Updated July 1, 2023
Retire in Japan: A comprehensive guide for foreigners
For the always worried, working mind, retirement is the ultimate vacation.
It’s that next step in life where you’re finally not required to work or stress about things and are allowed to relax and enjoy what life has to offer without societal pressures to always be useful or productive.
After all, you’ve put in the work and the hours, and now it’s finally time for you to take a breather and allow someone else to take over your worries.
However, changing your lifestyle for the better and leading a peaceful life isn’t always easy, even if you retire. As your environment stays the same, there may not be much room for change in your life.
This is why many people consider moving to a brand new place when they retire. After all, if retirement is turning a new leaf in life, what better way to do so than by literally leaving your old life behind? This is exactly why Japan is a great place to retire.
For most foreigners, Japan is the change they need in their lives — a unique place filled with brand-new experiences, a beautiful culture, and untouched nature — a perfect recipe to enjoy your next chapter in life.
In this post, I’ll discuss why Japan is a great place to live as a retiree and explain how you can achieve this dream. I’ll also explain your potential challenges in this endeavor and how to overcome them.
Let’s start by taking a look at what makes Japan a perfect place for retirement.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
Why Japan Is an Attractive Destination for Retirees
Before we get to the more boring details, let’s talk about some of the things that make Japan the perfect place to retire as a foreigner.
First and foremost, if you’re coming from Western countries, Japan will be the breath of fresh air you need. I mean this both literally, as I’ll talk about the beautiful nature and the countryside in Japan in a bit, but I also mean it figuratively.
As a foreigner, Japan is so different than anything you may have seen that saying that it’s refreshing would be an understatement. In fact, just take a look at this video by the popular Youtuber Pewdiepie. He’s experiencing FIRE (financial independence, retire early) in Japan and seems to be enjoying it quite a lot!
This comes as no surprise, of course. In a country that boasts a long, unique history and colorful mythology, it’s safe to say that you’ll forget about the stressors of your old life in no time, and you’ll be able to treat your new life as a blank canvas.
Here’s what I mean.
Japan Is a Country With a Rich, Peaceful Culture
As you may know, Japan is an island nation. This means that the country’s borders are not only geopolitical but also physical. Even though this isn’t the only reason, the country has historically had a closed-off culture because of this.
While this closed-off nature may sound like a negative, the reality is far from that, as it’s what actually allowed Japan to protect and preserve its strong, vibrant culture, which is what makes it so different or exotic to foreigners even today.
What’s more, the country’s well-preserved culture is actually quite compatible with the idea of moving to a place of peace and quiet, as Japanese culture strongly values respect, peace, and harmony in society.
In fact, most Japanese traditions and manners stem from the core ideas of not inconveniencing others, showing respect to one another, and preserving societal harmony. Sounds quite peaceful, doesn’t it?
What’s more, thanks to the unique culture of the country, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find the most authentic, good Japanese food, as well as charming, traditional Japanese fashion, which is only a tiny glimpse into what the Japanese culture has to offer.
Japan Is One of the Safest Countries
Another reason to retire to Japan is the country’s safety. I delved deep into this topic in my post on “Is Japan safe?”, and it’s safe to surmise that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.
In fact, according to the most recent Global Peace Index, Japan is in the top 10 safest countries in the world. This is largely thanks to the country’s policy to increase security in “hot spots” where crime is likely to happen, such as ATMs, small shops, and stores, but there’s more. It’s also common to take measures like having more than one employee work in shops that are open late at night.
However, the main reason why the crime rate is so low in Japan is more substantial than that.
As you’d expect by now, it’s yet again Japanese culture that also helps keep Japan safe. Abiding by the law is something that’s embedded into Japanese society, and reckless acts, such as drunk driving, for instance, are severely frowned upon by the general public. As the culture is so in tune with the law, there are way fewer instances where the law is broken.
It’s simple, but it just works.
Japan’s Inaka: The Beautiful Countryside
As retirement is often seen as an escape from busy city living, Japan’s countryside is perfect in that aspect as well.
Most people will think of big cities such as Tokyo or Osaka when they think of Japan, but that’s only because they haven’t seen the stunning countryside.
Japan’s countryside, or inaka, allows you to have the best, freshest produce always within reach, and you’ll also have a strong sense of community where people are friendly, which effectively lessens the worries of being alone in a new country.
Besides, you may be afraid of being bored with not much to do, but Japan’s countryside offers lots of festivals all year round where you can experience the country’s culture in its purest form. There's almost always something to do, with a festival happening almost every other week, where you can enjoy good food and even better music.
