Whether you are staying in Japan for a few months or a few years, there is one thing you can’t avoid and that is opening a bank account. It is a necessity for daily life, for paying bills, getting a salary, receiving or transferring money abroad, and it is also very important for getting a mobile phone!

However, opening a bank account can have its challenges, for example if staff at a branch only speaks Japanese and you don’t speak the language. There are also differences with how banking works in other parts of the world, such as having a bank account not coming automatically with a debit card, and having to pay to use an ATM outside of normal work hours.

Elligibility

First of all though, let’s discuss who can actually open a bank account. If you have a visa, or more precisely a residence card (在留カード, zairyū card), to stay more than six months then you can open a bank account. Unfortunately, if you have a residence card for three to six months then it is only possible to open a bank account at JP Post. This must be registered at your local town hall, which basically means that your address is printed on the back of your card.

Foreigner-Friendly Banking

There are a lot of banks in Japan, as there are big domestic banks, international banks and many regional banks, however in terms of being foreigner-friendly (i.e. easy to use for non-Japanese speakers) we can whittle down the list to three main banks.

Shinsei Bank

Shinsei Bank Shinsei Bank

For anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese, Shinsei Bank is the easiest to use. There are English speaking staff at most branches, their forms are in English (postal applications are possible too) and their call center staff speak English too.

Perhaps most important of all, they provide online banking in English. You can withdraw money from most convenience stores and there is no charge for having an account.

JP (Japan Post) Bank

JP Bank JP Bank

JP Bank offers an easy way to open a basic bank account, which is available to anyone with residence of at least three months. However, it is rare to be able to open an account with English-speaking staff, and the forms are in Japanese.

It takes about 30-45 minutes to fill out the forms, but you will need either some Japanese reading and writing abilities, or have a friend who understands Japanese. There is online banking, but it is in Japanese, however in general this is a simple and basic bank account to have, and one which can be opened straightaway.

SMBC Trust Bank PRESTIA (formerly Citibank)

SMBC Trust Bank PRESTIA SMBC Trust Bank PRESTIA

Citibank was a popular choice among foreigners for a long time, and in 2015 it was transferred to SMBC and became SMBC Trust Bank PRESTIA. Their staff has a good standard of English in branches, and the website is also available in good-to-fair English. Online banking is also in English.

However, this bank charges a monthly fee of 2,000 yen (excluding tax) to customers who pay less than 500,000 yen a month into their bank account.

The Big Players

Although the three above banks are considered the most foreigner-friendly, only one of them (JP Bank) is actually amongst the largest banks in Japan. The biggest banks in Japan are Mitsubishi UFJ, Sumitomo Mitsui, Mizuho, Norinchukin and Resona. This means that they have the most branches in Japan, but their Japanese-only service makes it a bit more difficult to open an account with them.

For example, at Mitsubishi UFJ a bank account includes a visa debit card (more on this below), but no English language support or online banking in English. Opening a bank account is a bit trickier, and can take a week to open, or longer if any of the forms have not been filled in correctly. The staff generally doesn’t speak English. The same can be said of Mitsui, though they do have an English speaking call center, but opening an account can take about two weeks.

Online Banking

Seven Bank Seven Bank

As in the rest of the world, banking in Japan is evolving, and while traditional big banks like Mitsui and Mizuho continue on as before you can now find newer online banks as well. To a certain extent Shinsei Bank and SMBC PRESTIA are examples of a blend of old and new as they have branches, but they also accept applications online and have English online banking.

However, new challengers are entering the marketplace like Seven Bank. It has a few branches, but the biggest benefit of this bank is its multilingual website and online application system. They also offer complementary services targeted at foreign customers such as a debit card and an easy international transfer system.

The interest rate is slightly higher than at the traditional banks, but only by a tiny percentage. As time goes by and bank services evolve it will be interesting to see how banks like Seven develop!

How to Open a Bank Account

Now that you have had an overview of banking in Japan, and have chosen the bank you want to open an account with, we can cover some of the basics for opening an account.

What You Need

The below are the basic requirements which may vary according to the bank you choose. For example, opening a Seven Bank account online requires evidence of your My Number.

  • Residence card (registered at local authority)
  • Personal seal (some banks accept signature)
  • Proof of address
  • Japanese telephone number
  • Deposit
  • Application forms

Apart from Shinsei Bank, applying within branch requires filling out forms in Japanese. However, you can apply online in English for a limited number of other banks like SMBC and Seven. Application forms generally ask for the same information (your name, address, date of birth, etc.). Normally you can also choose your PIN number. And some may ask for other information, including your income.

What You Will Receive

Usually your bank will give you a bank book and cash card. That’s it! Now you are ready to get banking!

Useful Vocabulary

Kanji Romaji English
住所 jūsho Address
名前 namae Name
生年月日 seinengappi Date of Birth
性別 seibetsu Gender
判子 hanko Personal Seal
国民健康保険証 kokumin kenkō hokenshō National Health Insurance Card
口座 kouza Bank Account
普通口座 futsū kouza Basic Bank Account
口座番号 kouza bangou Bank Account Number
種類 shurui Account Type
通常 tsujō General Account
貯蓄 chochiku Savings Account
預け入れ azukeire Cash Deposit
金額 kingaku Amount
預け入れ金額 azukeire kingaku Deposit Amount
引き出し hikidashi Cash Withdrawal
残高 zandaka Balance
残高照会 zandaka shoukai Balance Inquiry
通帳 tsūcho Bank Book

Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Cash Cards

As mentioned previously when you open a bank account you will get a bankbook and a cash card. However, this cash card can’t be used to make purchases; it is for using at the ATM only. If you didn’t know about this, it can be quite confusing when you receive your card and then try to use it to buy something.

It isn’t a given right to receive a debit card, you have to apply for one to make purchases – Options which are available are at Seven bank, Rakuten or Japan Net Bank. However, for example with the Seven Bank debit card you can only use it at stores that accept JCB. It isn’t the same as a visa card, which probably isn’t the greatest problem within Japan, but is problematic if you want to use it outside of Japan.

For others like Rakuten you have to make an application like it is a credit card and wait for a decision on whether you are accepted or not.

Rakuten credit card Rakuten credit card

Credit cards are hard to get in Japan, and like the debit card above require making an application and waiting to see if you are accepted or not. Rakuten is a popular choice for getting a credit card, but the application process is in Japanese.

Using ATMs

Once you have your cash card, or bank book, you can start depositing or withdrawing cash. The vast majority of ATMs have an English language option so they are easy to use. Normally most convenience stores have an ATM and are open 24/7.

A Seven Bank ATM A Seven Bank ATM (Credit: Nikkei Asian Review)

What may come as a surprise, however, are the bank charges. Many banks allow withdrawals for free during office hours but charge for withdrawals outside of these times. Usually the fee is about 108 yen, but can be double this at the weekend. It is a small amount, but if you often withdraw outside of office hours the amount you are paying in fees can add up so this is something to be really careful about.

Cancelling a Bank Account

Finally, there may come a day when you want to close your bank account, perhaps because your stay in Japan has come to an end, or just because you want to open an account with a new bank.

It is relatively simple to close an account, you need to withdraw all your money or have the details of your new bank account for the funds to be transferred to, as well as your ID (such as a passport), your personal seal, and your cash card and bank book.

The quickest way to do this is to just go to a branch, though some banks may have the option to do this by post. Usually if you want to transfer your remaining balance overseas then you need to do this first in advance, and then go to the branch to close your account.

Hopefully this guide gives you a good overview of everything you need to know about banking – it is actually quite painless!

And if you have a question or suggestion to improve this guide, feel free to get in touch with us.