in parks for picnics and celebrations.

Onsen, or hot springs, are another uniquely Japanese experience, offering relaxation and a glimpse into a quintessential part of Japanese leisure.

For expats looking to socialize, there are numerous expat communities and clubs across Japan, especially in larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka. These groups often organize events, language exchange meetups, and social gatherings, providing a platform for expats to meet and share experiences.

Nightlife in major Japanese cities is vibrant and diverse.

Tokyo, for instance, is known for its bustling districts like Shibuya and Shinjuku, offering a wide range of bars, clubs, and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs). In these settings, locals often enjoy socializing with colleagues and friends, and many are open to mingling with foreigners.

Karaoke is a popular and quintessentially Japanese night-out activity, often enjoyed in groups.

However, the style of partying in Japan might be different from what some expats are used to. There's a strong emphasis on group harmony and respect for others, which governs social interactions. For instance, drinking is common, but public drunkenness is generally frowned upon.

Understanding these social nuances is important for expats to enjoy the nightlife while respecting local customs.

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Food and cuisine in Japan

Japan offers an incredible array of local dishes and street foods that are a must-try for expats.

One of the first things to try is 'sushi', but not just any sushi. Experiencing sushi in Japan, especially at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, is unique.

Ramen' is another staple, with regional variations like Tonkotsu Ramen in Fukuoka and Miso Ramen in Sapporo.

Tempura', deep-fried seafood and vegetables, is both a restaurant and street food favorite.

For a quick, satisfying meal, 'onigiri' (rice balls) and 'bento boxes' are widely available and offer a taste of everyday Japanese cuisine.

Street food is also a highlight in Japan. At festivals (matsuri), you can find treats like 'takoyaki' (octopus balls), 'okonomiyaki' (savory pancakes), and 'yakitori' (grilled chicken skewers). These foods provide a casual and delicious way to explore Japanese flavors.

Regarding hygiene and food safety, Japan maintains high standards.

Restaurants and street food vendors are generally very clean and conscientious about food safety, so health concerns are minimal compared to many other countries.

When it comes to dietary restrictions and preferences, Japan's restaurants vary in their ability to accommodate.

Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka have a wider range of options for dietary needs, including vegetarian, vegan, halal, and gluten-free choices. However, in smaller towns and local eateries, it might be more challenging to find such accommodations. It's always helpful to learn some basic Japanese phrases to communicate dietary restrictions.

Japanese cuisine, while rich in seafood and meat, can be navigated by vegetarians and vegans with some research.

Traditional dishes like 'miso soup', 'edamame', and certain types of 'soba' (buckwheat noodles) are often suitable. However, it's important to be aware that even seemingly vegetarian dishes may contain fish stock or small amounts of meat.

For those seeking international cuisine, Japan's major cities are cosmopolitan and offer a wide range of options, from Italian and French to Indian and Mexican cuisine. The quality is generally high, though these meals can be more expensive than local dishes.

Affordability varies depending on the type of food and the dining setting.

Street food and casual dining are usually quite affordable, with many meals costing less than what you would expect in a Western country. However, dining in high-end restaurants, especially those offering international cuisine, can be expensive.

Certain types of foreign foods can be difficult to find in Japan, especially specific regional or ethnic ingredients from other countries. While international supermarkets in large cities stock a variety of global foods, they can be pricey.

Also, if you have a taste for strong cheeses, certain spices, or specific brands from home, these might be harder to find or relatively expensive.

Healthcare system in Japan

The healthcare system in Japan is renowned for its high quality and accessibility, and this extends to expats living in the country.

In Japan, healthcare is primarily managed through a universal healthcare system. This means that residents, including expats, are required to enroll in a health insurance program.

There are two main types: the Employees' Health Insurance for those employed in Japan, and the National Health Insurance for self-employed, unemployed, or retired individuals. These insurance schemes typically cover 70% of medical costs, with the patient paying the remaining 30%.

For expats, this system often means that healthcare is more affordable and accessible compared to the US. While European healthcare systems are also known for their accessibility, Japan's system is unique in its combination of high-quality care and relatively low patient costs.

The out-of-pocket expenses for medical procedures, even without private insurance, are typically much lower than in the US.

Regarding the need for repatriation in the case of intense surgery or complex medical needs, Japan's medical facilities are well-equipped and staffed with highly trained professionals. The country boasts advanced medical technology and has a reputation for high-quality surgical care, so in most cases, there would be no need to return to one's home country for treatment.

