Not the most riveting of posts, but since a number of shortlisted JETs have been asking about how much money they should take to Japan, or examples of expenses in the first few months, I thought I would write about exactly that!
As a short-listed JET (or an upgraded alternate) knowing how much money to take to Japan – and the sort of expenses you might face – is a concern in the months leading up to departing for Japan.
Disclaimer: The information I provide here is just a general overview of potential expenses and in no way reflects exact situations an incoming JET may encounter. The best source of information for your own situation will be your predecessor and supervisor.
For the sake of examples, I will use the month of August as this is the time when most incoming JETs arrive.
How much money should I take to Japan?
I took approximately R20,000 (¥172,300), which is close to what I’ve read on the online forums where most current/former JETs say around R15,000 (¥130,000) to R25,000 (¥208,000).
In what currency?
According to the 2017 General Information Handbook (GIH), you should bring Japanese yen into Japan instead of your home currency as there won’t be many opportunities to exchange it when in Tokyo during orientation. They recommend cash or traveller’s cheques.
In my situation, I exchanged half of what I was taking into yen (cash) at my local currency exchange bank, and then got a world currency card (through VISA) where I put the rest of the money. The nice thing about the currency card is that it works at the 7/11 conbini ATMs and can be reloaded with extra cash from home in case of emergency.
Can I use my credit card?
Japan is more of a cash-based society, but I do know credit cards are usually accepted. Be aware that a card will probably be rejected if used in a more rural area where they prefer cash.
How soon will I get paid by my school or Board of Education (BOE) after arriving?
Considering the ESID (every situation is different) nature of the programme, you could get paid as early as the end of August or as late as mid-September. The best person to ask about this would be your predecessor, supervisor, or contracting organisation (your Board of Education).
You need to make sure that you have enough cash to last you through to your first remuneration. In my case I had to make my money last a month and a half before getting paid in mid-September.
Likely expenses for Tokyo orientation:
- Luggage transfer – When you land in Tokyo, you may only take one checked-in piece of luggage (and your hand luggage) with you to orientation. The rest will be sent to your school or Board of Education. You don’t pay for this service until you receive the invoice around September or October. According to the GIH, the cost of the “service will vary depending on the size, weight, and destination of each piece of baggage. Excessively large/heavy pieces of baggage may incur extra charges. One piece of baggage costs approximately ¥2,500 – ¥5,000 and takes 3 to 5 days to deliver”
- Tokyo Orientation – the only expenses during orientation are really when buying dinner and snacks (breakfast and lunch are provided) and anything else you may get up to in the evening.
I have overheard of situations of JETs who had to pay for their hotel accommodation at orientation, as well as for their travel to their placement, and were later reimbursed by their school. But I do stress that this was overheard and I don’t personally know of a JET who had to do this.
Likely expenses once at placement:
Apartment: the most important thing to find out from your supervisor (or predecessor) is if you are expected to pay a deposit and key money (shikikin and reikin) for your apartment. You may have to pay up to 2 months’ rent to the landlord before moving in.
Furniture: there are cases where predecessors will take items they bought for the apartment with them when they leave. You may arrive at your apartment to find you will be sleeping on a futon on the floor because your predecessor took the bed (true story from a friend!). If you’re okay with sleeping on the floor for a few months while saving up, then that’s fine, but if you desperately need a bed (or other furniture) then put some money aside to purchase these items when you arrive.
Note on apartment furniture: This is very ESID because in my situation I paid for all the furniture I bought (including a bed, heater, and kitchen prep table). However, speak to your supervisor first before purchasing any large items in case your school can pay for it instead – it’s worth a shot!
Utilities: Bills for rent, gas, water and electricity will probably start arriving from the end of August through to end of September. Your school/Board of Education may subsidise your rent (like it was in my case) but alternatively you may have to pay the full amount. Once again, ask your predecessor about how much they paid for utilities.
Out of interest, here is a very general approximation of what I paid each month:
- Rent – ¥9100 – I lived in a high-school teachers housing apartment block (fondly remembered as an old, run-down cement block) and my rent was subsidised.
- Water – ¥2600
- Electricity – ¥2000
- Gas – ¥1500
- Internet – ¥6000 (modem-installed connection)
- Phone – approx. ¥7000
- Transport – ¥10 000 – I was reimbursed for all my business trips (except travel from my apartment to my base school and return) and modes of transport to and from my three schools was the bus, walking, and a speedboat.
Food: Hopefully your predecessor will be able to provide you with some convenient (and nicely-priced) places for you to do your food (and toiletries) shopping. At first you may find it easier to buy snacks and ready-made food – rather than cooking for yourself – while settling in. Below are some general prices for ready-to-eat food and meals:
- convenience store (sandwich, noodle cup, ready-made meals) – ¥300 to ¥600 yen
- bakery – ¥200 to ¥400 (the Japanese love their bakeries and pastry shops!)
- fast-food meal – ¥500 to ¥900
- ramen/sushi restaurant – ¥800 to ¥1000 yen
Transport: Commuting to school, or to your Board of Education, could be on any number of options. Car, motorbike, bicycle, bus, train, boat, and walking, all of these incur various expenses (except walking and bicycling). Check with you predecessor or supervisor as to what you will be expected to use (you may even have to buy/rent a car) and plan your budget accordingly. Most times your school with reimburse your travel expenses when related to work.
Prefectural orientation and language camp: You may have to pay out of your own pocket for transport and accommodation during prefectural orientation (which takes place in August) then later your school or BOE should/will reimburse you.
Some prefectures have Japanese language camps for all first year JETs (such as in Hiroshima) that takes place in August after prefectural orientation. You will probably have to pay up-front for the accommodation (when I did it in Hiroshima it was about ¥35,000 for the week’s stay) and also pay for your own food. Your school will reimburse you for the accommodation.
Cellphone and internet: This is a tricky topic as every incoming JET will have a different experience with getting a cellphone and internet set up.
There are three main cellphone providers: AU, Docomo, and Softbank. Usually they prefer you to buy a phone (upfront payment) and take out a two-year contract. However, I know that there are JETs who buy a SIM card and use their own phone bought from home – but I think this is also up to the provider as to whether they allow it or now. Either way, you are expected to have a cellphone while in Japan.
For the internet, some JETs use a pocket wifi connected to their cellphone contract, whereas others get a separate connection with either wifi or modem (I was the latter). I went through BBApply who were brilliant in acting as the go-between and setting up a contract between me and the provider (I had a contract with Yahoo! BB).
I am sure there are some areas that I may have forgotten to cover, so if there are any former or current JETs who wish to add more information then feel free to comment below or contact me and I’ll add it in.
And to any incoming JETs, do let me know if this was in any way helpful for you. 🙂