Updated October 28, 2023
Leaving Japan: What You Need to Do Before You Go
Remember when you first arrived in Japan and how it took you forever to get settled?
For me, it felt like there was something I had to sort out every single day, and this continued for months before I felt like I was truly “out of the woods.”
Be it official government procedures or something as simple as applying for an internet connection, I always had something I needed to take care of before I finally felt like I was home and that I was an actual part of this country.
Well, things aren’t that much different when you’re leaving Japan.
Not to say it’ll take you months or anything, but there are a wide variety of things that you need to remember and resolve before you leave if you want a clean break.
Pretty much everything you set up when you got here needs to be either canceled or taken apart before you leave. Besides, you’ll want to get rid of some of the stuff you bought if you don’t want to deal with international shipping costs.
If it sounds overwhelming, I’m with you.
Luckily, I’m here to guide you through the process and provide you with a checklist so that you don’t lose track of anything and leave without a single lingering worry on your mind.
In addition, I’ll also recommend a few key things you may not have experienced and won’t want to miss out on before leaving Japan.
Let’s first talk briefly about the implications of leaving Japan.
The Financial and Emotional Cost of Leaving Japan
When moving to a new country, it’s quite common for people to research how much it costs to move to and live in said country, but people often forget to consider the same when they’re leaving.
Think about how getting settled in entailed expenses you hadn’t even thought of before; in a similar fashion, there are expenses beyond your imagination when you decide to leave, and nobody but yourself can prepare you for this.
Of course, as there’s a financial cost to leaving Japan, there’s also the emotional cost that eventually takes its toll. Dealing with multiple things at once and having some things go sideways — which is almost unpreventable — requires strong mental fortitude as much as it requires thorough planning.
What’s more, even if you’re motivated and feel you’re up to the task, you may still need to deal with the fact that you’re leaving a place you called home for some time and have perhaps made lots of new memories and friends. Even if you may not realize it now, it might all hit you as your time to leave inches closer.
So, what can you do? Let’s start with the financial aspect, and then we can deal with the emotions.
Better Start Saving Now: The Financial Cost of Leaving Japan
As opposed to the costs of moving to Japan, where you had “unavoidable” expenses, I’m here to tell you that the costs of leaving Japan will largely depend on you.
If you’ve lived in Japan long enough, you probably have plenty of furniture, personal memorabilia, and irreplaceable items that you’ve collected over the years. Sadly, this is where most of the costs arise.
Sure, you’ll have to spend money on airplane tickets, and some minor costs may show up here and there, but it’s nothing compared to shipping your whole apartment all the way across the world.
International shipping is a pain in general, and it costs a fortune to move stuff. If you’re traveling all the way to the U.S. or even to a European country, expect these costs to be substantial.
For instance, I’ve heard of people having to pay 500,000 JPY (approx. 3,500 USD) for shipping via private companies, and then others that got away with around 200,000 JPY (Approx. 1,400 USD) in shipping costs via Japan Post, but they did get rid of some of their belongings.
Because of this, I recommend starting to save money as soon as you even begin to think about leaving. Alternatively, if you’re only considering leaving or you’re contemplating moving in the future, I recommend starting a “leaving Japan” fund now, just in case.
While there’s no set amount here, as I said, the moving costs are, in reality, entirely up to you. As long as you don’t pack everything, you won’t have to pay as much. If you do decide to leave everything behind, more power to you! You saved yourself a small fortune, but this isn’t something all of us can do.
Humans, unfortunately, have a tendency to become attached to objects, which brings us to the emotional cost of leaving.
Saying Goodbye and Managing Stress: The Emotional Cost of Leaving Japan
Whether it’s about saying goodbye to some personal belongings that you can’t ship out or saying goodbye to the friends and memories you’ve made, leaving Japan is similar to grieving in many aspects.
As it’s hard to do, and you’re sure to spend some extra time thinking whether you can part ways with a personal item or not, packing will take longer than you think. So, my best advice here is to start deciding what items you’ll take with you and what items you’ll get rid of as soon as possible. That way, you’ll be at peace regarding the material side of things much sooner, allowing you to save energy and focus on the logistics.
This is also important because you may decide to recycle, donate, or sell some items to make an extra buck to cover some of your moving costs. All of this takes time and planning, as you’ll have to coordinate with other people for this process.
Speaking of, another issue with the emotional side of leaving Japan comes from having to deal with the stress of moving, which increases as your moving date approaches.
