For the most part Japan is still a cash-based society – most everyday payments are made in cash. However, frequently retail shops or restaurants will accept credit cards, and some may even have debit card readers, which automatically withdraw money from your account. To be safe though, you should always be prepared to pay cash while shopping, and you will need a bank account, which allows frequent withdrawals in convenient locations.
Bank accounts are available for individuals and businesses at Japanese banks or post offices, which are usually open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Everyday bank accounts usually pay interest, but the rates are so low that you may not notice. If you want to use your money to make more money, you may need to move it out of Japan, or at least into an account at a foreign-based bank.
Citibank has the largest branch and ATM network of the foreign based banks in Japan, otherwise not many foreign banks currently provide retail banking services. Citibank also allows you to use overseas issued Citibank cards at ATMs in Japan, and use cards issued in Japan overseas to withdraw money in the local currency.
OPENING A BANK ACCOUNT
Bank accounts at major banks or the post office are available for individuals and companies, (there are no joint accounts in Japan). Quite often people in Japan have two (or more) accounts, an account at a regular bank and a second account with the post office. The latter arrangement can be useful if you want to access the full range of transfer and payment services offered in the post office system.
In order to open an account at a Japanese bank, you will need to present your Alien Registration Card, (foreigners staying in Japan for more than 90 days must apply for this), and your hanko or inkan, (personal seal or stamp). Your signature will be an adequate substitute for a seal on most occasions, but life in Japan will be smoother if you have one.
Personal seals, (inkan; hanko), are stamps bearing your name or the name of your company, and serve the same purpose as a
personal signature on official documents. Most people have more than one: a seal for everyday use, and a ‘bank’ seal. Everyday seals are sold in a variety of locations, usually wherever you find pens and other stationery. They are often self-inking and are generally machine-made. ‘Bank’ seals are sold at special seal carvers’ shops, and are always hand carved, (this makes them individually identifiable like personal signatures).
CHECKS AND CREDIT CARDS
Checks are not used in Japan. The most common service used for large payments is an account-to-account transfer (furikomi). For purchases at shops, however, cash is your only option if you do not have a credit card.
The major credit cards used in Japan are VISA, Mastercard, Diners Club, American Express, JACCS, Saison, and JCB. To apply for credit cards in Japan you will need the same information as when you apply for a bank account. Only international ATMs found inpost offices, major department stores and airports accept foreign credit and debit cards.
EVERYDAY BANKING – ATM
You can take care of most of your everyday banking at automatic teller machines (ATM) and cash dispensers (CD). At ATMs one can pay, withdraw, deposit and transfer money (furikomi) , while at CDs it is usually only possible to withdraw money. Some ATMs and CDs are unavailable on weekends and during the night, but the number of 24 hour ATMs is increasing. The machines found in convenience stores, for example, are often available around the clock.
With a few exceptions, ATMs and CDs function just like bank machines in any country. They usually feature a touch sensitive screen to select the kind of transaction, and input cash amounts and personal information. Above the screen, there are slots to insert your cash card and your bankbook, and a sliding door, which will retract to reveal cash or allow you to insert cash. Some ATMs are in Japanese only, so you may need to ask for help with your first transactions.
If you want to send money to a foreign country on a regular basis, there are basically two types of remittance services:
Registered Mail – send a Bank Check from your local bank, (¥2,500 – ¥5,000), or Postal Money Order from a post office, (¥1,000 going up in increments of ¥500 according to the amount), via registered mail.
Note: Sending money by registered mail is good for small amounts but takes 6-14 days.
Send your money to an overseas account via telegraphic transfer (TT) from a bank or the Post Office, (¥2,000 -¥7,000).
Note: Sending money electronically is fast, (up to 2 business days), and secure but may be costly depending on the surcharges from overseas intermediary banks.
Specialized remittance services are the most efficient way to send money overseas. The cheapest service is offered by Lloyds TSB Bank, (¥2,000). Citibank offers commission-free remittances only to account holders who maintain an account balance of over ¥20,000,000; otherwise it’s ¥3,500.