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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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.  Shinsei Bank also now offers their own app called "GoRemit" for overseas remittances.  I wrote more about Shinsei Bank in general 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.

Here are some others I've investigated... - 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. - At time of writing they cannot support Japan residents. - 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: 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 - Roberto

    Does Transfer Wise option work with PO bank accounts??

  • Guest - Roberto

    Wow great article very helpful. Thank you!

  • Guest - Danny

    How were you able to use TransferWise to receive money from the US? I registered with them but it says I can only send money to the US, not the other way around.

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Danny

    Did you register a Japanese bank account?

  • Guest - Claudia

    In your experience, which is better Transferwise or Shinsei? I debating whether to open a bank account at JP post bank or Shinsei. But I would like occassionally want to send money back home, nothing large and just a max every 3 months or so. So I was wondering if JP post pair with Transferwise would be better than transfering through Shinsei? Other than that, I don't need much from my bank. Knowing this, which bank would you recommend me?

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Claudia

    I use both--Shinsei is the Japan bank account and Transferwise is the transfer service. I can't comment on the JP post office account since I don't have one, but if you want English service, Shinsei is great.

  • Guest - Manny Sainz

    I like this article and want to use Transfer Wise or World First (which now has a branch in Japan) but have one important question. What Japanese bank details do you need to provide and do you need the Japanese bank’s approval to make the transfer? The reason I ask is because I live in the US but want to transfer money from my Sumitomo Trust account in Tokyo and I cannot go back there to get approval from the bank.

    If anyone can answer me I would appreciate it.

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Manny Sainz

    I only had to register my account name, account number, and branch with Transferwise. I didn't have to inform my bank nor get any approval. The transfers show up as normal deposits.

  • 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?

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