The Four Most Important Documents You Need If You’re A Foreigner Living In Japan

Passport, Bank Book, Gaijin Card, Insurance Card. The Bread and Butter Foreigner Documents.

Living abroad is a thrilling experience, it’s one of those things I will forever look back on as something that truly changed my life for the better. Getting here initially can be quite daunting for some, I know it was for me. Sometimes just not being able to make heads or tails of things can be pretty hard. So in today’s brief article, I wanted to mention the four most important documents you will have, as a foreigner, while living in Japan. I highly recommend making copies of these things just in case and being ABSOLUTELY sure you know where these documents are at all times. These four may seem like common sense to some of you. But if you’re on your way to Japan, or interested in coming, I think they’re worth mentioning.

Document Number 1: Your Passport (RYOKEN. りょけん. or PASSUPO-TO. パスポート) & Visa (SASHO. さしょう. or BIZA. ビザ)

I would say this above all the most important document that you will have in your possession as a foreigner. Why? Because it’s the document that’s the precursor to all others when living in Japan. With no passport, you can’t come to Japan in the first place.

Inside of your passport is your visa. The visa is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Your visa lets you know how long you can live and work in Japan and in what capacity. Business visas, Entertainer Visas, Specialist in Humanities Visas (the one I had during my first three years), Instructor Visas, and more.

So unless you have a Japanese Green Card (which means you can stay permanently) which isn’t very common here for foreigners, your passport and visa are an important part of your stay. Keep it up to date :)

Document Number 2: Your Alien Registration Card (GAIJINTOROKUSHO. がいじんとうろくしょう. 外人登録証)

You need your visa and passport (along with a valid address…and a job/income source perhaps?) before you can acquire one of these. Once you have this document, though, it becomes equally (if not more) important than even your passport during your stay in Japan. Banks will use it to identify you, apartment complexes will use it to keep record of who you are, the Internet cafe will ask you for it in order to sign up (but you can use your passport for this, too, I think. I used my temporary Alien Registration form from City Hall (thanks for the reminder, Alana)), if you lose something on the train and pick it up from the lost and found, they’ll ask you to see this very card (trust me, it happened to me last week :O ). Hang on to this one, and keep it updated, too.

Document Number 3: Your Bank Book (TSUUCHOU. つうちょう. 通帳) & ATM card (KYASSHU KA-DO. キャッシュカード)

In my opinion, the most important financial document you will own in Japan. I don’t know what to do if you lose it because, knock on wood, I’ve never done it. I would imagine that you can let your bank know, and they might be able to cancel it. Although Japanese society is a bit more forgiving when it comes lost items and the like, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Once your bank book is out of printing space it’s pretty easy to get a new one from your bank, it takes me literally about one minute to do. At Joyo Banks there is a machine that you feed your old bank book into, wait for about a minute and out comes your old bank book and your brand spanking new one. I’m sure most banks will follow a similar procedure.

Document Number 4: You Public Health Insurance Card (HOKENSHO. ほけんしょう. 保険証)

This one is kind of tricky. I actually don’t have one of these cards anymore, reason being that with the company I work for didn’t issue me one. But isn’t that illegal if Japan is on the public health insurance system? Well, not exactly. It’s kind of like a loophole. I believe the number of work hours listed in my contract, makes having the hokensho much more expensive than if I were working for a company with greater contract hours, so the company isn’t required to provide it. I am currently on a private insurance plan that uses a reimbursement system to handle doctor/hospital visits (InterGlobal), pay 100% upfront, get paid later. However, after how much money I had to dish out last month for medical expenses, on my mere teacher’s salary, I am really weighing the options of going from a private health insurance company back to public.

With these four documents safe and sound, you should be able to do just about everything you want to do while living and working in Japan. Are there other important documents? Yes, of course. But I feel that these four documents are kind of like the precursors to everything else. Without these, you might be hard pressed take care of things you may take for granted in your home country from getting a phone, to getting a driver’s license, to picking up packages at the post office, etc..

Does anybody else have any other documents you care to add?


Donald Ash

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  • Spouses of Japanese need a visa too! It is a Spouse Visa.

    You need to show them a job offer to get the Alien Registration Card.
    If you don’t have your card yet, you must show a paper you get from city hall. You can use this paper in lieu of the card to get a cell phone, for example.

    I really don’t know if public health insurance is any cheaper. My first year was great, 30 bucks a month, because I had never filed taxes with Japan. Now I pay about 250 dollars a month, plus paying money when I go to the doctor. This month, 60 dollars for the emergency room, 16 dollars for the skin doctor and 12 dollars for medicine. You are lucky you are a guy because birth control is astronomically expensive compared to everything else. :/

    • Donald Ash

      I appreciate you stopping by to share Alana :) . Thanks for clearing up the spouse visa thing, I made sure to fix it in the post as well. . When I came to Japan I was a bit of a laggard with the cell phone, I waited until after getting my Alien Registration Card to actually get one.

      I was able to use that temporary paper from city hall to sign at the internet cafe, though.

      I don’t even want to think about how much birth control costs. That has to be pretty rough :(

      Please stop by again.

  • Sean Patton

    Alana, do you know if the job offer requirement is specific to spouse visa holders? I have spoken with the Consulate-General of Japan in Canada and was informed that you don’t need a job to get your alien registration card. This may be specific to working holiday visa holders however, since one of the requirements to obtain it is that employment is not your primary purpose for being in Japan (another is that you have “sufficient funds” – $2,000+ – to support yourself). The application for the registration card has a field to list employment (if any), but I think that’s just so they have that information ahead of time (since you need to register employment changes by law). It wouldn’t surprise me if they have different requirements for different visa holders, though.

    • Sean, sorry if I was unclear. The job offer is for everyone except spouses (I imagine). I needed to show proof of employement. My Visa type is “As Instructor” maybe if you have a different type, you don’t need it? I’m sure the consulate knows what they are talking about, more than I do!

  • I would say a VALID driver’s license is essential, too!!!

    Not a total must everywhere but very useful.

    Many jobs won’t let you apply unless you can drive.

  • SammyJo

    On the passport issue- I highly recommend scanning the pic page and email it to yourself on an account you can access anywhere (yahoo/gmail). Why? If you lose your passport or have a house fire having a copy makes getting a new one easier. A co-worker thought I was crazy until he was out of the country and it saved him a huge hassle. For good measure email a copy to mom.

    • Donald Ash

      THat is an AWESOME idea, Sammy. You know I think I’ll do that right now as a matter of fact. Thanks!

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