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 (but not necessarily fastest) 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.

Bank transfers

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 will 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

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 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.

TransferWise gives you an estimate of when the money will arrive in the destination bank account—approximately four days, usually. But with our test transfer, the funds arrived in just two days.

The following was calculated using the transfer calculator on the site on August 27, 2018. 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) 154 646
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.00901
USD Amount 88.68 895.18
Rank 1 1
Rates on August 27, 2018

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 it on their website, under “Receive money”.

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

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.

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 2,000 2,000
Rate (USD->JPY)  112.34
USD Amount 71.21 872.35
Rank  4  2
Rates on August 27, 2018

Seven Bank

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 oden and offer banking services. | Photo by Greg Lane
JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 990 2,000
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.00866
USD Amount 78.04 848.86
Rank 3 4
Rates on August 27, 2018

PayPal

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%.

Elon Musk co-founded PayPal but now he makes rockets.
Elon Musk co-founded PayPal, but now he makes rockets.

While easy to use once it’s set up, getting money into your 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.

The calculation below is based on a 0.5% currency conversion charge. This may vary quite a bit on your own account.

JPY Amount 10,000 100,000
Fee (JPY) 50 500
Rate (JPY->USD) 0.00866
USD Amount  86.17  861.67
Rank  2  3
Rates on August 27, 2018

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. For amounts over 200,000 yen, GoRemit might start to make more sense than TransferWise. Note that TransferWise is limited to amounts of no more than 1,000,000 yen. 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 even OFX are 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 25 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 22.06 JST on August 27, 2018: 1 JPY -> USD 0.00900

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 August, 2018.

Written by:
Filed under: Business, Financial
Tags: Bank Charges, Banking, Currency, Exchange Rates, Finance, Money, Money Transfer, Resident, Saving Money, Tokyo Cheapo
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3 Responses to “Cheapest Way to Transfer Your Money Out of Japan”

  1. Hey, thanks for the article.
    I want to send money to the UK (via transferwise) but I don’t have a bank account here in Japan and have no intentions in opening one as I’m leaving in a few months.
    Do you have any recommendations on what to do?
    Thanks

  2. Colin MacLeod January 10, 2017

    Does anyone know about obtaining an AML (Anti Money Laundering) Code?

  3. Missy Davies February 11, 2017

    Have you ever tried or looked into WorldRemit? I’m just signing up to World remit, having never been rich enough to send more than 20,000yen; the flat fee of GoRemit of 2000y on top of the fees my UK bank eat to receive the funds didnt seem worth it, but World remit fees seem really low. To send 15,000yen carries a charge of 250y. I’m still setting up cos you have to email scans of ID and wait for a document to come in the post, but if they are what they claim, it could be even cheaper than Tansferwise.


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