With its beautiful mountain views of Mount Fuji, non-stop action in Tokyo, and stunning historical sights in Kyoto, expatriates have found Japan a wonderful place to live.
The country can also be an expensive place to live, but how much it costs to live in Japan will greatly depend on your lifestyle and preferences.
With planning and the right choices, the cost of living in Japan won’t overwhelm you. If you’ve ever wondered “how much does it cost to live in Japan?” keep reading. You’ll see how you can afford it and make your dreams of relocating to Japan come true!
All prices in yen have been converted to U.S. dollars.
How Much Does It Cost To Live in Japan?
The cost of living in Japan, like in many other countries, depends on where you choose to live. Want to reside in Tokyo? You’ll pay high rent for the privilege. Living in Japan is less costly in other cities. Smaller towns and villages can be even more affordable.
Health insurance in Japan is not optional for residents, but how much you have to pay depends on your income, so it shouldn’t overwhelm your budget.
The cost of living in Japan also includes things such as transportation, food and entertainment, all of which depend on your chosen lifestyle. Some expats in Japan aim to sightsee as much as they can, traveling to local highlights and renowned locales across the country. Others enjoy going to bars and karaoke every weekend or plan to eat out all the time. The amount you spend on these items is adjustable, so consider your preferences and budget accordingly!
The Cost of Housing in Japan
Housing costs are very much tied to precisely where expats in Japan choose to live. Cities are the most expensive, with Tokyo very much at the top of that list. In fact, Tokyo was near the top of our list of the most expensive cities in the world. Other cities, such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Sapporo, offer a cost of living that is between 20% – 30% lower than life in Tokyo.
Even within cities, rents vary. Living in the heart of a city can be pricey. Select an apartment on the outskirts of a city and you’ll find more affordable rent — but you’ll also face steeper transportation costs to get to the city center.
The size of your apartment will also play a role in your expenses. If you can be content with a smaller living space, such as a 1K (a one-room apartment with a kitchen) you can expect to pay lower rent. If you’d like to add in a dining area (1DK) or a living area (1LDK), your rent will increase.
To rent a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Tokyo, you can expect to spend at least 115,400 yen ($1,000) per month. Opt for Kyoto or Osaka, and you can rent an apartment of the same size for less than 68,000 yen ($600) per month.
Outside the city center, monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment costs around 80,000 yen ($700) in Tokyo and 56,00o yen ($490) in Kyoto or Osaka.
Living in a small, quiet village will provide you with even more affordable housing options. You’ll have numerous chances to practice your Japanese language skills, but you won’t have the endless options for food and entertainment that come with life in a bustling city.
The Cost of Internet and Mobile Phone Service in Japan
One important cost of living in Japan is internet service. Digital nomads, for example, often need a reliable internet connection to do their work. Fortunately, Japan offers fast connections that make everything from doing work to streaming entertainment a breeze.
If you have a Japanese bank account and a residence card, you can get a mobile phone with a subscription plan. Your plan cost would be about 6,000 yen ($50) per month. If you don’t have your residence card yet, you can get a data-only Japanese SIM or rent a Japanese mobile phone.
The Cost of Food in Japan
If you’re living in Japan and looking for an affordable lunch, consider picking up a bento box. It is a compartmentalized box containing a fully assembled meal featuring rice, two proteins, some pickled and fresh vegetables and a little fruit. These are available in convenience stores (“konbini”), train stations, and department stores.
If you want to eat out, your costs will depend on the kind of meal you select. There are lower-cost ways to eat out, such as ramen restaurants, where you can get a filling meal for under 1,100 yen ($10). Fancier meals will be more expensive; you can expect to pay between 2,000 yen ($20) and 10,000 yen ($90) for sushi.
