A smarter way for foreigners to do banking in Japan

by Paul Goodchild

japanese_currencyWhen you’re at a any social gathering, there are do’s and don’ts – certain topics are socially permissible, some certainly are not.  Sometimes you’ll find yourself boring the your counterpart when going into great depth about your passion for traditional Japanese Flower Arranging (生花 – ikebana), but you won’t cause any offence.  Mention Japanese banking on the other hand, to people living in Japan for any length of time, and you’re likely to bring a party mood to a full-stop very quickly for anyone within ear’s reach.

Banking in Japan for foreigners has been painful at best, and downright torture at worst. There are many reasons for this, for which a whole website alone could be dedicated.  This article is here to save you pain and frustration so you can go straight to the source and avail of some of the better retail banking in this country.

What you need

Before setting off on your journey to a branch you will, as is nearly always the case, need to ensure you have your Alien Registration certificate (外国人登録証 – gaikokujin-torokusho). Without that, you are just a tourist in Japan, and you can’t be setting up a bank account when you’ll be gone within 90 days. You should, by law, always have this on you anyway. You also need a recent (6 months) utility bill stating your current home address.

I have experience with 3 banking institutions in Japan. First with Mizuho Ginko (みずほ銀行), then Citi Bank, and finally Shinsei Ginko (新生銀行).  Mizuho is a very traditional, long-established part of the Japanese banking furniture.  It operates just as the many other domestic banks do in Japan and is the source of much of the frustration people experience. To set up an account with them, you will likely need a decent level of Japanese language ability, an inkan (印鑑), and a truckload of patience. If you open an account with them, any time you go to the desk to perform almost any task, this inkan will be required of you. And of-course the patience I mentioned earlier.

If your Japanese language ability isn’t up to scratch and you’d like online banking as standard, then the Citi bank and Shinsei bank options are great. You wont need an inkan to sign-up and therefore you wont need to bring this with you when performing uncommon transactions. The services provided by these two institutions are bilingual and this also includes the telephone and Internet banking which is provided for you by default with your application.

What services are being offered?

The Citi bank account being referred to here is the Yen Savings/MultiMoney Account. Opening this particular account effectively opens 2 separate accounts. One is for your everyday current account processes, while the other allows you to make deposits in foreign currencies. Why is this useful? If for example you’re intending to visit Europe in 6 months and you believe that the current exchange rate is preferable and you’d like to guarantee how much yen you will effectively be spending at that time, you can transfer money from your yen-savings account into your Euro foreign currency deposit account (FCDA). When you withdraw money (Euro) from the account during your trip, it will be taken by the default from your FCDA. This account can therefore be used, at your own risk, to profit from currency exchange rate fluctuations and to mitigrate currency exchange risk.

The Shinsei bank account being referred to here is Powerflex. When you create a Powerflex account, you will also simultaneously create, as with Citi, a foreign currency savings accounts for each of the major currencies available. Not only that, but there will also be a second savings account called PowerYokin. This 2nd account adds another layer of safety to the access of your money. Funds cannot be withdrawn directly from the account, but rather transferred either by phone- or online- banking to your standing yen savings account.

In summary

There is a lot to say about the negative points of traditional Japanese banking, but really it’s best to focus on the great positives that come with the banks catering for the English-speaking foreigners in Japan. The following is a brief list that details services that currently aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, offered by the traditional banks either at all, or by default:

  • Telephone and online banking, in English
  • Foreign currency deposit accounts
  • Ability to withdraw money while traveling abroad
  • No requirement to have an inkan during sign-up or afterwards
  • With Shinsei you have FREE 24hr access to withdrawals from their ATM (with Mizuho, you must pay a fee after 6pm or weekends/public holidays for the privilege)
  • With Shinsei you have 1+ free domestic bank transfers per month. With platinum accounts, this can be up to 5 or more.
  • You can start the account creation process by post or telephone

Please check out the service charges for both Shinsei and Citi. A point to note that (at the time of writing) unless you meet certain requirements with Citi bank, you are charged 2100 yen monthly “account maintenance fee”.

Personal experience

On a purely personal note, I have had a fantastic experience with Shinsei bank. I can’t think of a single problem I’ve had since opening the account about a year ago. Account creation took 20 minutes when I went to the branch and comprehensive English online banking was up and running after only a week.

Disclaimer: GaijinGuide.com and its authors are not affiliated in any way with any banking institution mentioned on this site. We absolutely do not accept any responsibility for your financial management and any costs, implications, complications or otherwise from your reading of any material on this site. The information here is provided as-is with no implied warranty or otherwise. In saying that though, I hope you find it useful : )

  • Jsmith123

    I agree. If you are used to the US style of banking you will love Shinsei. Mizuho and UFJ are stuck in the 80s still and are definitively a huge pain in the butt and a waste of time. Now, if Shinsei had mobile site access for iPhone or an iPhone app, they would be the perfect bank in Japan.

  • Sheldon

    Traditional Japanese banking at banks like Mizuho and other regional banks should explain why I have no confidence in the Japanese banking system. It is antiquated, unbridled, and de-centralized. I guess that should explain why Japan has a failing economy. If the banks should ever get hit with any big crashes like what we saw happen in Wall St. I hope that as long as I am in Japan, that I do not suffer with them.

  • Great article. Would be great to have articles dated, so we know how long ago this referred to.

  • Guest

    The problem I ran into with Shinsei was the same as any other bank – they offer credit cards but they do not make the decision to accept or reject – that is done by the credit card company. I was rejected for a credit card through Shinsei, just like every other bank. I find it very odd that foreign credit card companies automatically reject foreigners in Japan.

