Preparing to leave Japan can be an overwhelming and time-consuming process, especially if you try to do it in less than two months, as my husband and I did. But regardless how much (or little) time you have to get ready, we learned a few things from our experience that might make yours easier. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the tips below are some of the most important to take care of before you leave.
• Start getting rid of your stuff early. This process takes time, especially if you plan to sell items. Recycle shops (リサイクルショップ, risaikuru shoppu) pay for various goods, but if making cash is your goal, try selling them elsewhere (such as online) first. Some shops will dispose of items they won’t accept for a small fee. For large items, seek out stores that offer pick-up services — again, they may charge a fee to trash items they can’t sell.
Some of our furniture was new, but all of the recycle shops in our area said it was unsellable. No one else wanted any of it, so we had no choice but to trash the lot. One shop offered to get rid of some of the furniture for free, but we had to pay them to take the washing machine.
• Start sending your stuff home if necessary. Arrange for quotes from removal companies or mail items via Japan Post. If you’re short on cash, mailing items by sea (funabin) is the cheapest way to go, although it takes one to three months. For heavy books and magazines, use media mail (M-bag or yūtai) for a cheaper rate (you may need to visit a major post office for this service). See www.post.japanpost.jp/int/service/dispatch/index_en.html for a comparison of mailing options and to get rate estimates.
• Contact your landlord at least a month in advance (depending on your rental agreement) to tell them you are leaving. Confirm any moving-out or cleaning fees.
• Contact utilities such as electricity, gas, water, Internet and phone (unless your landlord takes care of these), at least one to two weeks ahead of the day you will move out, and arrange for them to settle your bills — the sooner the better if you want to request a specific day and time. When you schedule, ask about your final payment options. Some companies will allow you to pay in cash the same day, while others will withdraw money from your bank account if that’s how you were paying. Return any rental modems or similar items to the Internet provider.
• Find a tax representative in Japan if you were paying into the Employees’ Pension scheme (kōsei nenkin) and plan to apply for the lump sum withdrawal. You and your tax representative must fill out a 納税管理人 届け書 (nōzei kanrinin todokesho) and have it certified at a National Tax Agency office before you leave Japan. Your tax representative needs this form in order to file for a tax refund on your lump-sum payment. The form and list of offices can be found at www.nta.go.jp (in Japanese).
This only applies to those who paid into the Employees’ Pension scheme, as a 20 percent tax is withheld from your lump sum payment. Payments under the National Pension (kokumin nenkin) scheme are not taxed.
If you lived in Japan 1) for one year or longer, 2) leave before June, and 3) your company did not withhold part of your salary for the residence tax (市民税, shiminzei), you will need a tax representative to deal with this as well. Since income taxes aren’t filed until March, the first residence tax payment coupons aren’t mailed out until June.
The residence tax is based on your income from the previous year and is paid to the municipality you resided in on Jan. 1 of the current year, even if you have moved elsewhere recently. The municipal office will mail the coupons to your tax representative for you to arrange payment. Visit your municipal office’s tax department (市民税課, shiminzeika or 納税課, nouzeika) for forms and to discuss your situation.
If you work for a company and they withhold income tax from your salary, you most likely won’t need to worry about filing a tax return or paying income tax. Otherwise, you should submit a 確定申告書 (kakutei shinkokusho). See the National Tax Agency website for more information at www.nta.go.jp/foreign_language/index.htm.
For all tax matters, it’s best to speak with your city or ward’s tax office or the National Tax Agency. You should also review your country’s tax agreement with Japan, if applicable.
• Return your health insurance card to your municipal office or employer (if the latter originally gave you the card).
• Forward your mail, but only if you have an alternative mailing address in Japan. Mail will be forwarded for one year. Fill out the form (転居届, tenkyo todoke) at your local post office or complete it online (welcometown.post.japanpost.jp/etn/) You can’t forward mail to a foreign address.
• Tell your city/ward that you are leaving. Before you leave the municipality you are registered in, you must file a moving-out notification (転出届け, tenshutsu todoke) with city hall or your ward office. The process is similar to moving-in procedures.
• Cancel your mobile phone. Do this any time up until your day of departure, but budget enough time if you choose to do it on the day of departure, to be on the safe side. We canceled our Softbank contracts at Narita airport and it only took us about half an hour for two accounts. We also had to change our method of payment first so that the final bill would go to a credit card and not a Japanese bank account.
• Say sayonara. Hand over your alien registration/resident card at immigration as you leave the country. If you have more than six months left on your visa, you must fill out a form giving your consent to cancel your visa. And if you’re attached to your “gaijin card,” you might get lucky — they let us keep ours as souvenirs.
Former Lifelines stalwart Ashley Thompson is now the Community Manager for Nihongo Master, an Japanese online learning site, at bit.ly/1cBWaCz. Send all your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org