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Opening a bank account in Japan as a foreigner

shinjuku tokyo japan

The other morning I got on the train for a couple of stops to Shinjuku in order to open a bank account. Why go so far you ask when there are a dozen banks closer to my apartment? Because I’m a foreigner and Japanese banks, for the most part, won’t let you open an account until you have lived in Japan for six months. I’ve actually lived in Japan for two years now but that doesn’t count either since I’ve only been here a few weeks on this occasion. It’s really bizarre that I can get a working visa but not a bank account. I’m not applying for a loan, credit card, or other service where I could possibly split the country with their money either. I just want a place where my employer can make a direct deposit.

So I took the journey to Shinjuku to open an account with Shinsei Bank 新生銀行, and I’m glad I did. This bank is the best bank I have ever dealt with. I walked in to a waiting room that looked like I had entered a luxurious spa. This is very different from every bank I’ve ever entered in Japan. Most look like a very clean DMV with everyone working around one giant desk in the middle. Not so here. Employees had their own fancy offices. The design and decor of the place was unlike anything I’ve experienced. One wall was a giant screen TV. Not only that but my A’s were playing the Mariners (and winning for once) on this flat screen.

The lady helping me apologized, saying it could take 40 minutes to set up my account. No problem with this kind of atmosphere I thought. I have done currency exchanges that took longer than 40 minutes at Japanese banks and post offices. Setting up an account while watching baseball in the lap of luxury could take much longer for all I cared. All she needed was a copy of my Foreigner Registration Card (外国人登録証明書). She did the rest and had it all done in 15 minutes. I had my choice of over 30 different colors for my ATM card. She smiled at me smartly when I chose bamboo.

Seriously, if you ever need to set up a bank account in Japan look no further than Shinsei Bank. The service is outstanding, you can get an account as soon as you have your 外国人登録証明書, and you can use pretty much any ATM in the country for free (including the post office and 7-11). Supposedly their employees speak English too, but I started in Japanese and we therefore did the whole set up in Japanese so I can’t tell you if they really can speak English or not. The documents she gave me at the end were all in English though.

19 Responses to “Opening a bank account in Japan as a foreigner”

  1. 1
    James Andrews:

    Wow, that’s great news, since I am moving to Japan in the spring.

  2. 2
    Japanese words:

    Great write up. As long as you have your 外国人登録証明書 then most any bank shouldn’t be too difficult. Though most I have used don’t sound nearly as nice as that one. Did they require a hanko? That has been the biggest annoyance from other banks I have used.

  3. 3
    mito tourer:

    Shinsei Bank seems to have a lot of foreigner-friendly services. Their ATMs all accept cards from American banks too. Only, how did they miss the most important point-the name of their bank isn’t written in English on any of their signs! How are people who can’t read Japanese supposed to tell which bank is the foreigner-friendly one??

  4. 4
    acase:

    Japanese words: Shinsei Bank was actually the third bank I tried. The first two (Mitsui and Mizuho) required either a hanko or six months of residency in Japan or both. Shinsei required nothing but my Gaijin Card.

    Mito Tourer: They need to read this blog. 😉

  5. 5
    Jamie:

    Firstly, I totally agree about shinsei ginko being the best there is – really, the atmosphere that struck me as i walked in was “wow this actually feels like a bank”, as opposed to most japanese banks which feel like a poorly run shoddy post-office. And the online banking in English is a major plus, obviously. And the free transfers. And free withdrawals… Hell , everything that would be standard back home!

    However, I think you’re being a bit hard on the other banks and it’s really your fault for not having a hanko made given how important it is to life here… My first bank account was with Kyoto bank within a week of arriving here – I had my gaijin touroku shoumeishou, plus a hanko that the company had made and registered for me. No problems, no delays.

    Still, I wish my first account had been with Shinsei…

  6. 6
    Eido Inoue:

    Some history: Shinsei is one of the few banks in Japan that completely failed due to the 90s bubble in Japan. They were formerly known as LTCB. They could be foreigner friendly because after they went belly up, they were one of the first Japanese banks to accept foreign capital and foreign management to rescue it. Thus the Indian and American connections to Shinsei run strong. So the reason Shinsei banks look new is because they lost everything and had to start over from scratch. (Shinsei literally means “new life”).

    Regarding the English availability: be careful about relying too much on the English menus. Often the English is a “lite” version of the Japanese site, being synced with the master version less often and often has less services/options (and legal and fee warnings). It’s good to get used to the Japanese interface as quickly as possible, not just for the bank, but everything.

