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?
N.B. If you want to transfer money to Japan, see our article on transferring money to Japan.
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 globally since 2011. 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.) You can download the app for easy transactions going forward.
Note: Following the above steps should allow you to make a transfer of up to 100,000 JPY. However, in line with revised Japanese banking regulations, you will need to sign for the delivery of a letter with a special code, before you can send higher amounts, or make a second transfer.
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 January 22, 2020. 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.
|Rates on January 22, 2020|
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.
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 a flat 2,000 yen, and there is an additional charge of at least 1,500 yen for any remittances done in Japanese yen. We haven’t deducted the extra 1,500 yen below—but keep it in mind.
GoRemit sign-up is a bit of a process—you can use the app to do it, but need to sign for key documents in the mail afterwards. Registering a beneficiary can take several weeks, and your transfer limit is pre-determined by GoRemit—it seems to be a case-by-case decision for each user. You might need to use a combination of the app and online banking to complete a remittance.
How much does GoRemit cost?
|Rates on January 22, 2020|
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.
How much does Seven Bank cost?
|Rates on January 22, 2020|
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 base fee of 490 yen, which increases with the amount you send. Note: Each transfer is capped at 100,000 JPY.
|Rates on January 22, 2020|
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.
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.
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, once your paperwork has been approved).
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.
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, Western Union 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. Last we checked, PayPal could 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 18:18 JST on January 22, 2020: 1 JPY -> USD 0.00909
This article was last updated in January, 2020.
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