Startup costs for moving to Japan

How much does it cost to move to Japan to teach English?

If you are considering teaching overseas you maybe in the same boat we were. My eyes had dollar signs in them. I was thinking about how much money I was going to save and didn’t really consider a bunch of costs that came up. Keeping in mind that you more than likely will be starting from scratch wherever you end up. We only took over what we could check for free in our luggage. We also sold our two vehicles, a majority of our furniture, received a full deposit refund from our apartment and had saved a lot of money before we left. My recommendation would be to have at least $4000 to $6000 in your bank account before you leave.

Getting There – $800 to $1500
Plane tickets are expensive. You will have to shell this out upfront. Beware for Japan that if your work visa is not ready you will have to enter on a tourist visa with a round trip ticket already paid for. This will add between $200 to $500 to your plane ticket to change the round trip ticket into a different one once you receive your visa. One of the many reasons people look at Korea first is because a majority of the offers to work in Korea will have plane tickets prepaid as part of the contract offer.

Our tix

Our tix

Extra Luggage vs Shipping Stuff
Depending on the status you have with your airline and how much you really want to bring this can be a tough call. Checking an extra bag when you fly is usually between $50 to $75 extra. If you don’t have an extra bag and your bag is overweight you can be charged around $200 dollars at check-in for the extra weight. Its better to spend the money and check an extra bag than it is to pay for the weight. You can try and load up your carry on but then you have to carry it.
If you do check extra luggage there is an easy way to get it to your final destination once you get Japan. The major airports will have a Yamato or Sagawa desk near baggage claim. For a small fee these companies will transport your luggage around Japan either while you’re on holiday or simply to your final destination. Their prices are very reasonable and they have an English hotline for delivery scheduling that works most of the time.
The other option is ship some items before you leave if you know your final destination or have someone else ship it for you after you arrive. This is also very weight sensitive. I had my snowboard and boots shipped to Japan for just over $120 from California. This is the price of 3 rentals or so in Japan.  An average size box of average weight through USPS will cost around $70 to $100.

Our life in suitcase form

Our life in suitcase form

Transportation – $200 to $1500
Once you get where you’re going whether its Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand or Japan you will need to figure how to get a little further than the immediate surroundings of your apartment. In more rural areas this may prove be very difficult without a bike, scooter or car. In Japan bikes are very reasonably priced and very nice bikes can be purchased at the second hand store. More than likely one with a basket and a tie-down area will be necessary if you will not be bothering with a car. I also invested in a rain suit (waterproof pants, glove shells and jacket) as well as a waterproof backpack. If you want to look into a scooter or moped plan on spending a lot more money plus upkeep expenses like gas, maintenance and repairs. In Japan some ALT agencies will have a rental car program and will help get you set up with a car. More than likely you will be responsible for maintenance on that vehicle. If you are planning on getting a vehicle make sure to check and see if you can get an International Drivers License. They are about $30 and are good for 1 year to drive overseas if they are accepted where you plan on living.

Apartment Deposits – $300 to $700
Even if you are having your apartment paid for you will likely have to put down a deposit equal to half a months salary or one month’s rent. The different contracts I received from Korean schools usually have some stipulation that upon completion of the contract and that the apartment isn’t ruined you’ll get your money back. In Japan you will have no such luck. The deposit you may get back but you will not get the key money back from you landlord. Some ALT businesses will cover this cost upfront for you so make sure you ask.

Thickness of the tempurpedic style futon we purchased from Nitori

Thickness of the tempurpedic style futon we purchased from Nitori

Utilities – $80 to $150 per month
I can only speak for Japan here but electricity and water were each about $50. Gas will be a little bit less and we are hoping to shave some of that off. For the contract offers that we received for Korea the utilities would be paid by the tenant but I have no idea how much that would amount to. This maybe something you can negotiate into your contract depending on where you want to go. In Japan there is also a $100 deposit on gas service.

Sleeping Comfortably – $100 to $500
If you’re going to Korea they will more than likely offer you a furnished apartment. However that doesn’t mean the bed will be comfortable. Plan on spending money on padding of some sort. In Japan you will likely be sleeping on a futon if you want to cheapest possible arrangements. A tempurpedic style foam futon is about $80 to $90. Plus you’ll need pillows and sheets if you didn’t bring any.

