Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life in Japan: Surviving the Wait for the Resident Card

Hi! I figure it can't hurt to start my first non-kimono post with a photo of me in non-kimono: how about an Avengers shirt? (Go Loki! XD)

I sometimes get asked this, but yes, I wear Western clothing most of the time. To tell the truth, I haven't worn kimono here in Japan yet but plan to start at the giant Kanto festival here in Akita the beginning of next month.

So, on to today's Life in Japan topic... surviving the wait for the resident card. My terminology may seem odd to those who were here a while ago, but the famed "gaijin card" system has been replaced as of this month as the Japanese government implements a new immigration system that will centralize all of the related information.

Either way, if you are planning to live and work in Japan here is a really important thing to know: the new resident card/old foreigner card is your key to all the important stuff. After you get your work visa, you will land, and in theory under the new system receive your card either on the spot at the airport (I've heard, but sure didn't happen with me!) or get a special stamp in your passport and get the card mailed to your address within a few weeks.

(Note: Be sure you write your new home address on the "address in Japan" part of the slip they give you on the plane before it lands. Do not put the first hotel you're staying at, the company you work for, etc. It needs to be your home address because that's where they're going to mail your card.)

Unfortunately, your work visa is not proof enough of your intent to stay in the country for most companies: to get a cell phone, home Internet, or a bank account, you will have to wait for your resident card to show up. In the meantime, you will need to make sure you can communicate with your family and friends, have enough cash to get by until your first paycheck, and keep up to date as needed with online banking, etc. back home.

Here's how I've handled it while waiting for my first paycheck and resident card:


Rather than carry around huge amounts of exchanged yen or traveler's checks, I exchanged just a few hundred dollars and put everything else on my Visa Plus debit card. I was able to use it at hotels, the train station, convenience stores, department and grocery stores, and even a small local bicycle shop. The only places I haven't been able to use it are the various hundred-yen shops (dollar stores), which will get their own post at some later point due to their awesomeness.

When I needed cash, I went to any of the post office ATMs, which for a few years now have apparently been required by the government to provide English-language service and the ability to withdraw from banks overseas. My bank charges 3%, if I remember right, for the privilege, but I only did this a few times to get out large amounts for rent, security deposit, etc.


You can buy a prepaid cellphone, but given the ridiculous rates I was seeing (90 yen, around $1.15 a minute) I'm sticking with manga cafes and free Wi-Fi spots where I can find them to send email and such. Manga cafes will also get their own post down the road, but long story short you can buy set blocks of computer time, which will get you a computer with Internet access, usually in a small cubicle of your own and free drink bar. I'm paying 800 yen for a two-hour block at my local manga cafe.

Keep in mind manga cafes are virtually silent places, so while online chatting, surfing, and email is good you're not going to be able to video chat with anyone.

If you're staying in a hotel for awhile, you can ask at the front desk if they have Internet in the rooms. You can ask "Heya ni Intaanetto...?" "In the rooms Internet...?" (hey-yah knee in-tah-net-oh), trailing off at the end, and you should get an obvious yes, or no, or they might say they don't have wireless but they have a cable, which is what happened with me at one. "Wireless Internet/WiFi" is musen - moo-sen 無線 tacked on front: Musen-intaanetto.

You can ask if it's free too: "Muryou 無料 desu ka?" - Moo-ree-yoh des kah? "Is it free?" Again, the reply should be simple to follow, either a "Hai," (Yes) or a complicated explanation that involves apologetically showing you the price. That's also a handy phrase when asking about breakfast buffets, shuttle buses to the airport, and so on.

If you can get hooked up in your room, there's always Skype, which is of course free as long as you're dialing computer-to-computer.

Anyway, feel free to ask if you have any questions about this stuff! I hope to make these Life in Japan posts useful so let me know if there are topics or things you'd like to see covered. :)

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