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 is the second part of the article "Your guide to the admin obstacle course of moving to Japan". The first part covered the immigration procedure to receive your residence card and register at a designated address in order to be able to set up a bank account and find a place of residence, which is outlined in this part of the article.
Setting up a bank account
Setting up a bank account can be a challenge, and if English language support is preferred, mainly CitiBank and Shinsei Bank are the best options. The megabanks of MUFG, Sumitomo and Mizuho tend to be stricter in their application process, but are by far more accessible and commonplace. You will need a bank account before being able to search for a place to live.
To set up a bank account, it is recommended, you have documents showing your identity such as your passport, residence card, and documents showing residence, such as your Juminhyo. Another quirk of the Japanese system is that you must initially go to the branch that is nearest to your registered address - in the case of megabanks, it can be sometimes difficult to determine which branch this is, but generally, it will be the branch whose place name matches your address. For example, if your address starts with "Shintomi-cho"(新富町) - then the bank to go to will be where it states "Shintomi-cho branch"(新富町支店) on the front door. It's often advisable to show your address first to double check whether they are the bank that can help you open your account.
When asking for assistance on opening your bank account, the bank will also require your employer or school information. It is recommended that you bring your employment contract or document proving study if possible. If not, it is advisable to provide the contact details of someone in your new workplace/place of study that the bank can contact directly to confirm your employment or study.
Completing the form to open your account is a relatively standard process, assuming that the above preparation is made. While more banks accept signatures to sign off forms, some still mandatorily require a stamp known as an "Inkan"(印鑑). These can be obtained cheaply at local stores, so it is safest to acquire one of these before setting up a bank account.
Once application is complete, the account is opened normally on the day, and you can receive a cash book or "tsuuchou"(通帳) to handle your cash affairs. It is then possible to remit money from your home bank account into the Japanese bank account through the relevant procedures of your home bank.
Your cashbook can be used at the bank's cash machines until you receive your card, which will be delivered to your address after approximately seven days. For this, you need to be present to sign for the delivery, otherwise the item will be kept in the post office and a non delivery notice will be posted instead. In this case, if you are proficient in Japanese, it is possible to call the number on the non delivery form that provides an automated service to request delivery on an alternate day and time. Alternatively, you can go directly to the local post office stated on the form to retrieve your card.
Also note that the cards available are split by function - the "cash card" is for withdrawals only. A debit card cannot be used to withdraw money but can be used to make card payments. This can be initially confusing for those that are used to simply using a debit/credit card for both functions.
More informations about withdrawing your money in Japan on our article here!
Searching for a place to live
So finally after all that, you can start to actually look for a place where you wish to live! There are two main avenues to go down when looking for a place to live - public housing "Danchi"(団地) or a regular private Japanese realtor.
In brief, public housing has far less up front fees and charges, which is the main benefit. However, many of the properties are older, in distant areas, fewer properties to choose from and are stricter in the documents they require (often requiring original copies). However, if you can find a suitable place to live, or a relatively rare one in a central location, it is possible to get away with paying only one month's rent and moving in!
For public properties, the best company to use is UR housing. Branches are available in numerous areas, and it is possible to book an appointment as well as browse properties via their website. English services and guidance are available, although the Japanese website provides more comprehensive detail and more choices when attempting to search for a place to live on the site. Once you book an appointment and consult with them, it is advisable to confirm all the documents needed (the most common is proof of income with an official stamp from the relevant institution), and prepare these. In general, as with private realtors, you will need to prove that your income is equal to more than three times the rent payable for there to be minimum issue in agreeing the rental contract once you have viewed and chosen an apartment or house. They will also require your residence card, bank account details and residence form (Juminhyo: 住民票).
The process for a private realtor is similar, except they can be more lenient with the documents, often not requiring the original copy but a scanned copy only. However, proof of income is once again important, and issues can be encountered if a potential landlord is not assured that you can make rental payments. There are occasionally issues of landlords refusing foreign residents for no clear reason, and sometimes several attempts with different properties may be required. However, the most important issue to note is that the up front costs can be steep - at around JPY 300,000 to 400,000 which often include 2 month's rent, key money and other fees. These are normally set out and explained to you when an appointment is made.
So what about finding a private realtor? The most recommended site for apartment searches is "SUUMO". A quick google of the site name will bring you to their site, in Japanese or English. An apartment can then be searched for with very specific criteria such as size, rent, area, pet permission etc. Based on your search result a phone number directing you to the relevant agency is available. One can call this number and generally reserve an appointment regarding the chosen apartment within the same week. If you are not confident with Japanese, it may be advisable to have a Japanese speaking friend make the call with you.
If the apartment ends up not being available or you wish to choose another, it is also possible to discuss other properties when directly speaking with the real estate agent. The agent will explain the relevant procedures at the appointment for you to follow and how to move in.
So finally, you've found the place of your dreams, but we're not quite finished yet. Remember registering at the ward office? If you've moved to a different ward, you'll have to register out of that ward. As with registering in the ward, you will have to fill in a different form to register your exit from the ward. This procedure can be done directly when you are there and you do not have to wait for it to be processed.
Then, as with when you first registered your residence card and received your residence form (Juminhyo: 住民票) this has to be repeated at the ward office of your new address. The new address will be printed below the old one on the back of your residence card, and you will receive a Juminhyo. You will also need to bring the document showing your departure from the previous ward.
As changing wards is administratively burdensome, it is advisable that prior to moving to Japan, that you select an area in which you would like to live and book your temporary accommodation near there. In this case, you can stay with the same ward if you move to a place within the same ward, and simply register a change of address only.
So that's more or less it - now you've found a place to stay and can experience the joys of furnishing your new apartment (yes, most apartments in Japan are unfurnished) setting up gas, electricity and water, and start your new life!
We hope that this article helps you and provides a resource in one place to use as a guide when dealing with the administrative burden of moving to Japan, so that you can get on with engaging in far more exciting things!