Furniture – $0 to $1500
If you are lucky enough to have a nicely furnished apartment then this will be a low cost investment. Maybe all you’ll need is an extra chair or desk. For all the apartments that I looked at in Korea I made sure they sent me a picture of the interior. Most of the time it was pretty barren. In Japan there are great second hand furniture stores that deliver. We picked up a fold out couch, desk, full-length mirror, desk chair, and a kitchen storage stand for about $400 delivered.

Appliances – $200 to $1000
Unlike in America an apartment in Japan will probably not have any appliances in it. The same used furniture store we bought our couch and desk at we picked up a half size refrigerator and washer for about $300 delivered to our apartment. We spent another $120 on a gas burner, an electric burner, toaster oven, and rice cooker. You could add another $30 to $50 for a used microwave.

Our two burner "stove"

Our two burner “stove”

Cooking Stuff – $50 to $200
Unless you brought pots and pans with you or there were some left in your apartment by a previous teacher you will likely have to invest in a couple new pans, kitchen knives, silverware, and other miscellaneous cooking utensils.  In Japan I would head to your local 100yen store. You can pick up a majority of these items including plates, cups, bowls, ice cube trays and silverware for about 100 yen each or $1.

Closet Stuff – $25 to $100
We got lucky with a massive amount of closet space but we still had to purchase closet rods, a drying rack for clothes and hangers when we got to Japan. More than likely with smaller closets is that you will end up buying a free-standing hanger rack ($20 to $100) to act as a closet. Check the local used goods store, sometimes they have them for cheap. Also check the 100yen stores for hangers and other organizer items for your closet.

Internet – $50 to $80 per month
Japan has very good internet service and will be priced roughly the same as in America but with better speeds. If you have your own wireless router already I would definitely bring that. You can rent them from internet company for an extra fee. If you are going to bring your own router make sure that it supports VPN pass through and PPPoE service. If you want to continue using sites like Hulu and Netflix while you are overseas a VPN service will be necessary but it will not work unless your router supports VPN pass through. VPN services vary widely in price. Check out cNET for suggestions on which service to use. Time Capsule from Apple does not support VPN service because sometimes Apple hates me. I would be using a VPN service but my Time Capsule is stupid.

Couch and desk from used furniture store

Couch and desk from used furniture store

Cell Phone vs Skype
Cell phone service is a tough one. If you want a phone you will likely have to sign a 2 year contract which can be expensive to break at the end of the process. For Korea many people online will be selling their contracts with the phones if they are leaving Korea. For basic cell service in Japan it is similar to America and they offer unlimited data usage plans for smart phones. Smartphone plans are roughly $80 a month. This one comes down to personal preference. So far the only time I’ve needed a phone here in Japan I was able to use the payphone at the train station free of charge. However a cell phone is really useful when you are trying to meet somewhere. Unless you have a ton of friends who already live in Korea, Japan or wherever you are headed I would skimp on the cell phone and make sure everyone you want to talk to back home has Skype. You can even get a local number for your Skype account for about $5 a month so that people at home can call your Skype account from a regular phone without the Skype app for free.

Suits – $400 to a lot of money
The men in Japan dress very formally for school. Women have a little bit more leeway. I wear a suit every day for school. If you don’t have any suits you will need to buy some as well as sets of dress shirts and ties. This can add up real quick. However if you are touring Asia before you go teach in Japan then I would invest in some suits in Vietnam or Thailand where they are super cheap and tailor made. However I would not just go to Thailand for a suit. The suit prices in Japan are reasonable but if you are above average height or weight you will have a very tough time finding things that will fit. You can get pants and a jacket for about $200, Shirts for about $15 to $50 and ties from the 100yen store or used clothing store up to $50 to $60 bucks at their version of a Jos A. Bank.

Toiletries – Whatever you want
Since we were not fluent in Japanese before we came over here we invested in some of our home toiletries to help us get settled without worrying if we were accidentally washing our faces with dish soap. As we found out most western brands of products are duplicated in Japan in some fashion. If you have something you are very particular about I would stock up on a couple of them and bring them with. One thing that shows up a lot on websites about moving to Japan is bringing your own deodorant. Shana found her brand here at a 100yen store. I have yet to come across Old Spice but they do have a brand called Gatsby that seems similar.