If you want to learn more about what the Japanese countryside has to offer, you can head over to my post about Japan’s inaka.
However, if you don’t want to compromise and still want to have the perks of living in a vibrant big city while keeping the beautiful nature and the long, long beaches nearby, you should check out my post on living in Fukuoka, where I talk about how you can have it all.
Retiring in Japan vs. The U.S.A.
For many Americans, Japan is one of the most sought-after destinations for retirement. This may be largely due to the reasons I explained, but it’s also because of the country’s healthcare system.
In young-adult life, proper healthcare may be something that can be overlooked, especially if you don’t have any chronic conditions. However, easily affordable and available healthcare becomes increasingly important as we age.
Luckily, Japan’s healthcare system offers much more than U.S. healthcare. According to World Population Review’s rankings for 2023, Japan has the fifth-best healthcare system in the world, just behind Austria and Denmark.
Another difference for Americans moving to Japan for retirement will be, without a doubt, the rent expenses. Compared to the U.S., rent is much more affordable in Japan. Even though you may find the square footage to be smaller in Japan’s big cities, like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, you can still find bigger houses for cheaper in the countryside or in smaller cities.
Last but not least, Japan’s robust infrastructure allows you to travel anywhere in the country with great ease. While you may need a car to get around in the U.S., the extensive railroad network and the lightning-fast bullet trains in Japan make traveling a breeze.
All in all, Japan is a great destination for Americans retiring in Japan, as they’ll get to enjoy an overall easier life with good healthcare always within reach, beautiful nature boasting lush, green forests, and serene beaches just around the corner. What more could you really want?
Legal Requirements and the Immigration Process for Retiring in Japan
The idea of retirement is cool and all, and planning for your retirement, especially if you’re looking into a beautiful country like Japan, is no less than exciting. However, if you want peace of mind, you’ll need to figure out the legalities first.
As a foreigner, one of the first things you’ll need to sort out is the visa situation. You might think that you don’t need a visa due to your country of origin, but that applies only for stays under the tourist visa, which is only for 90 days.
Worry not, however, as I’ll explain the various visa types you can obtain in this section. Before I get to that, though, I’d like to provide a brief overview of the pension system in Japan for those who’d like to work and retire here.
A Brief Overview of the Japanese Pension System
While I’m mainly focusing on people who already have a retirement plan, are retired, or are considering retiring to Japan, some of you may be curious about how to actually retire in Japan.
So, suppose you’re considering moving to Japan for work or are already living in Japan as a foreigner and considering settling for good. In that case, you might need to learn the basics of the Japanese pension system and what some basic terms refer to.
Whether you’re an employee, a freelancer, or an independent business owner, if you’re already working in Japan, you must have heard the term nenkin one way or another. I mentioned this in my post on starting a business in Japan and touched on the nenkin techo (年金手帳), or the pension insurance book, in my post on how to quit your job in Japan.
Essentially, as a person living and working in Japan, you are legally obligated to pay nenkin payments in some way, shape, or form. The most common form of nenkin payment you’ll come across is called kosei nenkin, which means employee pension insurance, as most people work as employees at a company.
How Payments Are Made
Normally as an employee, you don’t have to make any payments for your pension yourself. Your premium is simply deducted from your salary.
However, if you’re unemployed, working as a freelancer, or employed but not eligible for pension insurance (part-time work, working at companies with less than five employees, etc.), you can also pay the premiums directly yourself to join the national pension (kokumin nenkin) system, which you’ll need to apply for at your local city hall or ward office.
Essentially, the rule is that you’ll be eligible for a pension in old age if you’ve been paying nenkin for 10 years, which means the minimum requirement is 120 months of paid premium. However, in order to be eligible for a full pension, you need to complete 40 years of payments.
Do You Need to Leave Before Retiring?
While these terms may be daunting, as it sounds like too long-term of a plan, don’t worry. There’s a way to receive these payments in a lump-sum payout should you decide to leave Japan before retirement. The terms and conditions change depending on how long you’ve stayed and paid for a pension in Japan, so let’s break it down.
We first need to establish that the regulation regarding the pension system was changed in 2021, and there are new rules for people who joined the pension system after April 2021. For people who left Japan before April 2021, their lump payment sum was calculated on their last 3 years of pension payments.
For people who leave Japan after April 2021, their lump payment sum is calculated on their last 5 years of pension payments.
Since most people reading this article would be leaving after April 2021, we’ll explain the details of the current scheme with the 5-year cutoff.
If you’ve contributed to the national pension system for five years or less
In this case, you can receive a lump-sum payment of all of your contributions if you decide to leave. If your country has a pension agreement with Japan, it’s also possible to transfer the amount you’ve paid to your home country’s pension system as if you’ve been paying contributions there all along.
