The Unexpected Fees to Expect in Japan

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On July 11, 2014
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Japan is a country full of interesting culture, great food, and lots and lots of fees. Some expenses, such as apartment gift money (礼金, reikin), are well known, but there are many others that will creep up on unsuspecting new residence to Japan.

If you are thinking of moving to Japan, prepare yourself by reading about a few of the lesser-known fees below.

National Pension
(国民年金保険料, kokumin nenkin hokenryō)

Most know about the Japanese health insurance system, but many people moving to Japan don’t realize that paying for national pension is an obligation as well. As much of a hassle as it is, if National Health Insurance and National Pension aren’t automatically taken from your paycheck, you’ll have to sign up at city hall.

The good news is that many countries have a pension exchange treaty with Japan, which means that you might see the money again even if you don’t live in Japan until retirement. You can also choose to withdraw a lump-sum upon leaving Japan if you prefer.

Pension: 15,250 yen/month (in 2014)

Reducing pension payments: One of the best ways to cut down on pension payments is to pay in advance via bank transfer (savings of 14,800 yen if paying 2 years at once). If you are having financial troubles, you can also request a delay or reduction in payment, depending on your situation.

More info:
Japanese International Social Security Agreements
Japanese Pension Lump-sum Withdrawal

Japan Broadcast Corporation (NHK)
(NHK受信料, NHK jushinryō)

Paying the national television station fee is another obligation that you might not know about until the NHK fee collector comes to your door. Like many Japanese and non-Japanese residents, you can argue that you don’t watch NHK, but if you have television equipment that is capable of receiving NHK, then you are technically supposed to pay the fee.

NHK fee: 2,520 yen/every 2 months

Reducing the NHK fee: The NHK fee is most expensive for those with satellite television (4,460 yen/every two months). You can bring down your NHK fee by only receiving terrestrial broadcasting (2,520 yen/every 2 months). Also, be sure to pay by bank or credit card transfer to get the lowest rate (2,520 yen/every 2 months rather than 2,620 yen/every 2 months). One last trick is to pay your NHK fee upfront for one year (13,990 yen/1 year, saving 1,130 yen for the year).

Bureaucratic Fees

You probably realize that extending your period of stay will cost a fee (currently 4000 yen). In addition to this fee, you may have to pay from 300 yen to 500 yen per copy to receive official documents, such as your certificate of residence (住民票, juminhyo) and tax certificate (税証明書, zeishomeisho).

Reducing bureaucratic fees: The main ways to reduce these fees is to avoid procedures that require the fees in the first place. Of course, this suggestion isn’t always feasible, so your best bet is probably to reduce incidental fees by going in person to get the documents (and avoid paying for the SASE) and going to offices close to you (to reduce train fare).

Apartment Initial Fees

The deposit (敷金, shikikin) and gift money (礼金, reikin) given to the apartment owner upon moving in are well known, but did you know that another half dozen fees exist?

To move into your apartment you will be hit with:

  • agency fee for the realtor (仲介手数料, chūkai tesuryō)
  • damage insurance (損害保険料, sonpo hokenryō)
  • key exchange fee (鍵交換代, kagi kōkandai)
  • guarantor company fee (保証会社利用料, hoshō gaisha riyōryō)
  • cleaning fee (クリーニング費用, kurīningu hiyō)

Whether you’ll have to pay these fees depends on the apartment owner, but preparing a decent amount of money for moving in is a good idea.

To find out more about renting an apartment in Tokyo, check out the GaijinPot Podcast #12.

Reducing apartment fees: Naturally, one of the best ways to reduce these upfront fees is by choosing a place that doesn’t charge the fees in the first place. Guest houses and student dormitories don’t tend to charge as many fees, but it’s also worth visiting a realtor who specializes in apartments with low upfront fees.

This list is far from exhaustive but hopefully can give you a head start on saving for coming to Japan.

Have you been hit with any unexpected fees in Japan?

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Spends weekends aimlessly wandering Tokyo.
  • Raj Sharma says:

    I recently got a bill up to 140,000 to pay for resident tax. What if I don’t pay that?. Is there any way to escape from it?

  • Alistair Howard says:

    Thanks for writing this. Very helpful!

  • Lynn says:

    The apartment fees have been the biggest shock for me. I had to give away my firstborn at my first apartment ):

  • Ahojanen says:

    I don’t personally think the overall cost to be paid is extraordinary compared with cases of other countries. Besides, in Japan there are far more a variety of alternatives available in goods and services from which one can freely choose (and thus their prices can be competitive).

    But I agree that some of fee systems seem to be complicated, inconsistent, or failing to be accountable. Some payments (like housing fees 敷金礼金) are even taken for granted on the ground of tradition. Simpler, fairer, and more open and accountable systems should be sought.

    • Lynn says:

      My Americanness is definitely showing in this article — I think we’re relatively lucky on the fees and taxes front.

      Pension, national health insurance and even NHK taxes/fees I don’t mind as much; it’s fairly straightforward what the money will be used for and is for an essential (or at least valuable) service.
      However, fees such as the apartment 礼金 and 更新料 (renewal fee) really baffled me. Like you said, it’s tradition stemming from an understandable source that continues despite not being relevant today.

