My Incredible Welcome to Japan: This Expat’s Experience With Relocation Services in Tokyo

My Incredible Welcome to Japan: This Expat’s Experience With Relocation Services in Tokyo

My Incredible Welcome to Japan: This Expat’s Experience With Relocation Services in Tokyo – I first made my leap into living outside of the United States full-time in 2014 when I moved to Tokyo, Japan. I had previously lived in Singapore during a study abroad semester in 2009 and had returned from a three-month work assignment in China at the end of 2013, but it had been my goal to live abroad on a more permanent basis since I was in high school. My ideal target destination was Japan as I had been studying the Japanese language since I was 12 years old. It took many years of effort, but the opportunity finally came when I received an offer to work as a growth marketer at a Japanese company’s Tokyo office. They offered a fantastic relocation package including covering airfare, shipping my belongings by air, a two-week stay in a corporate apartment, help to arrange my visa, and support from a relocation services company. It was a golden opportunity, so I jumped at the chance.

My Incredible Welcome to Japan: This Expat’s Experience With Relocation Services in Tokyo

Making it Easy: Arranging My Successful Arrival and First Few Days on the Ground

Crossing the border while you move abroad is always a nerve-racking process. Even though I already had picked up my passport with my Japanese visa attached from the Japanese embassy in San Francisco, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my brain making me wonder if all my paperwork was in order or if there would be a regulation or rule that I hadn’t followed. Moving the bulk of your belongings with you halfway around the world is especially challenging since the shipment needs to pass through stringent customs inspections. Thankfully, my company not only offered to cover the air shipping service to get me my things faster, but they also made sure I had the correct documentation for declaring my belongings to Japanese customs at border control.

My employer set me up with a relocation services company to help me to find an apartment and get settled in Tokyo. I got in touch with Martin, my contact, a few weeks before arriving in Japan and he began working on my case immediately. He knew that I had a short time between arriving, starting my new job, and needing to find a long-term apartment, so he came up with some solid living options before I arrived. 

Upon touching down at Narita Airport and making my way through immigration and customs, Martin was in the arrivals lobby waiting for me. He helped me grab money from the ATM for the first time (unfortunately, this is still very important in Japan as many transactions are done in cash), and then we hopped on the long train to downtown Tokyo. Once we arrived, he guided me to the company apartment so I could finally crash after swapping daytime for nighttime in a grueling 12-hour flight.

Studio apartment in Tokyo - My Incredible Welcome to Japan: This Expat’s Experience With Relocation Services in Tokyo

Moving Quickly: Finding an Apartment with a Packed Schedule

The company apartment was a wonderful staging point for my first days in Tokyo. I was given two weeks to stay there and would have had even more time, but another employee arriving from abroad had booked the space. Though I could have found another temporary accommodation to stay in if I needed to, my goal was to have a long-term apartment to move into by the end of that two-week period if at all possible. 

Another complicating factor was that I only had two days in Tokyo to get everything sorted before starting work. I arrived in Tokyo on a Tuesday, had Wednesday and Thursday to get myself organized with the relocation consultant, and then had to jump on a 6:30 am train to Kobe for a company orientation at the headquarters on Friday. Following that short weekend, I would be starting at my new job in Tokyo in an unfamiliar industry on Monday. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare myself for my new fast-paced life in Tokyo.

Thankfully, Martin was all over helping me to get set up as quickly as possible. Those two days were jam-packed with errands across the city. On the first day, he took me to see a spread of six apartments we had agreed on beforehand. I simply needed to follow him from place to place and pick the one that best met my needs.

It was so helpful that Martin knew each neighborhood well. He showed me markets, cafes, and drinking spots he enjoyed. He showed me the subway stations and tips for getting around the city quickly. Most importantly, he really knew the ins and outs of getting an apartment in Tokyo. I wasn’t really looking for much – just a basic studio to sleep in while I explored the city as much as possible – but Martin made the experience as smooth and comfortable as possible. 

Learning about Tokyo as an Expat

Trusting the Process: Learning from the Instincts and Expertise of a Veteran Expat

On my second whirlwind day in Tokyo, Martin took me to sign up for my mobile phone service then to a bank to open an account. We got a great deal at the mobile phone store, including a free iPhone that worked on the Japanese phone system, which was important as I discovered that my old phone from the United States could not access the local networks. Even opening a bank account went smoothly as he directed me to a bank that was more accepting of foreigners than some of the other Japanese traditional institutions. In short, he really showed me his passionate dedication to my move. He was instrumental in helping me understand the lay of the land. With the incredibly short time period I had available, he packed the schedule and expertly managed our days. This was crucial since I didn’t have any time to waste.

I definitely didn’t move to Japan completely green. I already spoke the language quite well, so I was able to get around and ask questions effectively. I know that I’m in the minority of expats that move to another country when speaking another language, so I cannot even fathom how difficult and confusing moving to Tokyo would have been without Martin’s assistance. 

Feeling relaxed after moving to Tokyo

Reflecting on a Flawless Experience with the Relocation Company in Japan

I’m still so pleased with how that company helped to smooth the challenging relocation experience when they brought me to Japan. I know how incredibly blessed I was to go through this relocation so smoothly, and I owe it to both my employer and the relocation services company they matched me with. In less than a week, I was able to find and secure an apartment, set up the phone, utility, and internet plans, establish a bank account, attend onboarding and orientation at my new job, get some proper rest and relaxation over the weekend, and get ready for the first day of work. Moving abroad can be such an unforgiving process, full of confusion, disruption, and disillusionment. I couldn’t have done any of it without a supportive company and an excellent relocation expert. 

Moving to Tokyo with help

Work with Relocation Experts: How to Get the Best Experience While Moving Abroad

I’ve moved to a different country several times up to this point and had vastly different experiences. The common thread is whether I had the assistance of a relocation service or not. My experience moving to Japan was excellent, but the same can’t be said for my incredibly frustrating experience of establishing residence in Germany two years later. I let my guard down and trusted the next company to help me out, though the experience was far less pleasurable.

These experiences informed my next move to Portugal in 2019. My wife and I knew by then that the only way we ever wanted to move to a new country again was with the assistance of relocation services. Since our move took place right during the outbreak and subsequent lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t imagine how we would have moved successfully without the help of a local relocation expert. 

I started Expat Empire as a way to assist other expats in their move abroad. The process is always full of unexpected challenges, so we want to give you the peace of mind you need as you make the jump. Our consulting services will help you get a better idea of what you will need before, during, and after the move!

As the founder of Expat Empire, David McNeill is focused on inspiring people to move abroad and showing them how to do it. David started Expat Empire because he has a genuine passion for living abroad. He left the United States in 2014 and has since lived in Tokyo, Berlin, and Porto.