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Banking for Expats in Japan

Author: Gavin Adie
Submitted: March 2014

Don’t expect to get many gadgets for your banking needs in Japan. By tradition, the Japanese tend to make most of their payments with hard cash.

Opening an account (Yokin/預金) is something that expats should plan for several weeks in advance. Japanese bank accounts are available to residents only, i.e. you must have your resident card before applying for an account. If you have already been issued an alien registration card, it should valid until 2015, after which you will need to switch to a resident card.

Accounts are available in Japanese Yen (JPY) or in foreign currency, such as the US dollar or the Euro.

 

Opening an account

Accounts may be opened in person at a bank branch, on the internet, through the post, or over the phone.

As far as paperwork is concerned, you need at least:

  • Passport
  • Resident card (or alien registration card, if you have one)
  • Proof of address
  • Signature or personal seal (Inkan/印鑑)

In Japan, personal seals are often used as a way to sign official documents. Typically, the way to get a personal seal is to have one registered with your municipality. Whether you need to have a personal seal made depends on your bank, and its policy regarding foreign nationals.

 

Products available

Bank accounts are not necessarily fee-paying, but minimum balance requirements may apply. Personal bank accounts will generally not come along with a cheque book, as cheques are not commonly used in Japan. Your bank account will likely come along with a cash card.

As far as savings accounts are concerned, interest rates have been a joke for over 20 years. An easy-access savings account would get you 0.10% (gross) while a 1-year term deposit would land you with a return of 0.20%.

The good news, however, is that inflation in Japan has been keeping very low as well, if not negative. Nevertheless, Japan’s ultra-expansionist monetary policy may well anchor the inflation rates above 2% over the coming years. Savers are therefore likely to be hit unless they invest their Japanese Yens.

 

Where to apply?

It is strongly advisable to shop around before selecting a bank. Feel free to compare the fees, the interest rates, the customer satisfaction rates, and the account opening process.

Japan’s banking system comprises of over 100 banks, including world-class Japanese banks, trust banks, regional banks and foreign-owned banks. As a rule, many banks in Japan originate from large corporate groups (Keiretsu/系列).

Examples of banks operating in Japan include Japan Post Bank, Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, or Resona Bank. All banks are regulated by the Financial Services Agency.

Most banks in Japan are open from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 3pm. Banks are closed during weekends and on bank holidays.

 

Day-to-day account management

Do always check if you are paying a fee for something you don’t need, for banks make a lot of money from the charges.

Having a debit or a credit card is not an absolute necessity in Japan, at least for now. In fact, many shops will just not accept debit cards. A cash card, however, is the basic card you need to have in Japan. It enables you to print bank statements, transfer money and withdraw cash from ATMs in Japan. Be careful when you use an ATM, for a fee may be charged depending on the ATM.

Additionally, the following services are generally available from Japanese banks, often free of charge:

  • Online banking
  • Telephone banking
  • Direct debits.

 

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