So, knowing that you won’t be in the best position to make big decisions in the last few days or weeks, preparing accordingly is the best thing you can do. Simply put, the more things you take care of ahead of time, the less you’ll have to deal with when you’re stressed out or overwhelmed.
Similarly, I also recommend making a plan for saying goodbyes. With all the stuff you have to do, it’s easy to forget the stuff you want to do, and you may end up regretting not saying a proper goodbye to some of your friends.
With all this in mind, let’s now get on with our checklist.
The Essential Leaving Japan Checklist: 11 Key Steps
Now that you’re mentally prepared to leave Japan let’s take a look at the things you need to do before you leave. While the items on this list aren’t in a particular order, I do recommend doing them in the order featured here to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Pack and Sort Your Belongings
While you may think that this step comes later down the line, I find that it’s best to start packing as soon as possible.
You can start by packing the clothes you won’t wear for a while. For instance, if it’s summer, you can pack all of your winter coats. Besides, international shipping takes time, and it can take anywhere from one to six months for your stuff to arrive.
Another good reason to start packing early is the surprises you’ll come across along the way. For one, you’re likely to unearth stuff during packing that you didn’t even know existed and don’t know what to do with, especially if you’ve lived in Japan for a long time.
You’ll also spend a good amount of time with stuff you just don’t know how to pack — or rather what to pack with. This can definitely extend the packing process if you’re the type that likes to keep things organized.
As we mentioned, there will be belongings that you won’t be bringing back, and packing early allows you to decide what gets recycled or donated, giving you plenty of time to get that sorted.
Speaking of which…
Recycle and Donate
Now that you know what to pack and what to say goodbye to, you should get rid of the stuff you’re not bringing with you well before your departure date.
Recycling smaller items doesn’t take much planning, but if you have larger appliances or furniture you want to recycle, you’ll need to plan in advance. As I explained in my post on trash cans in Japan, you can schedule the pick-up of large recyclable items like air conditioner units and refrigerators for a fee.
However, there’s a better way to get rid of such appliances and furniture, and it can even help cover some of your moving expenses. I’m talking about the Sayonara sales you may have come across if you’re part of any Facebook expat group.
Here are a few suggestions:
Tokyo Sayonara Sale Facebook group
Osaka Sayonara Sale Facebook group
Kyoto Sayonara Sales Facebook group
In addition to these, you can also check out this Craigslist Japan page where people list their used items.
People who are moving away often hold a garage sale-like “farewell sale” on these pages to recoup some of the moving costs, and you can do everything online. Platforms like Mercari, which is Japan’s biggest second-hand shopping platform, also allow you to list your items in mere minutes, and the company provides a service for delivering large furniture as well.
As getting rid of bulky stuff like furniture will most likely end up costing you, whether you arrange a recycling pick-up or have it picked up by other means, selling it for whatever price you can is the best approach here.
Alternatively, if you have friends or family in Japan that can take some of your stuff, you can check out my post on moving in Japan to figure out the logistics.
If you’re okay with giving stuff away for free or even selling it on the cheap, you can also use a platform called Jimoty where you can list your items, and people who need it can come and pick it up. Keep in mind that the website is only available in Japanese.
Handle Your Taxes and Your Pension
I talked about this topic extensively in my post on the year-end tax adjustment system in Japan, but doing your taxes on time is important if you don’t want to deal with hefty fines.
Basically, resident tax is imposed on those who have an address in Japan as of January 1 (the levy date) and whose income during the previous year exceeded a certain amount. This means that the amount of tax you’ll pay won’t change even if you move out of the country in the middle of the year.
If a taxpayer moves out of Japan between January 1 and the date the notice is sent (June-July), the taxpayer is required to appoint a tax agent. Once you appoint one, your tax agent (“Nozei-Kanrinin” in Japanese) will receive the tax notice and pay the resident tax in Japan on the your behalf.
Now, let’s take a look at the concept of resident tax, with cases broken down by month of departure from Japan.
For starters, the previous year's income determines the residential tax, and you must pay the resident tax the following year.
To put it simply, as you can see below, the closer to December you leave Japan, the more you save, and the sooner you leave in the beginning of the year, the more you lose.
Therefore, the later in the year you leave Japan, the more you will save on resident tax.