If you’ve contributed to the national pension system for at least five, but less than ten years
Things get a bit tricky if you decide to leave after more than five years but less than ten years have passed. In this case, regardless of whether you were in the employee or national pension system, you can only receive the last five years’ contributions in a lump-sum payout.
If you still want to leave Japan, however, you can still transfer all of your contributions to your home country’s pension system if you’re not looking to get your money back. This way, you can still retire in your home country with the premium you’ve already paid.
If you’ve contributed to the national pension system for ten or more years
Lastly, if you’ve lived in Japan for more than ten years (i.e you’ve contributed to the pension system for 120 months or more) and want to leave, a lump-sum payout is no longer an option. Not even for the last five years, because you’re now eligible for an employee’s pension such as the old age pension. So you can either receive a pension from Japan during old age, or you can still transfer all of your contribution to your country’s pension system without an issue if there’s an agreement between the two countries.
In any case, please remember that if you receive a lump sum payment, you will not be eligible for a pension as your contributions will have been reimbursed, so think carefully before making a decision.
Long-Term Visa Options and Permanent Residency for Retiring in Japan
First things first, if you’re considering moving to Japan for retirement, you’ll need a visa that’ll allow you to stay in Japan long-term.
While Japan has treaties with many countries that allow citizens to enter Japan without a visa to stay for no longer than 90 days, this is, unfortunately, only a tourist visa. This not only prevents the holder from staying long-term, but it also means that it doesn’t allow the holder to work in Japan if they wish to do so.
In order to stay in Japan for the long term, you have a variety of other visa options you can choose from depending on your eligibility status. Unfortunately, Japan doesn’t have a dedicated visa for retirement, unlike other countries.
Most long-term visa types allow the holder to stay in Japan for a set period of time, and the visa is renewed at the end of the term by applying for renewal. The length and the renewal procedures vary according to the visa type, as, for instance, work visas can be issued for up to five years.
Once you’ve been in Japan for long enough (usually ten years, but you can shorten this to 3 years or 1 year if you score above 70 or 80 points respectively on the “highly skilled professional” system), you’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency, which allows you to live in Japan indefinitely.
Retiring in Japan as a Foreigner: General Requirements
All that being said, it should be noted that, in general, no matter what visa type you end up applying for, it’s safe to say that you’ll need to fulfill the following three main requirements. These are:
Being financially independent and having sufficient income to support yourself and the people who are financially dependent on you,
Not having a criminal background, and
Having valid health insurance before traveling to Japan.
While I won’t get into the details of what documents you need to prepare for each visa type in this post, it’s also useful to mention here that in order to apply for any type of long-term visa, you’ll need to prepare the following documents regardless:
A valid passport
Visa application form,
One or two photographs (depending on the visa), and
The certificate of eligibility, which is an official document issued by the immigration office that proves that you meet the conditions to enter Japan.
If you want to learn more about the long-term Japanese visa types and the application process, you can check out my post on how to get a visa as an engineer in Japan, where I talked about all visa types and what documents you need to prepare for each one.
In any case, I should note that Japan doesn’t have a dedicated retirement visa. So, if you want to stay in Japan indefinitely, you’ll have to apply for permanent residency before your long-term visa runs out. Once you obtain permanent residence, you can relax as you’ll have the right to live in Japan without having to work or study.
If you want to learn more about permanent residence in Japan and how to get it, I talked about this in great detail in my post on getting permanent residence in Japan.
With that out of the way, let’s now take a look at some of the visa types you can obtain to retire to Japan from abroad and what the eligibility requirements are.
This might not sound like your idea of “retirement,” but a work visa is one of the most reliable and sure-fire ways to achieve your dream of retirement in Japan.
I’m aware that this isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s not unheard of for some retired people who are experts in their fields to continue working after “retirement” in consulting roles. Similarly, many people change careers after retiring to take up smaller roles or work at jobs that don’t require too many hours or too much labor.
So, if you’d like to keep somewhat busy during retirement and are able to find a job that’ll make you happy during your “retirement” in Japan, you can simply obtain a work visa.
Another option for moving to Japan long-term is to acquire a general visa. A general visa is for anyone who comes to Japan for an internship, to study, or as the spouse of someone who’s in Japan on a work visa. It’s also issued to people who engage in cultural activities, reserved for rarer cases.
This visa type may not be an option for everyone, as it requires you to be a student or a trainee, but it’s the perfect option if you want to get that master’s degree you’ve always dreamed of.
