John was born in Kamloops, B.C. and moved to the US at a young age until graduating from university. He has lived in Japan since 1990 and spend the majority of his career managing mobilizations of expats and their families to and from Japan. He is currently preparing to relocate back to Canada.
As a Consultant and Advisor helping Canadian expatriates around the world, Paul supports many clients moving back to Canada from Japan. He has also taught Japanese MBA students in Canada, learning from their experiences of adapting to life in Canada.
Welcome to the resource page for Canadians moving back from Japan! Here you will find a range of considerations, suggestions, and considerations to help you prepare for a smooth and confident (if not exciting!) return to Canada.
The main Moving Back to Canada resource page has links to a full set of resources for you to access, so be sure to check it out as well!
Returning to Canada after living in Japan is often a major life transition for Canadians. Japan has a very distinct society that differs from Canada's in many important ways. As a general rule, the longer you live in Japan the more impactful the differences will be on your re-integration into Canadian society and on your learning to navigate Canadian systems successfully.
This resource page can help Canadians moving back to Canada from Japan learn more about how to prepare ahead and be ready for their new life here. Thankfully, most returnees have adopted some great ways of doing things in Japan. Of specific note is the length of time taken by most Canadians living in Japan to plan and prepare for a move back (1-2+ years) and the care taken as to where to move to in Canada. Taking the time to plan and prepare...and being careful are hallmarks of the Japanese societal ways of doing things!
John shares an introductory thoughts on how the differences between Japan and Canada may impact returnees:
I've described Japan as being, "Not broken. It just works.", so the little things could potentially pile up to cause undue stress for returnees.
(The short section)
(The longer section)
Shipping your household goods from Japan can vary widely depending on how much you ship. Several freight consolidators have offices in Japan, which will include your items with a container heading back to Canada. An issue with this is you have less control over the timing and storage of your items. Air freight can take up to 1 week and consolidated sea freight items will arrive in approximately 5-8 weeks.
Sea freight is measured in volume and air is measured by the actual physical weight. Some shippers have a minimum amount, which depending on the shipper, can be around 35 sq meters for sea and 10 kg for air. Please note most shipper's costs decrease per unit with the more volume or weight.
For larger quantities of household belongings, a 20' sea container is likely sufficient, though 40' containers are also available. If you have enough belongings for a 20' or 40' container it is best to discuss your needs with an international moving company in Japan.
It is important to note that some items simply can't be shipped out of Japan, regardless of destination. Common sense applies here but to clarify, according to Japan Customs a general list is items which can not be shipped out of Japan are:
If you are packing a whole household of personal belongings and furniture when you are leaving Japan and wish to use full moving services, here is one recommended company that John shares: (John and I receive no commission or other kickback)
Asian Tiger Mobility
Do you have a moving company in Japan you recommend for Canadians leaving to return to Canada? Please let me know so I can add them to this section of the resource page. Thank you!
Here are John's considerations and recommendations as you prepare to leave Japan:
When you are ready to leave Japan after being employed for any number of months or years, it's important to understand how taxes are handled in Japan. If you are a full time employee, your employer will process a year-end adjustment during your final payroll period, regardless of when you leave. Once the final payroll is deposited into your account your final Earnings Statement will be issued showing the gross and net compensation for that calendar year, as well as appropriate deductions such as health insurance and pension. Keep this copy and if you think you'll need another one, it's not a problem for the payroll processing department to create a second or third copy. Upon deposit of your final payroll amount, your tax liability should be complete.
This up the most common question asked when foreigners leave Japan, "Can I get my pension from overseas?". The simple answer is "Yes.", provided you jump through the required hoops of filing a request for it. Please note that the request can only be filed from overseas and the amount due back from your pension contributions will only be wired to an account outside Japan. I recommend consulting your employer's accounting or HR department for particulars, as the process can be quite tedious, and can only be done by you. Sorry no proxies allowed.
If you are an independent contractor who files their own taxes, it's important you retain copies of the last return you filed, be it either eTax or in person at the tax office.
Needless to say, taxes are processed and managed differently in Canada. To learn some important aspects of Canadian taxes as you get ready to move back to Canada, please see the Tax, Accounting, and Banking resource on this web site.
John explores some aspects of Japan that you may find interesting and useful to know as you prepare for life in Canada:
Leaving Japan can be exciting, frustrating, and bring a plethora emotions; wanted or not. Japan's trains, convenience, high quality food / drink culture, safety, and politeness of the Japanese can be tough to leave. No longer being a foreigner and becoming someone who no longer stands out is reverse culture shock.
One of the things you may face that could take some getting used to is transportation. Japan is one of the best countries in the world for public transit and one where you really don't need a car. Also when going out, be it for food, a day trip to an onsen, or an island resort off Okinawa, everything tends to be uniform, meaning how tickets are purchased, how trains operate, what cashiers say when paying a bill. This can make life quite easy in Japan. However going back to Canada you may feel frustrated by what may seem like a lack of enthusiasm for the services provided.
