It is one of the biggest challenges that many foreigners have to face when they plan on staying in Japan: looking for a place to live. For foreign residents, renting an apartment (アパート, apaato) in Japan could be exciting yet painful at the same time. It is a complicated process that requires a lot of paperwork to deal with. Before you start looking for a good apartment for your needs, these are several things you might need to prepare.
Many conventional real estate companies are not very foreign-friendly, they do not have English speaking staff, and also most landlords in Japan are reluctant to foreigners who are unable to speak Japanese. To make the whole renting process easier for you, a good ability in Japanese or a good Japanese friend to help you through the process is very important!
Although there are things you can do to stay on a budget, moving in Japan is not cheap and you will need to budget thoroughly. A number of basic fees that have to be paid are the reservation fee, deposit fee, the real agency fee, key money, property insurance fee, and the first month’s rent fee. Periodically, you will also have to pay for an annual maintenance fee. Some of the fees are refundable and some are not.
- Reservation fee (手付金, tetsukekin) is a payment which should be paid before the rental contract is signed. It is a guarantee that your “apa-to” would not be given to somebody else who booked after you. Once you sign the contract, the reservation fee will be refunded. If you cancel, the fee will most likely not be refunded.
- Deposit fee (敷金, shikikin) is a fee paid to the landlord when you move into the apaato and it costs about two to three times the monthly rent. This deposit fee or a part of it will be returned when you move out, after some necessary repairing fee for any damage you have caused to the space is deducted.
- Key money (礼金, reikin) is nonrefundable and it is paid once upon moving in, it is more of a custom and is paid as means of “thanking” the landlord for renting you the place. Usually, the key money is anywhere from one to two months worth of monthly rent.
- Agency fee (仲介手数料, chūkai tesūryō) is paid to the agency that helped you find the place, at maximum it costs one-month worth rent and is nonrefundable. Since the fee is quite high, in some cases people tend to rent directly from the landlord so they can cut down on the agency fee.
- Insurance fee（保証金, hoshyokin) which is paid when you sign the contract and each time you renew your contract, normally every 2 years, but only 1 year at some instances.
Let’s say if you are going to rent a standard apartment that costs 70,000 yen per month, you have to prepare at least 300,000 yen to cover all the above-mentioned fees before you can sign the papers and get the key.
Apartments in Japan are usually rented through real estate agents rather than from the landlord. Real estate offices can be easily recognized by listings of apartments displayed in their windows. Nowadays, some real estate companies in the central Tokyo and other metropolitan areas start to target foreigners residing in Japan. They offer options that are much more suitable to the needs of foreign residents and some of them have staff who speak English. The flexible choices they are offering are, for example, the rental contracts for much shorter periods (not limited to a minimum two years as conventional agencies offer) and a fewer initial fees. Some of the recommended real estate agencies for foreigners are: UR and Japan Home Search.
Of course, when you want to sign any kind of contract in Japan, you have to prepare a lot of paperwork in advance. To rent an apartment and deal with the agent, make sure you have the documents below.
- Passport (パスポート、pasupo-to)
- Residence card (在留カード, zairyu card) with visa, it has to be a long-term visa, the agency will not accept a request from tourist visa holders/some student visas and etc.
- Letter of employment (if you are a worker), or a student card/letter of eligibility (if you are a student)
- Your Japanese tax documents, a proof that you pay your taxes on time
The common way to pay your rent is by a bank transfer, though some local agencies offer a direct payment in the office monthly. Thus, when you are applying for the rent, it is best if you already have a Japanese bank account. Sometimes, the by credit-card payment option may be available, though it is still very uncommon.
When you are dealing with real estate agency, they will need to reach you by phone because communication by e-mail is still uncommon. Whether you are applying from Japan or abroad, let the agency have your phone number that is reachable during the working hours.
Last but not least, you will need a guarantor who will be responsible for the rent if you fail to pay. Usually, Japanese people will have their parents as their guarantors, but if you come to Japan to work, you can ask your company to be your guarantor. Your guarantor has to prepare several documents including proof of residence and income statement. If you can’t find anyone to be your guarantor, consider paying to a guarantor company which is usually recommended by the agent. However, additional fees are required to use their services.
So make sure you fulfill these basic requirements and prepare all the documents before you decide to look for an apartment, especially money and paperwork. The best time to start looking for apartments is around one or two months before you intend to move because processing itself takes from about two to three weeks. Good luck with your “apaato” hunting!