It’s easy to open a bank account in Japan, though your options will be limited if you don’t already have a strong command of the Japanese language. Fortunately, several Japanese banks now offer telephone support and online banking in English, and may even have English-speaking staff available at certain bank locations. Let’s take a look at the most practical banking options for foreigners living in Japan.

Credit cards in a pocket

What to bring

To open a bank account in Japan you will need the following: work/student visa (bring your passport), Japanese ID (Zairyū Card), and telephone number. Some banks require a hanko (or inkan (), which is a personal seal used to sign official documents, but don’t worry if you don’t have one – certain banks will allow you to use your signature instead. Keep in mind that if you are here on a tourist visa, you won’t be able to open an account.

Foreign-friendly banks

Shinsei bank is the easiest option for newcomers who want to open a bank account in Japan. Some of the more traditional Japanese banks such as Mizuho and Sumitomo are fine for those who are fluent in Japanese and plan on staying here for the long haul, but for overall convenience and ease of use, Shinsei is a better choice.

You aren’t required to sign with a hanko/inkan, and all services – including telephone support and online banking – are available in English as well as Japanese. Shinsei also offers a separate foreign currency account, which is useful for anyone planning to travel or send money from Japan to the US or Europe.

As nothing in life is ever perfect, here are some limitations with Shinsei:

  • Shinsei bank requires you to have at least a 1-year visa in order to be able to make a bank account.
  • Because Shinsei is actually not a Japanese bank, their accounts cannot always be used for recurring payments such as apartment rent or memberships.

Japanese stamps

Japan Post bank

Checking and savings accounts can also be opened with the Japanese post office. While not as English-friendly as Shinsei, opening an account is easy and does not require a hanko or inkan. Additionally, there are no fees when transferring money from overseas to a JP bank account. This is also the only Japanese bank that will allow minors to open their own bank account.

If making a JP bank account first thing after arriving in Japan, it is likely that you will receive a limited type of account which will let you receive direct deposits in Japan, but leave you unable to make transfers to other banks from the ATM or overseas for your first 6 months in Japan. After this time, you may apply for your account to be switched to a normal one, and receive the ability to make transfers. The process is quite simple, and only requires you to fill out some small forms with your name, address, and phone number.

Types of accounts

Most likely you will need a regular deposit account, or Futsū Yokin (普通預金). A deposit account comes with a bank card (more on that later) which can be used at most ATMs throughout Japan, and a passbook (tsūchō, 通帳) containing your account information and transaction records. The passbook can only be updated at your bank’s ATMs. Savings and business accounts are also available for those who are interested.

On top of the limited account we discussed above with Japan Post bank, some banks will offer foreigners the possibility of making a non-resident account in the event that they have not been in Japan for 6 months yet. These types of accounts should be absolutely avoided, as they do not allow you to receive direct deposits (from, say, a part-time job), make transfers, or even get a cash card. Among the most common banks, UFJ and SMBC offer this type of account

Cash card

After making your bank account, you will receive what’s referred to as a cash card; maybe right there and then at the bank, but most likely through the mail after a week or two. Unlike the debit cards we might be used to, which let us access our account funds directly to make payments, Japan still operates largely by cash only. While this card will allow you to use ATMs as one might expect, you will not be able to use it to make any actual purchases in stores. Make sure you have cash on hand if you go shopping! That said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find an ATM wherever you are, should the need arise. Both department stores and convenience stores provide ATMs for their customers.

Words to know

While you might be able to find English-speaking staff at bank locations in some of the bigger cities like Tokyo or Osaka, you may find yourself in a situation where knowing the basics will come in handy. Here is some of the most commonly used banking vocabulary:

  • Bank: Ginkō, 銀行
  • Withdrawal: Hikidashi, 引き出し
  • Deposit: Yokin, 預金
  • Transfer: Furikomi, 振込
  • Account number: Kōza bangō, 口座番号
  • Cash: Genkin, 現金
  • Fee: Tesūryō, 手数料
  • Passbook update: Tsūchō kōshin, 通帳更新
  • Cash transfer: Genkin furikomi, 現金振込
  • Direct transfer: Kōza furikomi, 口座振込
  • Balance check: Zandaka Shōkai, 残高照会

Good luck!