Many people are considering studying abroad these days. However, it is also a fact that the financial burden can be an obstacle to many. Adding insult to the injury, education loan applications are also mostly restricted to domestic students, which means that without monetary support from parents, one can hardly expect to fulfil the dream of studying abroad without getting a full scholarship with monthly living expenses like the MEXT Scholarship.
This, however, does not mean that you should give up if you have missed your shot for the MEXT scholarship. In the previous article, I have recommended some great scholarships that offer up to 100% tuition reduction to highly qualified students. Some of them even offer monthly living expense assistance so that recipients can live comfortably without taking on part-time jobs for extra cash.
Now you might be wondering, what if I only received a tuition reduction scholarship? Don’t give up just yet! In this article, I will provide some tips and tricks that will help you survive your college years without breaking your wallet.
1) Get a Realistic Estimation of the Cost
According to JASSO, an average monthly cost of living in Japan is 89,000JPY, including rent. Note that the cost may vary based on the area, with metropolitan areas such as Tokyo costing around 100,000JPY monthly to live comfortably. From my own experience, the cost can be brought down a little if you regularly cook by yourself. However, I do not recommend planning the budget that is too tight, as it will stress you out in the long run. From my personal experience of living in Japan as a student, I recommend having at least 100,000JPY of disposable income each month.
If you receive only partial tuition reduction scholarship, tuition fees will also need to be taken into account. Note that the admission fees for the first year can range from 200,000 JPY to 400,000 JPY depending on each university. The tuition will range from 535,800JPY per year for public universities and up to a few million yen for private ones. With the cost in mind, enrolling in private universities with neither full scholarship nor financial support from parents will be almost impossible, as international students are only allowed to work for up to 28 hours per week.
2) Look for Additional Scholarships You Can Apply for
This tip sounds obvious, but it actually helps. Generally, students who only receive tuition reduction scholarship can apply for additional scholarships that will provide financial support to privately financed students in the form of a one-time payment or monthly support.
Depending on the scholarship, university recommendation might be required. It is worth paying attention to application deadlines since universities need to conduct prior screening to select the students they would recommend. The most up-to-date information can be found at your university’s department of student affairs. If you want to check out the comprehensive list of scholarships available throughout Japan, check out JASSO’s official informationhere.
3) Hustle Your Way Through Part-Time Jobs and (Paid) Internships
For self-financed students, Japan can be one of the most flexible options out there. International students with “College Student” visa status can apply for a work permit that will allow them to work for up to 28 hours per week during the semesters and up to 40 hours during spring and summer vacations.
If you are self-financed, or if you want to rely on as little support from your parents as possible, part-time jobs will be your major source of income during your stay in Japan. Although the minimum wage in Japan differs by region, you should be able to earn reasonable monthly income to support your daily life by working around 20 hours per week. You can also make the most out of your skills by taking on part-time jobs that suit your skills such as teaching, IT engineer, UI/UX design, graphic design, etc. Not only that high-skilled part-time jobs can look great on your CV, but they also generally pay better!
If you want to gain some working experience, taking up paid internships can also be a great alternative way to make ends meet. Check out this article, where I discussed this in more detail.
Getting regular part-time jobs is pretty simple and straightforward. As labour shortage becomes a major problem in Japan, foreigners who can communicate in basic Japanese can get a part-time job easily, without much effort. Don’t worry that you will not be able to find a part-time job, as there are always plenty of vacancies out there, waiting for you to fill in.
4) Find Ways to Spend Efficiently
From cooking by yourself to finding a roommate, there are multiple ways to lower the cost of living when you live in Japan. This guide to Tokyo for beginners can be somewhat applicable to those living in big cities as well.
From my personal experience, knowing shops and supermarkets in your neighbourhood will be great for your wallet in the long run, as some items are usually cheaper at one store than another. You can just simply remember which of your favourite grocery items should be bought from a particular store. Even better, you can also create a dedicated shopping list for each of the supermarkets near you. Note that this only works for densely populated areas, where multiple supermarkets and stores can be found within a walking distance.
Another efficient cost-saving strategy is living in a share house. The rooms in share houses are generally fully furnished and ready-to-move-in. Not only that you have to spend only minimum effort for moving in, but you can also save on rent and utilities since the rent of share houses are generally cheaper than that of the apartments in the same neighbourhood. If you don’t like the idea of living with strangers, finding a roommate can also be a great way of keeping rent to a manageable level.
5) Always Be Prepared for Emergencies
I cannot stress this enough. Even as a student, it is extremely dangerous to live paycheck to paycheck, especially when you are living away from home in a foreign country. Make sure you have at least 100,000 JPY for the emergency fund. Keep it separately from your general account to avoid overspending, and make sure not to withdraw from emergency fund unless it is extremely necessary to do so.
When you first arrive in Japan, it is also very important to make sure that you will have enough money to live comfortably until you manage to find a part-time job. To avoid putting too much pressure on yourself, make sure you have at least 500,000 JPY to pay for rent, utilities, and necessary expenses for your first few months in Japan, as you might not immediately find a job upon your arrival.
General medical expenses are quite low, as foreigners are also covered by the National Health Insurance that only requires 30% co-pay. However, the cost can still be hefty if you happened to develop serious illnesses. This is where your emergency fund will come in handy.
This survival guide is written based on my own experience as a self-funded international student in Japan. It is meant to be used for reference only, as things may vary depending on the situation. Note that the figures provided above are subject to change in the future. Refer to the official sources for the most up-to-date information.
I hope this survival guide has given you a clearer idea of what studying abroad in Japan might look like from the financial perspective. Although studying abroad is a major decision that needs to be thought out carefully, I think the experience will help you grow immensely. What you get will be worth every single yen spent on this journey.