As I write this, there are less than 48 hours to go before I get on my planes to Japan. I’ve seen all of my family and most of my friends; I’ve eaten copious amounts of food; I received gifts from both here and overseas; I’ve been given kind words and wise words; I’ve shed tears – who would have thought it? But right now, more than anything, I’m hoping that by the end of today, I will be virtually good to go.
Preparing to travel overseas for a long period of time can be stressful – especially for someone like me who is a keen organiser and who likes things to run smoothly. I can pretty much say that I’ve been preparing to go to Japan since I found out I got the job but there were a few obstacles in my way that prevented me from carrying out specific tasks at specific times. Therefore, my biggest piece of advice to anyone would be to have patience. Sometimes, certain things – especially to do with official documents – take a little longer than others. So in the meantime, do other things that will contribute later to your departure; go to work – make some money; you’re seriously gonna need it because moving abroad can be a big feat. Spend time with family and friends because you’re not gonna see them for a while: anything that’s gonna help you in the long run to make your transition smoother.
As for me and my preparations. This is my story.
Work Pemit? Visa? Passport, if you need one? Get this sorted as early as possible. I can’t speak for other visas such as the Working Holiday visa, Spousal visa…etc but I was pretty fortunate as my company virtually walked me through all the steps. I can’t say for certain but I believe that when you have a company backing you, it becomes a much smoother process which is why I was determined to find work overseas before travelling. I’m not saying that others have had a harder time by simply travelling to Japan to find work on Japanese soil because I’ve come across people who have done exactly this. But I’m nowhere near brave enough to pack up my life and cross into unfamiliar territory with a handful of cash, a pocket full of optimism and limited direction. I would crumble but I admire those who’ve had the courage to do this. All I can say is that I already had my passport and the process of acquiring my visa and associated documents was extremely smooth; it took no more than a few weeks collectively.
After you’ve acquired your documents, I would suggest you book your flight. Now I’ve known people who have travelled to Japan and I reckon that even by checking out the time difference alone, anyone could guess that it’s one hellova flight. As for me, I already had a budget in mind. Instead of Tokyo however, I will be flying to Nagoya so I searched across the internet for a deal. One of the cheapest airlines I came across was China Eastern Airlines. They were particularly attractive to me because they permitted you two checked-in 23kg suitcases, plus hand luggage. But I decided against them because of some of the reviews I’d read. I think that when selecting an airline, you have to decide what’s more important to you, whether it’s luggage allowance, comfort…etc. For me, I knew I would be in the air for a while so I wanted an airline that would keep me entertained so that I forgot about the duration of the flight. In the end, I went through an agent called STA Travel who offer discounts to students and those under 26-years-old. Currently, I’m 25 and they had a deal going (within my budget range no less) with the airline Cathay Pacific which had pretty decent reviews (including confirmation from someone I knew). It’s a stopover flight but my stopover is very short (this was also, important to me) so I get to stretch my legs after a while, but they’re luggage allowance is only 20kg. They do however, allow a laptop in addition to hand luggage.
I spent the longest time racking my brains and trying to figure out how I could get a rather large sum of money overseas without actually having to carry a large sum of money. I think I may have mentioned earlier that I dislike carrying a lot of money on me in my day to day life. Therefore, the solution seems simple enough. Bring a credit/debit card. Only, I’m quite a stingy person. I’ve never liked credit cards and I’m well aware that my bank will charge me through the roof if I even considered using my debit card abroad. Thus, I would lose a lot of my hard-earned cash this way and I didn’t like it. Nevertheless, I knew I would need some cash to use as it would be a while before I got to set up a bank account so I searched high and low and came across a site called Travelex which had one of the best exchange rates going. (Right now, the pound is stronger than the yen). I also, spoke to a relative, who recommended a company called Caxton FX. They provide a currency card free of charge which can be used internationally and which will provide me with the best exchange rate of the day no matter where I withdraw from. And more importantly, there’d be no extra charge when withdrawing or using said card abroad. All I’d need to do was load it with money from a bank account. Result. Lastly, I then emailed a friend in Japan about traveller’s cheques as it’s quite well-known that this method of exchange isn’t very prominent in Japan anymore. Fortunately, the city I’ll be moving to possesses a few establishments that will change the cheques for me. Double result. My money issue was resolved and this brings me to my next point…
I kid you not. Facebook has been my friend these last few weeks. My company put me in touch with some of my fellow teachers. I joined their Facebook group. For women of colour, I joined another group called Women of Color Living Abroad and this too has been a big help as it helped me get in touch with women like myself who had done it all before. Previously, I joined a website called Interpals in order to meet some Japanese people or people working in Japan. I also, joined a site called Japan Guide and posted an ad in the Classifieds section seeking friends and through all this I’ve had some pretty positive results. I’ve therefore, come to the conclusion that by moving abroad, the buffer you have that are your friends and family will not be there anymore. And even though you can still communicate with them – we have Skype, WhatsApp…etc - it’s not the same as having them there in person. What’s more, you’re gonna be walking into unfamiliar territory as living in another country is not quite the same as going on holiday. So get out there and find out as much information as possible. I’ve asked so many questions to so many people. I’ve asked their opinions on certain matters and about their experiences as a whole, and I am grateful to every single one of them. What’s more – who’s to say you mightn’t make a lifelong friend or two on the way. Social networking is the way forward.