There are also private healthcare options in Japan. While the universal healthcare system covers a wide range of services, some choose private insurance for greater coverage or for services like private rooms in hospitals.

Private insurance costs can vary, but premiums generally range from 100 to 500 USD (approximately 90 to 450 EUR) per month, depending on factors like age, coverage options, and the health status of the individual.

Emergency medical services in Japan are efficient and responsive. Ambulance services are available free of charge, and emergency rooms are equipped to handle a wide range of medical situations.

It's worth noting, however, that not all staff may be fluent in English, so language can occasionally be a barrier in emergency situations.

Expats are required to have health insurance in Japan, either through the national system or a private provider. This can be arranged through employers, local municipal offices (for National Health Insurance), or private insurance companies.

The cost of medical treatments and procedures with insurance is generally affordable, with the patient paying around 30% of the total cost. Without insurance, these costs can be significantly higher, though still lower than typical costs in the US for similar treatments.

Medical billing in Japan is straightforward. After receiving treatment, patients are billed for their portion of the cost, which can be paid directly at the hospital or clinic. There is no need to file for reimbursement in most cases, as the insurance covers its portion directly with the healthcare provider.

Thinking of buying real estate in Japan?

Acquiring property in a different country is a complex task. Don't fall into common traps – grab our guide and make better decisions.

buying property foreigner Japan

Transportation system in Japan

Transportation in Japan is known for its efficiency, variety, and reliability, making it an important aspect of daily life for expats.

Public transportation in Japan is world-renowned, particularly for its punctuality, cleanliness, safety, and extensive network.

Trains and subways are the lifeline of transportation, especially in urban areas. The train system, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train), covers not only cities but also most rural areas, making it a convenient option for long-distance travel.

Buses complement the train routes, providing access to areas that are less serviced by trains.

For daily commuting, many expats rely on trains and subways. These services are frequent, and even in cases of delays, passengers are often informed promptly.

In major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, the subway and train networks are extensive and can take you almost anywhere within the city.

For longer distances or travel between cities, the Shinkansen offers a fast and comfortable option, though it is more expensive than regular trains.

Traffic conditions in Japan vary depending on the region. In major cities, traffic can be dense, and during rush hours, roads can become heavily congested. This is one reason why public transportation is often preferred in urban areas. In contrast, rural areas tend to have lighter traffic, making driving more pleasant.

However, it's important to note that parking can be scarce and expensive in big cities.

Road conditions in Japan are generally excellent, with well-maintained streets and clear signage. However, roads in cities are often narrow, and in rural areas, they can be winding and require careful navigation.

For expats looking to drive in Japan, understanding the requirements is crucial.

Japan drives on the left side of the road, which may be a significant adjustment for those from countries that drive on the right. To drive in Japan, expats need either an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a Japanese driver's license. The IDP is valid for only one year and can be used if it's obtained in conjunction with a valid driver's license from your home country.

If you plan to stay longer, you'll need to convert your foreign license to a Japanese one, which involves a written test and, in some cases, a driving test.

Renting a car in Japan is a straightforward process and can be an excellent option for exploring areas that are less accessible by public transport. Car rental companies are abundant, and many offer services in English.

Education system in Japan

Japan is often considered a family-friendly country for expats, offering a safe, clean, and culturally rich environment.

For expats, international schools are a popular choice. These schools typically offer curricula similar to what children would receive in their home countries, and the language of instruction is usually English.

This can be a major advantage for children who do not speak Japanese. International schools are available in major cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka, and they cater to a variety of educational systems such as American, British, and International Baccalaureate (IB). Some well-known international schools include the American School in Japan, British School in Tokyo, and Yokohama International School.

The costs of international schools in Japan can be quite high. Tuition fees vary widely depending on the school and grade level, but you can expect a range from about 10,000 to 30,000 USD (approximately 8,500 to 25,000 EUR) per year. These fees often do not include additional costs like registration fees, facility fees, and costs for extracurricular activities.

For expat families considering local Japanese schools, there are some important considerations.

Public schools in Japan are free, and this can be a significant financial advantage. However, the language of instruction is Japanese, and this can pose a significant challenge for children who do not speak the language.

That said, younger children often adapt quickly to new languages, and attending a local school can be a deep immersion into Japanese culture and language.

The Japanese education system is known for its high standards, with a strong emphasis on discipline, respect, and group harmony.

The school year starts in April, which might be different from the academic calendar in many Western countries. The curriculum in Japanese schools is comprehensive, with a strong focus on mathematics, science, and language arts. There's also a significant emphasis on extracurricular activities, particularly in high school.