You can also use this opportunity to get a bachelor’s degree in a completely new field that you’re passionate about that will allow you to make the career change you’ve always wanted.
Highly Skilled Professional Visa
A highly skilled professional visa is similar to a work visa in that you need to have a contract with a company or an institution in order to apply.
However, this visa type is specifically reserved for advanced academic research, business management activities, and specialized technical activities. As I briefly mentioned earlier, a points system is used to evaluate the candidates where people who reach a certain score are eligible for the visa.
What’s more, scoring 80 or higher on this system means that you don’t have to wait for 10 years to apply for permanent residency and apply after completing one year.
While this may not be the visa you’re looking for, if you’re eligible in any way, this is one of the best visas you can obtain for a long-term stay in Japan. You can check the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more details about the visa.
The specified visa is another long-term visa type that might help you achieve the life of retirement you dream of in Japan. However, this visa is for people who have a paid internship in Japan, as well as for people who are on a working holiday.
Other people who are eligible for this visa type are people who have a spouse that’s either a Japanese national or has a permanent residency in Japan.
By nature, this visa type isn’t the most suitable for people who are retired or looking to retire, but it can still be an option if you’re somehow eligible.
The visa types I mentioned so far just might be the most feasible ones for people who want to move to Japan for retirement, but they’re not your only options.
If you’re one of those people who are looking to retire and start their dream business, Japan has a startup visa that can make this dream come true.
As I mentioned in my post about the startup ecosystem in Japan, the country is quite literally a startup hotspot, and the government is taking all the measures necessary to create and foster an environment that breeds innovation and launches new businesses to success.
So, if you’re looking for a good place to start a business as a retiree, Japan is the perfect place.
While the visa types I mentioned so far aren’t the only visa types that give you access to long-term stay in Japan, they are the most feasible ones. There are also visas specifically for government officials and diplomats, but I won’t get into them as they aren’t really suitable for retirement.
Cost of Living in Japan
Picking a destination to retire is all fun and games until the costs come into play, and depending on how you look at it, Japan might be one of the worst offenders when it comes to living costs.
At least that’s what the country’s reputation is for– most people will say that it’s an expensive country to live in.
However, while there’s some truth to this, people also like to exaggerate, and comparisons aren’t really effective when you strategically choose to overlook certain factors.
Is Life in Japan More Expensive Than the United States?
It’s true that certain things, like fresh produce, can sometimes be more expensive in Japan compared to the U.S. or many countries in Europe. However, while this is a fact that people like to emphasize often, they leave out the fact that dining out, compared to many countries, is much more affordable in Japan.
In fact, because of this, many people (especially young and single people) often eat out or order in instead of shopping for groceries and cooking at home because it’s cheaper to do so, and it also saves you time.
Similarly, another fact that rarely comes up in discussions concerning the living costs in Japan is the fact that housing costs are actually cheaper in Japan compared to the United States. What’s more, other costs, such as utilities that accompany living costs, are also much higher in the U.S.A. compared to Japan.
Healthcare, which is also often overlooked but is part of living costs in reality, is also much more affordable in Japan compared to the United States. In fact, the U.S. might be one of the worst offenders in the world in this regard, as the country doesn’t provide public healthcare to citizens or residents.
Overall, the so-called high cost of living in Japan won’t affect your decision as much because the cost of living in Japan is much cheaper than in the U.S.A., even according to some living cost comparisons online. As long as you have a somewhat decent income, you probably won’t be affected by this as much as you’d think.
Financial Planning for Foreigners Retiring in Japan
Of course, all of this isn’t to say that you don’t need a financial plan for your retirement in Japan. On the contrary, having a solid financial plan for retirement is strongly advised no matter where you decide to spend your retirement.
While nobody can tell you exactly how much you need to save for retirement, there are resources online that can help you come up with an approximate number according to your age and annual income.
For instance, you can utilize this retirement calculator from the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement website to calculate how long it will take for you to reach financial independence. There are also some great guides on there regarding investments, which are even more important than just saving money.
If you absolutely have no idea where to start with any of this, as a general rule of thumb for savings, you can begin by saving 20% of your monthly salary.
While saving money is good, of course, a better option is to create a passive income stream by investing and making sure that your money doesn’t devalue.
As for investments, if you’re from the United States, you may find that investing in Japan is a bit challenging, and most Americans deal with this by having a broker in the U.S. and investing there.
You can do everything online with an online broker service, and you can even set it up so that the investment is automatic, and the money is taken from your account automatically each month to be invested in the funds you choose.
All of this may sound daunting at first, but it’s actually quite easy, as it can simply be done online nowadays. For now, if you’re eligible for a visa and can make the finances work long-term, let’s take a breath and relax because it’s time for you to choose your retirement destination in Japan.
