Living in Japan. When that idea turns into a definite plan, money can be a source of concern for many people. Living costs can vary greatly depending on the country or region. In the case of Japan, there is a diverse range of expenses that should be considered beforehand, from costs associated with the rental agreement, to the costs of moving and everyday essentials for your new lifestyle. This article is a thorough guide to the initial expenses you will have when you start a new life in Japan, based on a person living on their own. Take the first step to starting your new life comfortably by getting to know the basic items and their estimated costs!
Initial Expenses Everyone Will Incur
So, you’re moving to Japan. First, get a grasp of the various initial expenses necessary for starting your new life. They say that a typical estimate of the initial expenses for living in a rental property in Japan is about 5 – 6 months’ worth of the monthly rent. That amount can be broken down into three major categories: rental agreement costs, moving expenses, and purchase costs for everyday necessities.
Rental agreement costs are particularly large, making up about 60 percent of the total initial expenses. You may think that this is just the monthly rent, but Japan has some unique rules when it comes to rental agreements which can really inflate your costs. Check these items beforehand to avoid a last-minute panic before you move to Japan!
Initial Cost of a Rental Agreement When Living on Your Own
The deposit is a security deposit (bond) that you pay to the landlord. It can be used in case you fall behind on rent, as well as to cover cleaning costs when vacating and repair costs in the event that the tenant breaks something. Renovations such as making holes in walls or changing the color of the wallpaper without permission are prohibited as a general rule in Japanese rental properties, and if such issues come to light, be aware that the security deposit will be used to cover the restoration costs. If you live alone, the deposit will cost you 1 – 2 months’ worth of rent, but this varies depending on the property and the area. The remaining deposit may be returned when you vacate the property, so don’t forget to confirm.
● Key Money
Key money is a sum paid to the landlord as a gratuity when signing the rental agreement. It has become customary to pay key money as an expense that reflects that the landlord is “allowing” the tenant to live in the property. It’s not necessarily stipulated in the law, but whether key money is expected will be clearly specified in the property information.
If you live alone, it will cost you 1 – 2 months’ worth of rent, but recently the number of properties that do not charge key money has been increasing. Unlike the deposit, key money is not repaid, so limiting key money is one way you can curb expenses.
● Brokerage Fee
The brokerage fee is a charge for being introduced to the property. As with a real estate agency, if the person who introduced you to the property is not the landlord, it is common to pay them one month’s worth of rent.
Depending on the real estate agent, you may be able to lower the brokerage fee, so take this into consideration when choosing a real estate agency.
● Prepaid Rent (1 Month’s Worth)
This refers to rent paid upfront for the month you move in or for the following month. Before moving in, it is common to pay a month’s worth of rent upfront, which covers the month following your move-in date. If you move in mid-month (e.g. the 15th or in the latter half of the month), you might have to pay a “prorated rent” instead. In this case, your rent will be calculated based on the number of days you’ll actually be living there before the next rent due date.
● Insurance Fees
In some cases, it may be mandatory to take out insurance such as fire insurance or home contents insurance when you move in. This is to insure furniture, household appliances, and the building itself in case of damage after moving in. Insurance fees will cost you between 3,000 – 7,000 yen yearly. Because Japanese rental agreement periods are often set at 2 years, it is common to pay 2 years’ worth as a lump sum when you move in. In many cases, the insurance you take out will already be appointed by the property owners, so check the type and the cost of the insurance before deciding on anything.
● Cleaning Fee
The cost of cleaning when you move out is often taken out of the deposit after you move out, however, there are also cases in which you pay this when you move in. This may be charged when you move in if it is requested in place of a deposit for zero-deposit properties, or to avoid cost-related issues when you move out. Cleaning fees are around 30,000 yen for someone living alone in a studio apartment. This is a surprisingly high price, so check whether cleaning fees are requested when you move in or out when signing the rental agreement.
● Key Replacement
Having the same key as the previous tenant is probably a cause for concern for many people. In that case, you can have the key replaced for a new one at your discretion. The cost is usually the tenant’s responsibility. The cost for an ordinary key is around 18,000 yen, or around 20,000 – 30,000 yen for an apartment building with an automatically locked entrance. In many cases, you won’t know the previous tenant, so from a crime prevention perspective, it’s recommended to replace the key.
● Guarantor Fee
When renting a property in Japan, it is common to establish a guarantor who will take responsibility for the payment obligation in the case that the occupant cannot pay the rent. In order for a foreign resident to rent a property, it is often the case that a Japanese guarantor will be required. However, if that is difficult, you can use a guarantor company instead. Depending on the property, you may need to have a guarantor company even if you have a Japanese guarantor.
