If you’re planning to stay in Japan mid to long term, you’ll have plenty of chances to show off your form-filling prowess within the first couple of weeks. The initial admin can seem overwhelming but with a bit of determination, and some passable map-reading skills, you should be able to officially register as a resident and hopefully avoid doing anything illegal.
The whole process starts on the plane when the air steward will offer you two cards to fill out; a landing card and a customs declaration card. For the landing card you’ll need your passport number and flight information, as well as an address in Japan – this can be wherever you plan to stay initially. If you don’t have a specific address you can just put the city or area. Fill out the card in pen, not pencil, and sign it when you’re done. If you make a mistake, there are also forms in the immigration area at the airport.
With an official visa for a mid to long-term stay, and if you’re arriving into Narita, Haneda, Chubu or Kansai, you should get your residence card at the airport. Arriving into a smaller airport means you will have to head to your local city hall as soon as possible to get it there.
At Narita, you shouldn’t get into the normal immigration queue but instead show your visa to a member of staff who will direct you to the appropriate station. You’ll give your fingerprints, have your photo taken, wait for the laminating machine to do its magic and within five minutes you’ll receive your shiny new residence card.
The next step is registering your residence at your local city hall, also called your local municipal or ward office, shiyakusho in Japanese. This should be the municipal office that governs the ward or district where you’re living, usually the second to last line of your address, such as something -ku or -shi. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, locating your city hall is fairly easy but take care that it might not be the office closest to you, depending on where you are in the administrative area. Remember to take your residence card and your passport, plus a copy of your address to write down on the form (in English is ok).
Once you’ve navigated your way to city hall, and then navigated some more to find the right floor, section and desk, there’s a form to fill out which details your personal information, new address in Japan and residence card number. Most city halls will have an example form in English, Chinese, Korean or Portuguese to help. There should be a sign in English pointing you to a pile of the right form.
Hand in the form, along with your residence card and passport, at the registration desk. The clerk may ask you questions in Japanese. Some city halls have interpretation services, but if you’re uncomfortable it might be a good idea to take a Japanese speaker with you. Generally though, it’s not a complicated exchange.
It’s about a 30 to 40 minute wait and then you’ll get your residence card with your address written on the back, plus an information pack about living in the area. Finally, the city hall will send you your social security and tax number (individual number) by post at a later date.
You’re supposed to register at your city hall within two weeks of arriving but this can be difficult if you’re staying in temporary accommodation so just go as soon as you have a permanent address. Bear in mind that you can’t be registered at one city hall but live in another area. If you do change your address, you have to file a ‘moving-out’ notice at the original office and then register again at your new local city hall.