Real Estate Japan recently conducted an email interview with Ms.Milena Osika of UniGroup Japan, to get her advice for planning a move to Japan and how to estimate what it will cost to move here. UniGroup Japan is one of the world’s leading relocation companies.
Japan is unique, and the detailed advice below can help make your transition much smoother, even if you are a seasoned ex-pat with experience relocating to different countries around the world.
Q: What are your top tips for planning a move to Japan?
1. Don’t expect people to speak English!
Study some Japanese before you come. At least learn katakana and hiragana (which is the Japanese syllabary and a basic component of the writing system) and basic phrases. A conversation guide, electronic dictionary, or Google Translate is a must. Also read about the culture and history to get an idea of people’s behavior and beliefs.
2. Get in touch with the foreign community.
The foreign community in Japan is quite active. Ask advice from foreign chambers of commerce and use organizations and apps like MeetUp, InterNations and Facebook groups to plan your upcoming move.
3. Respect the local culture.
Japanese people respect rules. Patiently waiting in line is a national sport, and people wait for the light to turn green before crossing the street. You might even find yourself getting in line for using a smoking area, just so you can smoke on the street.
Business culture is much different from Western business culture. Working hours are long, the hierarchy system is complex and decision making can take a long time. Many companies in Japan still have a very conservative style.
4. Leave your musical instrument(s) at home.
Many landlords will not allow you to play instruments in an apartment. You may want to consider leaving your electric guitar or piano in your home country.
5. Don’t bring your car.
The process of importing a car is cumbersome and time consuming. It is also expensive. Typically, it costs about ¥200,000 ($2,000) for a “car model approval” for a foreign vehicle, excluding international transportation costs. You may also be asked to modify the vehicle so that it complies with Japanese vehicle regulations.
6. Be aware of items you cannot bring into Japan.
Prohibited items include: pornography, narcotics, straw products, endangered species and plants, some food items (including beef jerky, sausage, and ham).
Medicine and cosmetics may only be imported in limited quantity.
Stuffed animals cannot be imported with your household goods. Separate documentation is required for importing your plushies!
Firearms and swords longer than 15-cm (6 inches) are prohibited.
7. Be aware of the animal quarantine guidelines if you will be bringing your pet with you.
First, remember to keep in mind that it is more difficult to find a proper apartment that accepts pets. It is easier to find a pet-friendly apartment outside the center of Tokyo, but this may not feasible if you need to be in central Tokyo for work.
In general, for dogs and cats, you will be asked to provide a certificate of vaccination against rabies, a health certificate, and certificate of microchip implantation.
Dogs and cats imported into Japan must undergo import quarantine inspection.
If these import requirements are met upon arrival in Japan, the quarantine period will be 12 hours or less.
Dogs and cats that do not meet the requirements will be subject to quarantine at a detention facility of the Animal Quarantine Service for the necessary period (which can be up to 180 days). Depending on the results of inspection, your animal may be prohibited from entering the country.
Regulations also vary depending on the country from which you are importing your animal. Please visit the Animal Quarantine Service website for more information.
Q: How much should an individual budget for total moving expenses to Japan? What about for a family?
The cost depends on what city you are moving from and the volume of belongings you want to bring.
If you will be using a relocation company, of course, rates will also vary by company, so it’s best to ask for an individual quote.
The following ballpark prices include packing/disassembling, delivery to the port, shipping, customs clearance and delivery/disassembling at the destination addresses but not insurance:
- Single person with little furniture moving from Hong Kong to Chiba (about 4 cubic meters): ¥400,000
- Couple without furniture moving from France to Kanagawa (about 6 cubic meters): ¥600,000
- Family with furniture moving from Hong Kong to Tokyo (about 50 cubic meters): ¥700,000
Q: How do I estimate shipping costs to Japan?
It’s best to ask a moving company for a quote for your specific case. In general, however, the price is generally calculated based on volume, so the more things you ship, the higher the price will be.
Twenty-foot or 40-foot containers are used to ship household goods.
For a big move, the main number to keep in mind is 30 cubic meters. This is the limit of what can fit in a 20-foot container, so you have more than 30 cubic meters of household items, you would be moving to a higher price point.
It is also possible to share containers with other people shipping things, but the price difference is not always significant, and can even be more expensive in some cases.
Q: How long does it take to ship things to Japan?
From door-to-door, including customs clearance, approximate shipping times are the following:
- 10 to 11 weeks for: Greece, Port Said, Santos, Buenos Aires
- 8 to 9 weeks: United States & Canada (East Coast), Europe, New Zealand, South America, Africa, India
- 6 to 7 weeks: United States & Canada (West Coast), Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, China
- 4 to 5 weeks: Viet Nam, Taiwan, Hong Kong
Q: What things do I have to pay customs on?
Customs will be charged on the following:
- Over 100 pieces of cigarette per person (with a maximum of 400 cigarettes per person)
- Over 3 bottles of alcohol per person (with a maximum of 80 bottles per person). You will be asked to provide an itemized list.
Q: What are your top tips for relocating out of Japan?
1. Give notice to your landlord at least one month in advance.
2. Make sure to dispose of your garbage properly. You will be charged by your landlord for any items you leave behind. If you are using a moving company, they may be able to take care of garbage disposal for you.
3. Think about donating unused items and food to charitable organizations. For example, Second Harvest, can collect your unconsumed food. You can also sell your things at “sayonara sales” through various Facebook groups.
4. Prepare for your move at least two months in advance and try to avoid peak seasons (December, April and July and August).
Q: How can a relocation company help with a move to/out of Japan?
Asking a relocation company to handle your door-to-door move will save you a considerable amount of time and money, since your move will be handled by professionals who can help you avoid extra costs.
You may save a little money by sending everything yourself by post but you will not have the guarantee that all your belongings will be well handled, customs cleared without any delay and delivered at your destination all in one piece.
By using a relocation company, you can also talk to your point of contact for any concerns or questions. You can even ask your representative to help you with storage, assist you in your home search, school search, and visa application, etc.
A relocation company is more than just a moving service. You will have peace of mind about your move so you can concentrate on your new life abroad.
Through the UniGroup global network of agents, our Tokyo office can assist you with relocation services anywhere in the world.
Whether it’s a move around the corner or around the world, UniGroup is your provider of choice. We are specialists in relocating household goods and commodities. We can also assist with destination services to help succeed in that new opportunity.
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Top photo: Kansai International Airport