The price of a guarantor company depends on the rent and property, but it could cost around 40% or more of the monthly rent. Also, in many cases, you will have to pay the guarantor fee every time you renew the lease (typically once in 2 years).
There are a lot of guarantor companies, so it is best to consult with an experienced person. Try asking for details from your host institution, employer, fellow expats, or Japanese acquaintances. Also, if you use a company that suits you, such as a real estate agency for people from your home country or a guarantor company aimed at foreign residents, you can relax knowing you’ll have proper support.
If you are an exchange student, you can get a low-cost guarantee from the Japanese government (4,000 yen for 1 year / 8,000 yen for 2 years, both at your own expense). There are conditions such as confirmed enrolment in a specified collaborating institution and having student visa status, so relevant people should refer to the JEES (Japan Educational Exchanges and Services) website.
Prices Are Extra High in March & April! Estimated Moving Costs When Living on Your Own
When it comes to a new life, people tend to focus on the rental agreement, but don’t underestimate the moving costs. When moving to Japan from abroad, the costs can vary significantly depending on the distance you’re moving and the amount of belongings you’re bringing, so it’s best to reduce your luggage as much as you can. Try to pack only absolutely essential belongings, such as things you can’t buy in Japan. Nowadays, there are also furnished rental properties, which can help lower your initial costs. In short, it’s worth considering what items you’ll bring from your home country, taking into account your expected duration of stay and your budget.
< Cost Estimations >
The total cost will vary depending on the amount of belongings you’re bringing and distance traveled, but if you are residing within Japan and will be moving out on your own for the first time from a dormitory or boarding house, the average moving cost is approximately 30,000 yen. If you’re living on your own in Japan and are moving to a different location, the average cost is approximately 40,000 yen. If you’re already living on your own, it will be necessary to move all the furniture and appliances you have bought, so transportation costs will increase. However, if you have very few belongings or are not bringing anything, it should cost around the same as if you were moving out on your own for the first time.
< Time of Year >
In order to save on moving costs, the time of year that you move is important to consider. In Japan, many people move in accordance with school admissions and beginning employment at companies. This means that from March to April, the transition period to the new school year and fiscal year, moving costs increase about 1.5 times the average to around 60,000 yen, so it is highly suggested to avoid March and April at all costs. There are also plans provided by moving companies that will save you money, such as flexible loading and delivery times.
Since moving costs are different for every individual depending on the number of belongings and distance traveled, there is no accurate price list available. For this reason, try comparing quotes from multiple companies or negotiating directly with moving companies to lower costs.
Optional Costs and Other Expenses
Moving companies also provide optional services according to their client’s requests. The main services include packing small items and disposal of disused items, washing machine and air conditioner installation, and TV installation and wiring. These services are not free, and fee systems and service inclusions will differ according to each moving company. Packing will depend on the number of workers and amount of belongings, but for a person living alone, this will usually cost around 20,000 – 50,000 yen. Washing machine and TV installation costs around 3,000 – 5,000 yen. Disposal of disused items usually costs around 10,000 yen, but it will depend on the items and their size.
< Appliance Disposal >
In Japan, when disposing of appliances such as televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, and washing machines, there is a law that states that you must pay a prescribed fee and dispose of the items in the correct manner, so if you want to do away with the effort of that process, you should entrust it to the moving company. If you’re not just disposing of the above appliances but replacing them, the store where you purchased the new appliances may even accept the disused items, so check the pricing and terms and choose the most economical option.
< Tips >
Tipping movers is not particularly necessary. You can express your gratitude by giving a cold bottle of water or can of coffee to the movers who have worked up a sweat with all their effort.
Save on Purchase Costs of Everyday Essentials With a Bit of Ingenuity
● Appliances (Refrigerator, Washing Machine, Microwave, Etc.)
Most refrigerators sold in Japan also have a freezer function. A 200L model costs around 30,000 yen. If you’re someone who doesn’t cook at home, a 100L model you can buy for 10,000 yen should be enough. A 5 – 7kg washing machine costs around 30,000 – 40,000 yen. A 27-inch TV costs around 20,000 – 30,000 yen. A microwave is an ally for people living on their own. One of these costs around 10,000 yen, but you can also find models with limited functions for around 5,000 yen.
Imported appliances tend to be cheaper than Japanese brands, so if you’re not especially particular about it, you should consider items from a wide range of manufacturers. Also, you can keep costs down even more if you try taking a look at secondhand shops or purchase a “household appliance set for people living on their own,” which you can buy at electronics retailers.
