Expats FAQ in Japan

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Q: Which Tokyo bank charges the least in foreign transfer fees?

A: Shinsei Bank is said to be the most expat-friendly bank in Tokyo, and one of the reasons is that it charges a very minimal fee for foreign transfers. Many expats in the city have accounts with this bank.

Q: What is the availability of ATMs in Tokyo and are foreign-issued cards accepted?

A: There are many ATMs all over Tokyo, but some of them close at 11pm. Also note that a lot of these machines reject foreign-issued bank cards, and there are some that do not have English options.

Q: Are there Tokyo banks with English-speaking staff?

A: Yes, and these are mostly international banks like Citibank, HSBC, etc. Certain local banks like the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho, Resona, and Shinsei also have English-speaking staff.

Q: What is this "hanko" required by Japanese banks for opening an account with them?

A: A "hanko" is like an official personal stamp that bears a person's name in Japanese characters. Not all Japanese banks require a hanko, but expats who have one do enjoy some advantages. There have been reports of debit order rejections due to a mismatch between signatures on the permission form and those on the bank's records.

Q: What are the requirements for expats opening a bank account in Japan?

A: It depends on the bank. The main requirement is the Zairyu Card or residence card, but some banks may require a passport and visa as well. Only expats with a Zairyu Card can open a bank account in Japan.

Q: How much is the usual initial amount required to open a bank account in Japan?

A: One thing expats appreciate about Japanese banks is the fact that they don't require a minimum deposit for opening an account. On top of that, interest rates on regular accounts are low. The only challenge is the lack or absence of English-speaking staff, even in online banking.


Q: Is Tokyo a good city for small business investments?

A: Absolutely. Nearly 100% of Tokyo companies are small and medium-sized businesses.

Q: Are there assistance programs offered by the government to foreigners who plan on investing in Tokyo?

A: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government provides such assistance through a program called Business Development Center TOKYO, with an office located at JP Tower B1, 2-7-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku.

Q: Are Tokyo business owners required by law to provide insurance for their employees?

A: Yes. In fact, for each newly hired worker, they have to file a "Notification of Acquisition of Insured Status under Employment Insurance" with the Public Employment Security Office at Nishi-Shinjuku, within ten days of the appointment date.

Q: Are the Japanese straightforward when talking business as Westerners usually are?

A: Japanese businessmen (and Japanese in general) are usually straightforward in business dealings when they are on the initiating side. However, when it comes to disagreeing with a proposition or a point made by the other party, they tend to shy away from saying a direct "no." Japanese somehow feel it is impolite to say no, so this is one thing expats need to be aware of, especially in a business environment where deals are made and broken. When there's even a small amount of vagueness or hesitation in a Japanese' response, that often means no.

Q: How do the Japanese receive business cards?

A: Business cards in Japan are given and received with both hands a bow. When receiving a card, be sure to put it in a card holder or wallet. Never put a card straight into a pocket because locals view this as a sign of disrespect.

Q: What are the rules for seniority in a Japanese corporate environment?

A: Seniority in a Japanese corporate environment is dictated more by age and not by company status. During a meeting, it is not uncommon for a younger employee with a higher position, to yield to an older employee occupying a lower position in the corporate hierarchy.


Q: Where do kids go to have fun in Tokyo?

A: It depends on what they want to do. Tokyo has a lot to offer, but a great, one-stop destination is the Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall which is the city's biggest public facility for kids. There's a mini-theater, a playground on the rooftop, computers and crafts areas. Those who enjoy the outdoors can go to Hama-Rikyu Sunken Garden or Shinjuku Park which are famous for their beautiful cherry blossoms during spring.

Q: What are safe places (e.g. fresh air, no motorists, etc.) in Tokyo where moms can take their babies for a stroll?

A: There are plenty of choices. Jindai Shokubutsu Park is a botanical garden located in Chofu city in western Tokyo, and there's Showa Kinen Park in Tachichawa city. In both parks, there are convenient walking paths, restaurants, and mom facilities for breastfeeding, changing diapers, etc. Strollers are also available for rent.

Q: Are there daycare/babysitting services in Tokyo?

A: Yes, but not all of them have English-speaking staff. Those that do include Chez Vous Housekeeping and Babysitting Service in Minato-ku, Kinder-Network in Shibuya-Ku, and Poppins in Chuo-ku, among others.

Q: Which theme park is best for kids in Japan?

