I am in the weird situation of being kind of a reverse expat. I used to work in Japan for quite a while, but have moved back to my home country of Germany. I continue to work for Japanese clients though, who pay me in Yen on my Japanese bank account. So I need a way to move this money over to Germany on a (semi) regular basis.

Regular foreign bank transfers are both pretty expensive and work intensive (virtually nothing you can do online). Over time I've worked out a system with the most cost-efficient bank I could find, but it still involves somebody having to go to the bank in person for me.

Does anyone have any tips how this could be made easier and/or cheaper?

I have a couple of suggestions:

  • In the past, I had a simple savings account with Shinsei bank. When overseas I could withdraw the money from most ATMs using a simple debit card. This method was easy (probably the easiest way you will get), but you would need to determine how cost effective it is. From memory I believe it was ok.
  • Another option would be to transfer money via paypal. I'm not sure if this will work as Japan's PayPal has a lot of restrictions not imposed on accounts of other countries. In theory, you could create a PayPal account in Japan and an account in Germany. Then transfer money from one account to the other ( you should be able to do all of this online). If you wanted to reverse the flow of money from Germany to Japan then it wouldn't work. Personal PayPal accounts in Japan are not able to receive donations or something to that effect.
  • My next suggestion was going to be to use Lloyds bank, but apparently their remittance service has been taken over by Shinsei bank. I have no experience using the Shinsei remittance service, but you can find more information about it here.
  • Thank you. I'l have to look into that Shinsei offering and see whether that's better than my system now. One of the main points really is the offered exchange rate, since that's currently in the dumps and having the bank take any more of it almost makes it not worthwhile at all... :) – deceze May 1 '14 at 5:27
  • ATM fees and losses due to exchange-rate are sure to be a lot less than wire transfer fees. – WGroleau May 7 '14 at 1:49
  • 1
    Shinsei Bank Charges no Fee and the exchange rate is 4% worse than the posted exchange rate at the time. Local ATMs may take an additional fee. English here – jmac May 7 '14 at 23:59

As stated by moomoochoo, Shinsei Bank is very handy for remittances overseas, so if you still have residence (for instance, you worked there and have permanent residency and have a valid address you can use to register for the bank account), then I strongly suggest you open an account during your next visit as soon as possible (opening an account needs to be done at a branch, but is very quick and easy compared to most other banks in Japan and should take under 30 minutes).

If you are no longer a resident of Japan, you are stuck with your current bank. Non-residents cannot open new accounts in Japan.

As a Shinsei Bank customer, you have two options:

  1. ATM withdrawals (best for transfers <50k JPY)
  2. Remittances (best for transfers >50k JPY)

ATM Withdrawals

Shinsei Bank's cash card is usable on any ATM in the PLUS network (very common in both the US and Europe). There is no fixed fee to do this, but there is a 4% fee charged over and above the VISA international rate.

To give an example, the current EUR to JPY exchange rate is 141.64. Using the VISA calculator with the 4% fee, that means you would be paying 147.80 JPY/EUR. If you are transferring 50,000 JPY, that means you get 338 EUR instead of 353 EUR, for a total fee of 15 EUR (~4.2% of the total).

This is convenient, and scales to small withdrawals easily as there is no fixed fee, but will be very expensive if you withdraw larger sums (the daily cash withdrawal limit from a foreign ATM is 100,000 JPY).

Remittance

Shinsei Bank allows internet remittances with GoRemit. This gives a better rate, but has a 2,000 yen fixed fee that is added on. To give an idea of what this would look like, the exchange rate is 143.20 JPY/EUR (compared to the actual rate of 141.64). If you sent 100,000 JPY, this would mean you would get 684.36 EUR/JPY instead of the 706.02 EUR (~22 EUR, ~3.1%), which is better than the ATM withdrawal for 100,000, but will become a worse deal the smaller the withdrawal amount.

As you increase the transfer amount, the fee becomes smaller and smaller. ~5% at 50k, ~3% at 100k, ~2% at 200k, ~1.5% at 500k, etc.

For what it's worth, here's my current approach documented for posterity. I'm using Money Partners to do the actual currency exchange, which gives me a pretty good rate which I'm in full control of (you can follow the rate and exchange the minute it's good). I'm then transferring the money to a foreign currency account at Mizuho, and from there I'm wiring it to my account abroad. I also have the option to get the exchanged money in cash directly from Money Partners, should I feel like carrying a bundle with me.

This approach only costs relatively low flat fees for both transfers (Money Partners to Mizuho and Mizuho to abroad), in total something like ¥8,000 I believe. For wiring larger amounts this is pretty good, especially since I'm losing very little on the exchange rate compared to traditional banks. However, the procedure for wiring money abroad through Mizuho is pretty bureaucratic and involves a number of phone calls and paper work to be sent back and forth and/or an appearance in person.

You should look into Bitcoin. Buy Bitcoin on an exchange like Kraken in Japan, and sell it in Germany. It should easily beat the often 10+% fees for remittances from Japan. Checkout reddit.com/r/bitcoin and ask them for help if you don't understand it.

  • This was probably not true in 2015 then but it definitely isn't now. There are fees for trading bitcoin to and from the exchange and between fiat currencies. There is also considerable risk that the value of bitcoin could change significantly during the process. Bitcoin exchanges are also much less regulated than pure fiat currency exchanges and have been hacked and lost their customers' funds. I'd stick to traditional methods unless you've got spare cash to play with (I actually like Bitcoin but I don't think it's a practical exchange mechanism at the moment). – Adam Millerchip Jun 25 at 23:30
  • If you go this option, don't limit yourself to bitcoin. There are a lot of different cryptocurrencies that could and probably should be used instead. – TryHarder Jun 26 at 5:24

I think TransferWise is the best service for sending money out of Japan recently. They have a modern web interface and the rates are very reasonable. I've used them myself to send money to the UK and the process was very smooth.

Check out RetireJapan's review:

  1. The website is in English, it's simple and easy to use, and everything can be done online easily.

  2. The fee is low and the exchange rate is as good as you are going to get (they use the interbank rate).

  3. Setting up new beneficiaries can be done online in minutes, and the site remembers information from previous transfers so sending money to the same person takes seconds to set up.

  • "Rates are very reasonable" == 0.55% + 100¥ (plus any charges your Japanese bank makes to change the transfer the money to Transferwise). – Martin Bonner Oct 10 at 10:25
  • Quoting the rate here isn't going to stay up to date very long. I added a link to their fee calculator in the answer. – Adam Millerchip Oct 10 at 10:41
  • The charge rate is pretty stable, and in my experience have only gone down. – Martin Bonner Oct 10 at 10:44

Brastel offers a decent exchange service. Become a free member of Brastel, you get a login where you can add your Germany Bank account details. For every Germany account you add, a dummy Japan bank account will be generated. Now you can transfer your money from Japan account to the dummy respective account, Brastel will transfer from your dummy account to respective Germany account. They also offer a JP transfer in ATMs.

See here to know in detail.

You can check the rates here

Transaction fees here

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