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Living in Tokyo

Living in Tokyo, although a mind-blowing experience, is not without its pitfalls. If you have never been to Japan before, life in Tokyo will not come without a culture shock. With our InterNations guide, you will learn all about healthcare, education, and other aspects of an expat’s daily life.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, you will probably notice that Japan is a relatively homogeneous society, ethnically and culturally, but Tokyo is an exception to this rule. Nearly 490,000 foreign residents are currently living in Tokyo Prefecture, among them numerous expats from China, the Philippines, or South Korea.

Living in Tokyo’s central wards is especially popular among more affluent expatriates. We have described this in our overview of moving to Tokyo and the neighborhoods that expats prefer.

This article should give you a brief introduction to daily life in Tokyo. If you have seen the award-winning US movie Lost in Translation (2003), you may remember that it depicts the city as lonely and alienating. Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of solitary life in Tokyo was criticized for its caricature of modern Japan, which is a far cry from reality.

Staying Safe in Japan

The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake resulted in a tsunami and a nuclear disaster around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The area surrounding the nuclear plant has seen a dramatic increase in radiation levels and large sections are still closed off to the public.

Radiation levels initially increased in Tokyo as well, and various governments issued travel warnings for Japan. However, these warnings were lifted a long time ago, and the Greater Tokyo Area is now considered safe.

There are no other travel health warnings for the Tokyo area at the moment. As far as immunizations are concerned, doctors recommend a standard set of tetanus, polio and diphtheria, measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles), influenza, whooping cough, Japanese encephalitis, and hepatitis A/B vaccinations.

Crime levels in Japan as a whole are low; however, there are reports of drink spiking, pickpocketing, and credit card theft. Tokyo’s entertainment districts such as Roppongi, Kabukichō, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro are particular hotspots for this kind of petty crime. If you do find yourself a victim of crime, the emergency phone number for the police is 110.

Healthcare

Foreigners interested in living in Tokyo may be glad to hear that medical standards in Japan are very high. Using the National Health Insurance scheme, many medical procedures in Japan are far cheaper than in the US or Canada. However, it is worth noting that the recipient is expected to make a financial contribution, even if they have insurance. A first consultation will usually cost somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000 JPY.

The language barrier is often the biggest problem for expatriates. Doctors and nurses in Japan do not necessarily speak English or another foreign language. Therefore, some embassies offer lists of recommended medical service providers for their nationals living in Tokyo. A list of English-speaking doctors has been provided by the US embassy.

Medical Insurance Options

As a foreign resident living in Tokyo for one year or more, you have to enroll in the national healthcare plan (see our article on living in Japan). Unfortunately, some doctors, medical specialists, and clinics catering to foreign residents are private and may not accept public health insurance. Expats often take out additional health insurance from a private provider, which can cover you for extra treatments not paid for by the public health insurance scheme, such as certain dental treatments and vaccinations.

If you don’t have any private medical insurance, always enquire first if patients enrolled in the Japanese National Health Insurance plan are welcome. However, if you can afford it or if your employer is willing to support you, getting private healthcare is essential for expat life in Tokyo.

Medical Costs

If your doctor accepts the options of the National Health Insurance Plan, don’t forget to bring your health insurance card to every visit. Otherwise, you have to pay in cash. Please note that at clinics and hospitals you usually have to pay for 30% of medical costs from your own pocket immediately, as they are not covered by the public option. For treatment given to children under three years old, the insurance will repay 80% of the costs, but you may still be required to pay upfront.  

Most patients with private medical insurance also have to pay on the spot and then file an insurance claim to be reimbursed later. If you have private insurance, make sure to check if your insurance provider offers a direct billing service at selected clinics. Many international clinics in Tokyo also accept credit cards as a form of payment. Since this is not a given, however, make sure to ask about payment methods and billing options beforehand.

Further Medical Information

If you have any further questions on medical care in Tokyo, just call the AMDA International Medical Information Center. They provide information in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Spanish, and Filipino (+81 (0)35 2858088).

A similar service in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Spanish is offered by the Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center for foreign residents living in Tokyo. It is available daily from 09:00 to 20:00 (+81 (0)35 2858181). The latter also has a translation hotline for medical services (+81 (0)35 2858185).

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Edmund Taylor

"Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city."

Marina Salgado

"In such a huge city, InterNations has created great events for expats to meet in Tokyo."

Global Expat Guide