A: Depends on age. Kids between 4 and 14 will probably enjoy Tokyo DisneySea the most. Anyone younger or anyone who hasn't been to any Disneyland at all will love Tokyo Disneyland. Older kids usually appreciate Universal Studios more.

Q: What are some of the best festivals in Japan for kids?

A: There are many festivals in Japan that kids will love. Awa Odori in Kochi, Yosakoi in Kochi and the 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade in Okinawa are some of the most enjoyable, with all the dancing and colorful traditional costumes. But the Sapporo Snow Festival, the biggest snow festival in the country, seems to be a favorite among expat kids. It's held every year in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost region. Tall ice sculptures - about 10 meters high - line up along Odori Park and look particularly dazzling at night with the lights.

Q: Is bullying still a problem in Japan?

A: Not that much anymore compared to the 1980s. Aside from bullying, one society-related problem kids face in Japan is truancy (for example, when a child starts feeling like a failure when he doesn't perform well in school). Often, this only affects kids who grew up in Japanese households.

Cost of living

Q: Is food expensive in Tokyo?

A: It depends. Expats who have a tight budget can stick to a Japanese menu which is cheaper. Buying from a local supermarket just before it closes in the evening also fetches shoppers some really good discounts. Low-end restaurants offer meals of noodles, curry rice, hamburgers, and more types of dishes for a cost of around Y500 to 1000. There are lots of cheap eats around the bigger train stations, and average restaurants charge around Y1,000- 3,000 for a meal.

Q: How much does a haircut cost in Tokyo?

A: Japanese salons are popular for excellent service and expensive prices, but there are some places that charge around Y1000 for a nice haircut.

Q: How much do Tokyoites spend on household utilities?

A: It depends on usage, but utilities are generally expensive in Tokyo. Phone rates are particular high, and most expats rely on Internet phones and callback services instead for international calls.

Q: How do expats save on their food expenses in Japan?

A: Most food expat budgets rely on noodles, which can be bought everywhere in Japan and are very cheap. For variety, they may check out food courts in most department stores (usually in the basement) where there's a huge variety of delicious and reasonably priced food items. Those who love fish and other seafood check out supermarkets in the evening when discounts are given to dispose of the day's remaining stock.

Q: What is the cost of housing in Japan?

A: Depends on the specific location. In a good area, a furnished two-bedroom house could cost about JPY 200,000 monthly while an unfurnished counterpart may be around JPY 114,000. A shared apartment probably costs around JPY 50,000 monthly.

Q: How much do expats pay for monthly utilities in Japan?

A: A typical household in Japan would pay around JPY 16,500 in monthly utilities. Around JYP 50 goes to mobile calls, JPY 4,000 for the Internet (ADSL) and around JPY 11,000 for electricity. The rest could go to water, garbage disposal, etc.


Q: What are the best hospitals in Tokyo?

A: Sanno Hospital in Minato-ku, St Luke's International Hospital in Chuo ku, Tokyo Adventist Clinic in Suginami-ku and the Tokyo Medical University Hospital in Shinjuku-ku are four of the most renowned hospitals in Tokyo. All of them also have English-speaking staff, which expats find to be very convenient.

Q: Do Tokyo clinics or hospitals offer an option for painless childbirth?

A: Painless childbirth with epidurals is rare in Tokyo. If there's a hospital that offers this option, it can only be allowed during office hours, except when there is a prior arrangement with a specific doctor.

Q: Is it true that Tokyo is currently experiencing a shortage of doctors?

A: Yes. Doctors in Tokyo are at least 66% less in number compared to other world-class cities. The pay is low and working hours are excessively long. These are said to be the reasons why even a simple surgery will keep a patient in a hospital bed for several days, so that doctors can make money.

Q: Are Japan's EHIP and NHI healthcare schemes the same?

A: They're not the same. EHIC or Employees' Health Insurance Plan is a compulsory, employer-provided type of insurance that covers up to 80% of workers' health expenses, and up to 70% of their families'. The NHI or National Health Insurance scheme is also compulsory and covers 70% of members' healthcare costs, 80% for children under three years old, and 80 to 90% for 74-year-olds and older (depending on their financial capacity).

Q: What should expats do when rejected by Japanese doctors due to the language barrier?

A: First of all, Japanese doctors don't actually "reject" expat patients, but they are nervous about treating people with whom they cannot communicate effectively. Secondly, in Tokyo, there are medical services working to direct expats to the nearest doctor or dentist who speaks English. In other areas where this service is unavailable, it's best to bring along an English-speaking Japanese friend to act as interpreter, or if only to reassure the doctor.

