Cheapest Way to Transfer Your Money Out of Japan

Greg Lane

If you’ve been working in Japan for a while and following all the money-saving advice on this site, by now you’ve probably built up a pile of cash. While you could spend your stash on a gold-laced cocktail at the Mandarin Oriental, you might want to consider sending it home, or to a country that doesn’t have negative interest rates. So what are your options to transfer money out of Japan?

tl;dr: Likely the cheapest and easiest method for transferring your yen out of Japan is TransferWise.
money-pyramid transfer money out of japan
Photo by Greg Lane

N.B. If you want to transfer money to Japan, see our article on transferring money to Japan.

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Regular bank transfers from Japan: Costly and complicated

Japan is renowned for its stable banking system, but that’s because the banks haven’t changed the way they do business in 20 years. A simple international transfer at legacy banks like SMBC, MUFG or Mizuho will typically involve you filling out an overly detailed form at the branch, getting charged up to 4,000 yen just for the transfer, and then getting shafted with horrible exchange rates. Unless you’re set on being a martyr to the Japanese banking system, our advice is to avoid this option.

TransferWise: Economical and easy

TransferWise have been around since 2011, but they’ve only fairly recently set up in Japan. They allow you to transfer your funds to a local bank account before they get whisked overseas. The main benefit of TransferWise is they don’t make money on the exchange rate, and they try to make the whole procedure as fast, smooth and painless as possible.

The cost structure is this: You pay a fixed fee, plus a percentage of the total amount. What you pay depends on which currencies you’re using, but it’s very reasonable for most of the major ones. The exchange rates (when we checked) were almost identical to those on exchange rate reference site xe.com, which lists mid-market rates.

How to use TransferWise

To transfer, you go to their site and put in the amount that you want to send (in either the source or target currency), then you enter your details. You’ll be asked to upload photos of either your “My Number” notification (that’s the plain piece of paper) or your My Number photo ID. If you have the photo ID, that’s all you need to upload; if not, you’ll need to upload a scan or pic of some other photo ID, such as a Japanese driver’s license or a foreign resident’s card.

Once you’ve uploaded your docs, you’ll get a confirmation screen with the details of your transaction. After you agree to this, you’ll get information of a local account at Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ to transfer the total amount to. You can go ahead and make the transfer. (Note that if you’ve signed up for a new account, the transaction won’t go through until your documents have been checked off, and you may be asked to post in a few things.) You can download the app for easy transactions going forward.

How long does TransferWise take?

TransferWise gives you an estimate of when the money will arrive in the destination bank account—approximately 2-4 days, usually. But with our test transfers, the funds have arrived in just 1-2 days, sometimes even on the same day.

How much does TransferWise cost?

The following was calculated using the transfer calculator on the site on November 7, 2019. For the sake of comparison, we chose a transfer to USD.

*We deducted the fee from the starting amount for this and all calculations below.

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 302 1007
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.009
USD Amount 88.86 906.99
Rank 1 2
Rates on November 7, 2019

Nice extra: TransferWise recently added a borderless account to their services. It’s basically an international bank account, minus the fees. You can read more about the borderless account here. Note, however, that if you’re resident in Japan, you may not be able to set one up.

Not the place to go for the best exchange rates
Not the place to go for the best exchange rates. | Photo by Greg Lane

GoRemit: Often the default option for expats

GoRemit is the crusty incumbent to TransferWise’s feisty challenger (GoRemit has been at this for more than 15 years—they were formerly GoLloyds). The process is basically the same, but the fee structure is slightly different. While the exchange rates are more or less the same, the handling fee is fixed at a flat 2,000 yen. This means for amounts under 200,000 yen, it works out more expensive than TransferWise. For amounts over 200,000 yen it starts becoming more competitive.

GoRemit sign-up takes place offline—so you’ll need to fill out forms and send copies of ID documents by post. However, they did recently launch an app to make things easier once you’re all set up. It’s fairly smooth, especially for Shinsei Bank account holders.

How much does GoRemit cost?

