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.
Solution #6: Bitcoin, Anyone?
Another novel way to transfer money between countries is to use crypto-currency like Bitcoin. Because Bitcoin is not linked to any one country, it’s more “mobile” than traditional currency. As long as both countries have a way to exchange Bitcoin to local currency, then you should be good to go.
Here’s what I did:
1) Open a Coinbase account in the US.
Coinbase is a Bitcoin Exchange that allows me to buy and sell Bitcoin using US payment methods (like my US bank account). Now I have a method to exchange Bitcoin in the US.
2) Exchange Bitcoin for Japanese Yen.
Unfortunately, at time of writing it seems that exchanging Bitcoin in Japan has gotten more challenging due to the Japanese government stepping up regulation efforts. Therefore, the methods I used previously to buy/sell Bitcoin in Japan are no longer available (e.g. Bitcoin ATMs). So what I do now is exchange Bitcoin for Amazon Japan gift certificates. This is easily done with the Bitpay wallet app.
3) Exchange Bitcoin for US Dollars.
If I were to find a Bitcoin exchange method in Japan, I could purchase directly into my US Coinbase account. I could subsequently cash it out for US dollars to my US bank account if desired. Conversely, I could purchase Bitcoin using my US bank account and sell it for yen in Japan. Bitcoin essentially serves as an exchangeable intermediary asset that allows you to skirt traditional foreign exchange methods.
To be totally honest, I don't usually use Bitcoin this way. I prefer to maintain a small stock of Bitcoin in my Bitpay wallet and use it for online purchases. Namely...
1) My webhosting company Vultr accepts Bitcoin payments.
2) My Bitpay wallet allows me to purchase Amazon gift certificates using Bitcoin.
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!