The Best Way to Transfer Money to Japan

Chris Kirkland

transfer money to japan

Being the international cheapo that I am, I’ve battle-tested all sorts of methods and means of transferring money to Japan. In this article I chronicle the results of my quest. NB: If you’re a tourist looking to exchange cash for yen, go to this article. If you want to send your yen home, check out our transferring money out of Japan article.

tl;dr: The cheapest and best way to transfer money to Japan for residents is the OFX currency exchange provider. Bonus: sign up here and mention Tokyo Cheapo—they’ll give you a special account with NO transfer fees. Cheapo win!

Boring banks

Most people default to using their bank, but this is often the most expensive option—especially if you’re transferring a large amount of money. I confess this was my folly for my first two years in Japan.

Banks typically give you poor exchange rates (my bank would give me around 4% off the interbank rate), high fees and slow transfer times. Moreover, you typically have to phone during branch hours in the sending country (which might be the middle of the night in Japan), wait through hideous hold music, etc.

In addition, if you are a resident in Japan, it may be tricky to open a bank account “back home”, as you have to be resident in the country of the bank.

transfer money to japan

PayPal + remittance services

PayPal and Western Union are alternatives to banks, but in my opinion they aren’t really much better than banks (or worse even).

PayPal charges around 3-4% for normal transfers, plus they have a low transfer limit (unless you’re a Business or Premium user), so they are not much use for sending very large sums of money. That said, some cheapos have had success sending money from a bank in their home country to their PayPal account in that country, and from there to their Japanese PayPal account and then Japanese bank. They’ve found this to be a cheaper method than using bank-to-bank direct, though a time-consuming one that requires much jumping through hoops (verification and so on) and investigating of receiving charges.

Western Union has been in Japan since 2010 and is growing in popularity, but its transfer process can be cumbersome and costly once you factor in exchange fees.

The only plus about services like these is that you can typically use them via an online interface and don’t have to deal with your bank’s call center, which is likely outsourced to another country.

GoRemit from Shinsei Bank is a name you’ll hear often when talking about transfers—but alas, it can only be used for sending money OUT of Japan.

TransferWise

This remittance service *is* actually a good way of sending money to Japan. TransferWise is easy to use and not too pricey, either. You’re looking at a fee of between 0.5-1%, depending on the currency you use—and there are none of those heinous receiving charges mentioned later on in the article, or exchange rate rip-offs either. Turnaround time for transfers is usually two days, but can be faster. The only real downside? TransferWise is only available in a limited number of countries.

The cheapest and best way to send money to Japan

transfer money to japan

So after all my trials and tribulations, I discovered OFX the currency exchange provider. They facilitate foreign currency transfers direct to your bank account. They win on all counts:

  • Their exchange rates are typically within around 1% of the interbank rate (i.e. their charge is 1% or less)
  • The transfer fees are very low (and you can skip them entirely with our special cheapo link)
  • Transfers arrive very quickly—my last UK -> Japan transfer took just 24 hours
  • It’s super convenient to use; you can save beneficiary details, then just log in to your account and in a few clicks you’re done

Not only that, they have a series of tools, graphs and facilities to help you make the most efficient foreign currency transfers.

Cheapo Special Offer: I reached out to them and negotiated a special deal for TokyoCheapo readers, so if you sign up here and mention Tokyo Cheapo, they will waive the transfer fees (normally around about 12USD) on all your transfers!

Exchange rate fluctuations

A big factor affecting your transfers to Japan is fluctuations in the exchange rate. If you’re moving to Japan and need to transfer a large sum, for a property purchase for example, the exchange rate is constantly moving—so it can either go for you or against you, having a big impact on the amount you get at the end of the day. As real estate investments have a fairly long time horizon, the risk is high that the exchange rate will have moved by the time you transfer your money. To manage your risk, a specialist can offer you a “forward contract”. These contracts allow you to lock in an exchange rate for a date in the future; that means you’re buying now but paying for the full contract at a later date.

