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I'm an American living in Japan, and I'm looking to buy a car in Japan in the next couple months. I have a Chase bank account with a debit card and a Sapphire credit card.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to find a place that allows credit cards for buying a car, or that would be the best option.

I've also been informed by the dealer that they don't have any connection with Chase bank, so sending money directly from the bank won't work either.

So it seems that I'm left with withdrawing cash. Which I wouldn't have an issue with, but my Chase card has a 3% foreign exchange rate adjustment fee + a $5 fee for each withdrawal. And I can't locate it on the website right now, but I'm pretty sure I can only withdraw $500 per day. So I'd be hit with the fees several times.

Do I have any other options for withdrawing money? Is there some kind of prepaid card I can charge with my debit card / credit card and withdraw money without limitations or fees? (I searched for one with no luck)

My wife has a Japanese bank account, so any way to transfer money to her account from my American account without fees would also be awesome.

  • Is your Chase account denominated in Japanese yen, or US dollars? – Martin Bonner Oct 31 '18 at 9:05
  • My bank account is in US dollars – Skeets Oct 31 '18 at 10:15
  • Does your wife not allow you to use her money (or her parents' if she doesn't saved enough)? Not sure how it works on foreign-Japanese couples, but in general Japanese couples share the family finance. It costs too much if you transfer such large amount of money. – Blaszard Nov 2 '18 at 18:29
  • Many used car dealerships will happily take a credit card. Did you ask around? – RoboKaren Dec 2 '18 at 3:07
  • @RoboKaren - I had also read that many dealerships take a credit card in several online articles before I started looking. Unfortunately, in my case, the number of dealerships that accepted credit cards was very limited (actually none of the nearby dealerships... they all explicitly state they don't take credit cards). I wonder if it's different for somewhere like Tokyo or something (I'm more in the countryside) – Skeets Dec 3 '18 at 11:26
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I am a happy user of Transferwise. I use it to transfer CHF and GBP to EUR, but they do USD to JPY too.

It is not entirely fee-free, but they use the mid-market rate for foriegn exchange, and then charge a fee on top. For USD to JPY, the fee scheme is quite complex:

  • A flat fee of $4
  • 0.85% on the amount up to $135,000, and 0.73% on anything over that
  • $25 additional Swift charges on amounts over ¥1,000,000

But even if you want to transfer $10,000 the charges will be about $108 (which is only just over 1%), and you can reduce that by doing it as two $5000 transfers (so that you sneak in under the ¥1,000,000 limit).

2

Getting the money into Japan to buy a car was a very stressful experience with comparing prices and finding a method I felt comfortable entrusting a large sum of money with. The method I came up with was not one that I found anywhere in any of my research, and I think it's the cheapest, safest method possible. Hopefully this helps someone in the future. :D

So, I went to try TransferWise, and for whatever reason, they deactivated my account and refused to give me service. They weren't able to provide a reason for why they weren't able to help me.

However, I'm kind of glad because I found that in my case, a standard wire transfer was much cheaper than a 3rd party money exchange company like Transferwise or OFX. ALSO, if you use the money for something like buying a car, those companies apparently need to keep records of what you bought, and it becomes a complicated process. You have to send in documentation, talk to people on the phone, etc. (and OFX ended up not being able to help me either, they can't help you if your address is in Japan).

Wiring the money through my American bank was done in 2 minutes, and I didn't have to talk to anyone, which was a nice bonus.

Steps I took:

  1. Open a bank account with Shinsei bank. (if you're an expat living in Japan, trust me, this is the one to get. They can hold US dollars in addition to Japanese yen, and they have zero fees for receiving international wires (most Japanese banks will charge you))

  2. Wire the money directly from the bank account in your home country (a $40 fee is pretty standard, which is an awesome price if you're transferring a lot of money) Give explicit instructions to NOT convert the money into yen. (banks normally try to kill you with their horrible exchange rates)

  3. When the money arrives in your Shinsei bank account, convert it to yen though their online portal. It can be done in about 60 seconds and is immediately available for use.

As a reference, the total fees I was charged were about half that of Travelwise, and the money arrived just as fast or faster than it would have. The fee looked something like this:

$40 fee for wiring the money (flat rate regardless of amount)

~0.08% fee (1/10 of Transferwise's rate) for exchanging money through Shinsei bank (it is a special introductory rate, but the standard rate is still excellent)

  • Sorry to here about the customer support experience with Transferwise. What exchange rate do Shinsei use? Was it the rate you see on Google or XE, or was it some special Shinsei rate? (Transferwise use the mid-market rate, if Shinsei use a rate 1% worse than that, you need to add the cost of that to your fees.) – Martin Bonner Dec 4 '18 at 14:09
  • @MartinBonner - They give you the rate you can find on google, XE, etc. The only fee is the "0.08%" fee. – Skeets Dec 5 '18 at 2:35
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    That is a very good deal then. – Martin Bonner Dec 5 '18 at 6:47
  • @martinBonner Yeah, I didn't fully believe it until I saw the yen in my bank account. It really is that good :D – Skeets Dec 5 '18 at 8:55

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