Study Abroad in Japan (Part 1) – Before Leaving: What should I pack and prepare?

If you’re ready to start your study abroad journey in Japan, particularly more than 6 months, pay attention!

If you’re not fond of making plans (as I am), I recommend you pay closer attention.

I’m Diana, and I came to Tokyo in 2022 as an international student to attend a four-year private university. I remember struggling to research information on how to prepare for and set up life in Tokyo, and I surely encountered several unpleasant experiences.

For example, I had to wait another two weeks to start my part-time job because I was unaware that a procedure was necessary at the airport on the day I arrived. Well, I didn’t know skipping a 10-minute step at the airport would take two whole weeks to complete later.

The Sakura Mobile International Students Series is a blog series that aims to give you a guideline on not only how to prepare for studying abroad in Japan but also how to set up your life here from scratch. So, stay tuned for the upcoming parts of this series!

Now, scroll along for tips on packing and what to get done in your home country to start a smart and smooth life in Japan!

Written by Sakura Mobile Blog Team

Hello readers! Sakura Mobile is a SIM WiFi service provider for international residents and tourists in Japan.

Our global editorial team living in Japan will introduce the charms of the country based on what we have actually experienced and felt.


1. What to Get Done Before Leaving for Japan

1) Decide: Dormitory or Room Hunt?

If you decide to live in a dormitory the school provides, following the school’s instructions should be sufficient. On the other hand, if you wish to get a room for yourself, there’s a lot more to consider. Especially if you start school around March, it might be tough to find an available room as it is the peak season for property hunting in Japan. Even if you plan to go property hunting on foot, researching ahead of time is a must. Check here for detailed information about renting in Japan.

But which is better? Dormitory? Private Apartment?

There are clear pros and cons regarding which is better. Here are some pros and cons based on my and my friends’ experiences.

Scroll right for more →→

 Dormitory Apartment
Pros-Don’t need to set up utilities (Gas, electricity, water, etc.)


-Relatively cheaper

-Easier to make friends
-Freedom (No curfew)

-Larger room

-Make your dream room come true
Cons-Might have a curfew

-Room/housemates may turn out to be a nightmare

-Most likely a small room

-Difficult to decorate

-Common facilities may be untidy
-Need to set up utilities (Gas, electricity, water, etc. Responsible for paying every month)

-Mostly unfurnished

-More expensive

-May be lonely

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2) Phone Plans: Switch your original plan & Choose Japanese Provider

If your home country’s websites require a phone number for identity verification, I recommend you find the cheapest phone plan instead of terminating the phone plan. I’ve seen some cases from my friend where she had to find a long way around because they couldn’t swiftly sign up for their home country’s website requiring SMS verification.

A Japanese phone number is necessary to open a bank account, get a part-time job, etc. However, I do not recommend signing up for long-term roaming. As you can imagine, this would be ridiculously expensive. While keeping your original phone number, you can use either a Japanese physical sim card or eSIM. If you are not confident with your Japanese, gathering information and signing up could be stressful. While some main providers have English websites, customer support is usually available only in Japanese. Instead, choosing providers with full English support will save you from stress.

One option is Sakura Mobile, which provides English customer support throughout the year and uses Japan’s largest carrier, docomo’s, high-quality network. Applying outside of Japan is also possible. Sakura Mobile is one of the few providers where you can apply online for a Voice+Data SIM, without a residence address. Apply before your flight, and you can pick up your order at the airport and start using it immediately. I’ll leave the official homepage below!

Sakura Mobile Voice + Data SIM/eSIM

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3) Research: Procedures upon arriving in Japan

The moment you land in Japan, there are procedures you should follow, starting from the airport.

  • Residence card issuance
  • Work Permit Application
  • SIM Pick-up

These are the main things you should do. We will go through how to do this in detail in the upcoming article, so stay tuned! For now, let’s continue with your trip preparations!

