Moving to Japan without an address, local phone number or bank account can be scary. To even apply for an apartment, in almost all cases, you need a bank account and phone number in Japan. But getting a phone number and bank account is almost impossible until you have an address.
So, how can you apply for an apartment when you have just landed in the country and are looking for long-term accommodation? Here’s how to start.
Note: This article was written in February 2023. Regulations and laws might have changed since then, so always be sure to double-check.
Use a temporary solution
A local bank account is only sometimes necessary for the actual contract signing. For example, the rent can sometimes be paid with a credit card or cash, requiring the tenant to open a Japanese bank account within a month of signing the contract.
Similarly, finding an immediate solution for the lack of a local phone number is also possible:
- If you have a SIM-free phone you can buy a Japanese prepaid SIM card. These can be purchased at big electronics stores like Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera and Yamada Denki Labi.
- Use the phone number associated with the SIM card for the application.
- When the contract has been signed, register your residence at your city or ward office, update the address on your residence card and open a bank account. You should also update your contact phone number.
Starting from scratch
Finding a solution to the “no phone number-no address-no bank account” cycle is possible. Going through the extra administrative procedures, however, will require a lot of paperwork and effort.
Here are the steps to follow.
Use short-term accommodation for proof of residency
First, use the short-term address you are staying at to register at your city or ward office. This will give you proof of residency and an official address for your rental application.
Of course, you must return to the ward office to update your address once you move into a long-term residence. You should also be aware of associated residency taxes and health insurance payments once you register your residency in a municipality.
Buy a phone with contract or a SIM card to get a Japanese phone number
Next, get a Japanese number. If you don’t have a phone, you can sign up for an installment plan to purchase one, depending on your visa status. However, most carriers will not let you on an installment plan if your visa lasts only one year. In that case, you can buy a phone with cash or a credit card online, the Apple Store or an electronics store.
After you have a phone, you can either sign a contract with a carrier or use prepaid SIM cards. There are several options, and even big carriers offer simple MVNO plans. The big carriers are Docomo, AU, SoftBank and Rakuten. The big electronics stores are Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera and Yamada Denki.
Start the application process for an apartment
With proof of residency and a Japanese phone number, you can start the application process for long-term housing.
Open a bank account
While the application is being processed, open a traditional or online bank account in Japan. The process usually takes three to five days, depending on the bank. The banking information required for monthly rent payments made via bank-to-bank transfer is generally required after the screening process, so there should be more than sufficient time to open your account.
Requirements for opening a bank account:
- A zairyu (residence) card with a registered address
- Proof of employment or proof of being enrolled in a school
- A hanko (personal seal)
- Someone to interpret for you if opening the account in person (if needed)
The procedure is foreigner-friendly at Japan Post Bank. The application can be made online in English, and you can have a bank account in two to three days. However, if you go in person, the process is even faster. It usually only takes one hour, and you can get your account the following day.
However, even in English, there are a lot of regulations related to opening a bank account in Japan. For example, U.S. citizens have FACTA reporting requirements, for which they must provide their U.S. social security number to Japanese banking authorities.
The above steps should help you secure your application for a rental property if you find yourself in Japan without a Japanese phone number or bank account.