HOW TO: Transfer Money To and From Japan

transfer, money, remittance, overseas, Japan

Editor's note: Many thanks to Peter Lavelle of foreign currency exchange Pure FX for compiling and writing most of today's guest post.

If you’re living in Japan, or know someone who is, one potential problem can be sending money to and from the country. How do you do it? What are your options?

In fact, while GoRemit (formerly GoLloyds) is a well-known service (which I’ll cover in this post), there are other useful alternatives you might want to consider, depending on your circumstances and requirements. Let’s take a look at them.

Some Words to Know

送金               そうきん                           soukin                         remittance
送金手数料  そうきんてすうりょう      soukin tesuuryou        remittance fee/charges
外国向送金  がいこくむけそうきん      gaikoku mukesoukin   overseas remittance
外国送金   がいこくそうきん             gaikoku soukin            overseas remittance

How To Transfer Money To Japan From Overseas

This is the more difficult question to answer, given that there’s precious little information about it on the internet (a pretty thorough Google search on my part brought up a lot of spam and not much else.) In short, if you want to transfer money to someone in Japan, you have three options:

Use a Bank

You can transfer money to a Japanese bank account from a bank account elsewhere in the world, as long as your bank abroad is able to transfer money to a bank account in Japan (some can’t, especially in the less developed world, so you’ll want to check). There are some important provisos to this:

a) The fees associated with doing so will depend on your bank abroad, so it’s important to ask beforehand. For instance, my bank in the UK (Natwest) charges £20 to send funds to Japan.

b) The amount received into your Japanese bank account will depend on the exchange rate, since the currency rate frequently changes. If it’s a big transfer, it could be worthwhile waiting until the JPY weakens first.

c) The length of time it takes for the money to arrive will also depend on your bank (although you can pay more to receive it faster) while it’s quite possible your Japanese bank will charge to receive the money.

These are all things you should find out beforehand.

Use Western Union

Until 2010, Western Union had no established presence in Japan, which (to me at least) seems crazy. But now you can transfer money to Japan at any Western Union office in the world. To receive it:

a) Use the Western Union Find A Location tool to discover the nearest place you can receive funds.

b) Complete the How To Receive Money application form before you go, and be sure to take the sender’s details with you.

It’s important to note that though Western Union has services across Japan, the majority are at Family Mart and Seven Bank (7-11) ATMs, where you can’t receive money. This could make using Western Union to receive funds inconvenient. In other words, make sure there’s a location near you before you get started (there are locations to receive money in large cities in 17 prefectures).

In addition, Western Union doesn’t give you the exchange rate they’ve used until after you receive the funds. This could mean you lose out.

Use PayPal

If both you and your friend in Japan have PayPal accounts, you can send money to them online. To do this:

1. You’ll need to connect your Japanese PayPal account to your bank account in Japan in order to transfer funds from PayPal to the bank.

2. Log in to your account.

3. Enter the email address of the person you wish to send money to, as well as the amount.

4. Check the details of the transaction, and if everything is OK, press send.

Compared to a bank, Paypal is a faster option, with the added bonus that you don’t need to physically go to a bank or similar location to collect the money.

Of course, there are some conditions:

a) There will be a fee if you’re sending money internationally (i.e. to someone whose PayPal account email address is registered in another country.) The sender usually decides if they or the receiver pays this fee.

b) PayPal’s fee structure is set out here. It’s also worth looking at the User Agreement, which provides more detailed information.

In general, the fees depend both on where your account is registered, and where you’re sending money. So for me, as someone registered in Spain with PayPal, the basic fee to send money to someone else in Spain is 3.4% of the total plus €0.35. In addition, if I were to send money to Japan, I would pay an extra 1.5% of the total, taking the fee so far to 4.9% + €0.35.

Furthermore, there is a currency conversion fee for PayPal too. PayPal sets the exchange rate, which you can find using their Currency Converter. (If that link doesn’t work, it’s available under the main Profile page of your account.) The rate you get will usually be 3-4% beneath the rate you see there. So if the USD to JPY rate is 79.59 for instance, as it is now, you can expect a rate of 76.41 or so.