A: January 3: Need to Pay Resident Tax for one year (stayed in Japan for 3 days)
B: April 30: Need to Pay Resident Tax for one year (stayed in Japan for 4 months)
C: December 31: Need to Pay Resident Tax for one year (stayed in Japan for one year)
Thus, for example, if the date of departure is January 3 like in the example A above, even though you stayed in Japan for only three days that year, you are still obligated to pay a whole year of resident tax.
So, most people see it as a clear loss to leave Japan in January. In other words, the later you leave Japan in the year, the more you save on resident tax.
Also, keep in mind that if you leave Japan before July, you are required to designate a tax agent (Tax representative, “Nozei-Kanrinin”).
The reason for this is that the resident tax is a tax on the previous year's income, and it takes time to determine the amount of resident tax from the previous year's income. As the resident tax is calculated later, the bill is usually sent in June of the following year.
Therefore, if you leave Japan before July, you must ask your tax agent, “Nozei-Kanrinin,” who handles your resident tax instead of you.
While we’re on the subject of income taxes, let’s talk about how to avoid double taxation as well.
Avoiding Double Taxation
If your country has a special treaty with Japan related to taxation, generally referred to as “bilateral tax treaties,” I’ve got some good news for you.
While staying past December 31st in Japan will result in having to pay the resident tax for the whole year, if your country has a bilateral tax treaty with Japan, the amount you paid in taxes can be exempted from the taxes you have to pay in your home country.
Keep in mind, however, that this is only applicable to those who have no income outside of Japan. This means that you may still need to pay income taxes for the earnings you make in your home country.
If there’s an applicable treaty, in order to be exempt from taxes in your home country, you’ll need to provide proof that you paid your taxes in Japan. You can simply submit the documents proving that you paid your income taxes in Japan for this.
Similarly, if your country has a tax treaty with Japan and you have an income as a student, instructor, or an intern/apprentice in Japan, you may be exempted from having to pay Municipal and income taxes as well.
In order to be exempt from these, all you need to do is notify your local tax office through the company or organization you work for with a copy of your passport and official documents proving that you’re a student or an intern, stating that your company has a tax treaty with Japan.
Pension Payment Refunds
Last but not least, if you’ve been working and made monthly payments for the pension fund, which were either directly paid by you as a sole proprietor or freelancer or deducted from your salary if you worked as an employee.
As you’re leaving Japan, you have the right to ask for a refund in certain cases or have the payments transferred to your own country’s pension system if there’s an agreement between the two countries. To find out the conditions, see my post on retiring in Japan, where I explained this in detail.
Also, if you still have questions about leaving Japan and your tax liabilities, you can refer to this handy PDF prepared by the National Tax Agency, which tells you all you need to know on the subject.
Make Sure Your Documents Are Valid
This may sound like a no-brainer, but as you’ll be traveling internationally, you need to check whether your passport and your visa are still valid on the date of your travel.
If your visa is found to be expired at the airport, you may have to pay a fine at best or go through complicated procedures that can end up getting you banned from entering Japan again.
If your visa is expiring before you leave Japan, make sure to visit the immigration office to have a temporary visa issued. This will allow you to leave Japan safely and legally.
Similarly, if you are traveling with pets, make sure their documents are valid as well. Always make sure to check your destination country’s rules about bringing pets into the country and follow them diligently. You’ll likely need an import certificate, which can be costly, so setting some money aside for this purpose is a good idea.
In addition to the certificates and whatnot, your pet will also require a plane ticket. I recommend planning for your pet’s arrival in advance, as the receiving country’s authorities will need to check your pet and its documents.
All in all, reach out to the receiving authority and check to see whether both your and your pet’s documents and vaccines are sufficient for entry to avoid any mishaps.
Notify Your Landlord and Terminate Your Contract
If you’re renting an apartment, which is the case for most expats, you’ll need to notify your landlord and terminate your contract in advance.
The notification period most commonly used in rental contracts is one month, but it all depends on your contract. Make sure to check the notification period in your lease agreement to be certain. You’ll need to get your deposit back as well.
If you can, download and check out the guidelines created by the Tokyo Metropolitan government to make sure that your landlord isn’t charging you for what can be considered as “usual wear and tear” that might occur during regular use of the apartment.
For instance, some of the articles in the guidelines even state that certain types of damages done to the apartment decrease in value over time. This means that your landlord can’t cheat you out of your deposit in the event of damage if a certain time has passed since you moved into the apartment.
In addition, keep in mind that you’ll be charged a cleaning fee, which is standard practice. You’ll also need to make an appointment for your moving-out inspection, which is all the more reason to contact your landlord in a timely manner.