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4) Study: Basic Japanese will Save you

Expect the airport to be the last place to be filled with English once you arrive in Japan. My Japanese level was about JLPT N3 level when I first came to Japan, so I could communicate and make inquiries on a minimum level, but I still had some issues. If your Japanese level is zero, and you don’t know anyone who can speak Japanese, I suggest you at least study basic Japanese. From administrative paperwork to buying groceries, a few simple words you understand would help you more than you think. But don’t worry too much. There will be plenty of opportunities to improve your Japanese once you arrive!

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5)Pack Smart: Prepare One Week Before Departure

Packing at the last minute for a trip is fine, as any inconvenience caused by missing belongings will end in a couple of days. Nevertheless, for long-term study abroad, try to open your suitcase one week before your flight.

For one week, you’ll discover there are personal belongings you use every day without realizing it. Slowly write down a list for that week so you won’t have to panic about them on the last day. In the next section, I’ll give you tips on the packing list.

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2. Tips for Japan Packing List

I prepared a must and a recommendation list so you can use it as an essential checklist!

1) MUST List

Essential Documents

  • Valid passport
  • COE (Certificate of Eligibility): Original copy & extra copy (front and back)
  • Student visa
  • Admission letter from your enrolled school: You may be required to show this at the airport

Simple and basic. It’ll be nice to prepare an extra 1~2 copies of the COE and admission letter just in case you are required to show or submit them multiple times at the airport.


  • Visa/debit card under your name

When you make a phone number in Japan, many will require a credit card under your name. Doing without one is possible, but it’ll cause more hassle. However, you can’t immediately make a credit card in Japan with a Japanese bank account. So, I recommend you bring one that can be used internationally from your home country. If you don’t have one, don’t forget to sign up for one in advance.

  • Enough Yen Cash

Did you know that over 70% of Japanese people still use cash? Even though numerous cashless methods are available (such as IC card, Apple Pay, etc.), some restaurants and hospitals still accept only cash. You will likely encounter some instances where you’ll need cash.

Prescription medications

Don’t forget your prescription medicine! For personal use, you can bring up to one month’s worth of any prescription medicine (provided it is not prohibited in Japan). Check the link below for more details about bringing medicine and possibly bringing more than one month’s supply.

Also, birth control pills are available only via prescription in Japan. If you need to continue taking pills, bring at least 1 month’s worth of them so you can continue taking them until you’re able to go to hospitals in Japan after getting health insurance.

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2) Optional: Top 5 Recommendation Items

With the above MUSTs, you can arrive in Japan without any problems. To make things even easier, here are my top 5 recommendations for your packing list.


 Universal power adapter: Japan’s standard voltage is 100 V at a frequency of 50/60 Hz. Bring enough power adapter for all your devices.


 Clothing of your size: Standard size in Japan is different from the western countries. Finding oversized clothing or clothes that fit you perfectly might be especially tough.



 Quality deodorant: Surprisingly, most deodorants in Japan are weaker than Western-based brand deodorants. It’s best to bring your favorite deodorants to keep fresh, especially during the hot summers.



 Laptop: Buying one in Japan could be convenient if you don’t want to use a universal power adapter for the charger, but be aware that the Japanese keyboard layout differs from that of other countries.



  Japanese studying materials in your language: It’s quite tough to find Japanese textbooks in foreign languages other than English.


Don’t Forget Your Japanese Phone Number

Remember to order your Japanese phone number SIM card/eSIM before you head to the airport! Sakura Mobile provides English support for all its products and services, including Voice + Data SIM cards/eSIMs for long-term residents, including international students.

Don’t start your journey to Japan on the wrong foot. Reduce stress by picking up your Japanese phone number SIM card/eSIM at the airport when you arrive in Japan!

Sakura Mobile Voice + Data SIM/eSIM

3. Conclusion

Starting a new life in a foreign country is an exciting experience, but you might have anxiety about moving alone as a student.

I hope this article gives you an idea of what to prepare and pack before leaving for Japan!

If you want more information about life in Japan as an international student (essential administrative procedures, where to buy furniture, etc.), bookmark our blog page and stay tuned for our upcoming series!

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