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.
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.
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 usually 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 comfortably and enjoyably.
This resource page can help Canadians moving back to Canada from Japan learn more about how to prepare ahead and become ready for their new life in Canada. Most returnees have adopted some useful habits during their time in Japan that can help with a move back. Of specific note is planning: Most Canadians living in Japan plan and prepare for a move back 1-2+ years ahead and they take care 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 and will serve you well for making the move happen smoothly and confidently.
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 1-2 months. In 2021 and into 2022 this has stretched to longer timelines of 2-4 months due to shipping and logistics delays world-wide. Anticipate potentially longer timelines right now for moving your household belongings to Canada by sea.
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. As noted above, timelines for sea containers may take 8, 10, or 12+ weeks to get to Canada at this time.
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 includes:
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 a 2 week period long before moving back. Take time during this visit 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.
This is likely the most important area of consideration when you are thinking of moving back to Canada. I cannot stress enough how serious this consideration is. In the 20 years of helping Canadians return from countries around the world it has become very clear that moving a Japanese born spouse and children to Canada is almost always a significant and serious challenge. From no other country is moving them as difficult. Not even from Switzerland, the other most highly process-oriented country in the world. Japan stands alone in this regard.
"Wow! Why? What is going on here?"
Simply put, the highly structured systems and life in general in Japan are very useful and trustworthy for everyday life. But they also create a frame of reference and mental model that structures the minds of people living there in a very particular way. This frame of reference is so strong and so exclusionary to other ways of thinking that when a person is pulled out of it and confronted with a very different frame of reference it causes severe distress. Oh, not when on a vacation to a foreign place. Then, non-Japanese ways of thinking and doing things are interesting and entertaining. But when faced with having to live in a non-Japanese place and have day-to-day interactions with a non-Japanese culture, the frame of reference and mental models are not compatible and distress typically sets in.
Often severe distress.
"Oh, they will adapt. It just takes time. You are over-exaggerating."
No. Full stop. No. They usually don't adapt. And so, families turn around and return to Japan, a spouse will leave you and go back by themselves and with your children, and in almost all cases, adaption challenges, resentment, and emotional trauma results.
"Seriously?! How can it be that bad?"
It is. Study the history of Japan to learn why the islands of Japan have a very distinct, structured, and particular approach in all aspects of living. Canada is a more structured country than the U.S. or other places, but still very different from Japan. From family life to school to work to social contexts the nature of life in Canada can be very uncomfortable to many people moving here from Japan. From "we", "dad makes the decisions", and "how to do all things is structured and understood" to "I", "I must make my own decisions on many things" and "life is fluid and changing". A fundamental shift in reality.
For the purposes of moving back to Canada, your key takeaway is that you must be very, very cognizant of what it takes to successfully move your Japanese born spouse and children to Canada. And if you have been living in Japan for many years and decades, then you, too, may find it a challenge to adjust. A Canadian-born colleague I worked with who had just moved back from Japan flew into rages at how un-Japanese behavior was in Canada and how despicable it was. He was a very unhappy person who had actually "gone native" in Japan. Not only had he become entrained in the Japanese mental structures, but more seriously, had come to see them as superior to any other ways of thinking. This belief that the Japanese way of thinking and doing things is superior is a potential "Achilles heal" that can make changing and adapting to another culture very challenging.
Suggestions for your consideration:
Practical ideas for moving Tweens and Teens (10-20 years of age)
In addition to the highly valuable family discussions noted above (if you can do them) there are some practical things you can do for tweens and teens that you can't do with younger children. Because moving tweens and teens is such a challenge I asked for practical ideas from people who have moved back from Japan and from a Japanese-Canadian family living in Canada. Here are some practical things you can do to help tweens and teens before and after you move:
"Gosh, Paul, you are pretty serious about this subject!"
Yes. But it comes from so many experiences with returning families and my own teaching of Japanese BA and MBA students in Canada, most of whom struggled to get used to Canadian culture and ways of doing things. A move to Canada can work for mixed Canadian/Japanese families. But it takes real effort, planning, and support. Otherwise bad things usually happen. Sorry: No "softening" this conclusion. I have helped over 1500 individuals and families move back to Canada from all over the world. Moving Japanese spouses and children - and repatriating yourself if you lived in Japan for a long time - are the most challenging returns from any country in the world that I have witnessed and supported.
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 some major cities in Canada it can be hard to get a traditional family doctor and most people in these places 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, a house in Ontario, or a lake-front cottage in Quebec. Or...you get the idea. If you are very comfortable in the structured, organized, and highly integrated nature of living space life in Japan, expanding into the real estate possibilities 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 to Canada!
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.
Source of the data for this graph: OFX - Foreign Exchange.
As can be seen by the graph, the exchange rate between the YEN and CDN as of the latest update to this resource is somewhat below the average of the last few years but rising. There is a small disadvantage to repatriating a large amount of funds to Canada at this time. The trend has taken a slight turn recently and may going up further (though of course it could up or down at any time due to economic changes and other events in the world). If you have time to plan your move and exchange funds to CAD then watch this rate for an improvement before doing so and you could save at least hundreds of dollars or likely many thousands of dollars on a large amount.
Some foreign exchange considerations:
See the Transferring Money and Foreign Exchange resource page on this site for more information and recommendations of foreign exchange firms from other returning Canadians.
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 cancelling 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: January 2023.