Moving to Japan after the travel ban is lifted? Here are 4 things to consider

On December 28th, a ban on new entry into the country was placed on most foreigners until the end of January. Shortly afterwards, on January 8th, the Japanese government implemented a state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolis, along with the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa.

Prior to these events, January and early February were looking to be huge months for people moving to Japan from overseas, but quite obviously, a wrench was thrown into those expectations. Whether you’re one of those people whose move has been delayed or are looking to move sometime from mid-February onwards, here are a few things you might want to know. 

1. There’s no guarantee the travel ban will be lifted as planned 

While the ban is currently planned to be lifted at the end of January, there’s always the chance of an extension. Especially considering the state of emergency doesn’t end until a bit into February (currently, February 7th is the planned date), and while I hope I’m wrong, I would guess that an extension is likely. You also need to consider the fact that many experts currently think that a single month is not long enough to curb the spread of the virus

If you have your flight booked for February 8th thinking that things will definitely be perfectly fine by then, you might want to make sure you’re able to cancel/delay your flight with minimal issues. The recent travel ban was announced with very little advance warning and if you’ve been paying attention to Japan’s handling of the coronavirus, you’re probably aware that “advance warning” is not something this government is very good at. 

In fact, during the first travel ban in March last year, I remember a person who was in the midst of flying to Japan while the ban was being put in place. By the time he arrived at the airport, he was turned back and had to fly back home. Now obviously, you can’t hold off on booking a flight forever, worrying “But what if something goes wrong?” but if you don’t have to book right this second, waiting might be a good idea.

2. A 14-day quarantine is required

I’m sure you’re likely already aware of the quarantine requirement, or at least assumed there might be something in place. However, I’m still putting this here, as I’ve been surprised by how many clients I’ve talked to who didn’t know about this!

Most property management companies also do not allow you to move in until AFTER your quarantine is completed. That means two things: 1. You’ll need to pay extra money for a quarantine hotel on top of your move in fees and 2. Your move in will be, at earliest, 14 days after you arrive.

While I can’t speak for every agent and every property management company, all of our Housing Service partners have been strictly requesting move in to occur after the end of quarantine.

If you go through a different service or agent, your mileage may vary, but it’s definitely smart to have a budget ready for a long hotel stay. Even among customers who have known about the quarantine, I’ve gotten a few shocked reactions after telling them they can only move in afterwards. If you’re trying to move to another country in the midst of everything going on right now, flexibility is a virtue!

Right now what we generally do for new overseas tenants is to start the lease while they are still in quarantine, which gives us enough time to get everything set up prior to the end of the 14 days. We can then mail the keys to their hotel and once the 14 day is up, they can head straight to the apartment. All of our contracts are done online, and so far, this system has worked very well for us.

One last thing to note is that most agents (including us…) don’t know too much about the exact quarantine regulations. You should plan on keeping in contact with the embassy and checking their website for the latest information. A lot of the time the information we get on the news doesn’t give the whole story when it comes to the exact regulations.

3. It’s harder than usual to apply for an apartment from overseas right now

The Housing Service prides itself on being able to accept applications for apartments in Japan from overseas, but right now, it’s a bit harder than usual. We’re certainly still accepting overseas applications. There’s just a lot more disclaimers than there might usually be. 

The biggest potential hiccup when applying from overseas right now goes back to my first point, the possibility of the travel ban being extended. Generally the way apartment applications work in Japan is that if you haven’t yet made the initial payment, you can always cancel an application without consequence. However, once you’ve made the initial payment, there is often a penalty of one month’s rent or potentially even more if you cancel prior to the lease start date. The penalty would be deducted from whatever refund you get. 

Even worse is if the lease has already started by the time you want to cancel. At that point there’s no longer an application to cancel; you’ll need to terminate your lease. Meaning, a 30-70 day wait until the lease will officially be terminated and move out fees you’ll need to pay even if you never set foot in the unit. 

My point is: what if you apply for an apartment from overseas, but then the travel ban gets extended? Are you sure you’re fine with paying rent on an apartment you aren’t even sure when you’ll be able to move to? Or if for example, the travel ban gets extended to a point where you can no longer move to Japan, but your lease has already started, are you sure you’re fine with paying move out cleaning fees for a property you’ve never even entered? We’ll be happy to help with overseas applications right now, but make sure you fully understand and have considered the risks beforehand.

4. When the travel ban ends though, get here fast!

With all of the talk about the travel ban out of the way, my last point is that once the ban ends, it’s best to get here as soon as possible. There are two main reasons for this: 1. The longer you wait, the higher a chance there is Japan might change their travel policies and 2. You can complete your quarantine sooner, and thus move into an apartment sooner. Of course this doesn’t mean you need to move months and months ahead of time, but if you have an option to move a bit sooner, I definitely recommend you take it.

If you’re moving soon or even just considering a move, do consider reaching out to us at the Japan Room Finder landing page. I hope the information here has made you a bit more prepared for your upcoming adventure and that we can be of assistance with the transition to life in Japan!

By Nathan

Nathan works for the Japan Room Finder, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!

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