Posted on Mon May, 1, 2017 at 10:25 AM
Its hard for me to write this part of the blog post in 2017. When I moved to Las Vegas in 2006 social media was really young and clunky and a little choppy to navigate. SEO was not much better and finding reliable links was difficult. These days its easy to go down the Google rabbit hole into an expanse of information. Not just because the information is there and more plentiful than 10 years ago but it is also easier to find.
So I COULD summarize this entire part of the blog (preparing for life outside of Japan) with an easy link to the Reddit group "IWantOut". Its an expat subreddit full of links to country-specific visa requirements, cost of living comparisons and a host of other links and docs that can handle all of the big questions you should be considering if you are going to leave Japan and go somewhere else. From here you have countless diving boards available to you to jump into the deep Olympic-sized pool of information on the technical details of emigrating to a different country. As far as information goes, you will find more there than any blog post I could provide. But you have to know what you are looking for; asking the right questions will get you the right answers.
"We know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." --Donald Rumsfeld
Prepare for as much as possible and know that you can't prepare for everything. You are going to miss some big things and you are going to miss some small things. If you are traveling alone, you just need to be patient with yourself and keep this in mind. I arrived at the airport with a small amount of money and a couple of suitcases, and not much beyond that. As I mentioned in my podcast, it was because of my parents (to whom I will forever be grateful) I was able to get started with a car and a bank card -- two things that I didn't use much in Japan but from day one are invaluable in the USA. I struggled through the next couple of months to find a job and a place to live, as well as cheap places to buy food, clothing and everything else. I don't mind the struggle when traveling alone, but when you are traveling with family you have to consider what other people need. Got an apartment? Congratulations. Please don't forget to get at least one set of spare keys for your wife (I'll never live this one down). For me, I didn't care too much about the 1 week delay in getting cable TV service to my new home. My wife was stuck at home with no car and probably didn't enjoy that 1 week. The point being that everyone has different expectations about moving out of Japan and what doesn't seem as important to you might be extremely important to someone else.
Realistically visualizing the experience would have helped me and can help you. Once you get your bags at the airport, where will you go? How will you get there? How will you pay for it? What will you do once you get there? How will you do that? What do you need to do it? Where can you buy those things? How will you pay for it? How will you get them back to your place? It sounds like common sense but its very easy to miss the hidden details. Knowing you need a credit card is one thing but knowing where to get a credit card or how to get one without a bank account and/or residence is tricky. Idealistic types like myself imagine the mystical "credit card store" where you walk in and they give you a card without any fuss. Or the magical supermarket where you can buy anything you need and it is transported effortlessly to your home without need of a car or a bus pass or some way to carry all those bags. We get a little bit closer to this each year but we aren't there yet. Present-day you needs to consider the options. And its better to be thinking about them before you leave Japan than when you are standing at the bus station with hands full of grocery bags and realizing that buses don't run 24/7 in your new town.
There are lots of things that will be "unknown" to you. There will also be the hidden details that you miss because you assumed something incorrectly or forgot about the hard work it took for you to get something you took for granted in Japan. For example you take for granted having a bank account at Mizuho but maybe you forgot how much of a pain in the ass it was to get an inkan and register that inkan, provide proof of residence and do other bank paperwork. It didn't all happen in one day and it certainly didn't all happen as soon as you got off the airplane in Japan. Getting a bank account in your new home is probably going to be tedious too. You can imagine some of the ways and you will be caught off guard by others. Prepare for as much as possible and then be mentally prepared for all the surprises that will come.
Note that all of this is valid whether you are moving to a place you have never lived or even returning to your home town. Time moves quickly these days; technology changes, people changes and circumstances all change. You might find yourself just as much a stranger in your old home town as you would if you moved to a totally different country. Recognizing these feelings of "culture shock" and "reverse culture shock" and dealing with them appropriately are key...