Passport: To leave the United States you will need a passport and money. Below are some steps to help you along the way…
Gather your Passport Information
Where to Apply for a Passport

Visa: The second step to living in Japan is to get a guarantor to sponsor your visa. Most westerners get sponsored through a job or through their spouse, but depending on who sponsors you will determine your visa. There are 27 different types of visas in Japan but below I’m only going to mention the most common visa types…
Temporary Visitor (90 Days)
Specialist in Humanities / International Services
Spousal Visa
Pre-College Student Visa
College Student Visa
Religious Activities

Once you have a guarantor, you will need your guarantor’s information and a Certificate of Eligibility so you can fill out a Visa Application Form. Then submit the completed Visa Application Form to your local Japanese Embassy or Consulate and if everything goes smooth in one or two months you will have your visa.


When you arrive at the Japanese airport customs will issue you your resident card. Please hold on to this and always keep it with you. For rules and regulations about this card please read more at


Rent & Moving In: First you will need a guaranteer and some money (big cities and close to train stations are the most expensive). Below is an example of what to expect to pay for a 1LDK apartment…
・Deposit = ¥80,000
・Key money = ¥80,000
・Agency fee = ¥120,000
・First month’s rent = ¥80,000
・Property insurance = ¥15,000
・Maintenance fee = ¥10,000
・Key exchange fee = ¥12,000
・Total: ¥397,000 yen!

City Hall Registration (shiyakusho 市役所): Whenever you move in Japan, you have to report your new address to City Hall within 14 days.

Additional Bills: The price of electric, gas and water varies across Japan. Depending on the company and bank it is possible to setup direct so you don’t have to manually pay every month.

Garbage & Recyclables: There is no monthly garbage fees in Japan, instead you need to purchase the city’s designated garbage bag. Each city has their own brand of garbage bags and rules for sorting the garbage. The garbage truck usually comes twice a week and will only pick-up in designated areas. There should be more information at your City Hall to explain the process in details, also you can read a good article about garbage at


How to open a UFJ Bank Account
Direct Deposit
Money Transfers
Money Exchange
Hanko / Stamp
Foreign Bank Account:


Foreign Credit Cards you need to contact you credit card company and let them know you will be living in Japan, so they don’t freeze your account. Some companies will make you contact them every year or you can access your travel plans online. You might also want to create a password/pin for your credit card because they can be used to get cash advancements at ATM machines. These transactions usually include a ¥300 ATM fee and a 5% bank fee. If you’re using your credit card to card purchases in Japan please also note there will probably be a 3% bank fee for changing USD to JPY.

Japanese Credit Cards are very hard to get. Japan credit card companies are very conservative and strict on who they approve. Even if you have a bank account it is very rare that your bank will also approve you for a credit card. The recommended approach is to apply to department retailers like Takashimaya when they have a promotion. The staff are paid on commission so they know how to work the form in your favour.


Japan is still a cash based society!!! When paying bills, going shopping or eating out; cash is the preferred method of payment. In big cities most places accept credit card but for smaller shops or restaurants cash is required. Written checks are not recognized as money and can NOT be cashed at a bank. If a relative wants to give you money have them deposit it in your United States bank account and then you can use your debit card.


Communication for work, family and friends is important. Below are some of the best ways to keep in touch with your network while in Japan.

Cell Phones are best for work and keeping in touch with friends in Japan. Softbank, Docomo and AU are the leading phone service providers. Please visit your local shop for getting more detailed information.

Skype is free and the best way for keeping in touch with parents and close friends abroad. To keep your sanity with the Japanese culture clash and refresh your energy levels I recommend skyping with a close family member or friend at least once to four times a month. More information at

Social Networks: are a great way for keeping in touch with acquaintances within Japan and abroad, also it is good for checking in during emergencies. In Japan the leading social network is LINE.


United States Filing
You are required to file your IRS income tax every year even if you didn’t earn anything. Every year there is a lot of confusion and even if you call the IRS they will not guarantee their answer. Best to gather your information and try to keep it as simple as possible. For more questions please refer to IRS Frequently Asked Questions.

Japanese National Income Tax (shotokuzei 所得税) is taken out of your salary and by March 15th you need to file (shinkoku 申告) your taxes at city hall (shiyakusho 市役所). Be careful not to get double taxed, United States: Japan Income Tax Convention.

Additional Japanese Income Taxes may be collected by the prefecture, city or both. Please note that these taxes are no taken out of your salary and will come by mail in a brown envelope.
・Prefectural Tax (kenmin zei 県民税)
・Municipal Tax (shimin zei 市民税)
・Residential Tax (jyumin zei 住民税): This is a combination of the prefectural and municipal tax.


