Did you know that the cost of living and studying abroad in Japan rivals that of Western Europe?
Depending on whether you study abroad in a large city like Tokyo or a tiny rural village, go to a private or public university, or live on campus or in an apartment, the overall cost will vary dramatically based on your choices. Regardless of the price tag though, if you dream of immersing yourself in Japanese culture, studying abroad is the easiest way to do it.
During my junior year, I studied abroad at my university's sister school, Ritsumeikan University, in Kyoto. Because of reciprocal agreements, my program fees were minimal thanks to the ongoing relationship between the two schools.
My shared studio apartment in downtown Kyoto, on the other hand, was not cheap. Despite the spike in rent during my time overseas though, Japan was the most enriching country, culturally and educationally, that I've ever spent time in. I still talk to my Japanese peers, cook Japanese cuisine, and dream of someday returning.
If you're a U.S. student, we have some insights into the total cost of studying in Japan (in USD) so you can plan ahead, find funding, and enjoy your semester abroad without going broke.
Average Tuition Cost for a Semester in Japan
If you're not planning to attend one of your university's sister schools in Japan (if they happen to offer them), you will have to pay tuition to the institution directly. The direct enrollment tuition fees can range from less than $3,000 to almost $20,000 for one semester. If you're on a budget, consider studying at a public university in a lesser-known city or small town to save money.
Third-party study abroad options are also available, but the total costs might be higher due to provider fees. They are generally more convenient as you pay for everything all at once instead of budgeting for yourself, but there are benefits and drawbacks to both.
Here are some sample fees for tuition to study abroad in Japan for one semester:
Tuition for Direct Enrollment Programs:
Tuition for Third-Party Provider Programs:
- CET Intensive Language & Culture Studies in Osaka: $21,990 (2021)
- CIEE Tokyo: $25,450 (2022)
- USAC Japan: $8,242 (2022)
- IES Tokyo: $22,782 (2021)
Average Cost of Living in Japan
Choosing to study abroad in Tokyo will ring up a massive bill, but the countryside won't. The majority of Japan is covered in scenic mountains and gorgeous vistas making most cities equally attractive for prospective students. Consider studying in Hokkaido, Nagano, or Gifu as more budget-friendly alternatives to a major city. Food and rent are significantly cheaper outside of Japan's sprawling urban centers. Plus, you'll be forced to improve your language skills!
Average Airfare & Travel Costs While in Japan
Round-trip flights from the U.S. to either Kansai (Kyoto), Narita (Tokyo), or Nagoya international airports will vary based on time of year, the number of stops, departure city, and arrival city. Smaller airports in Japan will pretty much always cost more. For example, a flight from LAX or SFO in California to Tokyo is a lot cheaper and shorter than a flight from a smaller, further airport like Raleigh or Cincinnati.
I found that the average price for flights from the U.S. to Japan starts around $450 (from the West Coast) and can reach as much as $2,000 as long as you're not booking last minute or over a holiday. My money-saving suggestion would be to plan on driving to the nearest international airport and check flight deal emails religiously. I've seen flights for as cheap as $600 round-trip from my hometown of Pittsburgh to Tokyo during cherry blossom season.
If directly enrolling at a public university in Japan, set aside at least $9,000 as a generous budget for tuition and cost of living during your semester overseas. If you go through a program provider, you'll need a budget of around $20,000 or more as a mid-range estimate.
Other Costs to Keep in Mind While Studying in Japan
What do you like to do? Workout? Eat out? Shop? See live music? Explore? I'm big into rock climbing, which cost me significantly more money in Japan than in the U.S. My gym membership was over $100 per month at a very small facility. Climbing shoes in Japan cost almost double as well. I was able to afford this luxury by spending less on food and drinks. Maximizing your enjoyment is crucial when you go overseas. Therefore, you have to be frugal even when it's inconvenient to do so.
When traveling in Japan, you'll notice that train ticket prices vary dramatically depending on the speed of the train. If you're short on funds but not on time, avoid the shinkansen (bullet train). Shinkansen, although they'll get you to your destination in half the time, are much more expensive, usually double the cost. I recommend taking a shinkansen ride once for the experience, but don't get used to it if you're on a tight budget. If you have a week-long break from classes (or longer) and plan to visit many areas, look into the Japan Rail Pass to save loads of money on travel while getting to take the shinkansen anywhere you please.
Here is a short list of additional costs to factor into your budget:
- Health Insurance
- Cell phone coverage (or an international SIM)
Japan isn't exactly a budget-friendly country, but if you do your research, it can be accessible even for frugal students. If you find that you still cannot afford a semester there, look into scholarships such as MEXT or the Critical Language Scholarship. There are many financial aid resources for students looking to study abroad, you just need to find the right fit.
For more wallet-friendly tips, read our article on How to Study Abroad in Japan on a Budget.
This article was originally published in October 2016 and was updated in June 2021.