That isn’t too bad, but it does mean the total cost of sending money from Spain to Japan (for example) is about 8.9% +€0.35. That’s high. Of course, if your account is registered in Japan, or the US, then the associated fees might be quite different. So it’s obviously important to check before you send money.

c) If you haven’t verified your PayPal account, the most you can send is USD$2000. However, this limit is lifted if you Verify Your Account, and thereafter will depend on your account status. (For me, the most I can receive is €2500, at which point the limit is reset in May 2013. I can, however, choose to lift this limit.)

In short, it looks like the total amount you can send using PayPal is quite small, which may not be suitable for your needs. However, given the fees associated with the service, this may not be such a bad thing anyway.

How To Transfer Money Overseas From Japan 

For whatever reason (perhaps the high expat demand) this is much easier than transferring money to Japan. You can use Western Union to transfer money from Japan. Furthermore, there’s Japan Post, as well as dedicated bank services such as GoRemit (formerly GoLloyds).

Editor's note: Keep in mind when sending money home or overseas with the intent of going into your bank account, you may be charged various fees from an intermediary bank and/or your bank or the bank you're sending to (beneficiary bank). You'll want to check with your bank or the bank you're sending to and see how they handle any of the types of transfers listed below.

Use Western Union

The biggest drawback of using Western Union to receive money (i.e. you can’t in most locations) doesn’t apply when you want to transfer money. Indeed, you can transfer money out of Japan:

a) At one of the 8,700 Family Marts in Japan, whom Western Union has partnered with. (Search for one here, so long as you can read Japanese. Using a browser translation tool or Rikaichan or Rikaikun might help with this.)

b) At 7-11 ATMs, with whom Western Union has also joined forces. (Find an ATM here, in English.)

The more locations you can use Western Union, the more convenient it obviously is.

The details for using Western Union at Family Mart are available here. Keep in mind:
  • You need to register first, and if you want to use 7-11 must do so again separately.
  • You can only transfer money in person, but can add possible recipients to your account online.
  • The fees associated with the service are available here, and depend on the amount you send. (If you transfer less than 10,000 yen, the fee is 990 yen.)
  • The annual limit is 5 million yen (see here for other currency limits.)
The details for using Western Union at Seven Bank are available here. Keep in mind:
  • Again, if you do transfer money with Western Union, you’re not told the foreign exchange rate until after the funds arrive.
  • The annual total for sending money through Seven Bank is 8 million yen (see here for other currency limits.)
  • The fees are the same as Family Mart's.
However, one major drawback is that with neither service are you told the exchange rate beforehand. This could leave you vulnerable to receive a bad rate. There’s also the fact that, to actually send money, you must go in person.

Use Japan Post Bank (ゆうちょ銀行)

Japan Post is a well-known (and seemingly quite affordable) way to transfer money out of Japan, via its bank (Japan Post Bank). However, it is worth noting there are only 233 branches in Japan that provide this service, so make sure there's one nearby. To use this service, you have two options:

a) A paper money order (住所あて送金, じゅうしょあてそうきん, juusho ate soukin). This means the funds (in your target currency) will be sent in an envelope to either a bank or address. This is neither fast nor secure.

b) An electronic transfer (口座あて送金, こうざあてそうきん, kouza ate soukin), in which case the money is transferred direct to an overseas bank account (in your target currency.) This can be done with cash or via your Japan Post Bank account, if you have one.

To do so costs 2500 yen in most cases. Sending money to a US bank account costs just 2000 yen, excluding receiving fees. What’s more, the exchange rates are meant to be very competitive.

To transfer money from the post office, you’ll need your alien registration card (Residence Card after July 9th) or passport and you will need to fill out the appropriate form (the forms have English on them). You can tell the staff which type of transfer you want to do.

