JM has a question about the Japanese national pension system:

“I am an American citizen and permanent resident of Japan and have been living and working in the country continuously since 1988. During most of this time, I have been employed as a “local” hire by my company, and contributed to the Japanese pension systems. However, for two periods together totaling 68 months I was employed in an expatriate capacity, and did not contribute to the pension systems. Is it possible for me to make back contributions to the national pension system, and thus “recapture” the lost 68 months?

Also, I have seen conflicting information regarding eligibility for receiving one’s pension after retirement. Many sources indicate that 25 years of contribution to the pension systems are required to receive a pension, i.e., if one were to contribute even 24 years and 11 months, no pension could be collected. Other sources, including the Social Insurance Agency’s website, seem to indicate that although 25 years of contribution are required to receive a full pension, if one were to contribute less than 25 years, a prorated pension could be received. Could you confirm whether or not a prorated pension is possible?”

We called the local pension office about your predicament, and they asked what pension system you were (and are) paying into (the national system or employees’ pension system), what country you worked in as an expatriate, and other case-specific questions. As we don’t have that information, they were only able to offer general answers and stressed the importance of visiting your local pension office and discussing your situation directly with them, as they are best able to help you. However, here’s what we found out:

First question: is it possible to make back payments?

According to the Japan Pension Service, the only people who may make back payments (up to 120 months) are those who were exempt from making contributions for some period of time. Persons who qualify for exemption include anyone unemployed or with low income, students (in special cases), and other related cases. So, you would have had to apply and qualify for an exemption to be able to make back payments now.

However, you indicated that you worked abroad – did you pay into any pension programs in the country or countries you were employed? If the country has a social security agreement with Japan and you made pension contributions, the payments may count toward your total contributions in Japan. The rules concerning this vary by country, so you might not qualify, and only certain countries have this kind of agreement with Japan.

This leads me to your second question: Are monthly contributions required for a total of 25 years in order to receive pension payments in retirement?

The official answer from the Japan Pension Service is that you cannot receive payments unless you have paid for a total of 25 years. They offer no proration except for those who were exempt at some point. However, they did say it is possible to assess on a case-by-case basis and emphasized going in person to your local pension office to discuss your situation. Don’t forget to bring along your pension book.

You can find some of the information above via this page (English):

To locate the nearest pension office, see this page (Japanese):

(Thanks to David Thompson for his research assistance.)

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