Whether moving to Tokyo for a short-term job opportunity or being drawn in by Japanese culture, language and cuisine, expats living in this massive metropolis are bound to encounter ups as well as downs.
An expat's perception of life in Tokyo may differ depending on their personality, interests, background or occupation. For instance, the life of an international student on a tight budget studying at a Tokyo university will be entirely different to that of a businessperson working in a top executive position in the Japanese capital. Nevertheless, those with an open mind and determination to overcome potential barriers will be able to appreciate their time in this city.
Below is a list of the pros and cons of relocating to Tokyo.
Accommodation in Tokyo
+ PRO: High standard of housing in expat areas
Most expats find that the standard of facilities in Tokyo apartments and houses is high. Most areas that are popular among expats are well connected to amenities, supermarkets, restaurants, public transport links and schools. That said, living spaces are typically smaller than most expats may be used to, and new arrivals may need to compromise on either their rent or property size.
- CON: Costly to secure a property for rent
When looking for modern, spacious accommodation, expats will soon feel the weight of living in one of the world's most expensive cities. Rent is a major expense, and utilities are normally an additional cost. Some apartment blocks also charge a maintenance fee. Expats must also budget for at least one month's deposit and agent and guarantor fees when securing their lease.
Getting around in Tokyo
+ PRO: Extensive and efficient public transport networks
Transport in Tokyo is efficient, wide reaching and well integrated. Regular passengers should get an IC card, a rechargeable smart card to use on all Tokyo's modes of public transport, including buses, trains and the subway, as well as some shops. Expats can easily get around without driving a car, which saves on fuel expenses too.
- CON: Confusing for new arrivals to navigate
Tokyo is considered the world's largest metropolis by some measures, which can be overwhelming to visitors and newly arrived expats. Crowds are unavoidable during rush hour, and battling the hustle and bustle can seem nightmarish. A newly arrived expat can begin to orient themselves by taking a train or the subway during off-peak times. Thanks to maps and signs in multiple languages, including English, and apps such as Google Maps, getting lost need not be a significant concern in the long run.
Cost of living in Tokyo
- CON: Expensive city
The cost of living in Tokyo consistently ranks among the highest in the world. While an expat's salary may appear lucrative, they will have to ensure it can support all their expenses, especially rent and, for families with school-aged children, international school fees.
+ PRO: Healthcare-related savings
Expats employed in Tokyo may benefit from employment packages and contracts that cover a portion of medical costs. Additional medical insurance to cover remaining healthcare costs is highly recommended in Tokyo, and it's worth negotiating an allowance for this, as it could save money in the long run.
Education and schools in Tokyo
+ PRO: Excellent school system
Whether expats opt for a public, private or international school, they will likely find a high standard of facilities and qualified and capable teachers. Public education can save expats a lot of money on fees and help young kids who plan to stay in Tokyo long term to integrate into their new lives. On the other hand, international schools usually allow for a smoother transition as they cater to international students.
- CON: Difficult balance between learning environments and school fees
State schools across Japan are known for pressuring students to obtain top marks. This can be a stressful experience that not all expat children are used to or can adjust to. While it can be circumvented by opting for an international school instead, fees and extra costs are incredibly high.
Lifestyle in Tokyo
+ PRO: Impossible to get bored
There is so much to see and do in Tokyo. From Sensō-ji, the city's oldest Buddhist temple, to the Eiffel-Tower-inspired Tokyo Tower, there are numerous tourist attractions and landmarks that are considered must-sees. Shopaholics will find themselves in paradise, especially along Takeshita Street, a popular pedestrian shop-lined street, while an exciting array of annual events keeps everyone busy.
+ PRO: Opportunities for quiet escapes
A bustling megacity with diverse amenities and a population of over 37 million across the greater Tokyo area, over-stimulation can easily stress out an expat residing in Tokyo. Fortunately, the city can be surprisingly quiet outside tourist and commercial areas and transport hubs.
Places such as Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden offer an escape into nature. They are particularly beautiful when the pink-and-white cherry blossoms, or sakura, spring to life.
+ PRO: Endless fun for families with kids
Expat families with children moving to Tokyo will find countless activities to keep them occupied. Expats can take their pick of family-friendly distractions, from the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation to Tokyo Disneyland.
- CON: Difficult work-life balance
Life in Tokyo often seems to be all 'work hard' without any 'play hard'. With long business hours and few statutory paid leave allowances, it's not uncommon to feel burnt out when working here. To avoid this, some expats try to get out of the city for a weekend break and find themselves relaxing in the hot spring resorts in Hakone and the Izu Peninsula or hiking, skiing and snowboarding in Hakuba during winter.
Healthcare in Tokyo
+ PRO: Access to Japan's National Health Insurance
Japan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) system is comprehensive and efficient, covering about 70 percent of all healthcare costs. All residents, including expats, are legally required to have health insurance. The monthly premium is based on income, ensuring that it's affordable for everyone.
The NHI allows expats to access a vast network of clinics and hospitals. However, some private and high-end medical facilities may not accept NHI, and services at these places could be costly. Always verify what is covered before using any medical service.