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 2,000 2,000
Rate (USD->JPY)  109.93
USD Amount 72.77 891.48
Rank  4  3
Rates on November 7, 2019

Seven Bank: Easy but expensive

Seven Bank offers a service in conjunction with Western Union. While you could just use Western Union without using Seven Bank, the integration with the bank account makes things a bit smoother. The fee you pay increases with the amount you send.

Yep, they sell oden and offer banking services.
Yep, they sell rice balls and offer banking services. | Photo by Greg Lane

How much does Seven Bank cost?

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 990 2,000
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.0088
USD Amount 79.55 865.28
Rank 3 4
Rates on November 7, 2019

Western Union in Japan

The go-to for many people, Western Union is a reliable—if sometimes cumbersome—way of sending money from Japan. You can set up the transfer online or via their app, or do it in person at one of their branches—there are almost 90 listed for Tokyo. Western Union supports transfers to over 200 countries.

How much does Western Union in Japan cost?

There is a fixed base fee of 390 yen. Note: Each transfer is capped at 100,000 JPY.

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 390 390
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.0091
USD Amount 87.67 908.69
Rank 2 1
Rates on November 7, 2019

Alternative ways to transfer money from Japan

The options we’ve included here are not the only ways of sending money from Japan to another country—there are a number of alternatives. For transfers to certain countries, such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, Nepal or the Philippines, Japan Remit Finance (JRF) or Japan Money Express might be more familiar names. It’s worth investigating a range of cash transfer services to determine which will give you the most competitive rates.

Elon Musk co-founded PayPal but now he makes rockets.
Elon Musk co-founded PayPal, but now he makes rockets. | Photo by Pixabay

PayPal in Japan

Due to difficulties confirming transfer rates and fees, we have excluded PayPal from the ranking above. PayPal is by far the most opaque of the money-sending services; depending on the currency pair, there may be a conversion charge of between 0.5% and 4%. However, it’s not terrible for sending money from Japan to an account overseas.

A couple of points to consider are that while easy to use once it’s set up, getting money into your PayPal account from your bank can take a little while. Also, there may be restrictions on the receiving end. Depending on the country, the recipient may not be able to receive the cash you are sending. Apparently, measures like these are to stop money laundering and terrorism. As you may have noticed, both of these activities are flourishing, so I guess they got that one wrong.

How much does PayPal Japan cost?

JPY Amount 10,000
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.0087
USD Amount  87.94
Rates on November 7, 2019

Our recommendations to transfer money out of Japan

Small to medium amounts

For small amounts and even amounts into the hundreds of thousands of yen, TransferWise generally appears to be the best-value option (you can transfer up to 1 million yen in a single transaction).

Western Union is also worth checking, despite the limitation on transfer amounts. For amounts over 200,000 yen, GoRemit might start to make more sense than TransferWise. PayPal is also relatively good for small amounts of money, even though the exchange rate is often fairly poor.

Larger amounts

For large transfers of yen outside Japan, GoRemit or, provided you are not a long-term resident of Japan, possibly OFX are generally the best options, as their usage charges do not vary.

Choice of currencies

TransferWise and Seven Bank win out in terms of the number of currencies available. GoRemit is limited to 11 foreign currencies: USD, CAD, GBP, EUR, AUD, NZD, CHF, HKD, SGD, SEK and INR. PayPal can handle up to 23 currencies (with some conditions attached).

Ease of use

TransferWise is probably the best when it comes to ease of set-up and use. Once set up, they are all relatively easy to use, though.

Reference: Mid-market rate from xe.com at 22:28 JST on November 7, 2019: 1 JPY -> USD 0.00916

All the figures and information in this article are indicative and we do not endorse any of them. Use all financial services at your own risk. Additionally, this article contains affiliate links. These in no way affect our findings and should not be considered an endorsement.

This article was last updated in November, 2019.

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Filed under: Business, Financial
Tags: Bank Charges, Banking, Currency, Exchange Rates, Finance, Money, Money Transfer, Resident, Saving Money, Tokyo Cheapo
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