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Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012

LIFELINES

No automatic enrollment in pension system


Steve wants to know when enrollment in the government's pension scheme actually begins:

"I have heard that the date for enrollment in the pension plan is calculated as 36 months from arrival in Japan, not from entry into the scheme.

"I have been in Japan for four years, working part time the first three and a half. During that time I couldn't afford to join the pension scheme so I didn't. Now I have a full-time job and my company has enrolled me into the scheme — both sides are paying in. If I pay in for three years starting now and leave after that, will I still be able to collect a lump sum of 36 months-worth from the scheme?"

Joining the pension system (either the National Pension System or the Employees Pension System) is compulsory if you live in Japan, although many people, such as yourself, opt out. You aren't automatically added to the system when you arrive in Japan unless your employer enrolls you.

If you have paid into the pension scheme for at least six months, you are entitled to a lump-sum payment of everything you've paid in — up to the equivalent of 36 months' payments — when you leave Japan, should you want it. This issue was covered in our May 24, 2011, column, "Pension payout query: to leave it or lump it?"

If you pay into the pension scheme for 36 months and then leave Japan, your lump-sum payout would be based on those 36 months (the three years between when you started paying into the scheme and when you leave). If, as another example, you left Japan after living here for 36 months but made contributions for only 24 months, your lump-sum payout would total only 24 months-worth of premiums. The time in Japan before you were enrolled in a pension scheme does not count toward your lump-sum payout.

However, as a general note to anyone in a similar situation, if you can't afford to pay into the pension scheme, you can still enroll (as you're supposed to) and apply for an exemption. There are special contribution exemptions for those with financial difficulties or who are unemployed, among others. This is to ensure that people will still be able to qualify for pension benefits later on in life, as they need to meet the minimum 25-year enrollment requirement.

It's also important to note, as we said in the aforementioned May 2011 column, that if you take the lump-sum payout, those coverage years can't be applied to any future pension benefits in Japan — for example, if you were to come back later on. This also means that if your home country has a totalization agreement with Japan, you won't be able to use those years as part of any calculation to bring you closer to the total necessary to guarantee future pension benefits in either country.

For more pension-related questions and answers, please see the following columns from 2011: Apr. 19, May 10 and June 21.

Animal magic

In response to our July 24 column about volunteer opportunities for non-Japanese speakers, @katsndogs and @atashida recommend HEART Tokushima (www.heart-tokushima.com/), an NPO devoted to helping stray, abandoned and neglected dogs and cats. They welcome volunteers to help with a variety of tasks, including care and socialization of the animals.

@katsndogs also suggests Animal Friends Niigata (www.afniigata.org/english/) for those who want to help out with the animals or at events, or who fancy fostering a dog or cat.

Keiko, who is involved with various animal welfare organizations in Japan, informed us that SALA, a group mentioned in the July 24 column, no longer holds an official NPO status.

Ashley Thompson writes unique how-tos about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send all your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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