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I moved my family to Japan on an ancestry visa. The paperwork was daunting, but our healthcare is better and cheaper.

Jordan Pandy   

I moved my family to Japan on an ancestry visa. The paperwork was daunting, but our healthcare is better and cheaper.
  • Veronica Hanson and her family moved to Japan on an ancestry visa in 2022.
  • Her healthcare costs less in Japan, and the bike-friendly streets save her money on transportation.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Veronica Hanson, 37, about her experience moving from the US to Japan with her family of four. Hanson's grandparents are Japanese, so she and her family can apply for long-term residency through what's colloquially known as an ancestry visa. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I'm from Lake Oswego, between Oregon and Washington — right by Portland.

There were multiple times over a couple-year period where the air was unbreathable because of the wildfires. I just exploded and said, "We don't have to stay here, let's go."

At that time we chose to go to Arizona. Once we realized we could work remotely, it was two months from arriving in Arizona to when we were living in another country.

We first moved to the Dominican Republic. It was easy because it's a developing country. With first-world countries, it's a lot more complicated.

My parents told me they would join us in leaving America if we could find a way to move to Japan. So that was my task.

Settling in Japan was a paperwork nightmare

We applied for the Japanese ancestry visa. You have to present your ancestors' birth certificate, which in my case was both my grandparents, and a bunch of other paperwork proving your financial liability, and that you're not a criminal.

Our motivation to move to Japan really had to do with wanting to stay connected with my aging parents and them wanting to be within a first-world healthcare system.

Japan was still locked down when I moved here in March 2022.

Americans were still totally blocked out from coming, which is why it became an immigration paperwork nightmare.

I had to come here in order to physically turn in my request for my husband and my two kids to join me. So I was actually here by myself for two months, from March until May, until their paperwork was approved.

We had to pay a large portion of our rent upfront

In the Dominican Republic, getting a place was very much like, "Oh, you want to rent this place? Cool. You want to move in today?" Just a handshake and it was just nothing.

In Japan we live directly in the heart of Tokyo. I know everyone thinks that Tokyo is a city, but it's more like a state. I live in Minato, which is the actual city within Tokyo.

Here, the fact that neither my husband or I earn yen, only US dollars, totally complicates things.

We just paid six months rent at a time, that was the negotiation of how to get this place rented to us. It was four months worth of rent as a deposit and six months paid in advance.

We're in a 110-square-meter (1,184-square-foot) house spread over three levels. We pay 600,000 yen ($4,070) a month.

My expenses in Japan are a fraction of what they were in the US

Our healthcare budget for all four of us combined is 25,000 yen per month. That's around $200 versus the little over $1,800 we were paying for healthcare in the US.

As far as food and stuff goes, I would say that's comparable because some things are higher, some things are lower, and we do a lot of cooking at home.

I do feel like the food is much higher quality here. So even though I'm paying the same, I feel better about it because it's so localized. Almost every grocery store is like Whole Foods where it tells you where it's from. It's just very organic feeling.

Back in the US, I had an electric car and I think my monthly payment was around $680. There was obviously no gas, but it was a big expense.

Here we definitely spend about a third or less just using public transportation, and we also all got bikes. I haven't really loved biking here — I'm a nervous biker.

Being from America, we are not a bike culture. You needed a car to do what we were doing in terms of commuting. I just haven't really gotten on board with the bike thing.

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