What you absolutely must do when in Japan: Pay as much as you can using credit cards, and if cash is necessary, do a cash withdrawal with your credit card from either an ATM at a Seven-Eleven convenience store or Japan Post Bank [ゆうちょ銀行].
Let’s be clear. This is, so far, the best method of paying and withdrawing!
What you SHOULDN’T do are the following 3 things:
- Exchanging for Japanese Yen at your airport.
- Exchanging for Japanese Yen in Japan’s airports (excluding US dollar & Euro)
- Exchanging for Yen at a hotel in Japan.
We know you know the exchange rate at hotels are absurd.
So why is paying in cash not a good idea?
※If you are bringing in US dollars or Euro, cash is OK.
Generally speaking, when exchanging currency, you must consider the rate, hassle, and safety, and paying by credit card, and cash withdraw using credit card, trumps all other methods (cash or other means of exchange).
Let’s get into the details shortly, but read this first:
Presented below is a list of major currencies reflecting their return value when exchanged to Japanese yen on the official exchange rate, on a given day at Narita Airport. We’ll call it the depreciation ratio.
And let’s be frank, we can categorize this as “fees”.
The lower the depreciation ratio, the more yen you get in your pocket when exchanging currencies.
＊Keep in mind, however, that this ratio will fluctuate and only presented as an estimate.
Asia: Chinese Yuan: 10.9%, Hong Kong Dollar: 16.6%, Indonesian Rupiah: 29.4%, Malaysian Ringgit : 14.6%, New Taiwan Dollar: 15.1%,
Philippine Peso: 12.2%, Singapore Dollar: 5.7%, South Korean Won:14.9%, Thai Baht : 12.8%, Vietnamese Dong: 18.5%
Americas: American Dollar: 3.0%, Canadian Dollar: 9.8%, Brazilian Real: 26.7%, Mexican Peso :31.4%
Europe: British Pound: 6.6%, Czech Republic Krona: 16.3%, Danish Krone: 13.8%, Euro: 3.2%, Hungarian Forint: 18.6%, Norwegian Krone: 17.1%, Polish Zloty: 18.8%, Russian Ruble: 31.1%, Swedish Krona: 17.2%, Swiss Franc: 4.4%
Oceania: Australian Dollar: 11.0%, CFP Franc: 16.6%, Fijian Dollar: 19.8%, New Zealand Dollar: 11.0%
Middle East Region/Africa: Egyptian Pound: 40.3%, Qatari Rial: 15.3%, Turkish Lira: 45.9%, UAE Dirham: 15.4%, Saudi Riyal: 15.7%, South African Rand: 41.0%
The U.S. dollar and Euro are both around a reasonable 3%. If you’re holding other currencies, you are sure to be in for a not so friendly surprise.
Have a look at the Turkish Lira, 45% depreciation ratio! That’s almost half the value you get back. That is a nightmare.
Turkey is a world class friend of Japan’s and it’s not something the Japanese want to impose, but it cannot be helped. It’s the same in any other country.
The depreciation ratio is determined by the strength of a country’s currency and amount in global circulation playing a tug of war between another country. In other words, the economic situation of two countries.
So, in general, if you are not carrying U.S. dollars, Euro, or similarly “major” currencies, you’re going to receive less in an exchange and waste time.
All you can do is be mad at your own country’s government and central bank.
Now you understand the ridiculousness of carrying cash, yes?
Alright then, the next point on credit cards.
Credit Cards (Processing fees are under 2%)
〜Using credit cards whenever you can is absolute〜
1st of all, the beautiful thing about credit cards is conversion rate is practically the same as the official foreign currency exchange rate. That is a pretty big advantage.
That said, MasterCard has the best conversion rate followed by JCB, Visa, Amex, and Diners, follow in that order.
The card card company with the lowest fees when shopping in Japan/overseas, is (in order):
＊Discalimer! Rate may change. Or this is the rate when shopping in japan＊
※Diners has the lowest rate, right? Nope. Because they use TTS (Telegraphic Transfer Selling rate) plus interest fees, their charges come out to 2.2%〜4%.
So now we know that even with below 2% fees and a better exchange rate than any other exchange, credit card is the way to go, but there is more...
Consistently using one card, given it’s a mileage or point card, you can gain miles or points just by using the card.
The amount of money you spend will give you a return of about 0.5%〜2% in mileage or points, so if you use a credit card with a high point/mileage return rate, you just might be able to cover your exchange rate charges!
