Unless you are living a cashless lifestyle (bad idea if you’re coming to Japan), you’re more than likely going to be bringing a large sum of cash on hand with you when landing in Japan. Luckily for you, exchanging money in Japan is pretty easy and convenient as cash is still the king here.
There are several places in Japan that’ll let you trade in your cash for yen. The most common and recommended place to do this is at the airport. You can also exchange your cash at banks, post offices, and major train stations. Another great option is the use of debit cards at ATMs.
Wow, so many choices to choose from. Unfortunately, all of these choices have their pros and cons. Let’s talk about that and my tips on how you should go about exchanging your cash for that needed yen.
The most convenient and favorable place to exchange your gaijin bucks for yen, is the exchange at the airport when you first arrive in Japan. Exchange rates at the airport are always the same as the banks, so you won’t have to worry about losing money on poor rates. When you’re exchanging your money here, be prepared to fill out a sheet of paper declaring how much you are exchanging. You may also be asked for your passport as well.
If you are traveling with a large sum of money of over $10,000 make sure you declare it on the customs form given to you prior to landing in Japan.
As a travel tip, I highly recommend exchanging out all of your cash here. You’ll get the best rates plus you will save yourself a headache when frantically trying to find an exchange in a situation where you’re all out of yen.
Japan is a very safe country, so keeping a lot of cash on you shouldn’t be in issue. If you do happen to lose your wallet, chances are high that someone will turn it in untouched.
Probably one of the busiest places to exchange money. Large banks offer an exchange desk that’ll exchange cash to yen. ATMs are also available, but most do not accept bank cards issued outside of Japan.
Banks are almost always busy throughout the day and more so on Fridays as people rush to get their money out for the weekend. Expect to be waiting in a queue for a period of time.
Much like anywhere else, banks in Japan adhere to strict opening and closing times from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM and are closed on weekends and holidays. In tourist-heavy areas, banks usually have branches that specialize in money exchanges that are open longer hours.
If you’ve already left the airport, then I recommend this as a second option for exchanging money at a bank as you’ll still be able to get the best rates.
Below is a list of major Japanese banks to look out for:
- Mizuho Bank ~ Can be spotted by it’s blue and white color scheme.
- MUFG (The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ) ~ Can be spotted by it’s white and red colors.
- SMBC (Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation) ~ Can be spotted by it’s green color scheme.
Japan’s postal service is one of the best and most reliable in the world. Only the best would have ATMs placed in all their post offices for the sake of convenience. Some larger banks in tourist-heavy areas will have exchange desks similar to banks.
Post Offices are open from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM and are closed on weekends and holidays. Note that post offices are open two hours later than banks, which is a great tip to consider when traveling.
If you are traveling near the holidays like Christmas or Golden Week, you’ll want to stay far away from the post office, as you’ll be joining a line going out the door.
To find out whether a post office has an ATM, look for the green JP Bank sign outside, usually right next to the standard red post office symbol 〒.
Major train stations throughout Japan will always have exchange offices available. Although I don’t recommend going through them to exchange your cash, mainly due to really poor rates and commissions, you might have no choice but to surrender if stranded there at that station.
There’s nothing shady about these exchange offices, and are actually quite revered among us foreigners and tourists. Below I’ve compiled a list of reputable exchange offices that you can trust in case you are skeptical.
- World Currency Shop – Operated by a subsidiary of MUFG.
- Daikokuya – Trusted business operating lawfully since ‘81.
- Nihonex – A unique company offering competitive exchange rates and services.
- Sakura Currency Service – A tourist friendly company offering hotel bookings, and cash exchanges.
- Sakura Exchange – Renown and favored for offering fair rates and great customer service.
- Travelex – An international company founded in London that specializes in international payments
The most reliable and cheapest way to exchange money. Keep in mind that this option is only possible if you are transferring cash directly from your debit bank account. ATMs won’t take cash, and you can’t use a credit card for cash advances.
Most bank accounts have additional fees when using them abroad, as well as a percentage taken for exchanges. If you plan on using your debit card abroad, here is a list of things you should know before coming.
- Know whether or not your bank card can be used abroad.
- Ask your bank for international fees and daily limits.
- Remember your 4-digit security code.
- Notify your bank that you’ll be abroad so your account isn’t suspected of fraud and locked during your trip.
I used a normal Chase bank savings account and was surprised by a $5 ATM fee plus a 3% fee on the entire transaction. Not very ideal for someone who was just scraping by his first year in Japan and desperately needed the money.
Here is a list of available ATMs that will accept international cards:
- 7-Bank ATMs ~ Found in every 7-Eleven. You can only withdraw $1,000 per withdrawal, and only $300 for American Express Card holders. Accepted cards are: Visa, Visa PLUS, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, China Unionpay, Discover, Diners Club.
- Japan Post Bank ATM ~ Found in most post offices You can only withdraw $500 per withdrawal. Accepted cards are: Visa, Visa ELECTRON, Visa PLUS, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, China Unionpay, and Discover. An additional $2.00 fee may apply on top of the fees imposed by your bank.
- Aeon Bank ATM ~ Found in most Aeon malls and grocery stores You can only withdraw $500 per withdrawal. Accepted cards are: Visa, Visa PLUS, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, China Unionpay, and Discover.
- Convenience Store ATMs ~ Sometimes you can find ATMs in stores like Family Mart and Lawsons operated by MUFG. MUFG ATMs only accept: JCB, Union Pay, and Discover.
Alright, so that’s a lot of information to absorb. In summary, my recommendations are to get your cash exchanged first thing at the airport at an exchange desk if you’re worried about rates. If you absolutely hate cash and came to Japan with only a debit card, use one of the ATMs I suggested above to get cash out at the airport. Japan is very cash-based, and you won’t even make it onto a train or taxi cab without it.
I only recommend using an ATM if you have your bank accounts in order and can avoid international fees. Do all of the pre-planning and research with your bank prior to coming. Fees will definitely eat you alive if you don’t.
Try to avoid exchanges that aren’t banks or at the airport. You can save quite a lot of money if you get a better rate and can skip out on commission fees.