Cancel Your Utility Bills
Now that your departure is approaching fast, it’s time to cancel the utilities, such as gas, electricity, internet, and if you still have one, your landline contract.
Luckily, almost all of these procedures can usually be handled online, but this, too, depends on your provider, so it’s best to check in advance to make sure. You’ll likely be able to view your final bills, pay them, and apply for the cancellation of your contract.
If the final meter reading hasn’t been done yet, you can check online later, or better yet, you can send the money to a friend who’ll be staying in Japan, and they can pay the bill at any convenience store on your behalf.
As the early cancellation of utilities like gas and electricity can put you in a tough spot if you don’t have anywhere else to live in the meantime, you can cancel these a week or two before your departure.
However, for the internet, you may be required to return some equipment that’s provided by your service provider, such as a modem, so I recommend doing this at least three to four weeks in advance to avoid any mishaps.
Notify the Post Office and the City Hall
You may be moving, but you’re likely to keep having some of your mail sent to your old address for a bit longer. It’s hard to notify everyone of your new address, and it may take a while to have all records corrected. This is why mail forwarding is the best.
If you have friends or family that’ll be staying in Japan, you can apply to the post office to have the mail automatically forwarded to their address. This way, you eliminate the risk of not receiving important mail during your transition from Japan to your destination country. Moreover, the process is free, and you can easily do it at your local post office by filling out a form. I should note, however, that forwarding your mail to another country sadly isn’t possible.
Make sure your name is spelled correctly, and if you use any other names (abbreviated versions, etc.), make sure to fill out a separate form for each variation to prevent any setbacks in the future.
While having your mail forwarded can be convenient, it’s not mandatory, but notifying the city hall that you’re moving is something you have to do. Fortunately, this is a simple procedure as well.
All you need to do is go to your city hall and fill out a form, which is aptly titled the moving-out form (tenshutsu todoke). This process can be done during your final week, as it’s quite simple, but don’t forget to do it — it’s crucial for procedures related to your taxes and pension.
Return Your Insurance and My Number Cards
As you may still need both your health insurance card and your My Number Card until you leave, I recommend leaving this step towards the end. Both processes are super simple and don’t take much time.
You’ll want to return your health insurance card to where you received it from. It can either be your company or the city hall.
In fact, you can do this simply after you’ve filled out and submitted your moving-out form while you’re at the city hall. Just go to the National Health Insurance desk at your city hall and tell them you want to cancel your insurance. You can settle your bills here and return your card when you’re done.
If you’re on any medication and are afraid of running out, don’t forget that you can talk to your GP and have six months’ worth of medication prescribed. So, make sure to do this before canceling your health insurance.
Similarly, you need to return your My Number Card, which you also need to do at the city hall. Once you handle your moving-out notification and drop off your health insurance card, you can cancel your My Number Card and hand it over as well.
A fun fact here is that if you ever become a resident in Japan again, you’ll be assigned the same number on your My Number Card.
Close Your Bank Account
The reason I left this step towards the end is that most people do it way in advance, and then they’re unable to pay their remaining bills or fees online or through automatic withdrawal. So, while you can close your bank account anytime you want, I recommend doing it during your last couple of weeks in Japan.
You’ll most likely need to do this in person, but check with your bank to make sure. Usually, you’ll need to bring your bank book, debit and credit cards, as well as your personal seal. Once you cancel your account, you’ll get your deposit amount in cash.
Keep in mind that if you don’t cancel your account, they may keep charging you fees. Even if your bank doesn’t charge any maintenance fees, it’s still best to cancel your account to avoid any loose ends on your part.
If you happen to be charged any fees that go unpaid, you may have to face legal consequences if you ever decide to visit Japan again. In addition, as your name will be recorded by the credit information authority in Japan, you won’t be able to apply for loans, credit cards, or even a cell phone plan.
Cancel Your Mobile Contract
As your flight approaches, one of the very final things you’ll want to do is cancel your cellphone contract.
Luckily, most of the mobile service providers that are more on the affordable side (such as Rakuten Mobile, IIJmio, or Docomo’s low-cost plan “Ahamo”) offer online cancellation, and they don’t charge a cancellation fee. However, keep in mind that some cellular providers may require you to come in person to cancel your contract, but this depends on your provider.
The process is usually simple, and you can even pay your final bill while you’re there. However, remember that there usually are cancellation fees. Then, some providers may also require you to provide a notice one month prior to cancellation, so double-check to avoid paying extra fees.
