Friday, December 09, 2011

Banking in Japan #2: Opening an Account

Today: opening a bank account!

Don't be put off by the inevitable language barrier, it's very doable.

Where to Open an Account
As we covered last week, bank types are numerous. The biggest foreign bank in Japan is Citibank although their branches are normally only available in big cities. In addition, they have been in trouble with the authorities on multiple occasions for failing to follow retail banking laws. Shinsei Bank is another foreigner friendly bank although, like Citibank, they only operate in large metropolitan areas. Other big banks like Mitsui-Sumitomo and Mitsubishi UFJ provide a range of services, and are "more likely" to have English speaking staff.

Foreigners often go with JP Bank since it has ATMs in just about any post office and offers (limited) free internal transfers. Also popular are local shinkin banks, which tend to have ATMs in malls and grocery stores.

How to Open an Account
You will need:
  1. Your seal (inkan 印鑑)
  2. An official ID with your full name on it
  3. Any money you wish to put in to the account
One important note about seals... legally speaking, foreigners can use a signature in place of a Japanese style inkan but even some bank employees are not aware of this law. In addition, Japanese forms for opening acounts and bank transfers rarely have enough space for signatures . Therefore, we highly recommend that you get your own seal made before opening an account.

As for an official ID, it needs to be a certified public document with your name on it. This includes your Alien Registration Card (gaikokuji toroku shomeisho 外国人登録証明書), a Japanese drivers license (unten menkyosho 運転免許証), health insurance card (kenko hokensho 健康保険証), or Certificate of Registered Matters (gaikokuji toroku genpyo kisai jiko shomeisho 外国人登録原票記載事項証明書). If you do not yet have an Alien Registration Card, you can get a Certificate of Registered Matters the same day you register with your local city office. Note that some banks may require foreigners to show a passport or student ID. 

The actual sign up process is not particularly hard and the employees will walk you through it. Make sure you know your birthday in Japanese Emperor years (nengo 年号) and how much you want to set as your daily money transfer limit (you can raise or lower this at a later date). You will also need to know how to spell your name in katakana lettering since most bank accounts require your romanized spelling plus a katakana reading. Make sure that this is spelled to your liking since you need to write it exactly as it appears whenever you apply for bank transfers or automatic payments.

Joint Accounts?
According to Japanese law, a bank account can have only one name on it. So, no joint or family accounts are available. Some banks like JP bank allow for a separate bank card for family members (dairijin kado 代理人カード) but the official seal and actual named account holder never changes.

What You Get
On the day you sign up, you will get a "passbook" (also called a tsucho 通帳) which can be updated in ATMs and lists all your transaction data. You can also use this to withdraw money. You may also need it for large bank transfers and any other business when it comes to modifying your account.

Your bank card (called a "cash card" kyashu kado キャッシュカード) will arrive in the mail a week or two after. Most cards have a metal IC chip for extra security. Keep in mind that Japanese bank cards have their magnetic strip on the front, rendering them useless outside of Japan.

Fees and Account Maintenance
Most banks don't charge fees for regular accounts although this can differ greatly by institution. To access special services like free convenience store ATM withdraws you may need to keep a minimum account balance.

You may want to ask for or take note of the schedule of ATM fees (which differ by time and transaction), and bank transfer fees which can be rather steep.

  • The magic words for opening a bank account are "ginko koza o hirakitai" (銀行口座を開きたい).
  • Usually, banks offer a "comprehensive account" (sogo koza 総合口座) that combine the features of a Western-style checking and savings account. Others offer separate regular accounts (futsu koza 普通口座) and savings accounts (chochiku koza 貯蓄口座). Most opt for a regular account since it is the easiest and most convenient.
  • Most banks offer addition account services like J-Debit (basically a bank card debit service) and Edy (the ability to charge and store money on your card) for free. Consult your local branch to see what they offer.
  • One of the stumbling blocks foreigners encounter when opening a bank account is that Japanese forms aren't designed for middle names. In some cases the staff will actually have to write out your name on a separate form or call the main branch to figure out the proper procedures.

Other Posts in This Series
# 1 The Basics
# 2 Opening an Account
# 3 Savings and Fixed Deposits
# 4 Internet Banking and Net Banks 
# 5 J-Debit and Pay Easy
# 6 ATMs
# 7 Domestic Money Transfers
# 8 International Money Transfers

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