Banking in Japan for Foreigners: JP Bank vs Shinsei Bank

Banking for foreigners in Japan? WHAT? You mean foreigners actually live here? I thought you were just a visitor or tourist who happens to speak fluent Japanese just because. Yea – be prepared for that kind of attitude at a majority of banks in Japan. Having said that – all is not lost. Humour me as I tell you my experiences.

Despite incredibly advanced technological advances in robotics, the banking industry in Japan is painfully traditional. Japan is still largely a cash-based society, so be prepared to walk around with a wad of cash to buy things. Paying by credit card is only available at major department stores and at some restaurants. Most people pay their bills with cash at a convenience store or at the post office. If you can’t be bothered with that, direct debit is also available. 

Now onto the banks.

 JP Bank

1. The Bank Card

I was highly recommended to get a JP Bank account when I moved to Japan. Whoever did that was high on something. Admittedly, JP Bank has a wide network of ATMs all over Japan. Nevertheless – in crowded city areas, be prepared to queue for up to 10 minutes for your turn to take out money. Be mindful of the fact that JP’s cash withdrawal services are NOT 24/7. Oh yes – the ATM machines go to sleep at night like the rest of us.

Zzz….Zzz… Zzz…

Also – the JP bank card isn’t compatible with a lot of other ATM machines so trying to get cash out if you can’t locate a JP Bank can be a real pain. Whilst the JP bank card works at some convenience stores, be prepared to pay a service charge that varies depending on whether you’re withdrawing during a peak period or off peak period. Yea – I’m serious. 

Oh and if you want to check your transaction history, you’ll have to use a passbook that you have to update at an ATM. Online banking – pardon me, what’s that? Debit card? SAY WHAT?!?! And don’t you even think about using the JP ATM card overseas.

In fact, just where is overseas? The people at JP don’t seem to know… 

2. The Service

Although JP Bank is now privately owned, it still retains the bureaucratic legacy of its public sector history. There is a looooooong form for everything – including getting change. I’m serious. Even though international money transfers are available, the staff often don’t seem to know perform the transaction. Expect a lot of waiting around as they talk to their superiors and confirm and re-confirm things. 

If you make a mistake on the form, they might ask you to fill it in again… Dear Lord… and it doesn’t end there. They ask a million and one questions about anything going *gasp* overseas. Even if you respond in Japanese, they don’t seem to understand the answer. Occasionally, you get lucky with an English-speaking staff member, but don’t count on it. 

Something that should take 20 minutes or less can end up taking over an hour. Also – the currencies that JP Bank actually deals with are quite limited. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was back in the 1950s. 

Am I?


Shinsei Bank

1. The Bank Card

Firstly, there’s no passbook. You’ll receive a bank card and you get to choose the colour from a variety of options. Yipeee! 

How I wish I had opened a Shinsei Bank Account sooner. A colleague of mine told me about this bilingual bank and I went over and made an account on the same day. The lady who opened my account didn’t speak English, but there are bilingual documents available on site so you can read through everything on your own before signing. You can use the ATM card free of charge at most convenience stores and ATMs throughout Japan.  

Compared to JP Bank, Shinsei has a small number of branches limited to major cities, but who needs a physical presence when there’s GASP – online banking! 

2. Shinsei Online Banking

The interface is relatively behind when compared to other countries like Singapore and Australia, but you can do most of your transactions online. The security measures are also a bit confusing and time consuming but OK once you get used to it. Foreign currency saving accounts are available in most major currencies of the 21st century. You can also get a prepaid GAICA debit card that you can use locally as well as internationally. 

Also – if you run into a problem, there is – GASP – toll free bilingual support available on the telephone. 

You can use the online banking service to check your transaction history as well as make a limited number of free bank transfers a month. Although the website is largely in English, you need to use Katakana for certain things so if you’re not familiar with that then… it’ll be a pain. 

Nevertheless – it was nice to be back in the 21st century. 


Concluding Remarks

There you go – my personal experiences banking in Japan. I’ve also heard good things about MUFG although I’ve never used it personally. Shinsei’s not perfect, but I’m much happier with Shinsei than I am with JP Bank. 

Till next time – park your precious money with a bank that’ll take care of it… and you. 

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