Japan is one of the most desired and dreamed countries to live, that’s a fact. Constantly applying new regulations for long-term residents, students, and trying to open to highly skilled professionals, still Japan is not that friendly affordable for student pockets. Let’s break down the numbers of living and Japan and the approximate budget needed. All prices estimated in € Euro
I decided to study in Japan
Before even landing in dreamland Japan, we have to deal with lot of costs and payments. First, to live as a student, we need to find a language school, speciality school or university. The easiest is the Japanese language school. After submitting all the documents and papers needed, we only have to wait for the Certificate Of Eligibility, the document that states we’re good for a Japan student visa (for 2 years top). Speciality Schools and universities my ask for official translated documents, our history grades and most likely entry tests.
Payments in Japanese schools are made every three months, whilst universities will ask for year or semester payment.
Where I’m going to live
The second step is to find a place to stay. Let’s say we don’t care about the money. Renting an apartment in Central Tokyo for one person, will cost from €1000 to €2000, for a small apartment of one room, kitchen and bathroom. And when I say small, I mean the size of your room back at your parents place. Out of Central Tokyo, prices go down. Then the struggle between deciding to live near the center and don’t spend money in transport, or live in the suburbs of Tokyo and commute for an hour or more, ending to spend more money in transport everyday than the rent.
Maybe the school has student dormitories. It’s true, some of the schools offer to students a short list of dormitories to stay, for reasonable price, for around €400. But, an hour away (sometimes even more) from the school by train. It’s a good option to meet other students from the same school or university, and have that scent of student life.
The share house. the third option to consider when moving to Japan. We searched for days for a place but the prices scare us so much we give up on the apartment. Then we stumble upon share house companies. And even better, share room in a share house, that’s the cheapest we’ll get in Tokyo, for only €500. Now consider this, in a share house, every person will have different schedules, different languages, cultures and backgrounds, like a reduced Babel tower. For those who need a bit more privacy, might prefer to have a private room in a share house, and stay closed in. Then, what’s the point of living in a share house? I encountered many of this people, lurking around the house, like ghosts when there’s nobody else in the common spaces.
Landing in Japan
As I talk to other foreigners in Japan, some procedures are different depending on which country you’re coming from to stay in Japan. I’ll explain a bit the procedures from my experience. Landed in the promise land, went through the immigration controls and received immediately my zairyu card (residence card) with the job permission stamped on it. Able to work 28 hour per week, which means I can apply for part time jobs while I attend to photography school.
Once settled at the new place, during the first two weeks is a non-stop paperwork and running to places. First of all, register at the town hall, and get stamped the new address on the residence card, and register for the National Health Insurance (around ¥2.500/month). Then, up to the JP (Japan Post) bank to make an account. It’s one of the “newbies foreign friendly” banks in Japan, and they let you open an account without much inconvinience. Only that all paperwork is in Japanese, so make sure your level is high enough for the ordeal.
With the new bank account, the final step would be getting a new phone. In my case, I decided to make a mobile phone contract, as I know I’m going to be in Tokyo for 2 years, but if you’re thinking of only few months, a prepaid phone or sim card is much better option. all the paperwork gathered, got the phone contract and you’re good to start a new life in Japan.
To be able to open a bank account, you need to have a Japanese phone number. To be able to make a phone contract, you need to have a Japanese bank account to pay. How to solve this. Give your school or work, or another friends phone number in Japan, to make the bank account, then make the phone contract and go back to the bank with your new phone number.
LIVING EXPENSES IN CENTRAL TOKYO
The next list of costs are based in my experience and lifestyle of Central Tokyo. The costs would be highly reduced the further you move out of Tokyo, increasing other costs like transport. Groceries, eating out, having a coffee with a friend, shopping, leisure time, personal care, phone expenses, rent, and extra, for the first months, all rounded up. Expenses are calculated as €1 = ¥130 (May 2018)
Rent: The three options mentioned
School: Average prices for language schools. Universities or speciality schools have a lot more “unexpected” expenses, like materials and textbooks, and higher prices.
Food: The most common is to be out all day, even if you take lunch boxes to work or school, most probably will end up eating out, and if you go to local restaurants and chains, the cost is even cheaper than making food at home buying the ingredients in the market. Specially veggies and fruit are expensive.
Life expenses: I was lucky there was a mobile phone campaign, and I got my iphone SE + a pocket wifi device all for around ¥5.000 per month. Personal care, like going to the barber shop, buying health products or medicines for a cold or allergies.
Personal Care: €20
National Health Insurance: €20
Shopping and leisure: From tech gadgets to clothes, home appliances, kitchenware. In case you choose the share house this expenses drop almost to none compared to renting your own place or private room. Even some private rooms are without furniture when you arrive, like mine this last time I moved. Luckily, second hand market works perfectly, and most of the stuff is well conserved. Going to the cinema, travel, going out on weekend, have a few drinks with your friends. The most variable aspects of monthly expenses. You’re in a new country and things like clothes will start to be needed on your closet.
THIS IS MADNESS! NO, THIS IS TOKYO
You made your numbers and thought about an ideal budget, surviving somehow for at least three months in Tokyo, but your money seems to go faster than you wanted, and the part time job it only feels like a provisional band-aid in ship sinking, plenty of holes. Let’s see why.
Total of monthly expenses, in my case, and for the first months, that include the initial costs of school, apartment, furniture, etc. The second price will be what I expect te be my regular monthly expenses, without including school and other inital expenses.
Total (intial): €5074
Total (regular): €1.400
Now the ugly truth, for those considering to live in Tokyo with few savings. Even in the case of having a baito (part time job) in Tokyo. The average wage is €7,5 and foreigners with student visa can only work up to 28 hours per week. Let’s see how much is that (in the best case scenario) in income per month.
Now, let the struggle begin. Where to cut off the monthly expenses?
If you’re a highly skilled digital nomad or can work remotely in Japan for a company, then sure, life is good. Some others come with scholarships, or their costs are really reduced with with help of their parents, or bank loans. Yes, Japan is a dreamland for lots of foreigners, specially the young people coming here, and I have many acquaintances I see them struggling to get to the end of the month. This is not to discourage people from coming to Japan, but the honest truth.