Maybe you already relocated and your visa is about to expire and you need some advice on how to stay in Japan. First of all, congratulations! You made a wise choice. Whether it’s for work, study, or fun (and probably a bit of each), life as an expat/expatriate has its challenges, but also many advantages. This article will give you some advice that might help you with the transition from your home country to Japan. Note that there are many exceptions, and this article covers broad generalizations which may not apply to everyone (including yourself).
How do you convince my employer?
If your contract is about to expire, you might be thinking how to convince your employer that you want to leave the company after fulfilling your contractual obligation. Commonly, Japanese companies hire employees on two-year contracts and expect them to work for the same company after their contract expires. This means that if you quit before completing two years of continuous service with the same company, you will most likely face difficulties when trying to find a new job in Japan.
However, it does not mean there is no room for maneuvering: in many cases employers will happily let you go provided you give one month’s notice and help train your successor. If this is not possible (for example because you don’t have any colleagues), then just wait until the end of your contract and explain to your manager that you will be leaving. Assuming you have a good relationship with your boss, he/she will probably not stand in your way and help you find new employment at their company or elsewhere.
Some employees may want to keep you as long as possible, as the costs of recruiting and training a new employee far exceed those associated with an additional month on a current employee’s salary! You should carefully consider whether staying employed by such a company for another month is worth it for you. Time spent working somewhere which doesn’t appreciate your skills is time wasted, and this applies to more than just Japan.
Where do you live?
Before moving to Japan, you should decide where you want to live. Keep in mind that the further from a major city, the cheaper rent is going to be, but also note that travelling by train in Japan is almost always more expensive than in your home country. The same applies for commuting costs, you might save money if you take a car or a scooter instead of using public transport every day.
Some people go as far as buying a small car once they arrive in Japan and keep it until they leave again. In any case, renting an apartment or buying a house is very different from what you are used to at home: Most real-estate agents charge non-refundable “realtor’s fees” equal to one month’s rent, which is paid by the tenant. On top of this, you will need to pay a deposit (equal to three months’ rent).
Depending on your circumstances and how much money you have available for upfront costs, it might be worth it to arrange long-term accommodation before leaving, especially if you are not fluent in Japanese yet. If you have no connections at all in Japan, expect difficulties finding an apartment or house that has both the features you want and reasonable access to public transport. You can always resort to staying at a hotel for some time, but keep in mind that prices are usually fixed per night so they are expensive compared with other countries.
Money to cover initial costs
A quick calculation will show that upon arriving in Japan you’ll need to have enough money to cover initial costs (deposit, fees), plus a few months’ rent. This means you’ll need at least six months’ worth of your current salary available in the bank when you move, or possibly more if you want to be able to pay for sightseeing tours and other activities when you first arrive. One possible way around this is by flying with an empty suitcase and picking up used clothing from a secondhand store, but there are limits on how much luggage can be carried on a flight.
How do you find a job?
Finding employment in Japan is often difficult even for fluent speakers of Japanese unless they have connections within the company they wish to join. The hidden job market, which includes job offers that are not advertised publicly, but rather communicated by word of mouth or via email with specific companies is very strong in Japan, so having Japanese friends in your desired field can be an enormous help when looking for a job.
As is the case in any country, you should begin your search for work before arriving in Japan. This gives you more time to find a suitable position and move to Japan with peace of mind already knowing where you will begin working upon arrival.
Chances of finding employment in Japan
To increase your chances of finding employment in Japan, consider joining organizations related to your line of work at home (for example the language school association if you are applying for a teaching job) even if they do not have a chapter in Japan. In any case, you should have a resume prepared which includes as many details about your education and previous employment as possible, including the names of those companies and how long you have been working for them.
In most cases, work visas are tied to a single employer: Unless your contract is extended (which can be difficult), leaving one job means you will be forced to leave the country (and possibly not allowed back in) until you find another company that is willing to sponsor your visa. Working illegally does happen, but it is risky and usually requires knowledge of someone within the company who can bribe their superiors for permission for you to stay on.
How much money do you need?
Assuming rent of ¥50,000 (US$500) per month, food costs of ¥15,000 ($150) per month and transportation of ¥10,000 ($100) per month, the minimum amount that should be available for you to move are as follows:
Category Amount Total US$1,800 required you will need this much money to have with you when you move to Japan. If it takes a long time to find employment in your desired field, consider delaying your plans until you can save up enough money for several months’ rent. If you are unsure about your chances of finding work once there or how long it might take, contact some companies in Japan which hire foreigners directly before making any decisions.
What about visas?
You cannot work in Japan on a tourist visa, and if you do not speak Japanese at an advanced-intermediate level (Level 3 of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations’ Foreign Service Interactive Self-Study Guide) or above, you will also need to prove that you can support yourself.