If you are making or receiving regular payments you can also lock into the rate today and make sure you get the same rate on monthly or quarterly payments for up to a year.

Another tool many people use is a “limit order”. This is when you specify the rate you want and your foreign exchange provider then watches the rates for you. If your rate goes to your desired level the provider purchases the currency at that rate. Limit orders are especially helpful because people cannot watch the actively fluctuating foreign exchange market all of the time, and so they might miss out on a favorably spiked or short-term exchange rate improvement.

OFX can help with all of these nifty strategies.

transfer money to japan
Tokyo Stock Exchange | Photo by DocChewbacca used under CC

Watch out for receiving bank charges

Banks in Japan love charging their customers pointless fees and will often apply a receiving charge to release the funds to your bank account EVEN IF YOU ARE SENDING THE MONEY IN YEN! Many banks charge a ridiculous 3,000-4,000 yen to receive yen transfers. And if foreign currency amounts are transferred to yen accounts in Japan, the receiving bank will set the exchange rate to yen—and charge you another couple of thousand for the conversion.

Shinsei Bank are popular (and unusual) because they tend not to charge receiving fees, while JP Post and SMBC are on the lower end of the fee scale, charging around 1,000-1,500 yen per transfer. Most other banks are squarely in the 4,000 yen+ bracket.

Some bad news: these amounts don’t include intermediary fees. Most transfers, including those done via Shinsei, use intermediary banks which may or may not deduct handling charges—that’s more money down the tube. Cheapo tip: If you can specify an intermediary bank with a transfer to a Shinsei Bank account, opt for Citibank Japan Ltd, Tokyo Branch (for yen payments) or JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Tokyo Branch (for USD payments), as they don’t charge fees.

If your transfer is from a major international bank to a major Japanese bank, then it should avoid intermediaries and “lifting fees”—just check before you send.

Bitcoin Bonus

One final means of sending money to Japan I should mention is using crypto currency. You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin and its Wild West tales of booms, busts and more booms—plus you may have heard about the demise of the MtGox Exchange, a company that was based in Shibuya.

Since I’m a bit of a geeky Cheapo, I thought I’d see how using Bitcoin to move money to Japan would compare with other means, and before MtGox collapsed, I made several not insignificantly-sized transfers to my Japanese bank account using Bitcoin as an intermediary. To my happy surprise it was quite easy, fairly fast and the rate was reasonably good.

I used a site called bitbargain.co.uk to buy Bitcoins using a bank transfer from my UK account, I then sent the Bitcoins to my (now evaporated) MtGox account, which I withdrew to my JP Bank account as yen. I was actually able to beat the interbank rate by gambling on the Bitcoin vs JPY price going up in my favor—since Bitcoin is still pretty volatile it makes for fun gambling like this. But be warned, Bitcoin and crypto currencies in general are still quite new and risky; there are many ways to lose your coins, from price volatility to hacking to just forgetting your password/key.

Of course MTGox is no more (it shut down still owing its customers tens of millions of dollars), and a few years on Bitcoin is still pretty difficult to use—I wouldn’t recommend using it for currency transfer.

transfer money to japan

This post is regularly updated. Last update: May 2017. 


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33 Responses to “The Best Way to Transfer Money to Japan”

  1. Do you know the best way to send money from Japan?

    • stephanie

      Yer also interested in the best way to send money from Japan!

      • I use Rakuten bank they charge 1000jpy but they serve only to incorporation,
        I also use FX account for USD, – deposit via debit credit and withdraw to US bank acc.

  2. I used UK Forex off the back of this recommendation and found that they were easily the best rate of exchange (only around 1.5% lower than xe.com rate) and were helpful and quick. Unfortunately my Japanese bank charged a fairly extorionate 4,000 yen just to receive it but I had no other option due to having just moved here permanently. I would highly recommend this offer/company for anyone wanting to transfer money from abroad.

    • mrkirkland

      Glad our article was helpful! Try opening a Shinsei account, I believe they aren’t quite as in to the daylight robbery of the other main Japanese banks.

