Buying Property in Hokkaido as a Foreigner
There are many reasons why expats and foreigners want to buy property in Hokkaido. Sapporo, in particular, is a major city (5th largest in Japan), with excellent quality of life, and a reasonable cost of living. Hokkaido offers extensive opportunities to experience nature from world class skiing in the winter, hundreds of miles of beaches in the summer, and hot springs (onsen) all year round.
Hokkaido is a wonderful place with a lot of opportunity.
Is it “Easy to Buy Real Estate in Hokkaido?”
To answer that question, foreigners looking to buy a house in Hokkaido should consider two stories – the “official” and the “unofficial” reality of the real estate business in Hokkaido. The official regulations are simple and straightforward. The unofficial details of the process for expats buying property tell a more practical story.
The first story is the “official story” of the legal access to property in Japan, and it’s true: In terms of regulations and laws, the Japanese government makes it relatively easy to buy property here in Hokkaido. Spending foreign money to buy a house in Sapporo, maybe to buy a condominium in Niseko, or to buy land as an investment is unrestricted. Combined with the stability of Japan, and the clean, safe, daily life here, living or investing in Hokkaido is an attractive choice.
The second story is the “unofficial story” of the actual process of buying real estate in Hokkaido as a foreigner: And that is perhaps more difficult in practice than viewing a few properties and writing a check (they don’t even use checks in Japan, but you can learn all that after you have a place to live).
For international buyers, there are three significant hurdles to buying and utilizing property in Hokkaido:
- Immigration Requirements in Hokkaido
- Doing Business and Speaking Japanese
- Access to Capital for Real Estate Loans in Hokkadio
Foreigners Immigrating to Hokkaido
Japan takes immigration seriously, and while you can buy property in Japan rather easily, that doesn’t mean you can stay indefinitely. A typical tourist Visa allows visitors from some countries to stay for up to three months. Visitors on a student visa can stay for up to two years, but as a student, many features of permanent residency are not available (and even opening most bank accounts can take some effort). To stay on a long-term basis, a foreigner need a visa that allows for temporary residency. One example is to be employed by a Japanese company. A working visa (which is renewed each year) can begin the process of permanent residency. For entrepreneurs, a business manager visa is another route, but that requires capital investment and other standards of eligibility.
Not every foreigner that invests in real estate in Hokkaido wants to live here year round, but for those that do, the immigration process is one of the first challenges. It is worth taking seriously.
At Find Hokkaido Agents, we have extensive relationships with immigration lawyers that can advise you about various paths to immigration to Hokkaido as a foreigner, and can help you process the applications and paper work for visa status. Contact us for a referral. We are happy to help.
Doing Business and Speaking Japanese
Hokkaido is not particularly ethnically diverse. Even more than in other Japanese cities like Tokyo, Hokkaido is a city populated almost entirely by proper Japanese. On a average year, there is a lot of tourism into Hokkaido, much of which comes from Asian countries (including China). On a typical day in downtown Sapporo, you might see one to ten Western faces in total. Daily life is very pleasant and the local Japanese are welcoming enough. But more than the ethnic homogeneity, the language barrier is a substantial challenge to daily life and for selling and buying real estate in Hokkaido.
It should be no surprise that they speak Japanese in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is much less English-friendly than even Tokyo. That is true for trying to read a menu at a restaurant, and also for doing business in here, including working with Hokkaido real estate agents, local banks, the government, etc.
One of the first logistical challenges is finding a place to stay. Hotels (or services like AirBnBs) provide a short term (but rather expensive) solution. There are also “long-term” furnished apartments in Sapporo and other cities (which can be rented for months at a time, usually at higher rent than more standard accommodations). And beyond that, for truly long-term stays, foreigners have to begin to work with local Hokkaido real estate agents to rent an apartment or to buy a house in Hokkaido. And while technically speaking there are no barriers to purchase for foreign buyers, speaking Japanese (or failing to) presents a real challenge in terms of access to real estate agents and a willingness by the Japanese to do business with the expats trying to buy property.