After going through the process, if you plan to transfer money the same way to the same place more than once, you can ask for a special form (国際送金請求書印字サービス申込書, こくさいそうきんせいきゅうしょいんじサービスもうしこみしょ, kokusai soukin seikyuusho inji sa-bisu moushikomisho) to pre-fill out the information and they can keep it on file for you.

Use GoRemit

*UPDATE* GoLloyds has been transferred to Shinsei Bank and is now GoRemit. See this page for information and details.

The third way to transfer money from Japan is perhaps one of the most widely known and used. It means opening a remittance account with GoLloyds or Shinsei GoRemit, which specialize in expat banking services.

Sending money with GoRemit costs 2000 yen, not including the transfer fee from your Japanese bank account to your GoRemit account. On the other hand, most banks charge a Y2500-3000 fee to receive the funds, so the total for using GoRemit could be more.

In addition, unlike the post office, if you send before 3pm, the money is meant to be remitted same day. That’s a major plus over other methods.

Use JTB or SBI Remit

There are other dedicated remittance services you can use to transfer money from Japan, such as JTB and SBI Remit. Neither of these are banks per se, but provide dedicated services for transferring funds abroad.

SBI Remit is web-based, which is an advantage. However, funds are not transferred to a bank account, but a physical location, similar to Western Union (SBI Remit is associated with Moneygram, Western Union’s biggest rival.) Hence for someone to receive the funds, there most be a convenient pick-up point (search for one here).

The basic fee looks about 110 yen cheaper than Western Union for a 10,000 yen transfer, which is also notable. You can find more information about SBI’s fees here.

JTB is a comparable service to SBI, in that it’s web-based, but depends on someone going to a physical location to receive the funds. In this case, instead of being Moneygram outlets, it’s ATMs associated with Cirrus.

However, the website reveals a host of fees associated with the service. If you send more than the maximum 300,000 yen transfer limit, there’s a fee to refund you the excess. Similarly, if you want to check your balance at an ATM, you get charged 100 yen. Last of all, the service costs more than 1000 yen per year just to belong. This compares to SBI Remit, which is at least free. In other words, beware JTB!

Your Bank Account in Japan

Lastly, it’s possible to transfer money overseas from many banks in Japan, although the specifics and costs of each varies. Some banks may require you to sign up for overseas remittance as a separate service. Also, some may only be able to remit to certain countries.

Fees will depend on the bank, although it will likely be more expensive than some of the other options mentioned above (3500 yen and up seems to be common). Unless you use a bank that provides these services in English, you’ll have to navigate the process in Japanese.

Editor’s note: Regarding Paypal, you can create a Japanese Paypal account as long as you use an email address not currently associated with another Paypal account and you have a Japan-based address. You can link your bank account in Japan to your Japanese Paypal account, but you can only transfer funds from Paypal to the bank account. You can’t add funds from your Japanese bank account to your Paypal account.  
In other words, Paypal in Japan currently can't be used to remit funds overseas from your Japanese bank account. You can, however, link a credit card to the account (it doesn’t have to be a Japanese credit card, but it does need a Japan-based billing address).

Well, that’s about it! Whether you want to transfer money to or from Japan, you’re now aware of some of the best available methods of doing so. 

How do you prefer to send money home from Japan? What services have you tried?

Useful Links

GoLloyds (Now GoRemit)


Peter Lavelle is a broker at foreign currency exchange Pure FX. If you have a question about sending a large sum to Japan (more than £5,000/USD$7,800 or equivalent) get in touch to receive in-depth personal guidance about your transfer, at no charge. In addition, if you’d like to keep up with the exchange rates, visit Peter at his Google+ page.

Editor's note: Many thanks to Peter for doing the base research and putting this together, and putting in my additions. David and I also contributed to this post to ensure accuracy from the "on-the-ground" Japan side of things. (In particular, the post office information, Paypal Japan information, and banks in Japan). 

You might also be interested in some step-by-step instructions on how to do a furikomi (bank transfer).

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