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UPDATED: 7 Things You NEED To Do Before Going To Teach English In Japan

Hello there! This is an update of my first post from last year. I have a few new pieces of info to offer so figured it could use an update. The format has also been changed slightly to make it more blog friendly. I hope you find it useful. Enjoy!

Congratulations! All of your hard work in college paid off and you landed a gig teaching English in Japan. So what do you do between now and then?

I found a lot of websites that tell you how to get the job, but not what to do when you get the good news. Here are a few things you can do set yourself up for success before coming to live and work in Japan.

[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Think about your goals

This one is the most important. When most people apply for a job in Japan it's because they want to live in Japan, explore the culture, and gain work experience. There's no problem with that, but you will have a much better time if you start thinking about what you specifically hope to do in Japan.

Set some smart goals!

Think about your goals for your:

  • personal life

  • finances

  • fitness

  • education

Setting and accomplishing goals will help you get the most out of your time in Japan.

2. Think about your budget

Before leaving, you should know your starting salary and have a ballpark figure of what your monthly expenses will be.

ALTs can have a lot of expenses setting up their new lives in Japan.

That means you'll be spending more money than usual in your first couple of months. If you plan to purchase any big ticket items in Japan (like cars, expensive bicycles, phones, computers, etc), make sure you have money set aside!

When making your budget, it's important to think about how much money you plan to save and how much you plan on spending. It doesn't have to be detailed, a general one is fine.

If you have high-interest credit card debt, paying that down should be your top priority.

Using a credit card responsibly can help you out in an emergency or if you are going to travel. Since you will be living abroad, try to get a card without foreign transaction fees or an annual fee.

For those of you that will have student loans breathing down your neck in the next few months, make sure you look into your payment options and research how to send money back home. If you will be sending money home often, a checking account without incoming international wire transfer fees can save you some dough.

UPDATE: I started sending money to the US using Transferwise (if sign up using this link you can get a discounted or free transfer!).

Transferwise is the cheapest, fastest way I've found to send money!

The fees are cheap and they don't make a profit from the exchange rate (which means you get to keep more of your hard-earned cash!).

I recently sent ¥100000 home. Transferwise charged me about ¥600 and the fee for my bank transfer was roughly ¥500. Compare that to ¥2000 from the Japan Post online transfer or the

¥5000 they now charge to do it in person. Their rate is usually a couple of percentage points off from than the market rate (so they can get more profit) AND they take $10 out of your transfer for a currency conversion fee!

If your home country is supported, the process is pretty painless. You transfer money to Transferwise's Japanese bank account. Once they have confirmed receipt of your funds, they transfer the equivalent amount to your bank account in your home country (your money never actually goes overseas).

Since it's coming from a bank in your own country (and not another country), I'm fairly certain that it DOES NOT count as a foreign wire transfer. This means that you can save a ton on fees over other methods of sending money (but if get a great bank account like CapitalOne 360 Checking you can receive foreign wire transfers for free as well)!

3. Make an exit strategy

Wait, I haven't even gone to Japan yet and you want me to think about leaving? That's right! Even though you're getting ready to come to Japan, it's a good idea to start thinking about what you want to do when your contract comes to an end.

Whether you want to stay in Japan for life, return home and work, pursue graduate school, or move to another country, start exploring your options early.

You don't want to be staring down the end of your contract only to find that you have no skills and no job prospects!

If you constantly keep your professional goals in mind, you'll be able to make a smooth transition to your next job or graduate school when your time teaching English is over.

Reading, studying languages, engaging in community activities, volunteering, and joining professional groups will go a long way toward improving your transferable skills and boosting your resume.

Your plans will more than likely change, but that's all a part of the process. Just keep working towards that next big step!

4. Think about what you need

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This will vary from person to person, but it can help to do some research. Japan has a population of roughly 126 million people and they seem to get by without too many problems. That being said, certain products from your home country will just be a lot better or more comfortable than their Japanese counterparts.

Think about the things that you can't live without or things that you use every day.

Do some research to see if you can get them in Japan or not. Some good websites to check out are Amazon Japan and Rakuten (Japanese site and English global market). If you can't find it, try asking people who are already in the area you are going to if they have seen it.

It is possible to order things from overseas on websites Amazon or eBay and have them shipped to Japan. Based on the products, there may be additional duty fees for importing.

An item most of us will need is deodorant. I've seen posts where people state they have found deodorant in Japan. Either way, I'm good with my Old Spice!

Medicine is also a big one. They have cough medicine in Japan but it's not the same as Nyquil or Dayquil. Most drug stores aren't 24/7 and you don't want to have to decipher kanji when you're feeling under the weather. Multi-vitamins are also available but way more expensive than in the US.

Depending on your size and body shape, clothes may be challenging to find. I'm pretty big even by American standards at 6'2" and 240 lbs so I'm literally HUGE in Japan. At most stores, the only things that I can wear comfortably are t-shirts, socks, and hats. Before leaving, I made sure I had a nice fitting suit, some dress shirts, long pants and good shoes (I'll do a post on finding man-sized clothing later).

UPDATE: Offerings from online retailers have boomed over the past year. Amazon Japan offers many more products at more reasonable prices than ever before (I can actually get size 12 shoes (30 cm)! The cost to ship items to Japan from Amazon in the US is getting cheaper and cheaper!

5. Learn some Japanese

Most job listings state that Japanese isn't required to be a teacher, but your life will be a lot easier with some Japanese skill.

Try to learn hiragana and katakana before you arrive.

When I studied at Josai International University in Chiba, there were a few students that came to Japan with ZERO Japanese. It was a challenge for them to even know what they were buying from the grocery store!

Something else that will help you is practicing is your self-introduction in Japanese. You're going to have to do it a million times so it's worth the practice!

Your teachers and some of the staff will speak English, but there will be a lot of other important staff members (like the principal, visiting officials, etc.) that may not. It doesn't have to be perfect and most Japanese people will appreciate your efforts to learn their language.

If you want to get started, Duolingo has a FREE Japanese course. I haven't tried it myself, but I've been using it to study Portuguese and Vietnamese.

Once you get to Japan, you can take inexpensive classes at local community centers.

If you don't mind paying extra, you can enroll in the Kumon Japanese course.

6. Learn about where you're going to live

Doing a quick search of the city you're going to live in will give you an idea of what your life will be like.

Japan is a geographically small country but the variation in lifestyles is huge.

Life in Tokyo will certainly be different from living in a fishing village in Hokkaido.

Most cities in Japan have community and international centers that host monthly events and classes. These are good places to meet the locals, make friends, and learn more about your town and Japan.

In my area, I often check the Yokkaichi International Center, the Nagoya International Center, and NAGMAG for information about the area and local events.

7. Chill out!

Now that we've come to the end, you're probably thinking about all of the things you need to do before you leave, but don't forget to make time to relax!

You need some downtime before you make the big move.

Your last semester in college was probably hard work, so it's good to take some time to catch up with friends, eat some of your favorite food, and visit family members before your departure.

Moving to live and work in another country can be a bit of a shock to the system, but the rewards you'll get from it are worth it. You'll want to make sure you're in the best shape, both mentally and physically, so you can enjoy your time in Japan!

That's it!

That's all for this post. How was your experience? Did I miss something? Feel free to comment below, thanks for reading!

If you like this post, check out these other ones!

The 6 Books You MUST READ Before Coming To Japan

Reflections of my First Year as an ALT

If you're moving to Japan, here are 12 things you will probably want to bring

8 Great Habits for Expats To Slow The Grey, Reduce The Grizzle, And Stay Gaijin