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Japan - Banking
Department stores, chain retailers and online merchants will accept debit and credit cards without any problem.
However, whilst Japan is a modern, sophisticated society which embraces technology, it is not a cashless society by any means. Therefore, you should always carry some money in your wallet; possibly more than you would feel comfortable carrying around back home.
Typically, small traders will only accept cash. This applies to many cafes and restaurants as well as taxi and bus drivers.
It’s an unwritten rule to leave a cash donation to a temple or shrine when you visit, so do remember this before you arrive.
If you find yourself hungry and without cash, head to the restaurant in your nearest department store, as they will accept your credit card.
ATMs are plentiful in Japan. Cities and towns are densely populated, which means services in busy neighbourhoods are good, as so many people live nearby to use them.
Obviously if you live in a rural area you will have more difficulty accessing ATMs. Post offices and bank branches will usually have them, but these services have restricted opening hours and are closed throughout the weekend.
The ATM menu will often include an option for English. Portuguese may also be one of the languages on offer.
International cards are accepted by the majority of ATMs, although you may not be able to use these cards in the small machines in convenience stores. However, the currency conversion may be a higher rate than market best, and a foreign currency charge of one to three percent may be applied. You may be happy with this if you are just travelling and can look into the terms and conditions of each card to see what your best option are before leaving home.
However, if you are an expat living in Japan, it makes sense to open a bank account locally and withdraw your cash without paying additional charges.
Unfortunately, bank branches in Japan are open for fewer hours than you would find in most countries. They open Monday to Friday, but close for the whole weekend as well as all national holidays. Bank branches usually open at 9am and close at 3pm. As a result, lunchtimes can be busy.
Can I Open A Bank Account In Japan?
Anyone legally living in Japan is allowed to open a bank account there. The application form will ask you to confirm that you are a resident and that you pay your taxes in Japan.
Your residence card and evidence of financial circumstances will be checked. The bank needs to be sure you are a legitimate applicant who will use the account for legal and honest purposes. You’ll have to complete a form confirming this.
If you do not live in Japan, every bank in the country will reject your application.
How To Choose A Bank Account In Japan
You can’t ask your UK or US bank to transfer your account across to their Japanese operations as these banks simply don’t have a presence in Japan. As Jonathan, a UK expat living in central Tokyo, warns: “Opening a bank account may take time as all foreign banks have now pulled out of the market, or are in the process of leaving due to competition in the retail market.”
If you are settling straight into an area for the medium to long term, assessing the banks nearby is a good starting point. That way, you have ready access to ATM facilities and can pop in to the branch easily. In a city, you are likely to have a decent range of nearby banks to choose from.
Have a look at your chosen bank’s website. Some will have pages set up in English, which will be helpful if you don’t speak Japanese fluently. However, do check the site is secure, with a page address beginning ‘https’. If it doesn’t have this, it isn’t safe to use for sensitive information such as payments and online bank account access.
Each bank should publicly list their fees and charges, and any interest they offer on an account. You should be able to find these on the website and in the branch.
If you are unsure which bank to sign up with, why not ask the expat community for their experiences? The ExpatFocus Forum and closed Facebook group both give you the opportunity to ask for recommendations.
As with any other financial matter, be careful not to go into too much detail about your personal finances online. Talking about which banks have good customer service for expats is the kind of information that is fine to share.
Opening A Bank Account
If you live in an expat area, you have a good chance of talking to an English-speaking member of staff when opening a bank account. However, if you make an appointment in advance, the bank has more time to make appropriate arrangements.
Luckily, banks often have tablets which the staff use to provide you with the forms in English. You can complete them on the tablet whilst sitting in the bank branch, and they can be processed at the same time as your evidence is checked.
Don’t forget to bring your residence card, which you are supposed to carry everywhere with you. You will have produced evidence of your identity, address and right to stay in the country to obtain this card, so the bank is usually happy to accept it as proof for all those checks. However, if you want to be sure that everything runs smoothly, taking your passport and proof of address along is a good idea.
The bank will probably want to establish your financial position. So bring along your employment contract, any recent wage slips for your current job, and your most recent bank statement.
Some banks ask for a hanko, or personal seal. Others are happy to accept a signature.
Your Japanese Bank Account Numbers
Your new bank account will have a three-digit sort code and a seven-digit account number.
Your bank card will allow you to access your funds at an ATM, or pay for goods during a trip to a retailer, when you use your four digit PIN. This number is only known to the card holder and must be kept secret. If you tell anyone else your PIN online or in person, the bank is not liable for any theft from your account.
Japan Has A Secure Financial Environment
The official currency of Japan is the yen (¥), which is controlled by the government and the Bank of Japan.
Banking systems in Japan are regulated and monitored, and fraud levels are low.
Bank deposits are insured by the Bank Deposit System. If a bank were to become bankrupt, the money in your account will be safe and will be returned to you. In 2018, regulators began investigating how to incorporate new, technology-based financial businesses, known as fintech, into the same regulatory framework as traditional banks. If this succeeds, banks will not be the only institutions able to hold customer deposits. However, deposit insurance is an important element of this forthcoming regulatory change.
Japan experienced a lengthy period of financial contraction in 1990, which became known as the ‘great recession’. However, economist Richard Koo argued that it was really a: "balance sheet recession". Japan remains an expensive country in which to live, and whilst the country’s debt levels remain high, according to an opinion piece in the Financial Times: “most of the debt is owned by the central bank and the domestic financial system”.
The Bank of Japan
Japan has a central bank, known in English as the Bank of Japan. They have a website in English which offers information about the bank’s functions, policies, news and key personnel.
If you want to know more about Japan’s monetary policy, the Bank of Japan’s website is an excellent and reliable resource.
The head of the Bank of Japan is the Governor. Decisions are made about this position by the cabinet, and announced on the Bank of Japan website.
Read more about this country
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