Money & Bank Accounts

  1. TransferWise
  2. Credit Cards
  3. Budgeting and Saving
  4. Bills

1. TransferWise

TransferWise is a money transfer service akin to Western Union.

Why use it and not use the bank or post office?

Generally speaking, it is cheaper than using the bank or post office, as those establishments charge higher fees.

Banks and post offices also have inconvenient opening hours. If you can’t go at lunch, it’s likely you won’t be able to use their services (this varies depending on the area, as banks and post offices in bigger cities can often have extended hours).

TransferWise is less limited, and you can even set up transfers on-the-go in under five minutes, using their free app!

How does it work?

You create an account using, following the very clear steps. You then set up a transfer by inputting the amount you wish to send, and its destination account (such as your account from your home country). You then send this money from your Japanese bank account! You can do this in person, at an ATM, or using online banking.

Since not everyone will be able to avail of bank opening hours, or will have online banking set up, feel free to use this PDF to walk you through the furikomi (bank transfer) process using an ATM. Note that the PDF is for Shizuoka bank, but the steps and Kanji should be similar for other banks.

The one thing you must remember is this: to transfer using an ATM, you must go to an ATM of the bank you are a member of!

If the fee is so low, is this legal?

Yes! This is completely above board, and a very well established company. It was actually created by Skype.

It is so cheap because instead of directly sending money abroad, they send your yen, to a proxy Japanese bank, and transfer you the same amount from a bank in the country you are sending to. Because of this, there is technically no international transfer, thus reducing fees!

2. Credit Cards

Why apply for a credit card?

The real answer is convenience for certain things. Although Japan is a cash based society and a number of places will not accept credit cards, especially in the more rural areas, they can be a big help if you want to travel outside of Japan. You can pay for some domestic flights at konbinis, but for traveling abroad, or buying things online, owning a credit card can make your life a lot easier.

Where should you apply for a credit card?

Firstly, ask if your bank offers a credit card. Some do, some do not, and others won’t offer one to you because you are a foreigner.

If you can’t get one through your bank, Rakuten comes highly recommended. They tend to be pretty lenient when giving credit cards to foreigners, assuming you have been here for a few months and have a small sum in your bank account to prove you can pay your bills.

How can you apply for a credit card?

The process of applying takes a few hours, but with Rakuten especially, most ALTs get accepted.  You do need Japanese to do it though, so if you can’t speak it, ask a very kind friend or neighbor to help you… And then buy them something with your new credit card!

(Your JTE may help you with this, however, unlike housing contracts, insurance, etc., credit cards aren’t considered necessary, so they aren’t required to help you with this)

Rakuten cards you can apply for:

  • The basic 0 fees card
  • The gold ¥10,000 a year card.
    • This card has quite a few added benefits, most notably free entry to a huge amount of airport lounges across the world, so if you are planning on traveling this one is quite a good deal.

Technical payment things to keep in mind:

Credit cards work a bit different in Japan than in other countries.

For example, Rakuten fixes the amount that will be transferred from your account on the 12th of every month. The money is actually deducted on the 27th, and then reflected on your account on the 30th. This means that if you spend a lot of money on the 13th, that money won’t actually be deducted from your account until a month and a half later. Keep this in mind if you have more than one big purchase to make in a short time frame!

3. Budgeting and saving

Why bother doing either?

Money disappears really fast if you don’t keep an eye on it. This is especially as an ALT  because you are in a new, exciting country, and likely want to experience as much of it as you can. You need balance this drive to explore with covering the cost of essentials such as rent, utilities, and food.

It’s also possible that you have student loans to pay, or a big expense such as a car or a house to save for, so establishing good budgeting and saving habits is important.

Budgeting tools:

You can use excel or a pen and paper to keep track of your income and expenditures if you wish, but there are other methods too, such as: budget books for monthly expenses, which are available at ¥100 stores, and online.

You can use excel or a pen and paper to keep track of your income and expenditures if you wish, but there are other methods too, such as budget books for monthly expenses, which are available at ¥100 stores, and online budgeting apps. GoodBudget is one that is especially recommended, as it is free and user-friendly.

Saving techniques:

TransferWise (see number 1 for more information) sends money to accounts in other banks, so you can keep it out of sight, and out of mind.

If you wish to keep your money in Japan, however investing in a piggy bank is surprisingly sound advice.

There are two main piggy bank-based saving techniques that are tried and tested:

  1. Set aside a certain amount each month, and put it in your piggy bank every time without fail. It soon becomes a habit, and builds a nice rainy-day fund.
  2. Save all your 500 yen coins by simply deciding not to spend them. Transfer any 500 yen coins you get to your piggy bank regularly, and you will save almost effortlessly.

“Unplanned” expenditure:

There are some fees that come hand-in-hand with being an ALT that may sneak up on you. One of these fees is the cost of staff parties, or enkais. Typically, they cost around ¥5000 each. While these can add up, do try to attend as many as possible as they are a great opportunity to bond with your teachers and to see a completely new, quite often very drunk side of them. Ask at the beginning of the year when the enkais will be so you know when they are and how much to save.

Also some schools have an enkai fund you pay about ¥2000 into each month. If you intend to go to them all, this may be worth asking about!

Another temporary expenditure is the fact that you will have to pay for all of your business trips beforehand, so make sure you always have enough money available for that. Your BOE (Board of Education) will pay you back within a month or two. Different BOEs have different guidelines as to what they will reimburse, so please ask your BOE to be certain of what rules and regulations apply to you.

4. Bills

Paying bills:

There are two methods to pay bills in Japan:

  • Konbini payment
  • Automatic payment

The konbini payment allows you to pay in cash, at your convenience. Simply bring your bill (within due date) to any konbini and hand it to the cashier.

The automatic payment allows you to pay via direct debit, but you will have to do set it up at your bank using Japanese, so either brave it by yourself if you can do so, or ask a very kind Japanese-speaking friend!

Missing bills:

Don’t worry too much if you miss a payment once, as you will be charged it again the next month, plus a late fee. Pay it the second time around!

Recognizing bills:

You will get bills as well as statements for some of your utilities. Usually the gas and water statements arrive a while before the actual bill does. Don’t take these to the konbini, they will just hand them straight back to you with an odd look on their face.

Statements do not have barcodes on them, whereas bills do. This is the best way to identify them.

Also, be aware that your water bill only comes once every two months, so don’t stress if you don’t get one for a while!

Tips on how to save on your utility bills:

If you are lucky enough to have an aircon, don’t leave it on all day. This is simple, but good advice, as it will cause bills to skyrocket easily.

Also be prepared to likely pay quite a bit more in winter for electricity and gas because of your heater and longer showers, which objectively would be worth it.

If your water is heated by electricity, the setting panel is usually in the bathroom or kitchen. Although it doesn’t add a monumental amount, it would still be best to turn this off when you are not using it.

Turn the hot water temperature down in summer as well!