Paperwork in Japan
This blog post is going to be long. And probably so dry it will make the Sarah desert look like a rainforest. However, if you are going to live here for long, you are going to do a lot of paperwork. Cheers and ganbatte kudasai!
Believe it or not, moving to a new country, particularly Japan, involves a whole lot of paperwork. I’m fairly certain that I could have filled a dump truck with everything that I have signed and stamped recently. If you are coming to Japan for an extended period of time, bring your favorite pen with you, there will be many things to sign once you arrive here. Don’t worry; once you get through it all, it will have been well worth the effort in order to stay here!
This is not necessarily a comprehensive list of every piece of paper you will sign, nor will you likely need to know everything. This is what I went through, and I hope that other gaijin might find this helpful.
Down at the end of the post, I’ll put the kanji, hiragana, and pronouncaition for the different words you’ll need to know.
Passport and Visa
Now I’ll take a long shot here and assume that you already know that a passport and visa will be the first steps to complete in this pipeline of paperwork. If you know of a way to get out of one country without a passport and into Japan without a visa, by all means DON’T tell me. I’ve got a clean record and want it to stay that way.
Now, there is an exemption for the visa should you staying the country LESS than 90 days. Provided you have a valid passport and a return/onward ticket, you can remain in Japan for three months without a travelers visa. You will not be able to work, however.
Back to those staying a bit longer, as soon as you get off the plane you’ll of course need to head through immigration. At immigration, you will be issued something called a residence card.
As of 2012, Japan abolished an old system of keeping track of foreigners, the Alien Registration System. The new system allows for gaijin to receive a card at immigration that allows them to stay in the country for 5 years, but that time limit is extendable. I lived in Japan before the government abolished the old system, but as far as I know, not a whole lot has changed. This time, I received a Residence Card with my photo, nationality, date of birth, sex, status of residency, and working permits on it.
Couple of things to remember; first, you will need to take your card to your city office and have your address officially put on your card WITHIN 14 DAYS of settlement in the city or town in which you are now residing. The other is that you are required to always have your residence card on you AT ALL TIMES. Immigration officers, police officers, and other officials may legally ask to see it. Failure to adhere to either of the aforementioned rules may result in fines or other such penalties.
More info on Residence Cards can be found here.
Now that you are out of the airport with your Residence Card in hand and have arrived in the place of your residence, one of the first things you will want to do is head to the City Office to (#1) get your address filled in on your Residence Card and (#2), receive a Certificate of Residence.
Certificate of Residence
Different from a Residence Card, the Certificate of Residence isn't necessarily for gaijin, but rather for all the citizens of a city. It is a registry of current residential addresses that is maintained by local governments, as mandated by Japanese law. Everyone has one, and gaijin are no exception. This tells the city (Usuki, in my case) who I am, that I am a legal residence, where I live, birthday, etc. If I want to do something such as, say, open a bank account, I am going to need to prove that I am a resident of the city of Usuki. I also filled out paperwork necessary to get a card so that for a mere 300円 I can get another copy of my Certificate of Residence should the need arise.
More info about the Certificate of Residence can be found here.
In order to tell the city offices where you live, you will of course need a place to live. That likely means you will need to rent an apartment. Not exactly a piece of cake, especially if you are left to your own devices. I was very fortunate in that my supervisor from the board of education helped with finding an apartment, and held my hand through all of the steps. All I did was go to the landlord’s house a couple of times to greet he and his wife and then sign the paperwork after all of the expenses were explained to my supervisor. He simplified the explanations for me so that I understood exactly what I was signing.
Given the possibility that someone isn’t there to hold your hand, GaijinPot has an excellent article well worth checking out. Like the article says, the first thing you will likely need is a whole lot of cash. I once again lucked out as my supervisor acted as my agent, saving me (possibly) over a 100,000円 fee. However, unless you have some mad vocabulary and kanji skills, I would say it’s well worth the money to find an agent. I saved another months rent in that my landlord didn’t require key money. All in all, I only paid a little over 150,000円 (~$1,500) for my first month. Part of the initial cost of renting an apartment, as well as the monthly expenses, will depend on where in Japan you’re staying. Housing costs on Kyushu (on average) are a little lower than in most other places in Japan.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, the chances of you needing to work for a living while in are quite high. Gaijin working in Japan for extended periods usually work as language teachers in public or private schools, at eikaiwas (English conversation classes), or as translators. Working in such an enterprise, it is very likely that an English copy of your work contract exists. Read through it before signing. 😉
The importance of getting a bank account open soon after getting settled cannot be overstated. Much to the surprise of many gaijin, Japan is still very much a cash-based economy. It isn’t unusual for the Japanese to be carrying much larger amounts of cash than people in the US or Europe. Credit cards have made their way into some major cities, but I would not at all count on using a card, especially a foreign card, until you get the lay of the land. A bank account and ATMs are going to become very familiar, if not one of your best friends. Just a heads up, if you are in Japan as a tourist (staying less than 90 days), you cannot open an account.