Public Social Security (kokumin nenkin 国民年金): When you enrol into this program you get a little blue notebook to register all your payments. Besides storing this book in a safe place please make sure to also keep your receipts because in the past the Japanese government is know to have lost years of records which could short you thousands of dollars. Japan and the United States have aligned their social security programs, United States Social Security Totalization Agreement, so if you pay into one it can count as credit in the other. Please make a special note, that depending on your yearly income you may be eligible to be exempt from the public social security. Currently I only have the sample exemption form.

Public Health Insurance (kenkohoken 健康保険): Covers 70% of the bill and includes dental. Remember to always carry your card in your wallet incase of accidents.

Company Social Security & Health Insurance (shakaihoken 社会保険): Only larger companies provide the shakaihoken. If your company doesn’t provide it then you will need to enrol in the public social security and public health care.

Private Health Insurance (seimeihoken 生命保険): It is the law to be registered in the public health insurance but foreigners tend to fall into a grey area which allows them to sometimes get by on only a private health insurance plan such as Interglobal. Private health insurance can also be used along with the social health insurance for extended coverage.


It takes 2200 hours of study to become proficent in Japanese, based on a Foreign Service Institute study. If you study one day a week it will take you 48+ years to become proficient. Please invest in a college class before coming to Japan or enroll in a Japanese immersion program (gaigogakuen 外語学園) in Japan. Unfortunatley many English schools will not give you enough time nor support for the second option.

As you study you can take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) to track your progress; N5 is beginner and N1 is advance. If you’re studying to get a professional job many companies will only accept JLPT N1 and will also give you a verbal test during the interview.


Driver’s License: Most countries have a driver’s license agreement with Japan so that you can convert your country’s driver’s license into a Japanese driver’s license. But if you’re from America or do not have a driver’s license you will need to retake the written and driving test. Most test centers do have English for the written test but the driving test is usually done in very simple Japanese. Even for the best of drivers it is common to fail the driving test about two times before passing. To reduce the stress, make sure you have your paper work and know the Japanese rules of the road. Once you get your driver’s license, more jobs will become available.

International Driving Permit: You can get an international driver’s license from AAA but it is only good for one year and is non-renewable.

Cars: There are places to rent cars usually right next to the airport or train station. Yellow license-plate-cars (kei car 軽カー) are less than 660cc and white-plate-cars are greater than 660cc. The cost and insurance differ greatly between the two types of plates. When driving in Japan please remember they drive on the left-hand-side of the road and highways cost money.

Trains: When visiting Japan many people get the Japan Rail Pass. It is sold by the JR Group and is obtained by purchasing an Exchange Order from a travel agency located outside Japan. The Exchange Order itself cannot be used for travel and must be exchanged at a JR Midori no Madoguchi ticket office. The purpose of this pass is to increase foreign tourism throughout Japan so they are not available for residents of Japan, but if you have family or friends visiting sometimes they’re able to bring an extra exchange order for your use. Also please note the Japan Rail Pass doesn’t cover all types of transportation in Japan.
The types of trains are also important to know so you don’t pass your stop or spend too much time sitting on the train. Below is an outline of the different types of trains from fast to slow…
・Bullet Train (shinkansen 新幹線)
・Limited Express (tokyu 特急)
・Express (kyuko 急行)
・Semi-Express (junkyu 準急)
・Local (futsu 普通)

Bicycle: Riding a bicycle in Japan is a great way to get around. Just remember to not ride side-by-side with a friend (single file), stop at all traffic lights & stop signs, don’t drink & ride, don’t use your iPhone and don’t hold an umbrella while riding. It is very rare to hear about a foreigner getting a ticket for these but sometimes it does happen.

Walking: You are guaranteed to do lots of walking in Japan so bring good shoes, expect lots of stairs and more walking. If you go through shoes fast and you have big feet you may want to bring two pairs because it is difficult to find bigger western size shoes for men and women.


The main job for westerners living in Japan is teaching English, but there are other jobs available depending on your skill set. Try the following sites for professional jobs within Japan:,,,,


Be prepared, Japan has lots of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, mud slides, fires, volcanoes and more. It is a good idea to make a plan and share it with family members so they know how to contact you if there is a disaster. Here is an Emergency Plan Template which you can use to help model your plan.


Unfortunately foreigners are not allowed to vote in Japan but we can still vote back home. You can register and get more information at


Depending on your planned length of stay in Japan you may want to bring some other important documents to Japan with you to help with other future bureaucratic processes… Birth Certificate, Social Security Number, College Diploma, College Transcripts and Marriage/Divorce Certificate.