What to do when arriving in Japan

Japan is quite a bureaucratic country: when you arrive as a foreigner there are quite a few formalities to do, and as some depend on other, doing them in the right order can save some time. So while working at JAIST, I had compiled a list of things to do when arriving at the research institute. The blog that used to host the page has now disappeared, and a friend asked me where the page had gone, so it seem it was at least somehow useful. So here is an adapted version. Be aware that I am no expert on japanese administration, so this list might be out of data, or plain wrong, so I decline any responsibility.

  1. Decide on your Furigina, i.e on how your name will be written in Katakana, this transcription will be used for most administrative operations. Be aware that you might be better off asking some foreigners, as Japanese tend to take the simplest transliteration, which might mangle your name. For instance the most natural transliteration of my family name would be ビスマンBISUMAN, but there is actually a way to express the WI sound, so I used ヴィスマンVISUMAN.
    Also translate your birth-date into the imperial calendar. The conversion can be done on this site. Write this information on a paper and keep it handy.
  2. Get a Hanko those stamps are used instead of signatures, you will need one for many administrative tasks. Technically they can be engraved with anything, but often people choose to have their name in katakana on it. You need a hand crafted hanko suitable for official use, not the off the shelf one. Once ordered it takes two to three days to have it done.
    Some people have two hankos, one registered for official business and the second one for not so important / official things. You just need to remember what is linked to what hanko.
  3. Register yourself for an alien registration card (aka Gaijin card). This is done at the local branch of the City Hall. The actual card will not be issued before some time, but you can ask for a paper stating that you applied for the card. You should ask for this paper, as it can be used instead of the actual alien-card. Never give this paper away, always request that people make photocopies. Without either the card or the replacement paper, you can’t do anything official (opening bank accounts, get mobile phones).
  4. At the city hall, you will also need to register for mandatory state health insurance. They will ask you for your raw salary for the previous year, converted in yens. So try to think about this number before. Thankfully, you don’t need a certificate to prove this number. For paying this, they will give you a paper to give to the bank to do automatic debit – which you probably want.
  5. While you are at the city hall, you should also register your hanko and get a hanko certificate for buying a car.
  6. Open a bank account. For this, you need the certificate of application for the alien card and the Hanko. You are supposed to deposit some initial money on the account, but it can be minimal. You will get a booklet for the account immediately, but the debit card will be sent to you later on. Be aware that the banks have strange opening hours, in particular in the country-side.
  7. Get a portable phone (aka Ketei), for this you will need a bank account and either the alien resident card or the paper stating that you registered for one. Try to take a phone where the menus can be switched to English. For this, you will need either the gaijin card, or the paper certificate, and a bank account. AU used to be the cheapest company, but Vodafone has some phones that offer roaming in Europe.
  8. Get a postal account, in particular if you have a bank account in a local bank (mine was Hokkoku bank) which does not have ATM in the whole country. You can open the account in any post office.
  9. If you want to drive a car, you will need either a international driving license, a translation of you national driving license or a japanese driving license. The international driving license and the translation of your national driving license are valid one year. Translations of driving licenses are only accepted for certain countries, mostly Europe and the US, the driving license must also not be brand new, it need to have been issued some time before your arrival to Japan. For the driving license translation you can have it done by the Japanse Automobile Federation, you can download the form here, the translation costs 3000¥ plus 290¥ for postage. You can send the money using the postal coupons. This can also be done at any post office.
  10. Get a re-entry visa, your visa is probably only valid for a single entry, so that if you travel outside of Japan, you cannot come back. This is done at the immigration office. You should go there in the morning.

2 thoughts on “What to do when arriving in Japan

  1. Quel niveau de japonais faut-il pour faire toutes ces tâches? Ou as tu utilisé l’aide d’un traducteur?

  2. J’étais accompagné d’une amie qui parlait un peu mieux, et j’avais environ un hiver de cours du soir et deux semaines de cours intensifs à mon actif.

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