Whether choosing an international or a local school, it's important for expat parents to consider the language, curriculum, and the cultural environment of the school.

For international schools, the financial aspect is a major consideration, whereas for local schools, the language barrier might be the biggest challenge.

Make a profitable investment in Japan

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buying property foreigner Japan

Work and business in Japan

The job market in Japan for expats can be both challenging and rewarding, offering a range of opportunities but also requiring navigation of some specific constraints and cultural nuances.

Expats in Japan often find employment in sectors such as education, technology, finance, and tourism.

Teaching English is one of the most common jobs for expats, with opportunities ranging from language schools (eikaiwa) to public schools and private tutoring. In the tech and finance sectors, there are opportunities for skilled professionals, especially in multinational corporations or Japanese companies looking to expand globally. The tourism industry also offers jobs, particularly in areas popular with tourists, and can include roles in hospitality, travel services, and cultural interpretation.

There aren't many types of jobs explicitly forbidden for foreigners, but some fields might be less accessible due to language requirements or professional licensing that is difficult to obtain for non-natives.

Jobs that require high levels of proficiency in Japanese, such as certain government positions or roles in traditional Japanese industries, might be challenging for those not fluent in the language.

Speaking of language, while it's possible to find work in Japan without knowing Japanese, especially in multinational companies or in teaching English, having at least a basic level of Japanese proficiency can significantly broaden your job prospects and ease daily business interactions.

Proficiency in Japanese is highly valued and often necessary for integrating more fully into the workplace and understanding the business culture.

Regarding work permits, expats need a valid visa to work in Japan. The type of visa depends on the nature of the job. Common types include the Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa, Engineer Visa, and Instructor Visa (for teaching).

Obtaining a work visa typically requires a confirmed job offer from a company in Japan, which then acts as a sponsor. The company usually assists with the visa application process.

Expats often find employment opportunities through various channels.

Online job portals and recruitment agencies specializing in positions for foreigners are commonly used. Networking, both online and in-person, is also crucial, as many job openings are not advertised publicly. Attending career fairs and joining expat communities can provide valuable connections and insights into the job market.

Starting your own business in Japan is possible, but it comes with challenges. There are bureaucratic hurdles to clear, and a strong understanding of Japanese business practices and legal requirements is essential.

Foreigners wishing to start a business need to obtain an Investor/Business Manager Visa, which requires a detailed business plan, evidence of investment capital, and often a physical office space in Japan.

Despite these challenges, Japan's market can offer exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially in sectors that cater to both local and international markets.

Banking and finance in Japan

The banking system in Japan is generally considered safe and reliable, comparable in many ways to banking systems in the US and Europe, but with some unique characteristics that expats should be aware of.

Japanese banks are known for their stability and security. The country has a robust regulatory framework for financial institutions, ensuring that banks operate under strict guidelines. This means your money is generally safe in a Japanese bank.

In terms of comparison, while the core services and safety are on par with Western banking standards, Japan's banking system can sometimes seem less flexible, particularly in terms of international banking services.

Opening a bank account in Japan as an expat can be a bit of a process.

Most banks require a residence card, a personal seal (hanko), and proof of address in Japan, which usually means you need to have secured long-term accommodation. Some banks may also require a Japanese phone number.

The process involves filling out forms, which are often in Japanese, so having a level of proficiency in the language or a translator can be helpful. However, in recent years, some banks have made efforts to simplify this process for foreigners, offering forms in English and providing English-speaking staff.

The available banking services cover the standard range, including savings accounts, checking accounts, international money transfers, and credit/debit card services.

However, credit cards can sometimes be more difficult to obtain for foreigners, especially if you don't have a long-term visa or a stable job in Japan.

Online banking in Japan has developed significantly, but it might not be as user-friendly or comprehensive as what you might be used to in the US or Europe.

For example, some banks' online platforms may not be entirely in English, or their functionality may be limited compared to their domestic Japanese services. But for basic tasks like checking balances or making local transfers, online banking is quite adequate.

ATM access is widespread in Japan, with machines available at banks, convenience stores, and shopping centers. However, not all ATMs accept international cards, and operating hours can be surprisingly limited compared to 24/7 access common in other countries. Fees for using ATMs, especially outside of normal banking hours, are also something to be mindful of.

Transferring money into and out of Japan is straightforward but can be costly due to high fees and unfavorable exchange rates offered by Japanese banks.

Many expats use international money transfer services to reduce these costs.