    As for “foreigner friendly,” I guess it depends on the services. For ATM consumer services, perhaps. But I received pretty good service for serious transactions (house loan) from Mitsubishi and Sumitomo. Also I had an easy time getting a credit card with a high limit from Sumitomo, which I need for business (I travel a lot so I run up big bills for airlines/hotels). All the services mentioned above are available from SMBC, though they do seem to be less English friendly.

    Also, perhaps times have changed, but I had no trouble opening an account on my first few days in Japan. But that was 1993. And I had an inkan. Perhaps they’ve gotten stricter.

    Agree with Jamie on the inkan. It’s not hard for a foreigner to obtain a inkan/hanko. There are shops everywhere. Making one costs around ¥5000. Registering it, which makes it official and links it with a computer PIN code making forgery hard, at the ward office takes ten minutes and is free. You will need that inkan once you move up and are ready to do a serious business transaction in Japan (home/business loans and many rental/lease agreements).

  7. 7
    Alainkun:

    well, to make your hanko you just have to go to one shop and get a hanko in a couple of days. No special requirements to get a hanko, with that and your alien card is very easy to make your bank account.
    I whent to UFJ after been 2 month here and get my student visa and I made my account with a credit card very easily. Just get your hanko!

  8. 8
    Emerald:

    An update on Mistubishi UFJ: I went there today to open an account as I’m an old customer of their’s only to find they now only offer accounts to non-Japanese who have lived in Japan for more than 6 months … even with a hanko and a Gaijin Reg card (or slip for one as I’ve only been here for a couple of days. I just want to get things organised so I can BUY STUFF!!).

  9. 9
    locohama:

    Shinsei is pretty good looking on the interior but at the Yokohama branch they can’t speak English…nevertheless with my broken J-go I worked it out and opened an account last year (-:
    good write up!

  10. 10
    Joe:

    It’s a pity it’s impossible for me to open a bank account, being under 20. Actually went to Shinsei and was looking through the big book of cards when they came over and took it off me :'(

  11. 11
    Haf:

    When I lived and worked in Japan, someone from the company drove me around and helped me to get everything in order. One of the first things we did was ordering a hanko, as it was needed to open up a bank account at the bank the company traditionally uses, Risona. This was not in Tokyo, but Saitama-ken , and setting up the account was quite easy with the help of the man from the company. However they didn’t have 30 colors to choose from, only two different designs, a normal one and a quite childish one.
    I still wonder if it was a mistake to close that bank account when I moved back to Germany. Maybe I should have tried to keep it, just in case I need it. But reading your blog post, I guess it’s ok to switch to the Shinsei bank. 🙂

  12. 12
    Xylene:

    Thank you very much for this useful tip! I was at my wit’s end trying to figure out how to open a bank account in Japan. Was supposed to get my husband’s help but to make a long story short, he was sent on an extended business trip and was left alone to cope with the recent transfer and all. Also, he was the one with the language skills, feel totally lost in this city.

    Thank you, thank you. Did I say thank you?

  13. 13
    mmmiles:

    Yes I would also like to thank you for your pieces of insight. Getting a bank account is one of the last things I need to do to get my life here in order. Many companies will not hire you without one. Cheers!

  14. 14
    KC:

    Shinsei Bank is garbage; they take forever to process requests through their telephone banking system and the offices are unable to perform the simplest functions without directing requests to a higher authority.

  15. 15
    acase:

    KC, I have to disagree. My experience with other banks and the post office sound like what you describe. My experience with Shinsei Bank has been totally different. I’ve had good success with them in person, on the phone, and using their online banking. For the past six months I have been able to do everything needed via their online banking system.

  16. 16
    Mark:

    Hi, Shinsei bank has been great for me over the last 3-4 years. You can deposit or withdraw up to 500,000 yen at any 7/11 ATM with no fees at all. It couldn’t get any more convenient for me. The phone service has been great on the rare occasion I have needed any assistance. I highly recommend them.
    Mark

  17. 17
    Dee:

    Thats great but I cant seem to find a branch in Gifu, can anyone help?

  18. 18
    acase:

    The closest one is probably in Nagoya. http://www.shinseibank.com/english/atm/tempo/015/nagoya.html
    I only used a branch to open the account. After that you can do all of your transactions for free at 7-Eleven.

  19. 19
    Dee:

    thanks acase

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