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How I Send Money Between my Japan and USA Bank Accounts - Life Abroad

Despite living abroad in Japan for quite some time now, I of course still maintain a USA presence of sorts in the form of bank accounts and credit cards.  Therefore, a common scenario is sending money between my Japan bank account and my USA one.  While the options used to be fairly limited to international money orders and wire transfers, a couple of newly-discovered and extremely convenient solutions have proved their weight in yen to me.  For the sake of completeness, I document all the solutions I've utilized.

Solution #1: TransferWise
TransferWise is my current method of choice for sending money between my Japan & USA bank accounts.  It's an innovative solution divorced from traditional bank and post office solutions that harvests the crowd-sourcing power of the Internet to transfer your money.  I've had a superb customer experience with them so far and highly recommend their service.

POSITIVE
- You exchange your money at the actual market rate.  Wow!
- They are very upfront about their fees.  You enter how much you wish to transfer, and the exchange rate and fees are clearly indicated from the start.
- Extremely easy to use--no old-school paperwork to fill-out each time you wish to transfer.
- Fantastic communication and customer support.

NEGATIVE
- The service has limits, particularly with how much you can transfer at once.  It may not be the best option if you need to transfer a substantially large sum (over 10,000 USD).  I'm completely OK with this, though, because I understand the anti-fraud and anti-money-laundering reasoning behind this.

Solution #2: Paypal to Paypal
I have Paypal accounts in both Japan & the US, so I have literally Paypal-ed myself money as a way to transfer it between countries.

POSITIVE
- Very fast and convenient, especially if you already have Paypal accounts setup.
- Nice if you already use Paypal for other things like receiving payments, making purchases, etc.  Money already sitting in your Paypal accounts can be readily moved.
- Fairly upfront about fees and exchange rates.

NEGATIVE
- Paypal takes a percentage of the transfer, so this approach can get pricey.
- Probably not suitable for large transfers.  I haven't really tested how high you can go, but I've personally done 2000 USD via Paypal no problem.

Solution #3: Bank Wire Transfer
I used to use Shinsei Bank to send money from Japan to the USA, especially when the yen was strong.  They have excellent English support, offer me 1 free transfer per month, and allow me to register my USA bank account to conveniently initiate transfers over the phone.  I wrote more about Shinsei Bank here: Which Japanese Bank Do You Recommend?

Unfortunately, the wire transfer approach proved challenging when trying to transfer money in the opposite direction (from the US to Japan).  It was troublesome to initiate a USA transfer from Japan, and I had to engage my family back home for assistance.  This may depend on the US bank, so your mileage may vary.

Solution #4: Post Office Wire Transfer
I used to use the good ol' Japanese Post Office to wire money to my USA bank account because the transfer fee was cheaper than the banks.  However, I later switched to Shinsei Bank because they offered me a free monthly transfer and their account registration feature saved me from having to fill-out an international remittance form each time.  The post office was a cost-effective solution, but the paper form and having to physically visit a post office hurt the convenience factor.

Solution #5: Post Office International Money Order
When I first moved to Japan, the cheapest transfer option was to buy international money orders at a Japanese post office and snail-mail them to my parents, who would then deposit them into my USA bank account.  While cheap, this solution was time-consuming and inconvenient.  I've since moved on to the more convenient options 1 and 2.

Others
Here are some others I've investigated...

OFX.com - A popular one, but unfortunately at time of writing they cannot support Japan residents.
* Unimoni - They have a Japan presence, so I had high hopes.  I haven't tried them because they can only transfer from Japan to the US.  Ideally I'd like one service that can do both directions.
WorldFirst - At time of writing they cannot support Japan residents.
WorldRemit - At time of writing they can't send to Japan.
XE.com - At time of writing they cannot support Japan residents.
Xoom.com - Owned by Paypal, I had high hopes for this one, but it turned out to be a big waste of time.  Read the full story here: Xoom.com Review - Is This a Joke?

That's all the methods I've used so far--stay tuned for more!  Do you know of any other convenient methods to send money to/from abroad?

NOTE: If you found this article helpful and do plan on using my personal favorite service TransferWise, please show your appreciation by using the provided link.  This simple act helps support this website.  Thank you!

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  • Guest - Diana

    Hi! This article was really interesting and useful, thanks! Does anybody have experience with Unimoni? I have to send a large amount of money to USA from Japan and this one have the best rate but at the same time I've never heard of it before, so I just want to make sure is safe. If anybody can share some information i'd be really greatful. Thanks in advance!

  • Guest - Charles Waterman

    What do you mean by large transfers? The Post Office allows the purchase of five $700 money orders ($3,500)at one time. Are PayPal or Transferwise a bad option for that amount of money?

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Charles Waterman

    I don't know if Paypal can go that high, but I've done 10,000 USD with Transferwise no problem.

  • Guest - sc00ter

    What do you suggest as my wife will be having an event in the US but will but her guests are from Japan. Since payment will come from the Japan side to the US side which is the best way to do it? She holds public speaking events at least once a year in Japan but this year will be in the US as the attendees will be coming here approx 15 people and the cost is about $2k total. How is using Paypal or maybe using EventBrite? Any assistance would be appreciated. Thank you!

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - sc00ter

    I would suggest Paypal since it sounds like you're needing to accept payments.

  • Guest - Manny

    Hi!, Can i use TransferWise if I am not currently in Japan? I have a bank account but am currently living in the US. I would like to transfer my Japanese yen to my American bank account. Can I sign up with TransferWise while already abroad in the US? Thanks

  • Guest - Person living in Japan

    Guest - Manny

    You have to physically transfer the money from your Japanese account if you are sending it to your American one. So if you don’t have online banking someone in Japan has to go to the atm and transfer the money to Transferwise who transfers it to your American account.

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Person living in Japan

    I would suggest setting up complete online banking, especially for the bank account in the country you do not live in.

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Manny

    Yes, you can if you already have bank accounts both home and abroad.

  • Guest - John

    Can i set up an account with Transferwise Japan and request a transfer from my US account into my Japanese account?

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