While Japan is famous for its food, technology, and high-speed rail systems, it’s also famous for something not as fun– bureaucracy. Living in Japan includes an almost legendary system of paperwork, and opening an overseas or domestic bank account as a foreigner is no exception. While some jobs assist you, many do not– and for those of you feeling a little lost, we’re here to help with a list of foreigner-friendly banks, and a step by step guide of how to open an account in Japan.
First of all, Bank Accounts are only available to Zairyu cardholders– that means if you have a tourist visa only, you are not permitted to open a bank account. In addition, different branches have different rules for short term (6 months or less) residents, so it may be advantageous to apply to multiple banks close to your residence or place of work.
As almost all 7-11s and other convenience stores in metropolitan areas have international ATMs, it’s very easy to take out money from most major banks across Europe and the Americas, as well as most other major banks in Asia.
In addition, once you’re in Japan, you should probably get an Inkan, also known as a Hanko. This small, carved personal seal is inked in red and stamped on almost all vital documents in Japan in lieu of a signature. It’s best to get one as soon as possible since almost all documents require one, and unless you have a Japanese name, you’ll have to get one personalized. Most train stations have a hanko-ya close by, or you can order one online– hankoya.com provides a useful delivery service, though its website is all in Japanese.
You will also need a Japanese phone number. This is what trips up a lot of new residents to Japan– because most phone services also require a bank book. Luckily, this hurdle has become much easier to jump over in recent years, as SIM cards have become available at the airport or through online services.
Getting a SIM online or at the airport is easier than ever, and giving yourself a number with a prepaid cellphone will go a long way in preparing you for the next steps. Once you’ve opened a bank account, you can either continue with the SIM or prepaid phone for a short while (less than 90 days) or go ahead and use one of the main telephone service providers.
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Once you’ve assembled a phone number, your Zairyu card, and your bank account, you’re ready to begin! If you already have an employer, make sure your intended bank is allowed by them– some businesses only take certain banks, indeed only certain branches, in order to keep their own affairs in order. It’s not uncommon for an employer to designate the SMBC in Roppongi, for example, in which case you may need to do some special procedures– so have a discussion with them if you’ll be receiving a direct deposit.
Online banking is not nearly as prevalent in Japan as in the US, and most Japanese still do their banking at branches or ATMs. One notable exception is foreigner-friendly bank Shinsei, which allows you to open a bank account fully online, as long as you have over a year left on your visa.
Shinsei has a full website in English, and their online web portal is quite helpful– perfect for someone who needs simple banking services and isn’t always able to get to a bank. They also have full capability at most other banks’ ATMs, and even have some of their own.
SMBC is notable for both its wide usability all over Japan and it’s easy to use debit system. Japan is still in the early stages of debit cards/cash cards, and SMBC is unique in that its ATM and bank card are the same. This is especially helpful for purchasing various items online, as it’s a VISA card and therefore usable on major sites like Rakuten or Amazon.
Credit cards are notoriously difficult for foreigners to get in Japan, so this one is the winner among Japanese debit cards for convenience and simplicity. Their app portal is also much easier to use than their competitors and has helpful visual aids so only rudimentary Japanese is necessary.
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While Japan Post Bank lacks many of the bells and whistles of other Japanese banks, it’s well-loved for both its simple accounts and wide service– if a town has a post office, you can access your bank account. While they generally don’t have English staff or information on hand, they’re generally very helpful, and Tokyo residents can go to big branches like Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Roppongi, where they’re more likely to have English speaking staff.
Wherever you go, you’ll need a Futsuu Yokin (普通預金). Double-check to make sure you’re making this type of account, as there is a limited account sometimes offered to foreigners that will not allow for overseas remittance, and has several other limitations.
Armed with this information, it’ll be easy to find the bank account that’s right for you and you won’t have to worry about setting up a bank account in Japan making your move to Japan much easier!
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