Moving to Japan from the UK: a complete how to guide

Zorica Lončar

Thinking of starting a new life chapter in the Land of the Rising Sun? Japan’s unique mix of traditional and innovative might be just the right thing for your fresh start.

Whether you’re craving a peaceful countryside lifestyle or a bustling big-city rush, Japan can offer both. The country is known for its delicious food, stunning nature and advanced technology, all of which will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another dimension. To top everything off, the traditional Japanese politeness makes this a truly great place to live in.

In this guide, we’ll run through all the essentials you need to know about moving to Japan from the UK. This includes getting a visa, whether things have changed for Brits after Brexit, the cost of living and options for retiring in Japan.

We’ll also point out the most cost-effective way to manage your money across borders. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money between the UK and Japan for low fees and the fairest exchange rate around.

But first, let’s focus on some of the basics you’ll find useful before your big move.

Living in Japan - what you need to know

Let’s begin with a couple of basic facts about Japan you need to know if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - Japanese yen (JPY)
  • Main languages - Japanese¹
  • Population - 123,220,896²
  • Number of British expats - 18,959³
  • Most popular destinations for expats - Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka⁴

Cost of living in Japan⁵

Before moving to any new destination, it’s good to at least have an idea of how far your money will go.

The cost of living in Japan is lower than in the UK when it comes to most areas. However, prices do depend on where exactly you live.

To give you an idea of average prices in Japan, here are a few examples:

Cost in JapanCost in UK
Three-course meal for two people£27.31£60
Loaf of bread£1.17£1.08
Draught beer (0.5l)£2.18£4.5
Monthly public transport pass£43.69£67.8
Utilities - monthly£130.21£208.7

As far as finding a place to live in Japan, you’ll be happy to know that rent prices are significantly lower from those in the UK. On average, it’s at least 50% cheaper to rent in Japan.

If you’d rather buy than rent, it all depends on the location. The prices are roughly the same when it comes to apartments in the city centre, but those a bit further away are usually cheaper than in the UK. Of course, this can vary based on the city you choose to live in.

Healthcare system⁶

Japan easily has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. One of the reasons why the Japanese population is so healthy is their reliable healthcare and its focus on preventative care.

If you’re over 20 years old and living in Japan, you need to have some form of health insurance. Foreign healthcare coverage is usually not accepted, but foreign residents can also access the Japanese public health insurance.

There are two different public insurance schemes: Kenko Hoken and Kokumin Kenko Hoken. One for employed people and one for students, part-time workers and the unemployed. Both of them cover at least 70% of your medical expenses.

You should register for health insurance right after getting an address in Japan, since that’s one of the things you’ll have to provide to the National Health Insurance department. You’ll fill out a form with your contact information and give them your social security and residence card. If you have a Japanese employer, they will be in charge of setting up your health insurance scheme.

Your health insurance will cover preventative care, general check-ups, prescription medication and even things such as acupuncture and dental care.

Opening a bank account in Japan⁷

In order to open a bank account in Japan, you must get your residence card first. Not only that, most banks require their clients to be Japanese residents for at least 6 months before opening an account. You might still be able to open an account earlier, but it would be a special type of limited account that you can’t use for money transfer.

Although most requirements are similar, each bank can have its own procedure when it comes to account opening. Make sure you ask the bank directly about the documents you should provide. Here are some that most banks ask for:

  • passport
  • Japanese visa
  • residence card (known as zariyu card)
  • an address and phone number in Japan
  • a hanko seal (frequently used instead of a signature in Japan)⁸

After submitting all the documents, you should be able to use your account immediately and your ATM card within 10 days. However, cash is widely used in Japan, so make sure you always have some on you.⁸

If you don’t speak Japanese and you have some questions, it’s good to bring along someone who does, since not a lot of Japanese people speak fluent English.

Finding a job in Japan

If you plan on working in Japan, it’s best to start job-hunting as soon as possible. Looking into the job market and researching Japanese job interview tips is something you should do even before officially moving.

If you plan on studying in Japan, know that foreign students need to meet certain conditions even to get part-time jobs. For example, students can work up to 28 hours a week and also no more than 8 hours a day during holidays.⁹

Depending on the area you’re interested in, your knowledge of Japanese can significantly impact your job opportunities. That’s why some of the most popular jobs for foreigners are English teaching and translating. The service industry is also very popular, as well as IT and tech in general.¹⁰

Here are some websites that will help you in searching for a job in Japan:

Renting or buying property in Japan

Along with sorting out your visa and looking into health insurance, finding a new home in Japan will also be one of your priorities. Whether it’s renting or buying, finding a perfect match will require your time.

