Questions to Ask Before Moving to Japan
Moving to Japan evokes ideas of picnics under cherry blossoms, nights at karaoke bars and lots of adventure. But before packing your bags, read up about the basics of what to expect when immigrating and living in Japan, including some new potential changes in labor law, tax law and visa requirements that you should know about.
1. Are You Sure Japan is the Right Fit for You?
Over the past few years Japan has sought to attract is top-level, white collar talent. But so far only a small number of these types of workers have made the leap and decided to start working in Japan.
According to the IMD World Competitiveness Center's 2017 World Talent Ranking, Japan ranks 31st out of 64 countries in a list of destinations for top talent. If one ignores the fact that the top slots are all taken by European countries, Japan is losing out to neighbors Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan... and even Kazakstan.
Why? Well, according to the report, while Japan ranks highly for "Investment & Development" and "Appeal," the country has poor marks in "Readiness." The lack of jobs that can accept people who can't speak Japanese, the gap in gender equality, comparatively low pay and tales of Japan's lack of work-life balance are all factors that might make professionals look elsewhere for jobs.
2. Are You a "Highly Skilled Foreign Professional?"
Despite Japan's need for people who can work in all sorts of fields, the main type of person the Immigration Bureau of Japan is seeking is what they call "Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals."
Their website shows quite clearly that those who fit certain criteria are given "preferential treatment," (their words, not ours) and depending on how many "points" one has, they may be eligible for an expedited visa (and supposedly higher chances at permanent residency as well).
Applicants need to fall into three major types of jobs: academic research, specialized or technical activities or management. The number and weight of points varies depending on each job, usually focusing on academic degrees, current salary, Japanese language ability and length of work experience. You can check out the point system here. According to the site an applicant needs to have a minimum of 70 points to get special treatment, although it may well be possible to push through for those with particularly unique or high-demand skills.
3. Can You Get Transferred by Your Current Company?
Coming to Japan for work is probably the smoothest and easiest way, not to mention the most economical! Instead of having to go through the stress of job hunting, finding your own apartment (which can be tough if you don't speak much Japanese) and figuring out how to pay your bills, your company can take care of all those details.
Expats who take this route tend to get better salaries, and often their transfer package comes with perks like company-covered housing, membership to clubs and language classes.
4. How Long Do You Plan to Stay?
As long as you are open-minded, living in Japan can be truly fantastic. The country is safe, offers great public transportation, reliable healthcare and lots of cool places to discover. Tokyo is surrounded by tons of fun day trip destinations and excellent hiking trails.
It can be tempting to settle down in Japan for the long term... but you need to be aware that due to a change in legislation in 2017, this may come with some surprising costs, particularly regarding the "Inheritance and Gift Tax."
The change in the law does not concern short-term residents, by which they mean people who have been in Japan for 10 years
or less within the past 15 years AND have a “Table 1 Visa”— usually a working visa.
Unfortunately, if you spend more than 10 out of the most recent 15 years in Japan OR have a “Table 2 Visa,” like a spouse visa or permanent residency, you will be required to pay an inheritance tax of up to 55% on any assets you receive, including those from outside Japan. Even after leaving Japan, you may still have to pony up the inheritance tax for up to five years post-departure.
You can find more detailed information about the various taxes, timelines and how they affect people in different tax brackets in our clear guide as well as here.
Japan has one of the highest inheritance taxes in the world, so planning carefully is important to ensure you are prepared for the future.
5. Do You Have In Demand Skills?
At the moment there are staff shortages in a variety of blue-collar industries, and Prime Minister Abe is pushing changes in legislation to make it easier for those with skills in the following 14 areas to get visas (for up to five years):
・Nursing care for elderly
・Food and beverage production
・Food service (such as restaurants, cafés and bars)
・Material fabrication (such as metal casting)
・Industrial machinery production
・Electronics and electric appliance related
・Shipbuilding and marine equipment
・Lodging and hospitality (hotels)
The bill was submitted in early November 2018, and hopefully will be officially enstated in April 2019. However, it sounds like the chances of extending these types of visa or getting permanent residency will be quite difficult.
6. Are You Willing to Learn Japanese?
While it is certainly possible to live and get by in Japan without knowing much Japanese, unless you are being transferred from an office in a different country, not being able to speak Japanese will drastically limit the types of jobs you can apply for (such as English-teaching, recruitment, some software engineering and basic hospitality jobs) and make it difficult to grow in your career.
Compared to even five years ago the country has become much more English-friendly and there has been an increase in positions for non-Japanese speakers, mainly related to the tourism industry... but nonetheless, the vast majority of well-paid, full-time positions require at least some degree of fluency in the language.
Japanese is not an easy language to learn, but it is very systematic with lots of set phrases, which can make it a bit easier to get the basics in a relatively short time. We have lots of tips to help make learning Japanese more fun, and if you have the opportunity to join classes or some time to spend watching YouTube videos, every little bit helps.
On a practical note, being able to speak and read Japanese makes day to day life and chores (approximately) 100 times easier, and may even help you get longer visas!
7. Do You Know Your Rights?
Just like anywhere else in the world there are companies that may try to take advantage of you, and if your Japanese is shaky it can be easy to fall for it.
A couple very basic rules to keep in mind are:
・Never, ever give your passport or residence card (在留カード) to your employer. They may need a copy of it, in which case you should take a copy yourself and pass that to the person in charge. Avoid having your place of work be your guarantor for your apartment too (there are other options, which you can find out about here).
・Familiarize yourself with laws regarding wages, work hours and payments.
・Always carry your residence card, even if you are just going for a quick walk or running down to the convenience store.
We recommend avoiding all illegal activities and getting sent to jail (or a detention center) at all costs, but in case the worst has happened, first contact a duty attourney who will be able to get in touch with your family, demand to contact your country's consulate, request an interpreter and do not sign anything without your lawyer present. People can be detained for up to 23 days without being charged in Japan, so (again) we strongly urge you to avoid illegal activities like the plague.
8. Are You Ready for Lots of Newness?
Japan has its own systems and ways to deal with everything from paying bills to signing up for services and beyond. Many of these can still be quite analog and involved, so expect to feel a bit lost and maybe even frustrated for the first few months, until you get used to how day to day life works.
Fortunately generations of expats before you have created a huge number of "how-to" guides to help you deal with all sorts of situations, and some service providers have become more proactive about providing information in languages besides Japanese, such as the waterworks in Tokyo. All About Japan has an entire section dedicated to advice, tips and tricks to help you navigate your new life with ease.
Also, make sure to check out the resident guides available online, which will help you navigate your new city! Below we have provided links to some of the most popular cities:
Tokyo Resident Guide
Yokohama Resident Guide
Nagoya Resident Guide
Osaka Resident Guide
Kyoto Resident Guide
Fukuoka Resident Guide
Sapporo Resident Guide
Naha Resident Guide
But no matter how much you prepare (or how well you think you know Japan) there will always be some new and strange thing that crops up. Of course this can be part of the fun, as discovering the various useful things you can do at convenience stores, random events and helpful services is an ongoing adventure!
Although this article may seem a bit pessimistic, we just want to make sure you are well-prepared before arriving and working in Japan. There are many great things about living in Japan and can be a perfect choice for a lot of young professionals or families looking for an adventure in a safe and beautiful country.