Cash Withdrawal at ATM (※approx. 3% fee )
Highly recommended to get cash using your credit card at a Seven-Eleven ATM machine (or Seven-Eleven “Bank” ATM).
Carrying some cash, for obvious reasons, is a good idea. There are many small shops and restaurants in Japan that don’t accept card payments. That’s where a Seven-Eleven convenience store ATM or a Japan Post Bank becomes handy when you need to access cash by card.
Seven Bank (Seven-Eleven)
This bank is by far the best in number of atms, number of cards accepted, and open hours.
What started as a simple atm at all seven-eleven shops now has expanded to over 22,000 atms at airports, stations, shopping centers, etc., open 24 hours 7 days a week. It’s by far the most convenient way to get Japanese yen.
Their processing screen provides 12 different languages to choose from and offers instruction, receipts and voice guidance in English, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese.
Seven Bank ATM
Withdrawal fee: none
Withdrawal limit: (per transaction): 100,000 yen, China UnionPay: 200,000 yen.
No. of ATMs: 22,000
Displayed languages: English, Japanese, Chinese (simplified, traditional), Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Vietnamese, French, German.
Accepted Cards: Visa, Plus, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, UnionPay (UnionPay IC Card not accepted), Discover, Diners Club.
There are Seven Bank ATMs at Narita and Haneda airports too!
Narita Airport: Terminal 1
Central Building: 1st floor (arrivals lobby) 6:00〜23:00
South Building: 4th floor (departures lobby) 6:00〜23:00
Main Hall 4th floor 0:00〜24:00 (inside 7-11 convenience store)
Main Hall 3rd floor (departures lobby) 6:00〜23:00
Main Hall Basement floor 1 6:00〜23:00
Haneda Airport: International Terminal 2nd floor 24 hours.
Find the other Seven Bank ATMs here:
Japan Post Bank
If there are no Seven-Eleven shops nearby, your next best alternative is Japan Post Bank ATM [ゆうちょ銀行] at post offices.
Pros: Over 27,000 ATMs nationally, more ATMs than seven-eleven, and found more frequently in the rural areas, it is reassuring when you’re out of cash away from the city.
Cons: Smaller Japan Post offices close at night, languages are only in English and Japanese, and a 110 yen transaction fee.
Japan Post Bank ATM
Withdrawal fee: 110 yen
Withdrawal limit: (per transaction): 100,000 yen
No. of ATMs: approx. 27,000
Displayed languages: English, Japanese
Accepted Cards: Visa, Visa Electron, Plus, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, JCB, UnionPay (UnionPay IC Card not accepted), Discover, Diners Club.
ATM locations (in Japanese only): http://map.japanpost.jp/pc/?link_id=atmMap
Credit Card Withdrawal at ATM (※approx. ３％ fee)
Just like a purchase with a credit card, the exchange rate is determined the day the company processes it.
(The credit card companies’ rate is about the same as the exchange rate).
Though you won’t be charged the 1.6%〜3% processing fee, you will for the interest rate (determined by the borrowing rate the credit card company issues) and ATM fees.
The circumstances may differ in your country, but in Japan, the credit card companies charge around 15%〜18% borrowing fee, and depending on the credit card company the borrowing term can be 25〜55 days. If you take the rate, let’s say 18% and divide it by the number of days, you get a rate of about 1.2%〜3%.
Add it up with the ATM fees and you get basically 2.2%〜3.5% total fee.
And remember, that’s for all currencies. Ain’t that a deal compared to a cash exchange?
On a side note, cash withdrawals on a credit card will not give you points/mileage.
You do have the option to go with cash cards or Traveler’s Checks, but the benefits of a credit card and cash withdrawal are too great.
International Cash Card (※approx. ５％ fees)
Cash Cards can also withdraw money the same way credit cards can, however, the interest from the bank issuing the card has higher fees.
4%〜6% fees can be incurred withdrawing from an atm, a bit too high when considered.
Traveler’s Check (5% fee)
The exchange rate for Traveler’s Checks are close to the official exchange rate, and therefore much better than cash.
And if theft or loss of money is a concern, it provides insurance protection.
But, their processing fee is 1%〜3% which means their fees are closer to 3%〜6%, so it’s not that great of a deal.
Time is also lost getting the check and exchanging them.
Another caution is Japanese Banks have started to move away from traveler’s checks, so if you have it go to Travelex:
Travelex can be found at both Narita and Haneda airports and around town.