Q: What's the difference between "pharmacies" and "drug stores" in Japan?

A: Pharmacies in Japan only sell medicines and no other merchandise. Drugstores, on the other hand, sell medicines and a lot of other healthcare-related goods such as energy drinks and antibacterial washes, or some stuff normally sold in supermarkets like soap, shampoo, beauty creams, etc. Their most important difference is all medicines and other products sold in drugstores are not covered by Japanese health insurance, but medicines sold in pharmacies are.


Q: Around how much is the typical initial cash outlay when renting an apartment in Tokyo?

A: It takes quite an upfront sum to rent an apartment in Tokyo. This usually covers a partially refundable damage deposit, non-refundable key money or gift to the landlord, plus an advance rental payment of one to two months. All in all, it would be wise to prepare between three to seven months' worth of rent for a single payment.

Q: Is flat-sharing common in Tokyo?

A: Yes, especially for single expats who expect to stay in Tokyo for one to two years. Shared houses are commonly called "gajin" (foreigner) houses. This option is less costly compared to renting an apartment, requires no initial cash outlay, and allows shorter notice periods.

Q: Which Tokyo neighborhoods have the highest expat populations?

A: Tokyo is a huge city that consists of many small neighborhoods. There are 26 wards within the metropolis, but expats are usually found in Meguro, Minato, and Shibuya. Foreigners prefer these areas because there's a lot of international interaction here, as well as stores that carry familiar international brands.

Q: What type of accommodation is most popular among expats in Japan?

A: Older, more established expats usually own their own homes in Japan. For younger expats, shared housing is very popular. This type of accommodation comes as a big house where tenants pay only for their private space (very economical indeed). Some house shares provide residents their own bedroom and bath while others provide only a bedroom with everything else (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) shared.

Q: What are the typical conditions involved when renting a property in Japan?

A: Upon signing a lease, which is usually good for one or two years, a renter is expected to pay a refundable damages deposit (equivalent to a month's rent), a "key money" gift (equivalent to two months' rent), plus two months in advance rental. In some cases, a maintenance fee may also be charged monthly. Utilities are usually excluded from rent.

Q: What are the most common housing options for expats in Japan?

A: There are plenty of options for expats. There's the apato which is an older, two-storey building that has a lot of small apartments inside. A newer and taller building with bigger apartments is called a mansion. Apartments can come serviced or unserviced, and some serviced apartments are unfurnished though equipped with all basic appliances like a fridge and dishwasher. Lighting is usually installed by the tenant. Another option is shared accommodation which is the most popular among young Westerners with no plans of staying long in Japan.


Q: What is nightlife like in Tokyo?

A: Tokyo's nightlife is everything people expect from a world-class city. It has geisha bars, escort clubs, jazz clubs, and all the rest. It's even legal to get a can of beer from a vending machine and drink it in public. Party hotspots include Roppongi, Kabuki-cho, Ginza, and Shinjuku.

Q: Where do expats usually go on weekends in Tokyo?

A: There are plenty of options, but it's normal to find a thick congregation of expats in Yoyogi Park during this time of the week. They're usually dancing or listening to music with a beer in hand. The park is located at Harajuku station, an area also dotted with restaurants.

Q: Is karaoke still popular in Tokyo?

A: Yes, karaoke is still very popular in Tokyo and it's everywhere. A sign that has the characters, カラオケ, indicates that the place is a karaoke bar or lounge, and it will probably have a huge repertoire of English songs.

Q: Is tipping practiced in Japan?

A: No. Nobody tips anybody in Japan, at least outside the Roppongi area. Tipping is unacceptable and offensive, even to waiters.

Q: Are tourists allowed to take pictures in Japanese temples?

A: There are many things tourists are allowed to do in a Japanese temple, except taking pictures which is offensive to locals. Other than that, people normally throw coins into the offering box, burn incense and pray. Putting out the flame should be done by waving the hand, not by blowing on it.

Q: What do people usually order first when going to a Japanese bar?

A: It's usually beer or sake for the first round, which is when people like to share the same drink as if to celebrate the Japanese' characteristic team spirit. After that, people start to branch out and usually end up drinking cosmos or mai tais on their own.

Looking for a job

Q: What are the working hours in Tokyo?

