Almost a joy. Almost.
Last week I submitted a tax return for the first time in Japan.
Well, I submitted a tax return myself for the first time. Last year my wife's accountant did it for me.
I'd also been in to the tax office to claim some tax write-offs related to the 2011 earthquake, but that wasn't during tax filing season.
This time I went to the office myself, and I went five days before the deadline. Eeek.
Thankfully the tax office here in Japan is a paragon of what public servants should be: efficient, organized, polite, and professional. Even at the busiest time of the year they managed to get a clueless, unprepared idiot like me through the system in less than ninety minutes.
What you will need to file your taxes at the tax office in Japan:
- Your My Number information
- Any statements of income (源泉徴収票)
- Receipts, etc.
- Proof of other earnings/expenses (mortgage, medical expenses, dividends)
This time I was mainly going because I had forgotten to do the paperwork to claim my furusato nozei donation. I figured it was also a good chance to learn more about the system.
As I drove up to the tax office there was a line of stopped cars stretching back 200 metres, waiting to park at the office. I drove past and noticed the signs for the overflow car park (300m away) where I managed to park immediately. A good start.
The genius of the tax office is that they break the waiting into manageable chunks, so it never feels too long. I ended up:
- Talking to a reception staff member who told me which queue to join
- Queuing to get a number after discussing my situation (there were three 'types' of filing)
- Sitting and waiting for my number to be called
- Sitting in a different area waiting
- Having someone look over my paperwork and discuss my case with me
- Queuing to do the tax return
- Doing the tax return on a computer with someone helping me and one other person
- Queuing to print the return
- Queuing to hand in the return
For steps five and seven above, speaking Japanese and knowing a little bit of how the tax return works was very helpful. I had to type stuff into the computer, including the address of organizations that had paid me for stuff. I had to ask for help with reading some of the kanji in the addresses.
On the other hand, the person helping me told me about having to help someone who didn't speak Japanese earlier in the day, so that is also possible (although I presume it takes longer).
I found it very interesting that they make you do the return yourself on a computer, using the online tax filing system. Presumably this is to encourage people to do it at home in the future and thus reduce crowding at the tax office.
Having done it once with help, I think it would be pretty easy to do it online (you need a My Number card and reader to do an online filing, if you don't have these you can do it online, then print it out and send it to the tax office by post).
One other advantage of the online system is that it auto-calculates, so you can put stuff in and see what it does to your taxes, then take it off again (see the dividends below).
However, based on what I was told yesterday I probably don't need to go in to file my taxes in the future, at least as long as I remain a salaried employee.
I learned three things during my visit to the tax office:
- Three different people told me my income was 'high', which was interesting. I was under the impression that it was average for men my age in Japan, and low given my educational background, etc. I certainly don't consider it 'high' ;)
- All the furusato nozei stuff can be done using a simple form you send back to the people that you donated to. I knew about this, just didn't get round to doing it in time (deadline is January).
- Dividends and gains from stocks are taxed in a funny way here. As long as your investments are in a tax-reporting (確定) account, taxes will be done by your broker and you don't have to file a tax return. You may choose to file a return if you want to carry losses over, etc. In my case, filing a return meant I owed more tax (about 10,000 yen) on my dividends, so I asked them not to include them. What this seems to mean is that in practice dividends are taxed at a lower rate than income, as long as you have them in a tax-reporting account and choose not to file them.
So I learned a lot from visiting the tax office. One thing I learned is that if I have to do this again in the future I will do it early in the filing period (in February) rather than just before the deadline. I also learned I don't have to do anything to declare my dividends, etc. as long as they are in a tax-reporting account (this also applies to THEO). Finally, I learned that doing a tax-return isn't that bad. I'll look into it more in the future and see if there are any good ways to save on taxes as a salaried public servant.
Anyone else do their own tax return? Are there any good resources to learn how to do it? Any other ways to save on taxes? Did I miss anything?