If you are unprepared, trying to rent an apartment in Japan is a bit like getting a bunion removed; incredibly exciting, but also slow, painful and requiring a hefty amount of paperwork. Before you start your apartment search, be sure to have these 10 things ready to make your experience at least less painful than foot surgery.
1. A whole lotta cash!
Although it’s possible to minimize the damage, let’s just say that moving in Japan isn’t cheap and you’ll need to budget accordingly. Basic fees to consider are the deposit, the real estate agency commission fee, plus the first months rent, as well as a small fee for property insurance, an annual maintenance fee and a key exchange fee.
You might have to pay key money too, though not all landlords will ask for it and some agents may waive the fee – GaijinPot Apartments (woo!) has a large list of agencies that offers a no-key money service for foreigners if you sign up through us.
So for a standard apartment for 80,000 yen a month, you can expect to pay around 400,000 yen in upfront costs before any moving services and the initial costs for setting up your utilities.
- Deposit (one month’s rent) = 80,000
- Key money (one month’s rent) = 80,000
- Agency fee (up to one and a half months rent) = 120,000
- First month’s rent = 80,000
- Property insurance = 15,000
- Maintenance fee = 10,000
- Key exchange fee = 12,000
Total: 397,000 yen!
Do some thorough research of the market and then make a prioritized list of what you want before you take it to the agent along with all the necessary paperwork. Bear in mind that there are certain conditions unique to Japan that will affect the price of a property, as well as regulations about pets and musical instruments. You’ll also need to factor in your overall living costs when you decide your budget.
2. An agent
Japanese agents usually work within a local radius; so many people first decide on the area they want to live in before going to a local agent. The agent will ask you what you want before bringing out a list of properties that fit your preferences. Then they’ll arrange a viewing and take you there, often on the same day as the apartment has to be vacant to be viewable (you can’t see a place that’s still occupied). If you’re not confident in your Japanese bring a friend with you to translate.
Another way is to check out online listings and inquire about places that you like. In this case you could be dealing with a number of different agents but you should only have to pay the agent who deals with your final contract. The GaijinPot Bilingual Brokerage Assistance service provides completely free support both during the search and after move-in, as well as a recently launched moving concierge service to help you shift your stuff and also to ensure that none of the important details get lost in translation or shameless marketing plugs
3. Passport and Visa
To apply for an apartment or housing contract in Japan you need to provide two forms of official identification: 1. your passport and 2. a visa, residence card or student ID. You will need to provide color copies of the photo page of your passport and the visa page, or both the front and back sides of your resident or student cards. If you’re on a tourist visa, you’ll only be able to rent short-term contracts that specifically don’t require a guarantor. For long-term rentals, a 90-day tourist visa won’t be accepted. However, those on short-term visas (both visitor and residence if you’re working) are lucky enough to have much less stressful options for sorting a place to live — see below!
4. A Japanese phone number
Dealings with your agent will mostly happen over the phone so you need to have a working phone number where they can contact you directly. In the unpredictable world of real estate you’ll need to be reachable at a moment’s notice and the use of newfangled technology like email is still pretty uncommon among Japanese agents. If applying from overseas, an international number is fine.
5. A Japanese bank account
Though you don’t need to have a Japanese bank account when you start to look at apartments you’ll need one eventually to pay the rent via bank transfer. For the upfront costs like the deposit you can wire transfer from an international bank and some agents will accept credit card. Cash payment is rare, though possible at some places. It’s best to check with the agent which method they prefer. For overseas applications, your home account will work but you’ll have to cover any transfer costs.
6. Employer letter or certificate of eligibility (if you’re a student)
These are the same documents you likely used in your visa application; any papers that demonstrate your activities in Japan such as a letter of employment, invitation letter or certificate of eligibility from the immigration bureau. Often your letter of employment will show your salary information but you should also prepare number 7 below…
7. A copy of recent pay slips (tax withholding slip) or bank statement
You’ll need to prove that you can pay the rent each month so agents will ask for a copy of the past few months’ pay slips (usually 3 months), your yearly income slip or a copy of your latest bank statement or bank book if you’re unemployed.
Japanese agents will set the rent at around 30% of your income so you need to prove that you consistently make or will make more than 3 times the rent. Some agents may consider only the income you earn from within the country so you won’t be allowed to rent a place that’s more than a third of your Japan income, even if you plan to subsidize that with earnings from back home.
8. Domestic Emergency Contact
In case you suddenly abandon ship and leave the country, the emergency contact deals with the hot mess you left behind so it’s sometimes difficult to find a Japanese person who is willing. Your best bet is to nominate your employer if you can; culturally they view you as their responsibility and as an organization they are better prepared to deal with any problems that might arise. Nevertheless, some agents will let you nominate a non-Japanese resident as an emergency contact.
9. Character Reference
Agents should use your emergency contact as a character reference and applications for an apartment shouldn’t require a separate one, though many ex-pats will attest that the residual stigma against renting to foreigners in Japan means you might be better off having one just in case.
A bad tenant reflects even more badly on the landlord (and also the agent), so a reference from a Japanese person should show you’re a reliable, trustworthy sort who’s not going to have insanely wild parties or worse, put the wrong garbage out on the wrong day.
Even if you can show that you are employed and earning enough salary, you will still need a guarantor who will be liable for the rent if you can’t make the payments. Some Japanese people who need a guarantor will ask their parents, some companies might also cover their employees. If you can find someone to be your guarantor they’ll need to prepare several documents including proof of residence and an income statement which they will have to get from the local government office. They will also have to prove that the rent is around 30% of what they earn or else they cannot be your guarantor.
If you don’t have somebody you can ask, you can use a guarantor company which the agent will recommend to you. They act as a kind of third party insurance company – you won’t have to deal with them directly but you will have to pay them a month’s rent or more for the service, plus an annual renewal fee of around 10,000 yen. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common for Japanese people to use a guarantor company either at the specific request of the agent or by choice (to avoid burdening someone with the responsibility of being a guarantor).
Finally, make sure to have several copies of all of the documents and keep everything in one place as you’ll need it all again if you renew your contract or move elsewhere. You should start to look for apartments around 1 month before you intend to move and processing the contract should take about two weeks. Happy hunting!
Don’t have the above? Here’s an alternative
If you know you’re only going to be staying here temporarily, then a short-term monthly apartment rental with a specialist provider could be your best bet. MetroResidences offer both serviced (which come with cleaning, linen and concierge services) and regular apartments ideal for business or short-term travelers that can’t or don’t want to deal with all of the above. Foreigner-friendly, they have a wide-ranging selection of stylish apartments that can be easily leased through different packages. Their multilingual staff can support short-term renters in finding a real home in the right location so that you can make the most of your time in Tokyo.
Useful words to know :
Passport: パスポート pasupo-to
Visa: ビザ bi-zah
Residence Card: 在留 zairyu card
Letter of employment (with salary information): 在籍証明書 zaisekishomeisho
Pay slip/Tax withholding slip: 源泉徴収票 gensenchoshuhyo
Certificate of eligibility: 在留資格認定証明書 zairyushikaku nintei shomeisho
Guarantor: 保証人 hoshonin