Speaking Japanese goes a long way in Japan. And speaking Japanese is not easy. For foreigners that speak English, Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to master. The US Foreign Service Institute provides estimates as to how long it takes to learn various languages. For languages like Spanish (which is considered a “Category 1” language) it might take 24-30 weeks of intensive study to achieve competency. For Japanese (which is considered a “Category 4” language, the most difficult class of languages) it might take 88 weeks or longer. Living in Hokkaido will help you toward your goal of speaking the local language, but for most people, there is no short-term solution to the language barrier.
For foreigners that can invest the time to learn, coming to Hokkaido on a student visa to study Japanese provides two years to learn the language and integrate into the culture before some other immigration solution must be addressed. While a student visa offers no official benefit to buying property in Hokkaido, it does allow you to be in Hokkaido for an extended stay while you search for property. If you buy a house or condominium while on a student visa, you could certain live on your property during the time up until your visa expires.
At Find Hokkaido Agents we can make introductions to several schools that can provide full-time instructions and potentially sponsor a student visa for that two year period. We have an extensive list of contacts and can easily provide recommendations. Contact us for more information.
And for other buyers (or foreigners that want to rent an apartment in Hokkaido) that are utilizing other immigration options (a working visa, etc), Find Hokkaido Agents can help solve the language challenge by connecting you with real estate agents that speak English (or your preferred language). We have the most extensive database of real estate agents in Hokkaido, with hundreds of relationships with agents. As international buyers and renters try to find a real estate agent in Hokkaido that can help them conduct business in their native tongue, we can make person-to-person recommendation to agents that speak English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Russian and other languages. We offer personalized introductions to agents to help you buy real estate in Sapporo, Niseko, Asahikawa, Otaru and all populated regions of the prefecture.
Our specialty is helping foreigners and expats sell, buy, rent or least real estate in Hokkaido without speaking Japanese. We have personally done deals before we were fluent. And we’ve helped clients from all over the world sell, buy, and rent without speaking Japanese. We make it easy for you. When you’re ready to get started, we can help.
Not only can we offer immigration referrals and introductions to real estate agents in Sapporo and other major cities, but we can provide introductions to pre-screened real estate lawyers and Sapporo tax consultants that have experience supporting foreigners as they sell, but or invest here in Hokkaido. We have recent, personal experience in all of these areas and we are happy to help.
Real Estate Loans for Foreigners
The last significant challenge for foreigner buying Hokkaido property is access to capital and real estate loans for expats in Hokkaido. While locals buying a primary residents can easily take on loans at surprisingly low rates, foreigners will have trouble finding loans in Japan.
As a rule of thumb, foreigners should assume they cannot borrow money from traditional Japanese banks to buy property in Hokkaido without permanent residence. Assume it cannot be done. It is possible to find a smaller, more local bank that might be willing to extend a loan in some circumstances (if you’re employed by a well-known Japanese company), but banks will reject most applications from non-residents. Foreign buyers should plan to bring financing to the deal from personal funds or from lenders outside of Japan or traditional local banks in Hokkaido.
Real Experience with Hokkaido Real Estate
Foreigners and international buyers trying to do business in Hokkaido have a lot of opportunities, but the potential of Hokkaido comes with some challenges.
Find Hokkaido Agents was created after the president of the company personally experienced many of these challenges with immigration, language difficulties, various success and failure with real estate agents, experiences working with lawyers to create Japanese companies for business here, and with Hokkaido tax professionals to help guide local transactions and tax consequences with the country of origin. Those experiences inspired the motivation to create the service we provide: Personalized, pre-screen introductions to help foreigners sell, buy, rent or lease real estate in Hokkaido.
We have an extensive database of professionals in all these disciplines. We offer person-to-person introductions in English and many other languages. Contact us, and we can make your experience in Hokkaido easier and more successful. We are happy to help.
We work for you, not the real estate companies.
We provide person-to-person introductions to prescreened agents that help you sell, buy, lease, or rent property in Hokkaido. We search our custom database to connect you to real estate professionals that speak your language, address your needs and are available now to help you find what you want.
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