  • Brit Harris says:

    Written by an american(usa)?
    Those kind of fees or taxes are common in a big part of the world. Many countries have fees like that either as taxes, pays for mandatory services or reduced from your paycheck.

    • Lynn says:

      Yep! This article is heavily colored by my experiences in my home country (America).

      I think the one that surprised me most was the apartment guarantor company fee (often necessary even if a friend/family member is your guarantor) and gift fee (a tradition from when parents paid the owner to sort of look after their child in the big city). However, I did hear that, at least in New York, many apartments require guarantors or a guarantor fee. I guess I got lucky when I rented in the US.

  • Lynn says:

    It’s a real pain to try to budget for things like moves with all those letting fees. Sounds like there’s a bunch of unpleasant fees in the U.K., too. Thanks for the info!

    • Antonia-from-London says:

      Just chiming in with an alternate experience of the UK – I’ve never had to pay a guarantee fee, key exchange fee, or a damage insurance fee, although as Sarah says, if you rent your apartment through an estate agent they will charge you a collection of one-time fees (for inventory, doing credit checks on you, and setting up the paperwork, comes to close to £300 in all) when you move in, and more fees (inventory, cleaning, comes to £200) when you move out. However if you rent a flat privately (without an estate agent) you can skip most if not all of those fees. You’ll still need to pay a deposit (normally between 1 month’s and 6 week’s rent), but at least you’ll get that back if you haven’t damaged the place.

      I believe the National income tax is quite low in Japan (at least for foreigners), isn’t it, which is not surprising if they collect the Health system tax and the pension contribution tax separately – I figure it’s all money that the government collects to pay for essential services, so none of that really bothers me.

      What does bother me is the “gift money” you’re expected to give with an apartment… if I’m already paying rent, why on earth would I need to give a “gift” to the landlord? To thank them for the privilege of paying them rent? I feels suspiciously like a bribe to me.

      • Lynn says:

        Thank you for your viewpoint from the U.K.! I think the upfront fees vary widely in both Japan and the US too based on from whom or where you rent. Deposits and maybe background-check fees seem like the only reasonable fees to me, but then again, that’s my view as a customer.

        You’re right about income tax being relatively low in Japan. The income tax rate goes from 5% to 40%. Income of 1,950,000 yen to 3,300,000 yen (about $19,500 US to $33,000 US) is in the 10% bracket. There’s also the residence tax (basically the city and prefecture’s income tax), which is a flat 10% on income (calculated after certain exemptions, etc.)
        As a comparison, in the US, the above tax bracket would be taxed 15% at the national level and also will usually be taxed at the state level (rates vary).
        Also, Japan allows citizens of certain countries with certain qualifications (ex, US professors) to be exempt from the income tax for a certain number of years in Japan.
        I’ve heard UK income tax is much higher, so I’m curious about the figures.

        I’m not so annoyed about having to pay health insurance and pension but do wish that the sign-up procedure were a little more advertised (in the case where it’s not taken out automatically).

        As for the gift tax, it seems to come from a tradition way back when families from the countryside would pay Tokyo apartment owners to say, “Please look after my child as he/she goes to school/starts work in the big city.” Even though that way of thinking doesn’t seem very prevalent anymore, it seems like the gift-money tradition stuck around, unfortunately.

        • slow_moon says:

          My monthly income tax is only Y8,000 but my pension is a huge Y30,000! I should look into that, although I was paying around the same at my previous job. Healthcare is private and is Y16,000 but I don’t know how much of an advantage that is. Maybe all full-time employees get private healthcare. It all works out at 17% of my monthly salary which is about the same as what I was paying in the UK(although I’m earning more here).

          My residence tax is about 20,000Y each time but it’s not asked for monthly. I know it’s based on the previous year’s earning which weren’t much but I’m not looking forward to this year’s slips!

          I’m getting a pay rise in April but the idea of my deductions increasing is a downer 🙁

      • Anthony Joh says:

        The worse is the contract renewal fee. You are essentially paying them to let you pay them more in the future.

        You would think that the landlord would be grateful for your business and offer to give YOU money but it doesn’t work like that in Japan.

        • slow_moon says:

          We got lucky as our apartment has a four-year contract instead of the usual two.

          Regarding all the fees, the best way I’ve found to deal with them is to add it all together and divide. I was paying a bit less for a newly-built 1K than I was for a single room in a shared apartment in London. Now I share a 3LDK with my gf and am still paying the same(50/50 split).

        • Lynn says:

          I completely forgot about the apartment contract renewal fee! In my experience, it was 1.5 of one month’s rent. Even more annoying that I had to pay it since I was moving out of my place just two weeks later.

          An article on the Japanese About.com says that the renewal fee (更新料) is pretty much like another type of “gift money” (礼金), so yea, it’s like you said, “paying them to let you pay them more in the future” 😉

          The article also says that, like the gift money, the renewal fee is more common in Kanto and Tokai but less common in Kansai (excepting Kyoto). Why, Tokyo, why?