A: It depends on the nature of the job. Office and factory work usually starts at 9am and ends at 5pm on weekdays (few establishments open on weekends). Those who work at shops and supermarkets begin at 10am and end at 8pm, while restaurant staff usually work from 11:30 to 2:30pm, and resume from 6pm thru 9 or 10pm.

Q: In which sectors do most expats work in Tokyo?

A: Tokyo serves as Japan's service industry hub, not to mention that the country's entire economy is driven by its service sector. People who want to work in Tokyo will likely find a job in the tourism, transport and finance industries, although there has been a consistently increasing demand for English teachers in recent years.

Q: How much does an English language teacher usually make in Tokyo?

A: In language institutes, the pay is typically around Y250,000 monthly with a seven-week paid holiday. The rate is, of course, higher for those who teach in universities. Some popular English language schools in Tokyo include the ABC International School, Aoba-Japan International School, and Berlitz.

Q: What are regular working hours for the Japanese?

A: The Japanese are known for their industry all over the world. A typical work week runs for about 60 hours, but locals are normally forgiving towards their expat colleagues. The only problem is that acting differently from coworkers and being expected to act that differently, can fuel an expat's feeling of isolation.

Q: Are there good English-teaching prospects for expats in Japan?

A: Yes. In fact, English-teaching has become an extremely popular industry among expats in Japan today, especially young people from the West. The entertainment and manufacturing sectors remain big job generators for foreigners, with no requirement for Japanese fluency. Among those who do speak Japanese, translation jobs are popular.

Q: How is it like working amongst the Japanese?

A: Long hours, formality and the "genki, gambatte and group" pillars of the Japanese "can do" attitude are the three things that best describe working amongst the Japanese. Expats often find this exhausting and frustrating at first, but locals are known to give concessions to non-Japanese colleagues.


Q: Are credit cards prevalent in Tokyo?

A: Tokyo is a top-tier, world-class destination, but most Westerners find it odd that the city is still mostly cash-driven. The only establishments that accept credit cards are large hotels, especially those which are part of an international chain, and very expensive restaurants. Other than that, cash rules.

Q: Where can expats get advances using foreign-issued cards in Tokyo?

A: Generally speaking, ATMs in Tokyo do not accept foreign-issued cards. However, there are a few that do, such as machines in Tokyo post offices which are unfortunately only open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm. Another option for expats are ATMs in 7-11 stores where there are Citibank machines accepting international cards 24/7. Other Citibank ATM locations in Tokyo include Roppongi, Shinjuku, and Ginza.

Q: What are the best money changers in Tokyo?

A: Any expat or tourist traveling to Tokyo must be aware that money changers are not very common in the city. There's one in Shinjuku West Gate on the street side opposite to UNIQLO and it's called 1TravelTex. Note that because the demand for money changers is high, the rates can be really bad. The best way to save on money exchange rates is to have enough cash before flying to the city.

Q: Do ATMs in Japan have English instructions?

A: Only few ATMs in Japan have English instructions, even in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. It's best to take along a Japanese friend when withdrawing from these machines.

Q: What taxes do expats pay in Japan?

A: There are two taxes expats pay in Japan - income tax (between 5-40%) and annual residence tax (rate depends on where the expat lives). Resident taxes are paid annually and thus applicable only to expats who have stayed in Japan beyond a year.

Q: What's an alternative for expats whose foreign-issued cards are rejected by ATMs in Japan?

A: The alternative is to find a Citibank ATM or an ATM in a post office or 7-Eleven shop. All of these machines accept foreign-issued cards. Note that getting cash in Japan, even in Tokyo, can be a nightmare for foreigners, especially tourists.


Q: How do locals in Tokyo treat foreigners?

A: Foreigners can be seen everywhere in Tokyo every single day, which is not surprising for a top-tier capital city. It's not surprising to see locals being friendly and helpful towards tourists on the streets, and many of them have actually become friends with expats.

Q: How much Japanese do tourists or expats have to learn before traveling to Tokyo?

A: For tourists, it's probably enough to know how to read street signs, although Tokyo has had more signs in English and even Korean since Japan hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002. For working expats, basic, conversational Japanese should be enough to get them through the daily requirements of their jobs.

Q: What are the common nationalities composing Tokyo's expat population today?

A: Most expats in Tokyo are mostly Chinese, British, French, Korean, American or Filipino. Some live in expat-dominated communities like the Korean Quarter (Shin-Ōkubo area), while the rest choose areas that are practical for them.

