Japan has become one of the top 10 most popular destinations for U.S. students studying abroad. According to the President of the Institute of International Education, Dr. Allen E. Goodman, “International experience is one of the most important components of a 21st-century education, and study abroad should be viewed as an essential element of a college degree.”
Across the globe, the number of students spending time overseas is at a record high, yet few U.S. colleges students go abroad. According to NAFSA, the number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit during the 2015 to 2016 academic year grew by 3.8% from 313,000 students to 325,000 students from the year before, but this statistic represents only 1.6 percent of all higher education-enrolled U.S. students and around 10% of U.S. graduates . Many students are wary of the price tag of international study, but the cost of study in Japan may be the same or even less than a semester at your home university.
Gain new perspectives, priceless memories, and a competitive advantage with future employers by following this guide to studying abroad in the world’s third-largest economy:
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PROGRAM
Studying abroad, like all educational experiences, is an investment in your future. Select a program based on what you want to learn, from language skills to specific courses.
Research the partner programs your home university may offer or recommend. Be sure to check how many credits will transfer and whether each program includes housing, meals and insurance.
Search hundreds of programs at StudyAbroad101, which includes student reviews, and IIEPassport.
Costs vary widely. Nanzan University’s Center for Japanese Studies, for example, partners directly with 30 U.S. universities and has offered its programs for over 40 years. A semester at Nanzan costs around $5,600 for tuition, housing, insurance and field trips for 2019 . A semester at the CET Intensive Japanese Language and Culture Studies at Osaka Gakuin University costs $20,990 for 2019 , significantly more even though it includes housing, course materials and excursions.
Interested in applying directly to a Japanese university? The website Japan Study Support includes information on approximately 1,300 schools open to international students, 700 of which are universities or colleges. In 2009, Japan launched the Global30 initiative for full degree programs in English at 13 top universities. The English degree program at the University of Tokyo, ranked first among Asia’s top higher-education institutes, costs only $7,400 annually .
Scholarships and Financial Aid
You have many scholarships and financial aid options, including federal funds. First, speak with your university about how your current aid or loans could apply abroad. Also, look for program-specific scholarships and check out IIEPassport’s excellent Study Abroad Funding along with Diversity Abroad and CEA Study Abroad. The Japan Study Support website also lists scholarships for international students.
How Much Will Study Abroad Cost?
The cost of living in Japan is actually 25% lower than living in New York City , even with Tokyo as the country’s most expensive city. The Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) estimates that international students across the country spend around $1,340 for all monthly expenses, including tuition .
Planning Your Trip
Many programs include flights, housing and meals. If you are arranging these on your own, some budgeting tips are below:
Flights will likely cost over $1,000 round trip. You should check websites like Kayak to compare different prices and pay attention to luggage fees. According to an Expedia study, the best flight deals are on Tuesdays, 50 to 100 days before your departure.
• Passport, Visas and Insurance
Make sure you have a passport that is not about to expire. Students planning on staying in Japan for over 90 days must apply for a free student visa and purchase Japan’s national health insurance. Typically it costs less than $25 per month to belong to one of the best healthcare systems in the world .
Take advantage of university options for housing. Programs often include a range of choices from dormitories to home stays to apartments with local roommates. According to JASSO, international students throughout the country spend around $300 a month on housing .
• Cell Phones
Check whether your phone will work in Japan and how to avoid roaming charges. If you bring an unlocked smartphone, you can rent a data-only SIM card relatively cheaply per month, or you can rent or purchase a pre-paid phone .
Food: Beyond Sushi
Japan has a wide variety of quality, economical food options and you don’t even need to tip! JASSO estimates that food costs international students around $215 a month . Restaurants cost about half the price of those in New York City. As little as $3 could buy you a bowl of ramen or a domestic Japanese beer at a restaurant. You can also find better deals at diner-like teishoku-ya or izakaya pubs. For a splurge, the average cost of a three-course meal at a Japanese restaurant is just $40! 
Enjoy one of the most sophisticated, efficient transportation systems in the world. The average one-way local ticket is about $1.60 and a Tokyo metro day pass costs under $6 .
Compare buses, trains and plane ticket prices when traveling the country. A seven-day Japan rail pass costs around $260 , and domestic flights can be reasonable. Take advantage of free tourist attractions like Tokyo’s Imperial Palace and the Sumo Museum.
The Bottom Line
The best education takes you beyond the classroom to new, memorable experiences. Research program and scholarship options, talk to your university, make a budget, and you could be on your way to the Land of the Rising Sun!