Credit and Debit Cards in Japan
Note: I originally wrote
this page in about 2003, so many things have changed. See my
update below. Also, due to changes in the Postal Bank system,
I don't think their ATM's are necessarily a good way to get
cash (although they do still work for international ATM cards
unlike most other banks). Try the ATM machines inside 7-11
Stores in a pinch.
There are people who show up
at the airport in Japan and use most of their cash taking the train
to their first destination. Then they discover they don't know how to get more.
That makes life difficult. Having said that, let me
assure you that you can get by in Japan with a minimum of cash
plus a debit and/or credit card. (Note: A debit
card is not necessarily the same as an ATM card. I am
talking about a debit card.) Before you leave, check with your bank to make sure your debit card works internationally, and find out the daily limit
for debit withdrawals
(this is different than the limit for ATM withdrawals).
If you plan to use your credit card to withdraw cash,
make sure you bring the PIN number.
Japan has been converting its entire system of Post Office
cash machines to work with international credit and debit
cards (Visa, American Express and Mastercard). It's a
great improvement! Now you can withdraw cash in Yen
at over 80 percent of the Post Offices
in Japan, and Post Offices
are everywhere (especially
near train stations). Plus, the machines include clear
instructions in English. Locate machines that
work with your card
by clicking here.
Remember what I said about daily limits? My bank lets me withdraw up to $700 (US) per day
using my debit card (that's about 100,000
Yen, depending on the exchange rate). Why is this figure higher than
the $200 a day I could withdraw in the States? Because this is
a debit withdrawal, not an ATM withdrawal, and the limits are
different. I can withdraw a similar amount using my
American Express card. Why all this talk about cash? It's true that debit/credit cards are widely accepted here,
but you will need to pay significant expenses in cash. The biggest cash only
expense will be your upfront "deposit" when you move into an
apartment. This can easily run over 500,000 Yen (about $3800
US). Plan to visit a post office cash machine several days in a row, if you need
to, or bring that
amount with you in dollars (or pounds, etc.). Just be aware
that the exchange rate is BETTER using your debit card to withdraw
yen than the rate you get for exchanging cash.
UPDATE: Since writing the above, I have changed procedures. Since we receive most of our money from the USA, I have found it's best to make a large wire transfer every two or three months. Depending on the amount you transfer and the fees (for the sending AND receiving banks), the cost of a wire transfer can easily be lower than the currency conversion fees on bank cards. For example, if you're bank charges $50 for international wire transfers, then the fee for a $5000 transfer is just one percent (although the receiving bank will probably hit you up with a charge, too).
Finally, if you are moving to Japan, consider your banking needs
before you move. We have two bank accounts. The first is
a regular bank account with an online bank. This bank account
requires a US address, so we use my parent's address for that.
This has turned out to be a good thing, because certain online and
offline services require a Visa/Mastercard with a US address.
If you can keep a bank account or credit card with a US address,
then I recommend doing that.
We also have an account with
PayPal -- a great service. We can move dollars from our PayPal
account to our bank account, then withdraw them in Yen at any post
office. We also use PayPal to buy items on Ebay that we can't get
Japan (like cheap DVD's in English).