Q: What major adjustments await expats when moving to Japan?

A: The biggest challenge for expats anywhere in Japan is language. Outside Tokyo, locals are known to have developed highly regionalist codes of conduct, especially in business environments, and expats often have a hard time adjusting. Foreigners are always treated with warmth and hospitality, but no matter how they try to integrate themselves into the local culture, they will always be considered outsiders, though honored guests.

Q: How do people greet each other in Japan?

A: Bowing is the main thing to do in Japan. This goes for meeting someone, giving thanks, asking a favor or simply being respectful or polite. A deeper bow shows higher respect.

Q: Is it easy for an expat to learn Japanese while in Japan?

A: Beyond the level of basic conversation, expats usually have an extremely difficult time learning Japanese. The language has a very intricate system, and even native speakers are known to have problems mastering it. Nonetheless, foreigners are never expected to be fluent.


Q: Do landlords allow tenants to keep dogs or cats at home?

A: Though dogs and cats are the most common pets in Tokyo, many landlords ban them from rented properties. Somehow, this has set a trend among tenants who would rather have smaller pets like hamsters, fish, and ferrets which are all permitted.

Q: How do pet owners dispose of deceased cats in Tokyo?

A: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has a program that helps people dispose of their deceased cats. The office is located at 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku.

Q: Are there animal organizations in Tokyo that accept pets for adoption?

A: Yes. There are many animal organizations in Tokyo that gladly take in pets that could no longer remain with their owners. Examples are the Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) and Save Animals Love Animals (SALA).

Q: Is Japan a pet-friendly country?

A: Japan is not just a pet-friendly country. It's the world's pet superpower, with its pet care industry's current estimated worth at $10B. This is one country where pets outnumber children by about 5 million. Expats who want to ship their pets over to Japan shouldn't worry as everything is here, from pet spas to pet yoga to pet gyms and everything else. Of course, all animals need to follow pet import rules.

Q: What are rules for expats who want to ship pets to Japan?

A: The rules for bringing pets to Japan can be complicated, but the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) hosts a very helpful English website where all important details regarding Japan pet imports are contained. Note that Japan's quarantine laws are notoriously strict, and AQS will rarely, if ever, make exceptions for animals who fail to pass all requirements described on their website.

Q: Are service pets allowed to stay in the cabin with their owners when flying to Japan?

A: This is more of an airline issue than anything else, but in most cases (as with Japan Airlines, for example), service animals such as guide dogs, assist dogs and signal dogs are allowed to stay in the passenger cabin beside their owners. The rest stay in the plane's cargo compartment throughout the flight.


Q: What are the requirements for enrolling an expat child in an international school in Tokyo?

A: It's obviously different from one school to another. Some require a child to have a certain level of English proficiency, if the child does not have English as his first language. Schools that have no boarding facilities also require students to live just within the area.

Q: Are there homeschooling options in Tokyo?

A: Homeschooling is technically illegal in Tokyo, but there seems to be a wide and unspoken acceptance for this approach to education, especially for expats who find international schools too expensive or Japanese schools (public or private) too tough in terms of the language barrier. Homeschoolers are usually assigned an "enrolled school" that is close to their home.

Q: What are the best universities in Tokyo?

A: In the 2015 Best Students Cities list compiled by higher education data specialist, QS, Tokyo rises 10 notches after scoring high in the "desirability" category. The University of Tokyo, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Keio University and Waseda University are some of the best universities in the city.

Q: When does a school year run in Japan?

A: A school year in Japan begins in April and ends in March. In between school years is a break of about two to three weeks, summer vacations lasting between one to two-and-a-half months. This can depend on the district and school itself though. International schools use their own school calendars, which are normally patterned after the West.

Q: Is homeschooling popular among expat families in Japan?

A: Yes, but note that this is technically illegal in Japan. Elementary and junior high school are compulsory, so parents who want to homeschool their kids need permission from their "enrolled" schools which are usually assigned based on the family's address.

Q: What are the typical admission requirements for international schools in Japan?

A: Admission requirements can vary widely, depending on the school. Some require students to have a certain level of English proficiency if English is not the child's native tongue. In most cases, enrollees are obliged to live close to the school since few of these institutions have boarding facilities.


Q: Where do expats shop for affordable clothing in Tokyo?