Opening a bank account will require a few things that, because you have already been following through with the aforementioned paperwork, you already possess. You will need a passport, your residence card, and usually an inkan, or official ink seal. It is a personalized stamp that, using red ink, takes the place of your signature on many official documents. There may be an exception with the inkan for a gaijin, as not all gaijin have one and they will likely take your signature. The people at the bank will help you walk through where to sign and such. One important thing you will receive is a bank booklet, a deposit passbook. There is a place to insert your passbook into the ATMs here, and when you do so it will update your account information.
And, one last thing, you’ll need a few bucks to put in. Just a couple of weeks ago, I opened my account with a 100円 piece.
More on opening a bank account in Japan can be found here.
Part of the glory of having a bank account open is that it is a rather simple matter to have utilities automatically deducted from your account. In my case, a slip of paper appeared in my little mailbox for the electricity and water with a slip of paper to fill out. I filled it out, and now my payments come out automatically and a receipt shows up in my mailbox a day later.
Should you not choose to supply your electric, gas or water company with the account information, it is possible to pay your bills by handing a clerk at a post office and convenience store your bill and the amount due in cash. Or, you could do the same at the offices of the utility companies.
More on paying utilities in Japan can be found here.
Getting a cell phone in Japan wasn’t quite the picnic I figured. It would seem that years of gaijin heading home without paying their bills incentivized cell phone companies to require a residence card and a Japanese bank account and, in some cases, a passport. I needed all three to buy a phone, and I brought my inkan as well just in case. I didn’t particularly care where my phone came from, but since my work uses SoftBank they took me there and suggested I get an iPhone. Incidentally, the only phone company that I know of that sells the iPhone is Softbank. There is of course the Apple store here, but of the three major phone providers, only SoftBank has iPhones.
You can also get all-you-can-use wifi for a price that I consider not unreasonable, or some set amount of data thrown in for a little cheaper with your phone plan. There, you will be able to get a few different plans depending on how much wifi you would like to get, how much phone usage you want, etc. They were quite good about filling out most of the paperwork after asking me what I wanted in a plan, and simply had me sign or stamp in a few places.
More on cell phones in Japan can be found here.
Last but not least, if you are going to get a car, there will be at least some paperwork depending on how you . In my case, I bought my car from the predecessor at my work, and went through three different components of paperwork before I started driving.
Deed of Transfer
Because I bought my car from my predecessor I needed to fill out paperwork to transfer ownership of the car. Known as the Deed of Transfer, this signifies the legal ownership of the car. Once again, unless you are backed up by a very solid grasp of the language as well as some pretty fly kanji skills, it would be wise to find a Japanese person to help you through this process. Luckily, my supervisor and his assistant did most of the legwork, and I just signed and filled out my address and stamped where they told me.
Certificate of Permission for Use of Parking
In order to have a car in Japan, you also must have a place to park it. You need an official document, a Certificate of Permission for Use of Parking, showing that a specific parking space is in fact yours. Usually your landlord, building owner, or building management company will have a space that is yours, and will have the required paperwork. After that is complete, you can go to the local police station and apply to get an official sticker to certify your parking space. In order to apply, you will need to bring two somewhat detailed maps; one of the area and another of the parking space, including the space number if you have one. The map of the space include dimensions in meters and the width of adjacent roads. It will probably take about a week to get everything processed.
This was the last and final hurdle to get through before I could drive. In order to legally drive in Japan, all vehicles MUST be covered by at least one type of insurance (Mandatory Insurance), covering damage to the car and hospital bills up to a certain amount should an accident occur. It is strongly recommended that you get the optional Comprehensive Vehicle Insurance, which also covers you, your passengers, and damage to your car. You will pick the coverage you like, and sign/stamp in several places, show them your Residence Card, and you should be good to hit the road!
An excellent guide to car paperwork in Japan can be found here.