If you have lived in Japan for any extended period, you obviously need to get money in and out of the country at an affordable rate, and look at different banking options. However, one problem is that many banks won’t even take a foreigner as a client—and even if you do manage to get an account with a bank like MUFJ, you’ll probably see that it’s really quite a terrible option for foreigners.
Why not bank in Japan?
- Keeping all of your money in yen (JPY) when the economy is trending downward is a bad idea.
- Lots of the banks in Japan don’t cater to foreigners, if you can even get an account open.
- Due to Japanese tax laws, it makes a lot of sense for you to keep money outside of Japan if it is earned outside of Japan.
Shinsei is the only decent local bank for foreigners, but today let’s discuss another option: offshore banking.
First, what is an offshore bank account?
An offshore bank account is a bank account that is off the shores of where you currently live. In other words, it is a foreign bank account located in another country. Offshore also often carries the connotation of being low tax or no tax.
Are offshore bank accounts legal?
Yes. Offshore banking is 100% legal. However, you must make sure to file the correct forms with your relevant government agencies. This is the real key to remaining legal with an offshore account. If you’ve lived in Japan less than 5 years, you are likely classified as a non-permanent resident and therefore don’t owe tax on money earned abroad.
Why open an offshore bank account from Japan?
- Currency risk (safety if yen falls)
- Currency arbitrage (more money if yen depreciates)
- Sovereign risk (private, safe haven to move and store money)
- Asset seizure (protection against if you are sued)
- Different investments (smart decision to plan ahead)
- Ease of money transfer (easily move money in and out)
- Access your money with an ATM card (access money globally)
There are many reasons why an offshore bank account could be beneficial, not the least of which is to decrease your sovereign risk. The country where you live now could look dramatically different or fall apart, the government could institute exchange controls, meaning money cannot flow freely. Ask any Argentinian about the currency in their country.
What offshore bank is best for persons living in Japan?
Well that’s a tricky question to answer, but ideally you’ll want a bank that at minimum has a few things:
- Ability to hold currency in yen
- Ability to hold an alternative currency other than yen
- Corresponding bank in Japan
- Personal debit card
- Low monthly fees
Euro Pacific Bank has an excellent reputation and has recently begun to serve customers in Japan. They offer all the above and more.
Where can I open an offshore bank account?
There are a number of different offshore jurisdictions which offer bank accounts. In order for a bank to call itself a “bank”—and have bank in its name—there are a number of different requirements needed to be met.
Therefore, if the company uses the word bank in its name—you can be assured of capitalization or bonding requirements. A bank with a “class A” license can trade with the public, and a bank with a “class B” banking license cannot trade with the general public. If in doubt, you can check with the company government agency, who maintains the compliance for all of the banks in the country.
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Example: you were looking to set up a bank account in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and you wanted to do due diligence, you could first make sure that bank has the proper licenses, by looking at the government registry like this one.
You can see that Euro Pacific Bank is listed and has likely paid over 1,000,000 USD as a bond to commence operations. A quick Google search will also reveal the reputation of the founder Peter Schiff.
What’s a good list of offshore banks?
Checkout this page with a list of over 100 offshore banks: FlagTheory.com/Offshore-banking
How to open a personal or corporate offshore bank account.
It helps to a large extent, to have an introduction from a trusted intermediary who can help facilitate the account opening. Bankers are by nature very risk averse—and don’t want to lose their fat salary by signing up a high-risk client which later turns into a nightmare. As you probably have learned in Japan over the years, there are times to blend in, and times to stand out. And having an introduction always makes the process easier.
If you have an introduction (which oftentimes you can pay for through the right channel) and can tick all the proper boxes, there shouldn’t be a problem to open the account. Next, you’ll need to pass compliance. You’ll need to meet at least these standards to open an account at most banks.
Typically banks will require the following:
- Proof of identity (easy when you meet up in person, otherwise is a certified passport). The only truly universal piece of document required to open a personal bank account is a proof of identity. This is normally a passport but any photo ID issued to you may suffice, almost always this is needed to be certified. In Japan you can get documents certified by an Administrative Scrivener (Gyoseishoshi) of which our friend Yoko Majima (http://www.juridique.jp/) is an example)
- Proof of residency (this is utility bill—and should have your name and address) For remote account opening, where you will not visit the bank in person, you will also need a proof of address. Sometimes they are required to be current within 3 months, other times not.
- Some banks ask for a character reference or proof that you earned the funds through legitimate means (letter from accountant or bank is best who can confirm your earnings). The easiest one to get may be a reference from your local bank. However, sometimes a professional reference is requested. Anyone like a lawyer, accountant, or person of other licensed and regulated reputable profession.
As always, before making financial decisions, talk with an accountant, lawyer, Abe, or your personal financial adviser before taking action.