Opening a bank account in Japan is essential so that you can sign up for cell phone service, receive direct deposits from work, among many other useful things. However, it is probably one of the most verification-intensive processes you’ll encounter in Japan, aside from immigration-related paperwork. While the method and policies will vary from bank to bank, at the very least, we can hopefully help you get a clear understanding of what you’ll encounter during the process.
Banks to Choose From
First, you’ll need to decide on a bank with which to open your account. Here are three popular options:
If you don’t speak any Japanese, Shinsei is a great option, as they offer full-service English support. You can apply either via mail or in person.
Seven Bank is another excellent option with English support. One drawback is that they do not have physical bank branches anywhere–they are mainly an online bank. However, their ATMs are much easier to access, as they can be found at basically every 7-Eleven convenience store in Japan! You can apply online, or via mail.
Yes, this is Japan Post Bank, brought to you by the Japanese postal service. While you’ll be better served knowing at least some Japanese, language barriers aside, JP Bank is one of the most reputable and foreigner-friendly banks around. That said, their account numbers work a little differently than other banks, making transfer and remittance processes a bit more complicated. You must apply for an account in person at the post office.
Things You’ll Need to Apply
While every bank has different policies and procedures, there are quite a few things that banks may require, such as:
- Your residency card with your address printed on the back（在留カード）
- Proof of address (This can be a juumin-hyou 住民票 from the city hall, or a utility bill. Not always necessary.)
- A phone number (Depending on who handles your paperwork, your company’s or share house’s number may suffice.)
- A hanko/inkan (Most banks no longer require the formal stamps, a signature acting in their stead. However, if you want one even just for a keepsake, you can find local hanko stores or visit hankoya.com. Any premade seals are not allowed; they must be custom and include at least your first or last name.)
- For Americans, your Social Security or Tax Identification Number (Sorry, the IRS wants to know about your foreign accounts, too!)
- Details regarding the place of your employment (This is mainly required for those who have resided in Japan for less than six months at the time of application. Required details include: industry, the name of the company, your position/title, and the number of employees.)
- Your birthdate by Japanese era (You can refer to Japan-guide’s post to convert your birth year. The bank staff may also be able to help you.)
- Time — expect this to take an hour or two, especially if the branch is busy!
How to Apply
So, as mentioned, the exact procedures for each bank are going to vary. However, there are some general similarities that you can expect.
Step 1 — Find the best method to apply.
Each bank has different ways to apply, whether it’s in-person, via mail, or online. Find out what bank and application method is most convenient for you, and proceed accordingly.
Step 2 — Begin the paperwork.
The next step is going to be to start filling out paperwork to open your account. Generally, this will, at the minimum, consist of the main application form, and a form to confirm that you are not related to a diplomatic official nor involved in the Japanese mafia, and any necessary forms associated with signing up for a cash or debit card, and possibly online banking. Much of the information will be repetitive, but the bank staff or provided instructions should guide you through the process relatively smoothly. If you are American or have citizenship in any other country requiring that you report your foreign bank accounts, you will be asked to fill out the respective forms. You may also need to fill out an extra form to affirm residency if you have only been in Japan for less than six months.
Step 3 — Select the appropriate features for your account.
During this paperwork process, the bank staff may ask you if you would like to use various features and services. These may include services for international transfers, online banking, debit cards, transaction book, and more. Most do not require any special eligibility qualifications (except for credit cards) but may need a little additional paperwork depending on your application method.
Step 4 — Wait for your documents/card(s).
Once the paperwork is accepted and processed, you will then receive your documents and card(s). Many banks will provide your account information on the spot and then mail your card(s) within two weeks, and others will provide everything to you on the spot. (You may even receive a gift for signing up for an account, such as a calendar or notebook!) However, once you have your branch and account number, your account is considered open.
Unique Quirks of Japanese Bank Accounts
Every country handles its banking systems differently, with some differences and similarities between each. Some of the features that are possibly unique to Japanese bank accounts are:
Many countries offer checking accounts as the standard, with a savings account on the side for earning interest. However, savings accounts are the standard in Japan, keeping the ability to write paper checks unique to the checking accounts typically used for business matters. Checking, aka regular accounts in Japan, allow interest to accrue while still providing a debit card and ATM card.
ATM and Debit Cards
Most, if not every account in Japan will come with a cash (ATM) card. Cash cards will allow you to use ATMs and manage your account, but cannot be used to pay for goods and services. Debit cards, provided separately (sometimes on the reverse side of the same cash card), cannot access ATM features but are used to pay for goods and services. A bank account does not always inherently include a debit card, so make sure to verify that the bank will provide you with the card. You can read our post about using money in Japan; debit cards are not as widely accepted here as they are in other countries.
Transaction books are used in Japan to record your withdrawal and deposit history automatically via the ATM. When inserted, the ATM will print the most up-to-date information into the book. Nowadays, many banks offer an “eco” online alternative through their web portal or smartphone app.
Credit cards in Japan are notoriously difficult to obtain in Japan for foreigners, as banks consider the inherent short-term nature of visas as a potential flight risk, or a means to avoid paying off a balance. If you don’t already have credit in Japan, the bank will most likely deny you for a credit card should you choose to apply for one along with your bank account.
However, if you do successfully obtain one with a third party such as Rakuten, note that the monthly statements are settled every month by automatically withdrawing the full balance from a linked bank account unless you specifically enroll in revolving payments. This passive system, compared to the active payment system in other countries that make it easy to accrue debt and interest, often comes as a surprise to new credit card holders in Japan. If you can’t afford a payment and need to pay down the balance in installments, you can convert your purchases to either revolving or divided payments.