An area people have noted about leaving Japan is how clean it is compared to other countries. The clean streets, lack of panhandlers, graffiti, narcotics (legal and illegal), and well maintained public facilities. Japan's famed washlets are not common, but you may see syringe disposal boxes in bathroom stalls.
Summary: The differences between lifestyles in Japan and Canada can grow in number the more you look for them. The goal of this resource is not to make one country better than the other but rather to take the time to prepare to take advantage of the great lifestyle you can create for yourself in Canada. It will be a different lifestyle than in Japan for sure.
Suggestion: Visit Canada for at least 2 weeks before moving back. Take time to really understand what lifestyle you would like to create here. This effort and time will have a big payback in how fast and comfortable your transition to life in Canada will be.
John writes here about navigating processes (systems and services) and life in Japan for foreigners. What is important to know for arriving in Japan, living there, and...preparing to leave. Understanding leaving processes will be new for Canadians getting ready to depart Japan permanently:
Whoever has spent any amount of time living in Japan knows that the country presents a unique set of circumstances for foreigners, including but not limited to, language and cultural barriers and a lack of understanding of how processes work. Despite what can seem like a myriad of misshapen processes, disjointed bureaucracies, and socialist public services, Japan simply works, once you understand it. The most important step a foreigner can take when starting to live in Japan, and preparing for leaving Japan, is to understand the processes and follow them. There are instances where a foreigner is given the benefit of the doubt for not following a process correctly, however those days are slowly coming to an end.
The health care system is smooth in Japan. 70% paid by the coverage, 30% paid by the patient (frequently in cash upon leaving. Also children's health care is free until about (I think) through Jr. high school. There are only 2 health care coverage plans, and you are required to be enrolled. No choice. It's taken out of your pay monthly. Japan's health care is simple. Though some would challenge the quality of care.
Paul, on the Canadian health care system:
Canada has a public health care system, which is almost free for most people on an insurance basis but with extra costs when expensive and multiple prescriptions or very special health circumstances arise. In major cities in Canada it is quite hard to get a traditional family doctor and most people use drop-in clinics for their non-emergency medical needs. For many people, Canada's health care system works just fine. But for others, it is very difficult and stressful, particularly if they desire instant full medical attention at all times and for all circumstances, as is available in the U.S.
The Health Care in Canada comparison page between the U.S. and Canada on this site can help those returning from Japan understand the health care system in Canada better.
Summary: In Canada information on most government service processes are available online. And in some cases government services themselves can only be accessed online! There is no office you can go to. This may be new to those returning from Japan. And other processes, like banking, public transportation, insurance, etc. will also be different. As mentioned earlier, a 2 week or more visit to Canada can also be a big help in familiarizing you to systems and services here. As can be time spent online, learning about how government and other systems work in Canada.
Of course, if you are reading these very words, you are already doing some of the online exploring that can help you prepare for life in Canada!
Canadians returning from living in Japan have one very big difference to prepare for in terms of real estate: In Japan foreigners typically rent (lease) their living space but they may be able to buy their own condominium, townhouse, or house in Canada. The process of going about leasing and ending a lease in Japan is very different from either renting in Canada or buying real estate in Canada. If you have been away from Canada for many years and have never owned real estate in Canada be sure to research and understand how the buying process works here. See the dedicated Buying Real Estate in Canada resource page on this web site for more information.
John notes the process of leaving a leased dwelling in Japan:
Housing leases are 2 years and when you leave, damage inspections happen fairly quickly after moving out. Living normally, I would say most people get around 75% of their deposit back.
Summary: One of the exciting things about moving back to Canada is the possibility of owning your own property, whether it is a condo in Vancouver, 20 hectares of natural land in a mountain valley, 500 hectares of farmland in Saskatchewan, or a lake-front cottage in Ontario. Or...you get the idea. If you are very comfortable in the small, structured, organized, and highly integrated nature of living space life in Japan, expanding into the possibilities of what is possible - and desirable for you - in Canada can be overwhelming. Take the time now, before you move back, to really understand what you desire in terms of living space when you return. Doing so can be a big help with your transition back!
As the Japanese Yen is one of the major world currencies, there are timing implications when converting money between Japan and Canada as part of a move back.
As can be seen by the graph, the exchange rate between the YEN and CDN in early 2019 is hovering around the average of the last few years. There is no significant advantage or disadvantage to repatriating funds to Canada at this time.
Some foreign exchange considerations:
John shares his suggested list of things to do before you leave Japan. There really isn't a set-in-stone sequence of when to do things outside of closing your bank account and canceling the cell phone last:
Canadians living in Japan planning on moving back to Canada: Please share your ideas, thoughts, and experiences relating to returning to Canada from Japan. I will post your thoughts here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big thank you on behalf of the many people you will be helping!
Latest update to this page: April 2019.