When all was said and done we spent roughly right about $6500 dollars getting settled. It could have been a lot cheaper but we had some major mitigating circumstances that drove the price up. We had to buy last minute round trip flights. Those were $1500 each. Had we known about the used furniture store we would have spent less on our coffee table and some other items. Here is our rundown.

$3000 for flights
$900 on furniture & appliances
$300 on bedding
$200 on new clothes
$400 on new bikes
$150 on cooking stuff 4950
$1500 on rent($500), key money ($500) & deposit ($500) – technically we haven’t paid this yet but we owe it as part of our move in cost.

Also we have not bought cell phones yet because we just received our alien registration cards. These are a requirement to get any sort of service based utility in Japan on your own. Our company sort of fronted for us for the rent, utilities and internet. Keep in mind that was split for two people. Some stuff we had to double up on and some stuff we split. Much of the cost will depend on what you can and can’t live without.

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4 comments on “Startup costs for moving to Japan

  1. Emily says:

    So……what I am to understand from this post is that you are riding a bike to work everyday in a suit? Can you post a picture of that please?!

  2. Phil says:

    Hey Andrew thanks for posting; this has a lot of great info. I was wondering if you could help me out with a bit more info about moving to Japan. I am also looking to go teach in Japan as an ALT. I’m not sure which company you are working for, but I have applied to the JET Program (find out if I get an interview in early February) and RCS Corporation (just applied so I haven’t heard anything yet). I also applied to Interac, but got denied (not sure how; possibly because my preference is to teach high school and they don’t have many HS positions)? I just had a few more questions about getting started and such:

    1. If I can’t get in with JET, I will likely be starting with another company in early April, I’m sure I can save at least $4500ish by then, but Interac suggested $5000 plus airfare, which would be very difficult. It looks like I could get a one way plane ticket for about $700. Would getting started with about $4000 after paying for airfare be very possible? What do you think is the lowest amount possible?

    2. I’m looking to get in to the Japanese Soccer (Football) league system when I arrive. I would start out playing on a semi-pro (likely regional league) team which I’ve heard practice and play after working hours and on weekends for the most part. Does this sound like a crazy idea with the typical schedule of an ALT? (I may also have to commute to practices & games, so that could be an extra expense).

    3. Which dispatch companies would you recommend if you had to? What I would be looking for are ones with lots of High School positions and that wouldn’t require much work on evenings and weekends (more time for soccer). I am also thinking about applying to Heart Corporation and OWLS (I also know of Borderlink & Joytalk). It’s hard to get good info from forums because they’re mostly angry people who had bad experiences.

    Sorry for such a long post. I’d really appreciate your help! Thanks!

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Phil,

      No problem about the long list of questions. I had a lot too.

      To start with, likely you will have to be here in late March for some sort of training week regardless of what company you sign up with. We started in April 8th but had to be in Japan by March 23rd. Most of the ALT dispatch companies pay 1 month “in the rears.” So if you think about it, you will work a full month at your school, and still not get paid the following month until the 25th or so. Nearly 2 full months without a paycheck. I think for a single person $4000 is plenty as long as you don’t go out and drink every night and grocery shop on a strict budget for a bit. Many companies also offer a loan that you can pay back out of your first few paychecks so you might want to inquire about that if you are still nervous. I suspect that if you worry about luxury items until after your first paycheck you will make it just fine on $4000. Most companies will say you need more because they expect you to be quite irresponsible with your savings.

      For your second question I know next to nothing about soccer here in Japan. What I can tell you is that that an ALT schedule is very straight forward. You will work every day, M-F from 730ish to 5ish. Most days I can leave by 4:15, but many times I stay after school and “volunteer” by playing sports with the kids or helping them with some English project. If your practices are after dinner in the evening, I don’t see why you couldn’t make it work. You will occasionally have to work on a Saturday but that is maybe 5 or 6 times the entire year. If you are working with an ALT dispatch company they likely will limit you to 29.5 working hours a week because of tax write offs they get for you not being a “full time” employee. The reason I mention the volunteer time is that they are not paid working hours but since you are salary the expectation is that you will stay after school for an hour or so and do something with the kids. You could help coach the soccer team or just play soccer if you are so inclined. I volunteer about 6 to 10 extra hours a month after school.

      Another thing to consider is regional placement. You may be placed in a rural area… the nearest city being a substantial train ride or drive away. It is unlikely you will be able to be very choosy about where you go and this may put a damper on the soccer.

      For your last question, send me a personal email at

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