Living in Tokyo as Students
What are the Living Costs for International Students in Tokyo?

What are the Living Costs for International Students in Tokyo?

Leading a student life in one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world has its perks. At the same time, there’s no escaping the fact that Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world when it comes to cost of living.

So how can you survive on a student budget without breaking the bank while studying in the capital? Here are some useful information and tips.

Housing Costs in Tokyo - Facts and Figures

Housing Costs in Tokyo - Facts and Figures
  • The cost of housing for a single occupant in Tokyo is 1.5 times higher than the national average
  • In Japan, the average cost of housing for international students is 30,000 ~40,000 yen/month
  • Utility bills could add up to 8,000 yen to 10,000 yen/month

In Japan, expenditures for housing and housing utilities such as gas, electricity, water are generally considered the basic living costs. Studies show that costs for gas, electricity and water combined can be anywhere between 8,000 yen and 10,000 yen per month.

So what are the types of accommodation in Japan? Students living away from their families typically live in either shared houses, student dormitories, mansions or apartments - but bear in mind that the types of `mansion’ and `apartment’ are not quite what you may be used to. Here, a mansion is usually a concrete apartment building with three or more stories. A mansion complex is typically equipped with elevators and an auto-lock with a security camera at the main entrance. Some mansions even have doormen and cleaners for communal areas.

On the other hand, an apartment, commonly called an “apaato”, is smaller in scale and is much simpler in its construction than a mansion. A typical apartment has only two floors constructed of either wood or concrete without an elevator.

Rents for these four types of dwellings also differ. Living in a shared house or an apartment tends to be cheaper than mansions, with utility bills split among the residents at a shared house. Rents for dormitories are generally inclusive of utilities and, in some cases, meals - that is, breakfast with dinner or breakfast only. Statistics show that the nation’s average cost of house renting for international students is 34,000 yen per month. But in Tokyo, the standard rent for singles is double the national average and 1.5 times more than the other five major cities in Japan .

Our internal survey reveals that renting mansions or apartments between 40,000 and 60,000 yen per month is by far the most popular option for international students at SIT, with 70% choosing to do so. Around 13% opt for international student dormitories, and 12% live in shared houses. By taking care of the monthly rent and various utility bills individually, your housing costs may add up more if you choose living in a mansion or an apartment than living in a house sharing arrangement or in a dormitory. However, our survey shows students at SIT prefer living off campus with the comfort of having their own privacy.

Here’s a quick, informative summary on housing for SIT students:

  • 70% of international students at SIT rent mansions or apartments within the price range of 40,000 and 60,000 yen/month
  • Concepts of the Japanese mansions and apartments are unique- be sure to understand the pros and cons of different types of housing
  • Living in a mansion or an apartment gives you more privacy than living in a dormitory or a shared house, but bear in mind that you need to take care of your own utility bills

Once you settle on your choice of dwelling and by getting an idea of your cost for housing, you can start planning for other expenditures, which will be discussed in the following chapters.

Your Spending on Food and Entertainment in Tokyo

Your Spending on Food and Entertainment in Tokyo
  • Cost of food will take up 1/3 of your budget if you live in Tokyo
  • Expenses for social entertainment can be anywhere between the range of 5,000 yen and 20,000 yen/month
  • Food and entertainment are the two areas you can have control over and watch your spending

Let’s turn your attention to the “basic needs”. First, you will be having three meals a day, some snacks here and there in order to keep you going, and an occasional drink or two for socializing with your friends and classmates. Brace yourself, food expenses will take a significant portion of your spending in Japan. A study shows that food will eat up about 1/3 of your budget if living alone in Tokyo, with a standard amount being anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 yen per month. So what would be the best way to curb your spending?

Cooking your own food at home is a great place to start. Buy your ingredients from your local supermarkets and grocers. Keep an eye on items like seasonal fruits and vegetables which are relatively cheap. Limit your visits to convenience stores, which are notoriously expensive (albeit a quick and “convenient” option, as the name implies). Instead, stock up on your favorite sweets, snacks or instant noodles at discount shops. If you don’t feel like cooking, buy a bento box or mix-and-match the main and side dishes of your choice at your local delicatessen. They are reasonably priced and freshly cooked on site. You can also get ready-cooked or semi-cooked meals at supermarkets or at food halls of department stores but try and pay a visit right before they close. You’ll be amazed to see almost all retailers are more than willing to slash prices in order to sell whatever the leftover food they prepared on the day. If you are a coffee lover, get your fix for a 100 yen coin at convenient stores - yes, convenient stores! The coffee they serve are freshly brewed and seriously good. You can set aside your cash to spend on a posh coffee at coffee shop chains or some fancy café on a later date.

However, we’re not suggesting that you should dine alone and to restrain your social activities in order to survive on a budget! As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Other than studying, our internal survey shows that international students at SIT like to spend their free time by meeting up with friends, traveling and going sightseeing, and working part-time jobs. Some external studies reveal that singles living in Tokyo typically spend between 5,000 yen and 20,000 yen a month for social entertainment. In order to save some money, check if any restaurants or businesses offer student discounts. Showing your college student card will often entitle you to reduced entries and transport tickets at cinemas, museums, travel agents and the like. Student-friendly eateries also offer special deals. There are many types of discount or free coupons given away on the street or available online. So it’s good to check what’s in store for a bargain hunt- you’ll be amazed to discover what this city has to offer!

Other Costs…

Other Costs…

Food and entertainment aside, there are other expenditures you need to take into consideration; from finding a good student deal for your smartphone, internet cable and television, to your daily supplies of toiletries, cosmetics, laundry detergent, cleaning products and any other expendable items. Commuting costs also vary depending on your housing location. If you find a reasonable accommodation further away from your campus, you are likely to end up paying quite a hefty amount of money for transporting, despite the fact that all major railway and bus companies offer discounts for student pass.

Here are some of the common values:

  • Communications: 7,500 yen/month
  • TV receiving fee: 14,000 – 25,400 /year
  • Toiletries: 7,000 yen/month
  • Clothing: 11,500 yen/month
  • Insurances and Medical Expenses: 3,000 – 3,500 yen/month
  • Transports: 7,000 yen – 18,500 yen/month utili

Furthermore, it’s always good to put some cash aside in case of emergencies or for special occasions. Who knows, you might fall head over heels over a trendy fashion item or the latest model of an electric gadget that motivates you to splash your cash. Or the change of weather might trigger you to rush to the nearest drugstore to get an over-the-counter medicine and some vitamins. Maybe you’d like to take someone out for a date to impress, or to simply let your hair down and socialize with friends after the exam … we can go on with the non-exhaustive list of likely scenarios you wished you’d saved your cash for a rainy day! Just to be on the safe side we estimate that you will need at least another 80,000 yen apart from your housing costs.

*The estimate expenses in this article are based on the year 2018.