2014 | www.selectasset.com
Foreigners frozen out of Japan's government Assistance? Don't believe the hype

A ruling by the Japanese Supreme Court in July sent ripples through the expatriate community when it clarified that non-Japanese residents did not qualify for the same welfare payment benefits as Japanese citizens. The ruling opened up discussion of what government assistance people living in Japan are eligible for and what programs exist to deliver that assistance.

Firstly, let's look at what the ruling actually refers to.

The Supreme Court declared that foreigners are not entitled benefits coming under the category of Seikatsu Hogo, or Public Assistance. This system is a safety net for when all other systems have failed and, while specific sums vary from municipality to municipality, it basically covers essential needs such as:

  • Assistance with rent payments

  • Water bills

  • Medical bills and prescriptions

  • Personal living allowance

Decisions about welfare are now debated at the municipal level
The Supreme Court ruling, however, does not mean that foreign residents are automatically disqualified from making claims – rather it leaves the decision up to individual municipalities. Indeed many city offices, particularly those in areas with large foreign populations, appear not to discriminate between foreigners and Japanese nationals when it comes to Public Assistance.

Nevertheless, Public Assistance only applies to about 1% of people in Japan, and for most will only come into play under extreme circumstances. Instead, Japan has parallel systems of insurance and specifically targeted assistance, which are open to all (and in many cases participation is compulsory).


  • Employment insurance: While Public Assistance only applies to those made redundant unwillingly, employment insurance can help tide you over during a voluntary career change. Signing up can be done through the government employment agency Hello Work. The amount and duration of payments will vary depending on the reason for leaving your job. If you were fired, the start of payments can be delayed by anything up to three months. However, employment insurance can provide up to 80% of your previous salary for a period of six months.

  • Pension: Participation in the Japanese pension system is compulsory for all residents in Japan. In order to start receiving payments, you need to have been working and making payments for 25 years. To receive the full pension, you need to have been working for 40 years. Most full time workers will be part of the Employee Pension Insurance System, while part time workers will generally join the National Pension System. For those foreign residents not planning to live in Japan until their retirement, there are exemptions for some overseas nationals, including those from the UK, USA, Australia and Canada (excluding Quebec). Alternatively, upon leaving Japan, pension rebates can be given as a lump sum.

  • Health insurance: Another compulsory program, Japan's National Health Insurance covers 70% of healthcare costs for adults and 80% of costs for children and pensioners. Payments into the scheme are means tested, with the system also capping the total costs that can be incurred within one individual month at levels again determined by income.

  • Child Allowance: Parents are entitled to monthly payments of ¥15,000 for children under three years of age, going down to ¥10,000 for children over three and continuing up to graduation from junior high school. Primarily for single parents and depending on the specific circumstances, there are also the Child-rearing Allowance and the Dependent Child Allowance. For residents starting families, local city offices can provide free checkups for babies, and lump-sum birth grants of ¥420,000 payable either direct to the hospital to help with medical fees or if you choose to give birth overseas, the money can instead be paid directly to your bank account.

Most people of reasonable means, need not worry
Overall, Japan provides foreign residents with a wide range of social protections and many kinds of additional assistance, including those outlined above as well as means tested childcare facilities for working parents (although competition for public day-care facilities is fierce, and waiting lists are the norm). Bear in mind that specific provisions will vary depending on the municipality, so it is recommended to check with your local ward or city office. However, for the most part, despite the recent media hype, foreign residents should find that they are covered to the same degree as their Japanese neighbors.