In this post, I'll recount my experience relocating to Japan after accepting an offer from Mercari.

The first step was getting the Certificate of Eligibility. It's a document that is a prerequisite to getting a visa to Japan. Mercari contracted a relocation company, who handled the CoE and visa application. The actual time between when the company applied for the CoE and when it came back was about 4 weeks, but including processing time on the company's part, it was about 8 weeks in total. There was a hiccup where the relocation company gave the courier delivering my CoE the wrong phone number, resulting in me having to liaise with the delivery company in order to get it successfully. But other than that, the application was fairly uneventful.

After getting the CoE, I had to go to the Japanese embassy to apply for my visa. The visa type I applied for was the Engineer visa. The relocation company gave me a list of documents to prepare, but upon arriving at the embassy, I found that the list was inaccurate, as it was not specific to my country. I would therefore recommend looking up the document list from your embassy's website. The application took 5 working days to process, and upon application I was given a slip saying to be back on a certain day to collect my passport.

I started looking up apartments 1-2 months before entering Japan. Most landlords and housing agencies will not let you sign a housing contract until you arrive in Japan and have a Japanese bank account, and they will not confirm availability until 1 month before your move-in date. I used RealEstateJP to browse potential apartments, because of the customizability of the filters and the high likelihood that landlords on the site would be willing to rent to foreigners. A much bigger site is Suumo, but it's only in Japanese. Another foreigner-friendly company is Leopalace - they have multilingual support and provide furnished apartments. I was communicating with them via email about renting apartments and they were prompt with their responses. However, their apartments tend to be on a smaller side and tend to be apaato (wood walls) rather than manshon (concrete walls), so noise may be an issue.

Some other English-friendly real estate companies I talked to are:

  • Aonissin: Responsive to emails and they even Skyped me while I was overseas.
  • Asumirai: I contacted an agent over Facebook, and he was very responsive. Their apartments are geared towards foreigners, so they don't have key money, guarantor fees etc. Their contract process seems to be simplest, only requiring a passport and visa. No bank account needed.
  • Residence Tokyo: Responsive to emails. Their apartments are geared towards foreigners, so they're furnished and don't have key money, guarantor fees etc. However, their apartments tend to be small - I saw quite a few under 20 square meters for the 100K price range.

I engaged a moving company to ship my belongings to Japan, as I did not want to have to rebuy my wardrobe, cooking tools, or - most importantly! - my gaming desktop and PS4 after moving. I decided to go with Asian Tigers Mobility as they were very responsive and cheaper than another company I got a quote from, Allied Pickford. A representative came to my house to survey my belongings and gave me a quote soon after (on the same day, in fact). It came up to about 300,000Y, which was coincidentally the amount that Mercari would reimburse for shipping. As I did not have a permanent address, I opted to have my belongings stored in a warehouse in Tokyo until further notice. The shipping time from moving my belongings to delivery was estimated to be 20-25 days.

Upon arriving at Narita airport, the immigration officer gave me my residence card. I also had to fill up 2 copies of the customs form and get both signed by the customs officer. The extra copy had to be sent to my moving company, along with copies of my passport.

After arriving in Japan, we were settled into our temporary company apartments, which we would stay in for a month. The apartment is furnished and modern, so I'm quite happy with it. However, as is normal for apartments in Tokyo, the kitchen stove area is small and there's no dining table, so it's hard to do cooking preparations. For that reason, I'm looking to move into a 1DK as my permanent apartment, so that I'll have space for a dining table near the stove.

Mercari also brought us to the local ward office to register our address and get various documents, like our juminhyo. Because they were with us, the process was less confusing and probably much faster than it would have been. We brought our passport and residence card, and ward office printed the address of our temporary accommodation on the back. Once I move out to my permanent apartment, I would have to repeat this process.

Mercari also brought us to SMBC Prestia to obtain bank accounts. Mercari had a deal with SMBC, so we had additional privileges such as waiving the monthly fees. We were given an ATM card, but since we didn't have a permanent address yet, we weren't given a debit card. They told us to come back to the branch after we had registered our permanent address.

Finally, I got my SIM card and mobile number, the latter being required for many things in Japan, like booking appointments. I went with an MVNO as they are generally cheaper and don't give you a SIM-locked phone, which I was not interested in since I already had a phone I wanted to use. The company I chose was GTN Mobile as their rates were reasonable (though not as cheap as LINE Mobile), they had multi-lingual support, and their setup process was simple (no Japanese bank account required). They were having a promotional rate, so I'm currently paying 2980Y/3GB monthly. The contract length is 7 months, which is shorter than many other providers. However, the downside is that for the contract I signed, there is no mobile number portability. I'm currently doing convenience store payments, but I'll probably switch to automatic bank payments in the future.

Overall, Mercari has been very helpful with the relocation process, as things like registering at the ward office or getting a bank account would have been significantly harder without their help. However, because there were 3 different companies involved in the process (Mercari and 2 different relocation companies), I was sometimes given conflicting information, such as which location to go to. So one thing that could have been improved was communication between all the companies involved.