Regarding tax and financial planning, expats should be aware that Japan has a global income tax system, meaning that residents are taxed on their worldwide income. This can have implications for your financial planning, especially if you have income sources or assets outside Japan.

It's also worth noting that Japan's tax structure can be complex, and there are specific rules regarding savings and investments.

Consulting with a tax professional who understands both your home country's and Japan's tax systems is advisable.

Buying real estate in Japan can be risky

An increasing number of foreign investors are showing interest in Japan. However, 90% of them will make mistakes. Avoid the pitfalls with our comprehensive guide.

buying property foreigner Japan

Culture and social norms in Japan

Navigating the cultural landscape of Japan requires an understanding of specific dos and don’ts, which are deeply rooted in the country's traditions and social norms.

One of the key cultural aspects in Japan is the importance of respect and politeness.

This is evident in everyday interactions, where formal greetings, bowing, and the use of polite language are the norms. Expats should learn basic Japanese greetings and phrases as a sign of respect.

Additionally, respecting personal space and avoiding physical contact, like hugging, which is less common in Japanese culture, is important.

In Japan, punctuality is highly valued. Being on time, whether for a professional meeting or a social gathering, is considered a sign of respect. Conversely, being late is seen as disrespectful. In a business context, it's also crucial to show respect for hierarchy.

Addressing people with their proper titles and showing deference to senior colleagues is expected.

When it comes to dining etiquette, there are specific practices to be aware of. For instance, it's customary to say 'itadakimasu' before eating and 'gochisosama deshita' after finishing a meal.

When eating with chopsticks, avoid sticking them upright in a bowl of rice, as this resembles a funeral ritual. Also, passing food directly from your chopsticks to someone else's is another practice to avoid, as it is another funeral rite.

As for English proficiency in Japan, it varies. In major cities and tourist areas, you'll find a higher level of English, especially among younger people and professionals. However, outside these areas, English proficiency drops significantly.

Thus, learning the local language, at least to a conversational level, is highly beneficial for daily life and deeper cultural understanding.

Adapting to the local culture also involves appreciating and participating in local traditions and festivals. Joining community events, celebrating local festivals, and showing interest in Japanese customs can help expats connect with their local community.

For expats looking to integrate and build meaningful relationships with locals, being proactive and open-minded is key. Joining clubs or groups based on interests, such as sports, arts, or language exchange, can provide opportunities to meet and interact with locals.

Many cities in Japan have international centers or expat groups that organize social events, which can be a good starting point.

Additionally, showing a willingness to learn and adapt to Japanese ways of doing things goes a long way in gaining respect and acceptance. This includes being patient and understanding that cultural differences may lead to misunderstandings at times.

Building relationships in Japan often takes time and involves building trust and understanding gradually.

Safety and security in Japan

Japan is widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world for expats, known for its low crime rate and a high level of public safety.

This reputation for safety is one of the many reasons expats are drawn to live and work in Japan. However, like any country, it's not entirely free of crime or safety concerns, and there are certain precautions that expats should be aware of.

General crime rates in Japan are relatively low, especially when it comes to violent crime. Instances of theft, burglary, or assault are significantly lower compared to many Western countries.

However, one type of crime that is somewhat unique to Japan and prevalent is bicycle theft. Bicycles are a common mode of transportation, and while they're often left unlocked and unattended, theft does occur. Expats owning bicycles should invest in good locks and always secure their bikes.

Another safety issue in Japan is related to natural disasters. Japan is prone to earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis.

Expats should familiarize themselves with the necessary precautions and safety measures for these events. This includes understanding evacuation routes, having an emergency kit prepared, and knowing how to access disaster-related information in English.

While the overall level of safety is high, there are some areas, particularly in larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where it's advisable to be more cautious, especially late at night. Entertainment districts like Kabukicho in Tokyo and certain areas of Shinjuku and Roppongi have a higher incidence of scams targeting foreigners, often involving bars and clubs.

It's recommended to stay vigilant in these areas, avoid invitations from street touts, and be cautious about running up unexpectedly high bills in bars or clubs.

The legal system in Japan is reliable and expats can expect fair treatment. However, it's important to note that the legal process can be quite different from Western systems.

There's a strong emphasis on confession and resolution outside of court, and the conviction rate in Japan is very high. Understanding the nuances of the legal system, possibly with the help of a legal professional, can be important in the unlikely event that you encounter legal issues.

Regarding safety zones, residential areas, especially in smaller cities and towns, are generally very safe.

