Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
As promised, let’s talk about money in Japan.
I have mentioned this before, but it is important so I’ll put it first. If you don’t have some money saved up (at least $4000), I would work on that. (There are some fantastic blogs about finance, getting out of debt, retiring early, etc.) If you know it’s not possible to have $4000 minimum saved up Before Leaving for Japan (after your flight is paid for and any debt is manageable with your expected salary and living costs), please don’t go to Japan yet. Your company might be able to do an advance, but really, I don’t advise any kind of debt – especially not to get a job. It might be a better idea to work in Korea or another country that still provides airfare and housing costs, if the JET programme isn’t an option for you.
You need to be prepared for minimum move-in costs of 3-4 times your rent in Japan. Your housing expenses are not paid by your company (in almost all cases in Japan). You need to have enough saved to cover rent, utilities, and all other costs (including any bills back at home) for two months in addition to move-in costs BEFORE coming to Japan.
What’s different about move-in costs in Japan?
There is a fee called “key money,” which is an old traditional gift to the owner of the building, and it’s at least the amount of one month of rent. You will not get this money back when you move out. If your apartment has no key money fee, you’re lucky. (Leopalace 21 supposedly doesn’t have a key money fee, but they do have the typical agent fee – Bilingual real estate agents are usually used, which ends up being about the same amount as key money.)
You will probably have a deposit (usually the same as one month rent), first and maybe last month’s rent, an insurance fee, and a cleaning fee. Some of the insurance fee might be refunded when you move out, if you can figure out calling them and asking for it in Japanese… (Just ask your company to help you.)
You’re going to need to buy things for your apartment (even if it is furnished you need a futon, bedding, kitchen and cleaning stuff…), probably some work clothes, and extra funds for doing fun new things. You Don’t want to have to live off credit cards or be broke until your first paycheck. You Do want to have some extra for things like the work parties that you might be invited to. These ‘enkai‘ cost around 5000 yen, but are worth it, despite initial awkwardness. You can get to know your co-workers in a more relaxed environment and enjoy Japanese food and drinks with them.
One other very important point to note is the payment schedule in Japan. Generally all employees in Japan are paid at the end of each month for the PREVIOUS month’s work. This means if you start working in early April at the beginning of the school year, your first paycheck is almost two months later, at the end of May. April might not earn a full paycheck because some companies pro-rate months which are partially worked – for example you start working on April 8th instead of during spring break and only get paid for three weeks of work. You need at least two months of living costs to get started or you’ll get stuck using your credit card (probably with international fees) to cover expenses. Hopefully your company has clearly explained this to you by now, and if they don’t warn you, I would worry about their honesty.
Your salary will probably be paid as a direct deposit. In Japan, checks are not used, debit cards are not used (I’ve heard they exist but haven’t seen anyone using them), credit cards are used rarely, and most things are paid by bank transfer or in cash. You can use your credit cards in some places for larger purchases and if your credit and debit cards have a PIN, you should be able to do a withdrawal or cash advance at some ATMs (7-11 is the best for this). I would bring cash just in case you can’t get your credit and debit cards to work (sometimes the company needs to be notified you’ll be traveling abroad or they will decline attempted purchases). I was able to pay for my initial apartment move-in costs and rent by credit card, but still didn’t have enough cash to last until the first payday with just what my first company recommended bringing. Bringing extra cash is not a bad idea.
You will get a “cash card” with your bank account and can use this to withdraw cash at ATMs, but Not like a debit card in stores. You will also have a bank book which you can use at your bank’s ATM machines to withdraw, deposit, and update your direct deposits. When you put the bank book into the ATM, it will print your bank balances to keep track like an automatic checkbook register.
As a general rule, you do not get paid for August unless you work for JET/actually work in August. This is really ridiculous because your recruiting company is paid by the board of education for the entire year to be the in-between, but you don’t work in August because it’s summer break. Therefore, your company probably won’t pay you, at least for a full month of work. Be prepared. If the company lets you get a salary for August by taking a portion from all the other months you work, choose that option if you know you’re not a good saver.
Have you ever paid a bill at a convenience store? What about at an ATM?
The next money article will be about how to pay all your new bills in Japan, where everyone uses cash and paying bills online would be tricky if your Japanese isn’t excellent.