When it comes to owning property, statistics show that over 60% of Japanese people are homeowners.¹¹ Luckily, foreigners can buy property in Japan as well, so this won’t be an obstacle. There are some requirements, such as a valid residence card or registered hanko seal, but nothing too complicated. With good preparation, you can even secure a loan from a Japanese bank.¹²

The most convenient option when it comes to both buying and renting is a real estate agency. Especially if you’re not fluent in Japanese, hiring an agent could save you lots of time and effort.

Still, here are some websites you could search through to at least get an idea of the Japanese real estate market:

Moving to Japan from the UK after Brexit

Brexit has changed the rules for UK citizens when it comes to travelling, living and working in the EU. However, the procedure of moving to Japan from the UK has not changed due to this.

We’ll run through the visa application process next.

How to get a visa for Japan¹³

The most important thing when moving to Japan is making sure your visa is taken care of. Even though UK citizens don’t need a visa to enter Japan, staying there long-term requires one.

The application starts in the Japanese embassy, where you’ll get all the info and the application form. One of the things they’ll inform you of is that you need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).

In order to get a visa, you’ll need some type of a connection in Japan that will vouch for you. That can be an employer, a school or even a Japanese individual willing to sponsor you. Your sponsor will need to contact the local immigration office in Japan and apply for the COE and then send it to you. That’s one of the key conditions in your visa application procedure.

The application will be processed in around five workdays. The standard visa types are the Work Visa, General Visa, Highly Skilled Professional Visa, Start-up Visa, Official Visa, Diplomatic Visa and Specified Visa.

Once you get a visa and arrive in Japan, don’t forget to apply for a residence card.

Retiring in Japan

Spending your golden years immersed in a fascinating new culture sounds like a dream. Here’s how you can make it a reality:

Retirement visas¹⁴

Japan doesn’t issue retirement visas. However, you can retire in Japan by finding another visa option that best suits your needs. After staying in Japan for a certain period of time on that visa, you can apply for permanent residence.


If you end up retiring in Japan, you can claim your UK state pension or the new UK state pension there. You should contact the International Pension Centre and get the most recent information.

You can have your pension paid in yen into your new Japanese bank account. You can receive it every month or less often, but every 13 weeks is the maximum.

How to move your belongings from the UK to Japan

Finding a good relocation company is key. They will tell you all the important steps and inform you of any changes in the shipping procedure.

Before moving your things to Japan, you must complete the Declaration of Personal Effects and Unaccompanied Articles form. You also need to guarantee that your personal goods are not for sale and that they have been in your possession for at least 6 months.¹⁶

Moving to Japan from the UK - a checklist

Having trouble remembering the list of things to do before your move to Japan? Here’s a checklist covering some of the main tasks you should focus on:

  • Get your sponsor to send you the Certificate of Eligibility (COE)
  • Apply for your visa of choice
  • Apply for residence upon arrival
  • Look into health insurance
  • Find a place to live - either online or with the help of an agent
  • Get an estimate for shipping your furniture and personal belongings over to Japan
  • If you’re retired, request to have your UK state pension given to you in Japan
  • Begin researching Japanese banks to find the right one for you
  • Get a hanko seal in order to open a bank account

Save on your relocation costs to Japan with Wise

Need to pay visa application fees or rental deposits before relocating to Japan? You might want to consider options other than your bank.

Using a Wise multi-currency account to cover international moving expenses could be cheaper than relying on your bank. With Wise, you can send money between the UK and Japan for small, transparent fees and the mid-market exchange rate.

You can also use Wise to receive income from the UK (such as pension payments) in GBP. This helps you avoid high conversion fees and exchange rates your bank will most likely have. Once the payment lands in your Wise account, you can convert it to JPY for lower fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate.

And before you officially open a Japanese bank account, you can use your international Wise debit card to spend like a local from the moment you arrive. The card automatically converts to JPY at a fair rate whenever you use it, so you don’t need to worry about exchanging money. All you’ll need is the one debit card for low-cost spending in 170+ countries.

Pricing/fees: Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

Sources used for this article:

  1. Original Travel - Japan Culture
  2. Worldometers - Japan population (2023)
  3. e-Stat Portal Site of Official Statistics of Japan - foreign residence statistics
  4. Alliance Visas - best places to live in Japan as a native English speaker
  5. Numbeo - cost of living in Japan compared to the UK
  6. Internations - health insurance and healthcare in Japan
  7. Visa and Immigration Services in Japan - opening a bank account
  8. Internations - opening a bank account in Japan
  9. Japan Study Support - part-time jobs for international students
  10. Japan Dev - jobs in Japan for foreigners
  11. Trading Economics - Japan home ownership rates
  12. Tokyo Portfolio - can foreigners buy a home in Japan?
  13. Matcha - visas for long-term stays in Japan
  14. Visa Guide - Japan retirement visa alternatives
  15. - State Pension if you retire abroad
  16. Internations - relocating to Japan

Sources checked on 10-Aug-2023.

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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