Is Tokyo too expensive for digital nomads?

You’re in love with Japan and plan to spend a couple of months in Tokyo? Great choice, you’re in for a treat! You eagerly check NomadList to see what other fellow nomads have to say about the city, and this is what you see:

Tokyo is ranked #293 with a nomad cost of… 3,433$ per month. Ouch.

Tokyo always had a reputation for being an expensive city to live in. The good news is: this is just a reputation. Consumer Price Index since 1992 is a complete flat line. This explains both Tokyo’s “reputation”, and why it’s not as expensive a city as it used to be.

Let’s break down that NomadList cost and see what we think is a bit overestimated (as well as what’s not taken into account)…

Accommodation

…starting with the biggest expense of all, accommodation. Now, let’s be clear: if you’re looking for a 50sqm (roughly 500sqft) one-bedroom apartment, you will probably be disappointed (and wait, are you really a nomad?). The cheapest, most convenient, and basic go-to option for those who want to stay a couple of months are share house. It also happens to be a really good way to meet locals and fellow travelers, and you won’t be annoyed by paperwork.

Here is a list of links to find your next home in Tokyo:

Sakura House, Oak House, Borderless House, TokyoCityApt, Create, Craigslist

You can also find more nomad-dedicated places, like Tokyo Chapter or BeLiving. They’ll organize events, introduce entrepreneurs, and overall connect you to the right people.

Last but not least, you don’t need to be in the city center. It’s even difficult to pinpoint what the actual city center is, and it often refers to very posh neighborhoods dedicated to expat living. There is so much more Tokyo can offer in terms of local living, and up-and-coming areas such as Shimo-Kitazawa or Meguro can be a perfect base for a short stay.

One last thing you need to know: rents are very “linear” in Tokyo, and mostly depend on the neighborhood, distance from the nearest station and building construction year. This means two things: you’ll always get what you pay for, and you have access to the full range of prices.

Budget: 80,000–100,000¥ / month (700–900$)

Food & Drinks

Normal day

Now you have a place to stay. What do you eat? On this side, it’s difficult to argue with the NomadList rate: 800¥ for a lunch and 1,200¥ for dinner will be the minimum you’ll spend.

Budget: 3,000¥ / day (25$)

Party time

That’s when things can get out of hands pretty fast. A lot of places offer all you can eat & drink for as low as 3,000¥, but if you’re the party type you’ll probably hop from one bar to another, and finish your night (or early morning) in one of the local clubs.

Budget: 8,000¥ per party night (70$)

Transportation

Transportation in Tokyo is not cheap. That makes the choice of your home + base coworking combo very strategic: you basically want to be able to get to work by bicycle every day. Getting your hands on a bicycle itself is pretty easy, and sites like Craigslist or Sayonara Sale lists options for all budgets. Fun fact, since it’s costly to get rid of pieces of furniture, fridge, television, etc… a lot of foreigners leaving Tokyo will just give them away.

Now if you really have to, a train ride can cost anywhere between 1 and 3$ depending on where you’re staying, and there are very few discount options. And yes, avoid rush hour.

Budget: 5,000¥ (45$) for a bicycle, 300 to 600¥ (2–5$) a day for commute.

Coworking Space

We did an extensive reviews of the best nomad-friendly coworking spaces in Tokyo, some of them even including accommodation in their offering:

In terms of budget, Nomadlist is probably overestimating a bit, as most places to remote work are 40,000¥ (350$) a month and below. For drop-in options the range is usually 1,500–2,000¥ (12–17$), and when push comes to shove you still can stay at a Starbucks, which are everywhere, for a whole day.

Budget: 20,000¥ to 40,000¥ monthly (180$ to 350$)

Mobile Data

Five years ago travelling to Japan was sometimes turning into a Wifi hunt: most coffee shops did not have free wifi, and getting a temporary SIM card was basically impossible. MVNOs came in, and you have now access to the full range of plans, from 1Gb single-use to 2-month (almost) unlimited data.

TokyoCheapo is keeping an almost exhaustive list of offers up-to-date:

Speaking of TokyoCheapo, as its name stands it is going to be your go-to resource for all the good deals around the city, from cheap accommodation to free sightseeing experience.

Budget: 2,000 to 3,000¥ monthly (18$ to 27$)

So Tokyo… expensive city or not?

Not accounting for flight ticket, our overall monthly budget starts at 180,000¥, or roughly 1,600$. Getting to Tokyo while on an Asia tour (think Bali, Vietnam and Thailand for example) might be your best bet, and you can find rather cheap flights to and from those destinations, starting at 350$.

Should you come? If you are a Nomadlist fan and going down the list city by city, with Tokyo ranked at #293 you may actually never get there. But listen 2 minutes to Anthony Bourdain talking about the city, experience it by yourself, and you might reconsider your nomad life for a second!

Lastly, if you’re considering nomading to Tokyo, feel free to ping us, and we’ll be happy to guide you through the city.