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Moving to Japan

Your guide to expat life in Japan. Welcome to the land of the rising sun

Want to move to Japan?

A global powerhouse of innovation, Japan’s fascinating history, rich traditions and diverse geography create a unique expat experience. Business is booming in this dynamic Asian nation where efficiency and politeness dwell alongside charming cultural traditions. Futuristic skyscrapers dominate crowded cities – and there are surprises around every corner.

While Japan has a thriving expat community, much of Japanese life may seem foreign at first and the culture shock can be severe. Many expats struggle with the language barrier and the country’s conservative culture. You’ll also have to get used to regular earth tremors and extreme seasonal weather. But the juxtaposition of modernity and ancient traditions is fascinating – and the opportunity to live in such a unique and beautiful country makes overcoming the initial challenges worthwhile.

Basic info about Japan

  • Population: About 126 million
  • Capital city: Tokyo (also the largest city)
  • Main language: Japanese
  • Main religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Other religions include Christianity
  • Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
  • Time: GMT+9
  • Electricity: 100V, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima), and 100V, 50Hz in the east (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohama). Standard plugs have two flat blades. Plugs with two flat blades and a round pin are also used
  • Currency: Japanese yen (JPY)
  • International dialling code: +81
  • Internet domain: .jp
  • Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance/fire), 118 (coast guard)
  • Road traffic: Drives on the left

Weather in Japan

From June to August, Japanese summers can be hot and humid with temperatures rising to 40°C (104°F). Winters range from cool and sunny in the south to bitterly cold in the far north with guaranteed snow.

Typhoon season is from August to October. The country is also prone to natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Key phrases in Japanese

  • Hello Konnichiwa
  • Good evening Konbanwa
  • Goodbye Sayōnara
  • How are you? Ogenki desu ka?
  • Thank you Arigatō
  • Yes Hai
  • No Iie
  • Do you speak English? Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
  • Can you help me? Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
  • Sorry Gomen’nasai

Shipping to Japan

Shipping goods to Japan is usually a smooth process, especially if you use an international removals company. Air freight is quicker, and more cost effective for small shipments. If you’re planning to take a lot of items, it may be cheaper to ship them by sea.


Apart from serviced apartments, most accommodation in Japan is unfurnished, so many employers include a shipping allowance in expat contracts. Importing used household goods is usually duty free.


The regulations for taking prescription and over-the-counter medicines into Japan change frequently, so check with your local Japanese embassy before you leave home. In general, anything that contains a stimulant isn’t allowed.

Banned items

Items banned for import include narcotics, firearms, explosives, and obscene or immoral materials.


If you want to take a pet to Japan, they must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and have a health certificate. If you don’t have all the immigration documents, your pet could be quarantined for up to six months.

Top tips for Japan

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Japan.

Find ways to go to places that Japanese people go to, not just the tourist places. Although they do sometimes overlap!
Try to learn the syllabic writing systems (hiragana and katakana) before you arrive. The Chinese characters (kanji) are very tough and will take years to master but you can read a considerable amount with the syllabic writing systems, especially katakana which often has English words.
Get in touch with a house agent before you move. Everything takes longer to do in Japan so you need patience.
Make sure you see the seasons twice. Spring, summer, autumn, winter will hit you in the face the 1st year. You will enjoy the 2nd year more as you know what is coming. So don't do 1 year assignments.
There is so much to see and do and so much tradition and unique cultural experiences that it's best to plan well and ensure you invest time in seeing the different aspects of the country and its culture.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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