Moving to Japan: What you need to prepare
This is a list of 7 important things you need to do before moving to Japan for work or studies.
In 2018 I moved to Japan to be a graduate student. It had been a dream of mine ever since I was young, but as the time to move to Japan drew near, my mind was bombarded with things I needed to do before I left my home country.
I wrote this list with the hope that it can help someone who is experiencing the same feelings of anxiety.
# 1: Prepare your travel documents
This includes your passport, visa, plane tickets, etc. You should check that your passport has a validity of a least 6 more months. Also, make sure that you processed the correct visa needed to enter Japan.
I know someone who thought that they could get into Japan using a tourist visa and convert that into a student visa upon arrival, but she was told that she couldn't do that here. She had to fly back to her country, file for the student visa, and then fly back to Japan after she received it. Save yourself the hassle and double-check that all your documents are in order.
#2: Check your finances
I recommend checking if you can access your bank accounts online so you can monitor and control them while you are abroad. Make sure that your contact information is updated.
I found this to be very important because I use a mobile banking app to pay my credit card bills in my home country and it requires a One-Time-Pin for most transactions. This PIN code is sent to the phone number currently registered to my bank account.
Changing the phone number that this PIN code will be sent to requires an in-person visit to the bank so I had to make sure my number was updated before I left the country to ensure that I wouldn't have issues with any bank transactions while I was abroad.
You should also bring extra cash with you when you leave. You may be expecting a stipend or salary once you arrive, but this usually takes a while to process, so you'll probably need to dip into your savings at the beginning. In my case, I arrived in Japan at the start of April but I didn't get my first stipend until the end of the month. However, I heard it can take longer than that so it's better to be prepared.
#3: Scan important documents
This includes your passport, driver's license, ID cards, medical records, etc. Having a printed copy is good, but I find that it's also very useful to have soft copies of these files handy. Because I was coming to Japan as a student, this also meant I had to bring copies of my transcript, diploma, BS and MS theses, and files from work.
I found that having scanned copies of these documents on my computer helped a lot because I sometimes misplace the printed copies (especially when I moved apartments and all my belongings had to be boxed up).
#4: Examine your health
When you're moving to a country where you don't speak the language, you might want to consider if there are any medical tests/procedures you want to do before you go. In my case, I had no choice because my scholarship required me to undergo a medical exam.
But if you’re moving independently, I suggest you do this anyway. Having worn braces when I was younger, I also went to my dentist to see if there was anything that needed to be fixed that can cause potential problems in the next few years. I also visited my dermatologist several times for some last-minute treatments since I knew that these services are very expensive in Japan (but this was just me being vain).
I also made sure to stop by my local drugstore to buy all the medicines and supplements I might possibly need for the next few months. I sometimes get bad acid reflux due to stress so I made sure to stock up on antacids in anticipation of the upcoming stress of moving to a new country.
Read up as much as you can about the place you're moving to. With the internet and Google Maps at your disposal, you can actually "walk" around your future neighborhood and explore, at the comfort of your own home.
Before I left, I was always on Google Maps exploring the area around my dorm and university. I tried to find spots I wanted to visit and restaurants I wanted to try. I also found vlogs from other people on YouTube who lived in the same dorm that I would be living in. I actually already knew what my dorm room would look like before I arrived in Japan, thanks to these vlogs.
I suggest you start at least a month before you leave, especially if you're going to be away for a long time. Remember that Japan has all four seasons so make sure you bring proper clothes.
Focus on packing your essentials (toiletries, medication, clothes, gadgets), but also remember to pack some things that can comfort you when you feel lonely, anxious or homesick. In my case, I brought my PS4 which saved me from boredom and loneliness, especially when I first arrived.
#7: Spend quality time with loved ones
You don't know when you’ll be seeing them again, especially with the current travel restrictions nowadays, so take advantage of the time you have with them. Yes, we live in the modern age and it's very easy to video call and chat with people every day, but it will never compare with spending time with them in person.
I'm normally a very introverted person. But in the weeks before I left my home country, I made great efforts to really go out for meals with my friends, have late-night conversations with family members and play with my pets.
You will be extremely busy in the weeks leading up to your departure, so try not to put these things off until the last minute. However, don't let the number of things you have to do overwhelm you and discourage you from moving, because it will all be worth it in the end.
I'm a PhD student at the Graduate School of Engineering in Kyoto University. I arrived in Japan in 2018 and since then I've been falling in love with all the sights and culture this beautiful country has to offer.
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