Cathay Pacific only allow 20kg but I knew that considering that we’re rolling into winter, I would only need winter garb for the time being. That being said, I have a lot of summer items and the like that I would like to send over to myself. So another concern for me was finding a reasonably priced shipping company in the UK. Remember when I mentioned networking? It really does help to know people. A friend of mine recommended a Japanese shipping company called Nippon Express. They’re rates were pretty good so I contacted them and they sent me out the documentation free of charge. When I sat down to look through it all, it all seemed very confusing nonetheless and their head office was based quite far away from me. Instead, I am opting for a company called CourierPoint which a girl I met on Facebook had her items shipped with successfully. They seem a lot more straight-forward as everything is done online. They’re prices are also, reasonable. Based on the quote I got, I can send a 30kg box for £150 (size and other restrictions apply).
I’ve heard of people spending ridiculous money on suitcases but I bought a large one and a small one for a grand total of £36, both of which sit within Cathay’ Pacific’s baggage allowance. My advice; shop around or use an old one if it’s still good. Unknowing as to where I was going as Peppy Kids have branches all over the place, I blew a lot of money on winter clothing but realised that I was probably going to need some lighter clothing as well considering I’m going to be jumping around with children. I packed the clothing anyway nonetheless because Japanese sizes simply won’t accommodate me; the same goes for shoes as I’m a UK size 8. I’ve put enough cosmetic items in there to last me a month which should be enough time for me to receive my box containing the bulk of the cosmetics I bought. I’ve packed a load of entertainment from Japanese language books and the fifth volume of the A Song of Ice and Fire series to games on my laptop. I bought some travel adapters even though I know that I could have bought some upon arrival. I’ve also, packed some Paracetamol, and Ear Planes – I get that air pressure pain something fierce. I bought a luggage scale to weigh all of this as well and I’ve pretty much maxed everything out.
Got a job? Got a mobile phone? Students Loans to repay maybe? Be sure to alert those that need to be told that you’re jumping ship. I don’t know about other countries but in the UK, if you fail to declare that you’re travelling overseas to work, they will deduct a penalty fee of £250. As for my mobile, I had set myself a new year’s resolution to find work overseas within the year so when my two year contract finished back in February, I downgraded to a 30-day SIM-only plan which could be cancelled at any time as long as I gave 30 days notice. I gave my workplace two and a half weeks notice and cancelled every one of my direct debits. I want minimal drama while I’m abroad. So reduce your stress. Tie up all your loose ends.
There were a few other things that I did in order to prepare for Japan that aren’t on this list, for example, the classes I went to, or the time I took off work in the final countdown but these are the ones that seem to most important to me. I even created an excel document to keep track of my progress. (Mind you, I’m not suggesting anyone should do this as it’s a little extra but this is just my preference). It doesn’t have to be the headache that it might feel like. And don’t feel like you have to do it on your own either. The amount of time it takes to prepare is probably different for everyone. As for me, I feel like I’m ready to go now.
First stop: Hong Kong
Second Stop: Nagoya
Final Stop: Hiroshima