Japan’s extensive public transportation network is also notably safe and reliable. Most urban centers are well-lit and well-patrolled, making them safe to navigate, even at night.

In terms of specific areas to be cautious in, besides the nightlife districts mentioned, it's also wise to be more vigilant in crowded places like train stations or shopping areas, mainly to guard against pickpocketing or scams.

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Religion and spirituality in Japan

The main religions in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism, which have coexisted in Japan for centuries and deeply influence its culture and traditions.

Despite this, the approach to religion in Japan is quite different from many Western countries. It is less about devout worship and more about traditions and customs.

Shintoism, considered Japan's indigenous religion, is intertwined with Japanese identity and daily life. It focuses on the worship of kami, which can be gods, spirits, or ancestors, and is closely linked to the natural world and the nation's history.

Buddhist practices, brought to Japan from China and Korea, are also widespread, with Buddhist temples being common in both urban and rural areas.

Despite the prominence of these religions, many Japanese people do not consider themselves very religious in the conventional sense.

Religion in Japan is often more about observance of cultural practices and rituals. For example, it's common for people to visit a Shinto shrine during the New Year and participate in traditional festivals, or to have Buddhist ceremonies for funerals.

Japanese society is generally open to other religions. There is a history of religious tolerance, and you'll find minority religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism practiced in Japan.

Especially in urban areas, there are churches, mosques, and temples for various faiths.

Expats looking to access religious or spiritual activities aligned with their own beliefs will likely find options, particularly in larger cities. Tokyo and Osaka, for example, have a diverse range of places of worship including churches, mosques, and synagogues.

These places not only offer religious services but can also act as community centers for expats to connect with others who share their faith.

In smaller towns and rural areas, finding specific religious services or places of worship can be more challenging.

However, the internet is a valuable resource for locating religious communities. Many religious organizations have websites and social media pages where they post information about services, events, and gatherings.

Additionally, international communities in Japan often organize religious gatherings, which can be a good way for expats to practice their faith and meet like-minded individuals.

Language can be a barrier in more localized religious institutions, but in expat-focused communities, services and activities are often available in English or other languages.

Climate and environment in Japan

Japan's climate varies significantly across its regions, influencing not only the lifestyle and activities of expats but also posing certain environmental and health considerations.

In general, Japan experiences four distinct seasons.

The northern regions, such as Hokkaido, have harsh winters with heavy snowfall, making it a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. The summers here are mild and less humid compared to the rest of Japan.

This contrast is particularly appealing for those who prefer cooler climates and enjoy activities like skiing and snowboarding.

Moving to the central and southern parts, including areas like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, the climate is more temperate.

Winters are relatively mild with occasional snowfall, while summers can be hot and humid. The hot season, typically from July to August, sees temperatures frequently climbing above 30°C (86°F). This heat can be challenging for those unaccustomed to high humidity levels and can affect outdoor activities.

Staying hydrated and finding ways to stay cool is essential during this period.

The rainy season, or 'tsuyu', usually occurs in June and July. This season is marked by persistent rain and high humidity, which can affect outdoor activities and travel plans. It's a time when expats might focus on indoor activities or explore regions less affected by the rains.

In terms of health risks, Japan does not have a high prevalence of tropical diseases, but the humid climate can exacerbate certain health conditions, such as allergies.

The spring season, particularly from late March to April, is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms, but it also brings pollen, causing hay fever (kafunsho) for many people. Precautions like wearing masks or using air purifiers can help mitigate these allergies.

The climate also influences lifestyle choices in terms of clothing, housing, and daily activities.

For instance, homes in Japan are typically equipped with air conditioning for the hot summers and heating systems for the colder winters, and understanding how to optimally use these can enhance comfort.

Environmental factors like air quality and access to clean water vary across regions but are generally of a high standard in Japan. Major cities may experience occasional air pollution, but it is typically less severe than in many other industrialized nations.

Clean water is readily available throughout Japan, and the country has strict standards for water quality.

Natural disasters are an important consideration in Japan. The country is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions.

Earthquakes can occur anywhere in Japan, but some areas, like the Pacific coast of Honshu, are more at risk for tsunamis. Typhoons are more common in late summer and early autumn, particularly affecting the southern and western coasts.

Local authorities provide extensive information and warning systems for these natural events, and buildings in Japan are constructed to high safety standards, especially concerning earthquakes.

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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered financial advice. Readers are advised to consult with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions. We do not assume any liability for actions taken based on the information provided.