Popular Cities and Regions for Foreign Retirees in Japan
As you may know, Japan is a country where you can live pretty much all lifestyles. It’s all about where you choose to live.
For instance, you can move to a big city like Tokyo or Osaka and continue to live the fast-paced big city life you’re accustomed to. Alternatively, if you don’t want to compromise on nature while doing so, you can pick a city like Fukuoka.
Of course, there’s always the option to leave everything behind and move to the countryside, for which Japan’s inaka will be a perfect candidate.
Before I go, I’d like to introduce a few cities and regions that I believe will be perfect options for retiring in Japan. Let’s take a look.
Does this city really need an introduction? Tokyo is perhaps one of the most unique cities you can visit, and the big city life it offers is simply incomparable.
This city literally never sleeps, and you can find anything you want, 24/7. What’s more, the robust public transport and the exceptionally well-thought-out train system ensures you’re never left stranded, no matter where you go.
Tokyo is one of those rare cities that’s big, crowded, but still very much safe. One potential downside of living in Tokyo, however, can be the costs. As the city is one of the most expensive in Japan, retirees may want to look elsewhere if all they’re looking for is peace and quiet.
However, this also isn’t that big of an issue since you can reduce your living costs significantly if you pick an area that’s not too close to the major train stations or the immediate city center.
For more information on living in Tokyo, you can head on over to my post on the real cost of living in Tokyo.
Osaka is also one of the biggest cities in Japan, and the city is mostly known for being a center for domestic and international commerce, as well as Japanese media. While Osaka may have many similarities with Tokyo, the city is much more laid-back in comparison.
Osaka can even be seen as a good compromise compared to Tokyo because the city is still big, with lots of events happening all year round, but it’s not quite as chaotic.
In general, Tokyo has a much cooler vibe if that’s what you’re after, but in Osaka, you’ll find that people are much friendlier. This is, of course, a plus if you’re moving to Japan as a retiree and don’t have a social circle yet.
Another thing Osaka has going on is the cheaper cost of living. If you’re worried about the cost of living in Japan but still want to live in a big city, you can do so in Osaka without breaking the bank.
While I may have covered the biggest and some of the most popular cities in Japan so far, none of them can offer the perfect mixture of city sights and beautiful nature quite like Fukuoka does.
Like other metropolitans, Fukuoka boasts a brilliant art and fashion scene, and it offers a great environment for tech and innovation, but it also has long, lush beaches awaiting you just within walking distance.
In Fukuoka, you can simply hop on a bike and leave the modern silhouette of the city behind to become one with nature at the best hiking trails in just 15 minutes. The city also has some of the best parks in Japan if you don’t want to steer too far away from the city center.
I mentioned all of this and more in my post on why Fukuoka is the place to be, but Fukuoka is also a city of innovation with a great tech scene.
In fact, Fukuoka is selected as Japan’s startup city as part of a government initiative that incentivizes entrepreneurs to start their businesses and benefit from various perks, one of them being the startup visa I mentioned.
As you can tell, the city offers the perfect blend of business and casual, and urban living and cottagecore. So, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the best destinations for retirees in Japan.
Last but not least, if you want to take things even further and live in a more low-key spot that’s usually inhabited by locals, Okinawa is a great pick for foreigners retiring in Japan.
The island is Japan’s fifth largest, and it’s surrounded by other even smaller islands. You can think of Okinawa as the Hawaii of Japan. It’s essentially a resort destination, so you can imagine the perfect mix of stunning nature and nice weather there, which is perfect for retired life.
Compared to the mainland, life in Okinawa is far less hectic and much more laid-back. With friendlier people and a lower cost of living, you’ll get settled in no time. The summer lasts all year round, which is great if you don’t mind the heat, but nonetheless, you’ll always be able to catch a nice, cool breeze in the shades whenever you feel like it.
As it’s the case with regions with a more local population, you’ll also find the purest form of Japanese culture you can experience here.
With lots of good food to enjoy and a chilled-out island life to revel in, it’s hard not to indulge in the best of what life has to offer in Okinawa, especially if you’re a carefree retiree who’s ready to live life to the fullest.
And… that’s it! While this guide can lead you in the right direction toward your retirement in Japan, it’s up to you now to start planning.
If you’re still working and retirement is still a little bit down the road, why not start the process now and look for a job in Japan? Our job board has plenty of opportunities you won’t want to miss, and all the companies featured in the Japan Dev company list are great companies that are hand vetted by our team. There are even remote positions on there, so make sure to check it out!
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