If you're moving to Japan as part of a study abroad, or a secondment within your company, much of the work involved in moving to Japan is taken care of. However, in the instance where the bureaucracy and admin of moving falls on you, it can be quite overwhelming dealing with different systems, a different language and lack of recognisable companies that you can refer to for assistance. Searching online for guides on how to deal with moving to Japan often results in pieces of useful information here and there - this article attempts to condense the main steps into one guide for your referral that will hopefully make the initial stages a bit less painful and allow you to enjoy your new life!
We recommend that you read this guide in its entirety before preparing to move to Japan, to allow you to make the process a whole lot smoother. This article is split into two parts, so be sure to check out part 2 as well!
Starting from the airport
The first stage for moving into Japan will be at the airport immigration gate. If you are planning a long term stay and have a visa, this can be shown to the immigration officer, who will then issue you with a residence card or "zairyu card"(在留カード) at the airport. This is a new system which was introduced in 2011, previously the "Alien Registration card" had to be obtained after entering Japan.
This card acts similarly to a "green card" in the USA. While your Visa technically just lets you into the country initially, once you receive your residence card, your Visa is no longer necessary, and it is your residence card that states the length of time you have a right to stay in the country. Your residence card needs a registered address on it for validity, but you will not require it at this point. Most residence cards will say "not yet decided" (未定）in the address field and will be filled in on the back later.
Registering your residence card
Before thinking about searching a place to live, it is necessary to register your residence card before searching for an apartment. The most common piece of advice you'll find is that you need to save a significant amount in advance for all the fees involved with first moving into an apartment. While this can be the case, there are ways to avoid this, listed later in the article.
However, It is not possible to search for a place to live straight away, and so temporary accommodation will be necessary. At this point, even though it is a temporary accommodation, whether it is a serviced apartment or hotel, this needs to be registered on your residence card for it to become a valid form of ID for you to search for a permanent place to live and other things such as setting up your bank account and setting up a phone contract.
Therefore, you will need to go to the local ward office, or "Kuyakusho"(区役所) to register your card. There are ward offices in easy to access locations in each ward, and a quick google search will normally locate these. The offices tend to have working hours from 9am to 5pm, but tend not to require appointments.
You will need to request to register your residence card and fill in the appropriate form, which the staff will guide you to complete. Generally English guidance should be available and English language forms also available to complete, if necessary. Once this form is complete, this will be handed to the administrative staff who will print your address on the back of your residence card. This card is now valid and can be used to search for properties!
But we're not done yet - it is also advisable that on the same day that you request a residence form - known as a "Juminhyo"(住民票). This is an official form that proves your residence and can be quickly issued from the ward office. Even though that your initial accommodation is temporary, all of this admin work to show that you are a "resident" is necessary for you to be able to search for a place to live and set up a bank account - this will be covered in part 2 of this article.