First coming to Japan can be incredibly daunting, especially since you may not have any housing when you first arrive. I’ve heard stories of professors coming over and having to settle their housing the first day after arrival! The process can be dizzying and confusing, but hopefully, sharing my experience will help other foreigners out there navigate the process. This post will be a bit longer than most!
Step 1: Realtors and Guarantors
You will need to work with a real estate agency to help find you a place. You will also need a guarantor, who will essentially vouch for your good name (and help you set up utilities and the likes). Some realtors also act as guarantors, such as Global Trust Network (GTN). There are also instances where your university or employer may be able to act as your guarantor, greatly bringing down your monthly costs.
I went with a local realtor, Apaman, short for “Apartments” and “Mansions.” They helped my wife and me find a really nice place near one of the train stops, making my commute to and from work a breeze. Our guarantor ended up being GTN, and they have been nothing but helpful since we started working with them!
Step 2: Application
So, here comes the tricky bit: Filling out an application. You may notice tons of apartment complexes in your desired area, but might not be able to find one for yourself. Why? Many rental agencies or owners don’t want to rent to foreigners. Part of this stems from a “they don’t speak Japanese and I don’t want to deal with that” angle, and, unfortunately, sometimes from a “no foreigners, they only cause trouble” point of view. Regardless, you’ll put in an application first. It may take up to one week for your application to be reviewed and approved by the owner of your building. Your realtor will help you fill out the appropriate paperwork at this step.
Shopping around was interesting but exhausting. We ended up walking to some places, driving to others. One place was just vacated the day before and still smelled of the last meal the previous renters prepared! There were tons of tiny, twisty roads that lead us all across the urban jungle. We applied for the first place we visited and were able to move on to the next step about a week later.
Step 3: Contract
Congrats! You have been approved and now you sign your contract. There is a lot of paperwork to go over and this is where your wallet will get much lighter. You may have to pay “Key Money.” Key Money stems from an old practice of, essentially, giving a light bribe of cash to a building owner to let you rent from them. Land is sparse in Japan, so this money used to grease the wheels, so to speak. This afflicts foreigner and Japanese alike, but the trend seems to be fading with the times. Key money can be a full month’s rent in some instances, so be prepared! You may also have to pay a maintenance fee for general building upkeep, fire insurance, a fee for the realtor, a fee for your guarantor, and a certain number of month’s rent upfront. I’ve heard this can go as high as the first 5 month’s rent upfront, so the upfront cost can be incredibly prohibitive if you haven’t prepared.
For us, we got nailed with key money but didn’t have to pay any maintenance fees. We also had to pay the first month (prorated) and the second month’s rent upfront. After all was said and done, we had to pay close to $5,000 to be able to move into our place! It was a bit on the higher end for us, as our apartment had recently been remodeled. Just look at your monthly rent and if it’s on the lower end, you’ll end up paying less at the signing of the contract.
Step 3: Keys and Utilities
Congratulations! You have signed the contract and you are ready to receive your keys! This may happen up to a week or more after you sign the contract, so be prepared to wait a bit. When you get your keys, you are able to move in, but you won’t have any power, water, or gas unless you set that up beforehand. For the gas company, you need to be present at your new place so that when the gas man comes by, he can go over information with you and test your system. He can also sell you a gas range, which you will need, for a nominal fee! If you have your power already set up, make sure you know where your circuit breaker is so you can flip it on when you arrive.
For us, we asked GTN to set up our power and water and schedule an appointment for the gas company. They took care of all of that for us, which was incredibly helpful! The gas company also had a small safety pamphlet in English for us. They will also tell you how to pay your bill and when you should pay. You can actually pay most of your bills at convenience stores, which is a new concept for me.
With that, you have successfully acquired a new residence! It can be a daunting task and incredibly overwhelming at times. I know I had more than one sleepless night about figuring everything out through the process.
Have you had any intense house-hunting experiences overseas? Let me know in the comments!
4 thoughts on “Finding an Apartment in Japan”
Great article, Adam. Here in Mexico it’s not as daunting. But we can pay any utilities at Walmart and many other small convenient stores. We also have many real estate agencies like Century 21 that have also a rental office, making it easy to move in.
That’s nice that it isn’t quite as daunting. Super convenient that you can pay at Walmart and convenience stores, especially if you’re living close to them!
I knew I’d enjoy living vicariously through you! Reliving my early years in Japan in a roku-jo apartment. My bathroom was so small, I couldn’t close the door to pee because it would hit my knees!
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We’re pretty lucky that our place isn’t that small!