In some cases, you may even be able to cancel your cellphone plan at the airport right before you depart. However, this can be stressful, as the process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy the shop is. So, I recommend doing it at least a day prior if you want to hold on to your cellular data privileges until the very last moment.
Turn in Your Residence Card and Board Your Flight
Finally, you’ve made it all the way to the last step! Now that you’re all packed and ready to go, it’s time to go to the airport.
As you leave, make sure to turn in your residence card at the airport passport control point. If you tell them you’re leaving Japan for good, the officer at the control point will punch a hole in your card so that it’s no longer valid.
In some cases, they may forget to return your card to you, but if you want to apply for a refund of your pension payments when you arrive at your destination, make sure to ask for the card back.
And that’s it! Once you’re done, you can safely board your flight, knowing you’ve handled everything like a champion. During your flight, you can enjoy a good movie, get some much-needed rest, or reflect on your moving process as you get closer to your destination.
Things to Do Before Leaving Japan: Cultural and Personal Aspects
While following the checklist I shared above is enough to leave Japan in the safest way possible, these are only the essentials. If you want to leave Japan with peace of mind and without any regrets, I recommend also considering the following points before you leave Japan for good (at least for now).
Before concluding today’s post, let’s take a look at the attractions you might have missed out on.
Experience Japan’s Stunning Nature and the Must-Visit Cultural Landmarks
You probably don’t need anyone to tell you this, but Japan has one of the richest, most unique cultures in the world. What’s more, the country boasts quite a long and eventful history, exemplified in many ways all around Japan.
So, before you leave, make sure to check out at least the most popular sights and historical monuments while you have the chance. After all, it’s not every day you visit Japan, so take in as much beauty as you can.
Here are a few suggestions:
Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo
Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo,
Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
Shirakawago village in Gifu Prefecture (UNESCO World Heritage site)
Okinawa and the remote Miyakojima island,
Osaka Castle, and
Todai-Ji Temple in Nara Park, Nara.
Similarly, you’ll also want to see what Japan’s stunning nature has to offer. Japan has beautiful countryside and scenic mountains. In fact, I talked about the winter vacation destinations in my post on snowboarding in Japan and the countryside in my post on Japan’s inaka (the countryside), so make sure to check those out.
Get a Taste of Japan’s Best Culinary Experiences
As I mentioned, Japan has a rich culture, and this applies to the food as well.
Japan is famous for the culinary experiences it offers, and you can’t get such authentic sushi or fresh sashimi anywhere else. Don’t forget the ramen!
Simply put, make sure to try as much food as you can while you’re in Japan, or you may regret it. You don’t need to get fancy, either. As you may know, Japanese convenience stores are famous for the snacks they offer, and while the concept is present throughout the world, it’s safe to say that you won’t be able to find the same level of deliciousness and variety.
So, I recommend trying out as many snacks and candies as possible — Japan has a ton you might’ve never even seen before! Similarly, I also recommend giving street food a try if you haven’t. I especially recommend having takoyaki, yakitori, and dango before you leave. It’s highly likely that you won’t be able to find these delicacies around every corner in your destination country.
Say Farewell the Right Way, and Don’t Forget to Buy Omiyage
As you’re leaving Japan, you’re also leaving those who you’ve met, befriended, and made memories with.
Japanese culture hinges on sentimentality quite a lot when it comes to interpersonal relationships, even if it’s not always as expressive, so as you’d expect, there’s a strong culture around saying farewell, too.
To say goodbye to your closest friends, I recommend meeting one on one. You can also host a farewell party and see everyone in one go, but still, make sure to spend enough time with everyone to show that you care.
You may think that saying goodbye to your friends is enough, but you also need to say a proper goodbye to your colleagues if you want to be polite and leave a good impression. Don’t forget that Japanese farewells can be longer than you might expect, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Lastly, if you’re returning to your home country with people expecting you, I also recommend picking up the tradition of Japanese gift giving, or omiyage, as I explained in another post.
A nice kimono (see my post on kimono types) or omomori amulets sold around temples and religious places, as well as Japanese candy, are all great ideas. You can refer to the post I shared above for even more omiyage recommendations if you’re feeling uninspired, and learn about proper omiyage etiquette as well.
And… Voila! You’re now ready to leave Japan with everything covered. If you’re moving but still want to keep an eye out for remote job openings in Japan, make sure to check out my post featuring the 14 Japanese companies with “worldwide remote ok” policies before you go.
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