  3. I have used transferwise.com for a couple of times by now – and it definitely is the cheapest option. Only thing is that you need to ask them to activate JPY account for you. They exchange money in inter-bank rates, charging only a small fee for the transfer.

  4. Can I ask where you got the information regarding the paypal transfer fees?
    From what I see in the terms and FAQ, I could send $1000 USD with a $5 fee if sending money from my US bank acct/paypal acct to a paypal acct in Japan. see https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=xpt/Marketing_CommandDriven/general/International_Money_Transfer-outside#

    Are you saying there is the additional 3% fee if I were to log into my Japan Paypal Acct and try to transfer the money from Paypal to my Japanese bank? If this is correct, do you have a link to any of the information from the paypal website regarding these fees? Thanks!

    • They have a thing called PayPal currency converter and USD to JPY transfer and rates are RIDICILOUS! It will cost you MUCH more that 5% (like right now it will cost about 90$ per 2000$ transfer) and you have to do USD->JPY conversion, because PayPal Japan account has to be in yen, they might show you funds as dollars, but it’s only converted amount.

  5. Thanks for the article. I tried using USForex; however, after speaking with them on the phone, it seemed my only option was a wire transfer to their institution. Considering my bank charges a ridiculous 30 dollars for this privilege, I decided to cancel my transfer. If you could transfer the money to USForex cheaply, I do think it would be a good option. They will not ask your bank for a transfer though, you must set one up.

    • Mira Boora

      Hi JT,
      Thanks for your feedback. I’m not sure which currency you were sending to us but if a client is sending us USD from their local USA account, we have the ability to direct debit their funds by an ACH direct debit. The ACH direct debit means your bank won’t charge you a wiring fee. I apologize if this wasn’t communicated over the phone when you were speaking to our representatives. If you were sending us JPY, you would need to wire the JPY to our JPY account which is held in New York so your Japanese bank would most likely charge a fee for the transfer.
      If you have any questions feel free to give us a call or email me directly at mira.boora@usforex.com.
      Thanks!
      Mira

      • Nils Barth

        Dear Mira & USForex folk,
        I had the same experience: the USForex representative did not say:
        “To avoid a wire fee, set up direct debit BEFORE trying to transfer money.”
        Thus I tried to transfer money immediately after setting up my account, got a call saying “please wire money”, to which I said firmly “no, I’m using direct debit”.
        My transaction was reversed, and I’ll redo it once direct debit is set up, but this caused unpleasantness for both, and expense for USForex.
        This is easy to avoid: the first representative should just say the exact line I wrote above.

        USForex, please revise your practices to include this warning, and things will go much smoother for everyone.
        (Other than this it’s great so far!)
        Thanks!

  6. I don’t believe Citibank charge a fee for receiving funds — either in yen or in foreign currency, and their rates are great, a 1-yen / 0.5% spread over the mid-rate. Of course, they require a minimum balance in your account, or some other mechanism, like holding a Citibank credit card, in order to avoid a monthly service fee… choose your poison!

    • Technically Citibank doesn’t charge a fee, so it doesn’t appear on your account, but you WILL be charged a fee by the ‘corresponding bank’ (the bank that receives the money from the overseas bank and passes it on to Citibank). You’ll only know about it if you compare the amount transferred with the amount received in your account.

      They claim that they ‘don’t know the details about that’ – not sure why it should be such a mystery to them. Anyway you will be charged! In my case today the fee was ¥2700 for sending approx. ¥270,000 via OZFOREX.

  7. Rakuten bank may be one of convenient banks for international wire transfer for now.

  8. Nils Barth

    *WARNING*
    When sending by USForex (etc.), set up your bank direct debit (ACH etc.) details *BEFORE* transferring money. This takes a few days.
    If you do not do this, you will get a call requesting that you pay immediately via wire transfer, and they’ll be quite upset when you say “no”. (Because they require payment within 24 hours, otherwise they need to reverse the deal, which is a big hassle for them.)
    To repeat: you do NOT need to pay USForex via wire transfer (in the US often costs $$$), but you DO need to set up your direct debit details beforehand.

