It’s been a year or ten and the time has come for you to leave Japan. The days are filled with farewell parties, visits to the places you’ve come to know as home and last-minute bucket list items. But are you sure you’re ready to go?
In between the tearful goodbyes, there are just as many practical and bureaucratic procedures to take care of as there were when you first arrived. Ignore at your peril, for you risk being chased down by collections agencies or facing outstanding sums and bureaucratic red tape if you ever try to return to live in Japan. Don’t underestimate how long the process will take and start getting ready as soon as you can. Here’s a guide on what you need to do when leaving Japan for the most stress-free experience possible.
Ignore at your peril, for you risk being chased down by collections agencies or facing outstanding sums and bureaucratic red tape if you ever try to return to live in Japan.
- Inform your landlord of your move-out date. This typically needs to be done at least one month in advance but check your contract to make sure that it isn’t earlier. They will arrange an apartment inspection and charge cleaning fees (typically a base of ¥1,000-1,250 per square meter for the standard wear and tear, plus extra if there is further damage such as stains, mold and dents).
- Sort your belongings and decide what to throw out, what to sell or give away and what to bring home. This can be a big project depending on how much you’ve accumulated, so give yourself an ample amount of time. Things you don’t want can be advertised on online groups where the constant flux of expatriates ensures a high demand for useful items, or brought to second-hand stores.
- Large garbage items (粗大ごみ/sodai gomi) will need to be taken out on specific trash days. Call your city’s garbage collection service to find out what day to throw your item out and how much it will cost. You need to buy the corresponding value of stickers from the convenience store and put them on your items before leaving them out. You can sometimes arrange for the disposal of appliances and electronics (TVs, computers, washing machines, etc.) with consumer electronics stores like Bic Camera for a fee. Don’t leave your garbage to the last-minute and whenever possible try to donate instead.
- Figure out how you’ll bring your belongings home. Check your airline’s baggage allowance and gauge whether or not you’ll need to pay overweight or extra luggage fees.
- You may need to send packages home by mail. The post office offers a variety of international shipping options. If you’re not in a rush, the cheapest method is via surface mail (船便 /senbin) — a 20 kilogram box will cost around ¥10,000 and take about three months.
- Call your city’s utility companies to choose a shut-off date for gas, electricity, water and any other services you receive. The phone numbers should be printed on your monthly statements. Make sure to ask them when your final bills will be received and what the options are for paying them.
Bills and Contracts
- Ensure that all your bills are paid as well as your local inhabitant’s tax (住民税/jūminzei). Final bills may require payment in cash upfront or you may need to leave some money in your bank account to cover them.
- Cancel your cell phone contract. You’ll need to visit a brick-and-mortar shop of your carrier. Some companies will allow you to choose a date in advance to cancel your service, but others only offer cancellation on the day you visit the shop. Remember to backup any important information before you bring the phone in. Early termination of contract fees run around ¥10,000. Be careful if you’re in a two-year contract — these are usually set to auto-renew, giving you a short window to cancel without incurring the fee. If you leave before the end of your first two-year contract, you will also need to pay off the rest of the phone.
- Cancel your internet contract. This can be done by calling the support line of your internet provider — if needed, check the company’s website or ask a shop representative to see if they offer an English support line. If you subscribe to extra services (e.g., Flet’s, Hikari), you may need to cancel them separately. You might also need to mail back your modem, or other devices. Ask your internet provider, and also confirm when you’ll receive the final bill and how it can be paid.
- If you own a car, call your insurance company to cancel your policy. Whether you’re disposing of the car or selling it, you’ll also need to take care of the necessary paperwork which you can receive from the Land Transportation Office (陸運支局). You’ll need your “Certificate of Seal Registration” (印鑑証明/inkan shomeisho) which can be received from your ward office or city hall, plus a “Certificate of Automobile Inspection” (自動車車検証/jidousha shakensho). If selling the car, you’ll also need the “Certification of Parking Space” (車庫証明/shako shomei) from the car dealer or police station, the transfer deed (譲渡証明書/jouto shoumeisho) and a letter of attorney stamped with your seal (委任状/ininjou).
- Think about any other subscriptions that need to be canceled and make preparations accordingly. Landlines, TV networks, newspapers or magazines, Netflix, monthly make-up boxes or bacon deliveries? It’s easy to forget about the little things.
- If there’s someone in the country who will agree to take care of any mail you receive, you can fill out a “Change of Address Notification” card (転居届/tenkyo todoke) with their address at any post office to have mail forwarded to them for up to one year. Mail won’t be forwarded to addresses outside of Japan.
- Check the expiration date of your visa. If your visa will expire before the date of your departure from Japan, you must visit an immigration office to apply for a Temporary Visitor Status of Residence. If you still have a valid visa, you can remain in the country for up to 90 days as a tourist without changing your status.
- Visit your city hall or ward office to inform them that you are leaving the city. Bring your residence card and seal, and fill out the required “Moving Out Certificate” (転出届け/tenshutsu todoke) form there.
- Return your National Health Insurance Card to the party that gave it to you – either the city hall, or your employer.
- Return your Residence (在留/zairyu) Card to immigration at the airport (or other port of disembarkation from the country) when you depart. The immigration office will punch a hole in it and give it back to you – you’ll need it when you apply for your pension refund.
Pension and Tax Refund
- If you have been paying into Japan’s pension scheme, you can claim that money back after you return to your home country. Bring your pension book with you when you leave Japan, and mail the “Claim Form for the Lump-Sum Withdrawal Payments” to the Japan Pension Service within two years of leaving Japan. The money will be deposited into your foreign bank account.
- The pension payment is subject to a 20% tax, but you can have that money refunded as well. Before leaving Japan, appoint a tax representative (they must be a Japanese resident), and submit the forms to your local tax office. After you receive the pension payment, send the “Notice of the Lump-Sum Withdrawal Payment” to your tax representative. They must file for the tax refund, and then transfer it to your bank account when they receive it.
If this looks like a lot of work, it is. But it’s been done by hundreds and thousands of sayonara-sayers before you, and you’ll manage just fine. If you leave things too late, you may get so tied up in the finicky details of moving out that you forget about the emotional side of leaving. Send thank you cards and gifts, reflect on your time in Japan, eat all your favorite Japanese foods and think about the best way to say goodbye to the people you’ve met here.