  • Theo Lubbe says:

    It’s worth noting there are various foreigner-centric apartment rental agencies in Japan with English sites and English-speaking staff who specifically don’t charge key money, require and charge for a guarantor nor have an agency fee. Fontana Tokyo City Apartments operates on this model, I believe.

    They present, to my mind, a very nice option for those wishing to stay for more than a month in one area while on holiday there, and apparently one can arrange to stay for extended periods of time in these apartments (over two years, at some of them).

  • Bill Lewis says:

    When solicitors come:

    Nihongo o tabemasen.

    Confuses the hell out of the NHK ojichan.

  • Sarah.hime says:

    All these fees sound normal to a U.K resident. Apart from the gift money. Although with Pensions there is an opt-out option you can apply for.

    • Lynn says:

      Interesting! This article is definitely colored by my experiences in my home country (U.S.). I’d heard about the BBC fees, but didn’t know about the others being similar.

      I was particularly bummed out about all the apartment fees. Is it common to need a guarantor and/or pay a guarantor company in the U.K. to rent an apartment?

      In Japan, technically the pension is an obligation for anyone (well, most people) living in Japan for more than 3 months. I’ve heard the city hall does tend to “overlook” signing up foreign exchange students and other relatively short-term residents.

      • Sarah.hime says:

        Yes, letting agent fees are the worst. There’s always admin fees, guarantor fee and usually inventory fees too. My 1 bedroom flat’s fees came to £300 for 1 person. BBC’s television licence is around £150 a year. You also have to pay council tax – which is about £1000 a year. And the usual income tax/national insurance. (people who earn lesser than £500 a month are exempt from income and N.I tax)

  • Anthony Joh says:

    I hate the “administration fee” usually associated with opening an account of some kind. It should be renamed, “doing our job” fee.

    • Lynn says:

      Administration fees are the worst. My pet peeve is the government/bureaucracy fees. I understand having to pay for a copy of a document, but it’s annoying that sometimes you can’t pay with cash. You’ll often have to buy a 定額小為替/postal money order or 収入印紙/revenue stamp depending on the procedure, which is particularly a pain if you live in the countryside.

      Do you mind if I ask what accounts required an administration fee? I can’t recall my bank or credit card charging an opening-account fee, but my karaoke membership and manga/net cafe membership did.

      • Anthony Joh says:

        The two fees that have annoyed me the most are admin fees and consultation fees.

        I’ve seen the admin fees at a lot of language schools. Sure there is some work involved in me registering but isn’t that what the tuition is for? It’s like a restaurant charging for the food and then a fee to prepare it!

        The other is professional services fees. I had this when applying for my visa. I would have to pay a fee to an immigration lawyer just for them to decide if they want to take me as a client.

        Basically you are paying them to see if you can pay them more in the future!

        • Lynn says:

          I’ve definitely learned something more about fees from you. Those admin fees are seriously annoying additional expenses.

          The language school (juku, other classes, etc.) entrance fees in Japan really amazed me. It must be partly a psychological trick; the customer thinks: “I already paid 10000+ yen to get me/my kid into this place, so no way I’m paying that again to go to another place.”

          Your situation with the immigration lawyer reminds me of when I tried to get up to date with my nenkin/pension. There were so many different documents to apply for and fees, plus the time to receive the documents. The nenkin office made it extremely difficult me to actually pay them, but hopefully retirement-me will be grateful.

  • mrkirkland says:

    Good job! I was going to write a similar post for TokyoCheapo
    Other fees
    “outside office hours” ATM fees
    Bank transfer fees
    Inward Bank transfer fees (paying to receive money!)
    Cancellation fees all over the place, phone, internet etc

    One subtle clue as to the ubiquity of fees is the “無料” (Muryou = Free) signs on adverts for things that would normally or often be free anyway in the west, free inquiry, free initial consultation etc.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      The “outside office hours” fee from ATMs is totally ridiculous! Doing banking outside office hours is the whole point of the atm!

      It amazes me that Japanese consumers are so accepting of these fees. I guess that’s why point cards are so popular here.

    • Lynn says:

      Ugh, cancellation fees! I tried getting a smartphone with AU recently, but was faced with a 10000 yen + cancellation fee from Softbank. Apparently, you only have a one-month period between the two-year contracts to cancel with no fees. Sneaky.

      Those 無料 signs are an emotional roller coaster: “Wow! This company is offering free something-or-other service if I sign up now! …Wait, why is it assumed I’d pay a fee for this in the first place?”

  • Alex Einz says:

    except NHK its same everywhere and NHK, well ….

    • Lynn says:

      I am sure that NHK would love to be able to charge everywhere, but it’s probably beyond the door-to-door NHK guy’s job description to travel overseas 😉 I have heard that the BBC charges a similar type of fee in the U.K.

      The apartment fees really shocked me. Do most other countries have such high fees for moving into an apartment?

      • Barnaby Jones says:

        Moving in Japan will cost you an arm and a leg, sometimes up to 6 times the montly rent!

  • Well, it’s pretty much the same in Belgium! ^^

    • Lynn says:

      I’ll definitely have to try out living in some other countries for a wider perspective! I’ll need a heads up, though, about what fees I’ll need to save up for ^^;;

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