    Once everything is set up, transfers are smooth and great value!
    My first transfer took about 2.5 weeks: set up direct debit, make trade, funds from direct debit actually arrive in US, yen sent to Japan, funds arrive in Japan. Not for people in a rush, but cheapest way. You can go faster by wiring money, but that costs more.

    • Mira Boora

      Hi Nils,

      Thanks for your feedback and comments. I really appreciate it. I have forwarded the comments on to our dealing teams as a reminder so they can inform clients to setup the ACH before the transfer is booked – I definitely want the customer experience to be perfect.

      Kind regards,

      Mira

      • Nils Barth

        Thanks Mira – this is great customer service!
        Once the direct debit was set up, everything was smooth. All the steps take a while, but if you’re not in a rush, this is definitely the best way to go!

  9. Bank charges for international transfers indeed sometimes are ridiculously high, and when you compare them to p2p solutions’ charges they are times higher. Thanks for this new option! I think that there should be more competition to bank services and more ways around paying a fortune for transfers. I was using Paysera for transfers in JPY for several ties and they also offer quite good exchange rate and fee is minimal – around 3 EU.

  10. Ramsey A Alnwajah

    I really wanna try this option, but my situation, is I have bank in Japan already set, Yuucho Bank in Nagoya, and I’m trying to wire around 50$ there, to pay for my last payment for my MUFG credit card, the thing is I will have 10 days to do that, what do you suggest the fastest way to do that?
    Thank you.

  11. woodybuzz.rider

    Hi, Dear! my favorate money transfer tip in Japan is [Using MoneyGram]. especially, i usually send or receive money with enremit.com the most convenient and cheapest moneygram transfer service in japan. up to 100000JPY, just pnline apply and payment, that’s all. over to 100000jpy, before you need to register to them. i dont need to go theri office just online apply and online payment. receiving money too! they can send my money to my bank account. (every japanese bank they can send)

  12. Does anybody know if this will work for Canadians as well? I see the options for the UK, Australia and the USA. Just curious ^.^

    • mrkirkland

      Yes I think you can create an account from most countries. They even have an office in Toronto, if you prefer to speak to someone with a local accent 🙂

  13. cont drwg

    Speak to one of the IFA’s in Tokyo that offer FX. The one I use gives me excellent rates, better than any bank or other FX companies I’ve used in the past….

  14. Aristides Gomez Ramirez

    But in OFX you need to transfer money internationally from your bank in Japan to either Australia OFX or america OFX right?, and then your bank in Japan will charge you for that transfer quite a lot.
    And also you need to register OFX in your bank in Japan which takes time, filling a form, and send it to approve.

    I wish OFX have a local account in Japan 🙁

  15. Michael Parrish

    Yes, I didn’t read the post carefully, OFX is great to get money TO Japan, but you have to transfer your money by your Japanese bank to an OFX bank abroad to then transfer it on. The Customer Service Rep was very frank and forthcoming; so I may use OFX for importing money to Japan.

  16. Rakuten Bank is a cheaper option for sending your money outside Japan via OFX. You’ll have to set up your account for international transfers.

  17. Sabin Snake

    wonder how much ¥ I can get from $1.3 billion USD.

  18. Mickey_disqus

    Now there is TransferWise, which exchanges at current market exchange rate, and charges a tiny amount.

  19. TransferWise does not charge recepient bank fee or midium bank fees as they have local bank accout in Japan and rate seems be around 0.5-1% depending which country you are sending money from.

  20. Tokyogreen

    Very helpful article, but you mention Citibank Japan as a possible intermediary bank. To the best of my knowledge, Citibank Japan has effectively transferred all its Japanese banking operations to SMBC Trust Bank (not be confused with Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank).

    • CheapoGreg

      Citi transferred their retail operations to SMBC Trust Bank/Prestia but they still operate in Japan. Intermediary services are an inter-bank services not a retail service. The information on using these intermediaries with Shinsei Bank was up to date as of November 2016 – long after the transfer of Citibank branches to Prestia.


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