A: The best places to shop for cheap and reasonable quality clothing in Tokyo are the clothing departments of supermarkets like Ito Yokado, or discount clothing shops like Uniqlo. It could be a challenge to find clothes in L or XL though. There are also many 100 Yen shops all over the city, but quality might be a problem.

Q: Which stores sell cheap electronics in Tokyo?

A: Akihibara is one area in Tokyo where there are many small shops selling cheap but good electronic products, from TVs to computers and all. Everywhere else in the city, the same could be found in stores like Yamada, Sakuraya, and Yodobashi Camera.

Q: Where do people buy fabrics in Tokyo?

A: A very popular place among designers is Nippori Nuno no Machi in Tokyo where there's a near endless variety of fabrics and other items used by tailors and seamstresses. This is a seven-block area east of Nippori station where dozens of stores also sell blankets, kimonos and the like.

Q: Is there a supermarket in Japan that actually stocks everything like a supermarket should (not just food)?

A: Yes. The bigger ones, usually those attached to department stores, stock complete supplies. Average supermarkets in Japan are limited to food, meaning no toiletries, household cleaning supplies, cheap T-shirts, etc. In most cases, they are also limited to exotic food items, so anything not part of the Japanese cuisine is probably unavailable.

Q: What credit cards are most widely accepted in Japan?

A: Visa, MasterCard, JCB, American Express and Union Pay are the most accepted credit cards in Japan. (Travelers checks are accepted only at major electronic shops and department stores.)

Q: What is consumption tax in Japan?

A: Consumption tax in Japan is no different from VAT, sales tax or GST in other countries, except that the rate is fixed at 8% (scheduled to increase in April 2014), and the tax is already included in the price tag, instead of being added at the counter.


Q: Do people in Tokyo use landlines (being one of the world's biggest mobile tech hubs}?

A: Yes, but they are very expensive. To get a phone line alone, the cost can be as high as Y70,000 and that excludes a phone unit and subscription. There are also landlines which do not allow international calls. Most expats use Internet broadband instead as a more cost-effective way of communicating with families and friends back home.

Q: What mobile phones work or don't work in Tokyo?

A: In Tokyo, there are no GSM networks for mobile phones, which means GSM mobile phones are not going to work here, in the same way that most cellphones in the city will not work outside. There are some 3G models that are compatible with Tokyo's network, but most expats would rather rent a SIM card from a local provider using a Japanese phone number. Another thing to note is that some phones only work with a certain service provider.

Q: What are the Internet technologies available in Tokyo?

A: There are many options of Internet technologies in Tokyo, from ADSL to fibre optic to cable. ADSL is the equivalent of DSL in the West and is the most popular choice in the city. Fibre optic offers super-fast connection but the necessary infrastructure must be available first before one can sign up for an account (most buildings in the city center are fibre-optic ready).

Q: Is the Internet available everywhere in Japan?

A: In most parts, yes. There are hundreds of ISPs offering a variety of services in Japan. Broadband is the most popular and may come with either Hikari (fibre optics) or ADSL. While high-speed Internet is available in most locations across the country, there may be variations in signals, depending on the user's specific location.

Q: Do cell phones in Japan have Internet capabilities?

A: As the technology capital of the world, Japan is a hotbed for 3G mobile phones, meaning the Internet on the go is a given. It still depends on the plan, but most phones are Wi-Fi ready. Note that most Wi-Fi in Japan is secure and people may have to sign up for a connection and pay for usage.

Q: Do ISPs in Japan offer English support?

A: Most ISPs in Japan do not offer English support, but the big ones have tie-ups with BB Apply which helps them deal with expat clients in English. This service is free of charge and those who want to apply just have to fill out an availability report on their website (installation can take two to three weeks from the date of application).


Q: Is cycling popular in Tokyo?

A: Yes, cycling is popular in Tokyo but for some reason, amenities for cyclists are scarce, and the heavy traffic adds an element of risk. Accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians are actually common in the city.

Q: Are there English-speaking taxi drivers in Tokyo?

A: It's rare to find an English-speaking taxi driver in Tokyo, reason why expats rarely ride one. This mode of transport is also very expensive, although tipping is not a practice.

Q: What is the traffic like in Tokyo?

A: Driving in Tokyo means dealing with heavy traffic congestion, not to mention uncomfortably narrow and poorly marked streets. People, including expats, would most likely rather use the city's public transport system which has a reputation for being one of the best in the world.

Q: What card works for all public vehicles in Japan?