  • Raycmchan

    Superbly helpful

  • fuckjapansystems

    How to politely agree with you and not add anything to it? IMPOSSIBLE. The sheer fucking frustration of having to deal with such a backwards country like Japan is almost off the effing scale. They portray this false hitech image when in reality their systems and workplaces are a total antiquated fucking joke. I blame it on Buddhism and the whole BS ‘Gaman’ thinking. Yeah ‘just stand it’ say nothing, do nothing and get robbed blind by the people who enforce these BS antiquated systems to basically extort from you.

  • fuckjapansystems

    Citibank is a decent option, compared to the regular garbage. The sheer fucking frustration of having to deal with such a backwards country like Japan is almost off the effing scale. They portray this false hitech image when in reality their systems and workplaces are a total antiquated fucking joke. I blame it on Buddhism and the whole BS ‘Gaman’ thinking. Yeah ‘just stand it’ say nothing, do nothing and get robbed blind by the people who enforce these BS antiquated systems to basically extort from you.

  • T

    Citibank no longer operated personal accounts in Japan.

    I opened an account in Mitsusbishi UFJ (MUFG) which required an inkan stamp. I am now looking for an alternative after being rejected several times when I applied for a credit card. Like Mizuho, they are not foreigner friendly.

    At Mizuho I was told they only accept new accounts from people who lived in Japan for over 6 months.

  • Whitebear

    You may find it easier to apply for credit cards through Rakuten or Amazon.jp
    Internet banking is quite limited in Japan, but the ATMs are the equivalent. Cash deposits, send money, pay bills etc.
    I don’t really understand why they have to close though…

  • Jamewel

    Good day everyone.i need some help here.i’m an intern here in japan,arrived last sept2015,and is looking for a bank that can keep me on the line.i already have the alien card,but don’t have any bill that states my name on it basically because i’m new here.out day-off is only during sundays.how can i apply and open a bank account with shinsei bank?i don’t even have a japanese phone number.i’ve been looking for te email address of shinsei bank so i can send them an email but there’s none.thanks in advance everyone

  • Melina Ferszt

    Hi! any idea if a can open a Bank account in Japan at any bank not being in Japan yet? I need to open an account from Argentina ;( but cant find if any bank do this

  • Amanda

    Thanks for the information. I didn’t realize how hard opening an account in Japan could be. When I first came to Japan, my company told me where to bank, and I had no problems opening an account there. But after moving and switching jobs I needed to open a bank account close to me. I had decided on Resona because it had good reviews, but I was summarily rejected by them for not being fluent in Japanese, even though I had someone to translate for me. I definitely should have done my research on what banks were foreigner friendly before trying to open an account.

  • Mogusaurus

    I found the post office to be very foreigner UN-friendly. They issue bankbooks immediately for Japanese but require foreigners to wait because foreigners are “notorious for money laundering” *lol

  • April Israelson

    do any of these banks allow you to create a debit card so you can do online spending (primarily for paypal so I can send money to my American account)

  • Alex

    Make one at Travelex, takes 5 minutes and works fine

  • A

    This is my opinion based on experience: absolutely not. That’s impossible. Even when you’re already in Japan you will need to get your Residence Card first, without that you can’t do anything.

  • Melina Ferszt

    Thank you!! As far as I know, cant be done. That is the conclusion everywhere. Thanks!

  • Kelly Steveson

    Went to mizaho bank today was an awesome experience(NOT) so I went in ready to open an account with my wife. She has had an account with mizaho for years and is Japanese. We had all documents in hand and ready to go. After looking over my paperwork and my residents card the lady left and came back 10 min later and stated, sorry be we do not allow foreniers who don’t have a job to get an account. LOL. So after saying I am retired and get a pension the answe was still NO and come back in 6 months and try again. I would not recommend mizaho ever for any foreign people looking for a bank account.

  • Kelly Steveson

    That’s true tough to do even with a resident card. I am married to a local and was turned down by mizuho because I did not have a job

  • Kelly Steveson

    Until you get a permanent card all Loans and cc are a no go

  • John Smith

    A few things to be aware of. Banks will sometimes block money being deposited into your account from overseas. Then they will call you to interrogate you about what you intend on using the money for and why etc… Tochigi bank did this to me twice. First time I was receiving 800,000 yen from Australia. After a few phone calls to me from them and a 2 day delay, they finally removed the block. The second time is happening now as I type this. A friend of mine has sent 1.6 million yen from Indonesia to my account to pay for renovations on a property he had just bought which is going to be used as a ski lodge. The bank called me again, asking me all the same BS questions and I had to provide them with the real estate agents name seems number and also the quote from the plumber and builder etc whom I have organized to do the work in the place. They contacted the real estate agent and now I am still waiting to see if they are going to lift the block. And I have been using them for over 10 years and I am a permanent resident. I will definitely be closing my account with them as soon as I finish this transaction.

    Also prior to using my Tochigi bank account for this transaction I first tried to use my Japan Post Bank account, but turns out they don’t accept payments in Japanese yen from overseers. The money has to be sent as US dollars or Euros!

    Japan banks! Worst in the world…… Oh and a heads up, if someone is trying to send your money, make absolutely sure they write your name EXACTLY as is appears on your account. No spelling mistakes is obvious, but also your name must be written in the same order by them as it is written on your account. If it is written ‘John Smith’ for example, they cannot write ‘Smith John’. It will 100% be rejected and cause delays in getting your money.

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