Although there are also properties that come with furniture and appliances, having your own set of furniture and appliances is the norm in Japan. However, essential items may differ depending on the area or the person. For example, if there is a coin laundry nearby, you won’t need a washing machine, or you may be happy using the convenience store microwave, so really consider what you need and do your best to avoid unnecessary expenses.
Beds cost around 30,000 yen, and futon (traditional Japanese bedding, similar to a mattress) cost around 10,000 yen. Having a bed will save you the effort of laying out a futon, but it will take up space, and it can be a nuisance when you need to replace it. If you have a futon, you can fold it into a more compact size, so it comes in handy if you don’t have a large room. Also, nowadays, many people lay out a mattress instead of getting a bed. It’s cheaper than a bed and more cushioned than a futon, and it’s also easy to get a replacement and dispose of when you move, so why not consider this option?
You normally will need to provide your own curtains in Japanese rental properties. The typical cost for curtains starts at around 3,000 yen. Prices differ greatly depending on the material, design, and size. When you decide on a property, properly check the number of windows and their size and get curtains ready accordingly.
● Lighting (this often comes with the room)
In terms of lighting, you can even purchase LED ceiling lights for around 4,000 yen. Ceiling lights can be directly fixed to the ceiling to brightly light the whole room, so if you want a wide view of the room, you’ll want to choose these. However, recently, lighting is also often provided in properties, so properly check which rooms have lighting before you move.
You can purchase a small, low table for eating a meal alone for around 2,000 – 3,000 yen. It’s best if you can purchase a good one in advance, but if it doesn’t arrive in time for some reason, you could also use a moving box as a substitute. It can also be good to purchase things that suit your needs after you have set up your room and adjusted to the rhythm of your new daily life.
Other Costs: An Internet Connection Is Essential for Leading a Comfortable Life
The internet can be accessed using either a wired or wireless connection. The wired type requires some installation work, and the installation will typically cost around 15,000 – 40,000 yen. Depending on whether there is a promotion running or your fee plan, this may also be free. However, this also has inconvenient points, as during March and April when there are many applicants, you may have to wait 1 – 2 months for installation, and you may not be able to have it done at your requested date and time.
Depending on the destination of your move, the wired connection installation at the apartment building itself may be done, meaning you’ll only have to do a simple procedure to be able to use the internet, so check with the real estate or landlord in advance. Telecommunications charges vary depending on usage and plan types, but monthly charges can be around 4,000 – 5,000 yen.
For wireless connection types that don’t require installation, there are stationary types and portable types, and monthly charges are in the 4,000 – 5,000 yen range. It won’t incur an installation charge and you can use it immediately after signing up, but the initial cost for the equipment can cost around 15,000 yen. If you choose a portable Wi-Fi router, you can use it at home or on the move, so you can also use it as a Wi-Fi connection for your cell phone. If you’re clever, you will be able to save on telecommunications charges.
There are many companies running discount campaigns for internet connections, such as offering a set rate with a cell phone or running promotions to transfer your service from other companies. Additionally, the right plan for you will depend on your usage. Try gathering valuable information by asking expat acquaintances who already use a service and consulting the information counter at electronics retail stores.
Smart Savings: How to Keep Costs Low
Consult with a real estate agency first about the initial expenses associated with moving. The initial expenses are a large proportion of any rental, so it is essential to properly convey your desired budget to be shown a suitable property before deciding on one. After you decide on a property, the margin for negotiation is narrow, so negotiating fees such as the deposit and key money before signing a contract is an ironclad rule. Additionally, getting information from other expats living in Japan is extremely beneficial. Someone with first-hand experience is likely to have the most detailed information about things like services for foreigners and tips for rental agreements.
Doing what you can do on your own is another important thing for keeping down initial expenses. Some people do the move-in cleaning and install their washing machines and air conditioners themselves, and some will even hire cars to move their luggage themselves if moving long distances. Distinguish which expenses are absolutely necessary and which things you can do on your own to use your limited budget wisely.
This article explains the typical initial expenses of moving, but there is no uniform price list for the costs of getting a rental agreement or moving. Therefore, depending on your requirements and your method of negotiation, there is a good chance of getting the costs down. By reviewing the basic items and approaches covered in this article, you can try to get your dream new home for a bargain!
*The prices listed in this article are just estimates. Actual prices may vary greatly depending on the region where the property is located, the size and number of your belongings, changes in the market, etc.
By the way, if you're looking for a job or career change and you're already in Japan, we now have a jobs site called tsunagu Local Jobs! On top of having exclusive job listings that you won't find anywhere else, we've vetted all the listings to ensure that they're foreigner-friendly and high quality. If you register for an account on the site, you can even make use of our agent service where our international staff will help you find the perfect job in Japan, so check it out today!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.