A: Suica cards work on the subway, Japan Rail and metro but not on buses. No card works on buses though Suica cards (purchased at ticket vending machines at most trains, buses and subway stations) can be used to pay for items at convenience stores.

Q: Are buses in Japan as accessible as trains?

A: Unfortunately, no. Buses don't reach all cities unlike trains, and even when they do, trips will be infrequent - a maximum of four per day. There are bus information booths in most train stations that have bus terminals, but clerks don't always speak English.

Q: Where can expats get an international driving license in Japan?

A: International driving licenses in Japan can be purchased from any local auto association and are valid for one year. After this period, the expat driver has to apply for a Japanese driver's license, one requirement of which is passing a driving test that is notorious for being difficult.


Q: Around how much does a tourist spend daily in Tokyo?

A: Tourists on a meager budget can go with a daily average spending of about Y6,000-8,000 to cover common expenses such as meals, transport fares, and admission fees to various tourist attractions.

Q: Do Tokyo airports have luggage delivery service?

A: Yes. Luggage may be delivered to the tourist's Tokyo address, usually within a period of 24 hours.

Q: Is there free Wi-Fi in Tokyo's airports?

A: No (although there are many places in Tokyo with the "Free Wi-Fi" sign, except that the service isn't actually free because people do have to sign up for a paid account). Most expats and tourists instead rent a pocket Wi-Fi at the airport and connect with their smartphones.

Q: Do local airlines offer discounts to foreigners flying within Japan?

A: Yes. Not just local airlines but even Japan's biggest carriers are offering discounts to foreigners flying within Japan. Japan Airlines, for example, has a program where fares start at JPY 10,800. ANA's Star Alliance Japan Air lets passengers fly for just JPY 10,000 for up to five flights. However, flights must be booked outside Japan on the carriers' international websites.

Q: Which airport is better to fly into - Narita or Haneda?

A: It depends. Haneda is good because it's nearer Tokyo, but some airlines like Delta only fly in and out of Narita. Cathay Pacific serves both Haneda and Narita though. Taking the train from Haneda to Tokyo Station, it takes about 28 minutes and the cost is about JPY 580. From Narita to Tokyo Station, the trip is approximately 58 minutes and the fare at least JPY2, 600.

Q: How do most travelers manage the language barrier in Japan?

A: Some travelers still take the old-fashioned route, bringing a dictionary everywhere they go. For modern travelers, translation apps such as Google Translate have been extremely helpful. The apps are the fastest and easiest way to translate everything on the spot. Google Translate also has a camera input feature, can be used offline for Android 2.3 and above, and costs nothing to download.


Q: Where do expats go for visa renewals and other visa-related concerns in Tokyo?

A: Visa processing and other related concerns in Tokyo are handled by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau located at 5-5-30, Konan, Minato-ku. The office is open Mondays thru Fridays from 9am to 4pm (lunch break is from 12-1pm).

Q: How do newly arrived expats with a residence status get their Residence Cards?

A: Those who land in Narita or Haneda will receive their Residence Card (formerly Alien Registration Card) at the airport if their residence status extends beyond three months. However, expats must complete the registration process within 14 days of their arrival, by reporting to the local government office.

Q: Do passengers need a transit visa when stopping over at a Tokyo airport?

A: Both Narita and Haneda airports require a transit visa only for long layovers. Passengers with immediate flight connections, regardless of nationality, will not be required to secure a transit visa.

Q: Where can expats get a Residence Card in Japan?

A: A Japanese Residence Card, also called a Zairyu Card, should be obtained from any of Japan's main airports upon the expat's arrival. A residence card entitles the holder to multiple re-entries in Japan within the validity of his visa. (Only those who have long-term visas or plans of working in the country can get a Residence Card.)

Q: What exactly is a Certificate of Eligibility and how or where can expats get one?

A: A Certificate of Eligibility is required for those applying for long-term visas only (visitors need not apply). It is a document in which a Japanese sponsor and a regional authority testify that the bearer is qualified to get the visa. Those who are coming to Japan to work can ask their potential employer to issue them this certificate, which must be mailed to them before they apply for a visa at a Japanese embassy.

Q: Are EU citizens exempt from getting a long-term visa when staying in Japan indefinitely?

A: If this "indefinite" period does not exceed 90 days, an EU citizen need not apply for a long-term visa or a visitor visa. If this period is likely to extend beyond 90 days, anybody, including EU citizens and all non-Japanese citizens, has to apply for a long-term visa.