The cost of groceries is about the same throughout Japan, with a liter of milk going for 228 yen ($2) and a dozen eggs for 283 yen ($2.50). Fruits and vegetables at an average grocery store may seem pricey, with onions running about $3.11 per kilogram and potatoes about $2.29 per kilogram. You can find less expensive fruits and vegetables at smaller greengrocer stands (“yaoya”) than what’s sold in grocery stores.
No matter how much you love sushi and other Japanese culinary delights, it’s only natural for expats in Japan to yearn for treats from home. Cities have international grocery stores stocked with food from around the globe. But prices will likely be a lot higher than you paid in your country.
The Cost of Transportation in Japan
You can buy rechargeable smart cards, known as IC (Integrated Circuit) cards to pay for local transportation. Unlike similar cards for public transport in countries like the US, UK and Australia, most IC cards are compatible, meaning that your Pasmo card purchased in Tokyo will also work in Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and more places. Also unlike most foreign rechargeable transit cards, IC cards can also be used at vending machines, restaurants, stores and more.
Tokyo is served by both metro and rail lines, which are operated by different companies. A Suica IC card is created by the company that runs JR trains in Tokyo, while the Pasmo IC card is linked to the metro and bus lines. However, as previously mentioned, the cards are compatible and you can use them on both lines. Fares, which depend on distance, start at 170 yen ($1.50).
If you’re able to ride a bicycle, investing in one can provide you with a convenient and affordable transportation option. A sturdy “mamachari” bicycle with a basket can be a great way to transport groceries and other purchases (“mamachari” means mom’s bike, but these bicycles are used by everyone). Subway and train stations all have bicycle parking areas.
You may find yourself traveling across Japan to experience its natural beauty and history, so you will need to keep those costs in mind as well. For example, if you haven’t settled in Kyoto, you’ll want to visit this jewel. Hokkaido’s mountains offer some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. To get there you can take advantage of Japan’s high-speed bullet trains, though they are much more expensive for residents than for visitors who are eligible for a Japan Rail pass. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs 13,080 yen, about $115. Japan also has several budget airlines, such as Skymark and Jetstar, that offer reasonable domestic travel rates.
The Cost of Entertainment in Japan
How you like to have fun will have an impact on your cost of living in Japan. Do you enjoy karaoke? A night of singing starts at 200 yen ($2) for each hour, per person. A movie ticket costs between 1,000 and 2,000 yen ($8 and $16), depending on the time of day you go. Theater tickets start at 6,000 yen ($50).
The cost for visiting an onsen, where you can enjoy bathing in a natural spring, starts at 1,000 yen ($9).
If you’re interested in a private gym membership, prices can range from 10,000 to 20,000 yen ($90 to $175) per month. There are public gyms with day pass systems for as low as 300 yen ($3), but the quality of these spots can vary.
The Cost of Healthcare in Japan for Expats
The healthcare system in Japan is split into two sections; there is an employer-based system and a national healthcare system. If you spend over three months in Japan, you are required to enroll in one of the two systems.
With your health insurance, you can expect to pay between $50 and $90 for a doctor’s visit.
- Compare multiple quotes and coverage options
- Work with an insurance expert at no additional cost
- Find the best plan for your needs and budget
The Costs of Childcare and Education in Japan
To send a child to a licensed daycare in Japan, you will be charged according to your monthly income; the average fee is 20,000 yen ($175) per month.
You can send children to public elementary and lower secondary schools in Japan for free. As the curriculum will be in Japanese, it’s usually easier for younger children to adapt and develop the language skills they’ll need to learn. Depending on your income, you may have to pay tuition for public high schools.
Another option is international schools, where children will be taught in English. However, these private schools are expensive, with a year’s tuition between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 yen ($13,000 to $21,000).
Other Costs to Consider as an Expat in Japan
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may need clothing that’s appropriate for your workplace and suited to Japan’s climate. You don’t want to wear heavyweight clothes during a humid Tokyo summer!
To be able to sign documents, you’ll need an official seal (“hanko”) of your name. Prices for a personalized hanko start around 3,000 yen ($26), though the cost will vary depending on materials.
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