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Finding an apartment in Japan while studying abroad: how to check costs and safety!

Do you know how to go about looking for an apartment to live in by yourself in Japan? International students in particular don’t have a lot of extra room in their budgets, and you may feel worried about safety when it comes to living on your own in a foreign country. Here, we’ll help you sort out how to find a price that works for you, a safe apartment, and what points to be aware of in your search!

・Start by checking the costs!

1. Sign-up costs
When you sign an apartment contract in Japan, you’ll need to be especially careful about the sign-up fees. How much you can reduce these initial fees will have a large impact on how expensive your student life will be. These sign-up fees include 1) a deposit (collected in the event you cannot pay rent), 2. key or “thank you” money (paid to the landlord as a thank you gift), 3. your rent, divided by days, 4. realtor fee, 5. fire/earthquake insurance fee, 6. key change fee, and 7. cleaning fee. Deposits and key money typically cost about the amount of 1-2 months rent. To keep your sign-up fees low, be sure to choose an apartment that doesn’t require a deposit or key money.

Other initial fees can include a fee for 24-hour support, pest extermination, smell removal, etc. You may be able to do without these services in some cases, so if you have any doubts, consult with your real estate agent. In some cases, you may also be asked to pay a cleaning fee at the end of your contract as well. Be sure to remember to check not just the sign-up fees, but the end-of-contract fees as well!

Initial fees may differ even for the same apartment, depending on the real estate agent. If you’re concerning about budget, it may be a good idea to get a quote from 2 or 3 different real estate agents for initial fees.

2. Monthly fees
Every month, in addition to 1. rent, you’ll need to pay things like 2. building/administrative fees, 3. water fees, 4. electrical fees, and 5. gas fees. The market prices for these items may vary by region. For example, where rent in Tokyo may be about 70,000 to 80,000 yen, rent in Osaka and Kobe is about 40,000 to 50,000 yen. Rent can easily be one of the factors that goes into deciding where to study abroad. Building/administrative fees are said to be about 5-10% of the price of rent. It it’s more than this, it may be too expensive.

In order to save money, you should also be careful about the type of gas you have. In Japan, there are two types of gas available: city gas and propane gas (= LP gas). Generally, propane gas is about twice as expensive as city gas. If you’re someone who often cooks meals at home or soaks in the bath, we recommend choosing an apartment with city gas. Some apartments offer water billed at the same price every month or include internet, and these may be good options. Look around and compare, and decide on what works best for you!

・Start by checking safety!

1. The apartment
Though this guidance may apply equally anywhere in the world, if you’re concerned about crime or your safety, select a room with a window that cannot be seen from the street, on the second floor or above! If you’re a woman living alone, apartments featuring automatic locking entrances and intercoms with video monitors are popular. Other factors, such as the presence of a superintendent or security cameras in the elevators and in entrances, may make you feel safer, too.

Also, when you actually see inside the apartment, make sure to check the locks on the door and windows. A door chain that adds a second lock to your door is an especially effective anti-crime measure. If it breaks, or if there isn’t one, ask with a contractor in advance!

In the event of a disaster, the state of the emergency exit and the area around it is important to check. Make sure to check that the evacuation route is not blocked and that the evacuation route is clear while you’re there! Also, properties with emergency doors that are locked from the outside and have brightly lit hallways are less likely to be approached by suspicious individuals.

2. The surrounding area
Most students generally live near their schools. Because of the large percentage of students, the area around schools is said to be a relatively safe place to live. Even so, it’s a good idea to go in-person and check how many people pass in front of the property, whether the path from school or the nearest station to your house is well-lit, etc. There can also be differences in how an area appears during the day and at night, so if possible, try to take a walk nearby the apartment at night to get a sense of what it’s like.

There are other points to consider if you’re looking for a place to live in another country. Aside from what you’ve read in this article, there’s also lots of useful information about how to find an apartment and what points to consider when renting in this Apartment Search Guidebook created by the Japanese government.

Additionally, in Kobe City, there is a multilingual help desk for foreigners searching for apartments. Please stop by if you think it might help you! On this site, too, you can find an article from an international student in Kobe about his experience living by himself. If you’d like to know what searching for an apartment is really like, take a look!

Keep in mind these points, and take a look at a number of different properties. We hope you’ll be able to feel confident to find the right apartment for you!