The Best Ways to Send Money to Japan [Ranked by Convenience and Risk]
11 Ways to Transfer Money to Japan (ranked in order of convenience and risk)
Need to send money to Japan? Just two years ago, getting money from an overseas family member, business colleague, or even from your own bank account was a far more complicated and complex process than it is today in February of 2022. What with exchange rates to master, signature forms to make a banker dizzy, and a banking system just not set up for small money transfers.
That’s changed. Online remittance companies like TransferWise (Now, Wise), OFX are hands down some of the best ways to send money overseas, and even capital transfer stalwart, Western Union have reduced barriers to entry for consumers, putting a lot of heat on banking institutions to complete. No longer do banks (or, even Western Union in days of ol’) have a stranglehold on consumers when it comes to transferring money overseas for a variety of purposes.
In this assessment of your options for transferring money abroad, I’ll take a look at the best money transfer services when it comes to sending money from one country to another with a focus on Japan.
Some of these money transfer services I have used personally, some I have yet to try. The list is organized as best as possible by ease of use, with a particular attention paid to customer support, and lastly risk. I say risk, last, because each of these options are regulated industries, so the degree of risk you might experience should be no less than shopping at home with your credit card. Later references to cash and checks up the risk level a bit, which is why they are posted last.
Okay, lets get on with the research.
1. What is a remittance service?
Since the vast majority of modern money transfer language is derived from terms bandied about in the banking and accounting industries that most of us aren’t that famliar with, let’s first begin with a quick definition: what exactly is a remittance? Simply put, a remittance is the transfer or receipt of money from one party to another.
The word remittance takes its root from the word remit, which among other variances, simply means to send money. So, any transaction as simple as sending a bill, or handing over money to someone else, is by defninition, a remittance.
Online remittance services, then, are money transfer operators that work in the financial tech sector (FinTech) that help facilitate the transfer of money between businesses and individuals, and for the purpose of this article, overseas.
Throughout the last decade, vast sums of investment capital have been funneled into FinTech firms with the aim of democratizing access to money throughout the world, while at the same time leveraging the antiquated systems of traditional brick and mortar banking institutions that have prevented them from moving quickly in this same regard. And, as such, money operators like Transferwise, OFX, MoneyGram, WorldRemit, Remitly, and Ria, to name a few, have (along with their nascent customer base) been reaping the rewards.
These online remittance providers have removed the obstacles and typical inflated fees from their operations, making transactions smooth, intuitive, and affordable. For those with a smart phone, once you’ve established an account and provided your banking details, sending money anywhere in the world is now available at the tap of a finger upon one’s smart phone.
2. Use a multi-currency accounts to save on then exchange rate and fees
Even simpler in some ways than transferring money from one person to another, or from one business to another, some vendors (like TransferWise) have established borderless, multi-currency accounts that allow account holders to store any number of national currencies on a single card. This provides numerous advantages to business professionals who do a lot of international travel (or, who used to), and to freelancers, and nomads who want to save on exchange rates while on the road.
These transfer accounts, which typically exist as a phone app, or a physical card, make debit card transactions seamless, and help the holder of the account avoid the type of unnecessary markups that are often associated with purchasing overseas—even purchases made online.
If you have ever been traveling overseas, kept tabs on the daily exchange rate, and had to pay for the privilege of withdrawing money from your own account, or have a loved one in school, or working overseas, you’ll quickly recognize how significant a benefit a borderless debit card provides.
As I live in Japan, I personally use the Wise Platinum Mastercard Borderless Account. The cost to me was only 12 USD, and now I can use the card for any sort of travel I’ll be able to do once the world opens up again, with the ability to spend in 60 currencies.
3. Send money to Japan using an electronic funds transfer
The most familiar of all money transfer opportunities is the now ubiquitious electronic funds transfer. Domestic transfers for bill pay and peer-to-peer payments are largely accomplished through the payment funcionality provided to us by own own banks.
4. Use a physical remittance service to send money to Japan
Physical remittance services like Wells Fargo and MoneyGram are a familiar site in big cities throughout the world, and these days, we’re more likely to see an international money transfer company in a Costco or Super Walmart, than just down the street in your tiny Brooklyn neighborhood.
And, if you’re on the hunt for a straightforward way to transfer money from Point A to Point B without using a bank account, these vendors can help you quickly and easily, making money remittance agencies are a practical choice.
Fees are usually very competitive, but do vary from country to country and destination bank. If you’re in a big city, like Tokyo and are looking for a service that will transfer money directly from your international bank account or debit card to an international account, physical remittance services are a convenient option.
They’re also fiercely competitive when it comes to the exchange rate, and you can walk right into any of their branches to initiate a transfer. Kinda neat if you realize you’ve forgotten to send your assistant the money you owe her for taking care of that PowerPoint deck for you.
What are the best physical remittance services for sending money to Japan?
Let’s look at two most easily found:
A remittance powerhouse for international workers and travelers since 1851, they’re is usually very competitive when it comes to rates, and is also one of the few money transfer services that will allow you to send funds from a credit card. If you’re looking to send cash or have your recipient pick up cash, they’re a good option.
MoneyGram is another money handler with a long history, dating back to 1940. They’re not as widely available as Western Union, though, which has better coverage in rural areas and developing countries. Transfer fees to send money overseas also tend to be higher with MoneyGram.
Both Western Union and MoneyGram offer mobile apps as well, making it easy to find a location and monitor the progress of your transaction on the go. Feel free to check out my full list of downloadable money transfer apps if you’re looking to shop around a bit.
5. Using a bank to send money via wire transfer
Ah, the bank. Love ’em. Hate ’em. They’re not going away, though… transferring money internationally for centuries now, banks are familiar and secure, but painfully slow, antiquated, and not so customer friendly. Sending money internationally using your bank account is especially fraught these days, with staff inside banks is shrinking by the hour, it seems.
International Bank Transfers – Online and Offline Options
In the past year, international banks like Citibank, Chase and Wells Fargo have been making a big push into the international money transfer market, and can certainly help you transfer money to Japan. And if you have a bank account with one of these global banks, you’ll no doubt see the advertising around helping you send money across the globe.
For example, Citibank offers a wire service you can use to transfer funds between one account number to another if both parties have Citibank accounts, or to a recipient’s bank account at other international institutions. Citibank has fairly competitive rates for account holders, and a low $25 minimum transfer amount.
Like, Citibank, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank offers an international wire service that can be used to send money to Japan between Chase accounts or to recipients who have accounts at other international banks. Thee are no fees for account holders if money is transferred online, and a $40 fee if the funds transfer is done inside a Chase branch. This was similar to my father’s experience with Bank of America. Except Coronavirus got in the middle of his innate desire to be “safe” not let anyone have access to his bank account but him. Like Chase there is an easy-to-meet $25 minimum transfer amount.
Wells Fargo, of course, play in this bank transfer game as well, offering ways to send money for bank account holders that wish to transfer money between Wells Fargo accounts or to a recipient’s bank account outside their particular system.
There is no fee to send money if the transaction is completed online, and $40 if money is sent from within a Wells Fargo branch.
A bank transfer with Wells requires a $50 minimum transfer amount.
If you do not have an international account with one of these international banks and still wish to send money to Japan using the bank, you can often transfer funds at most institutions even though you do not have an account with them personally.
A money transfer to Japan is often used for international payments and remittances, but it can also be used as foreign currency exchange for Japanese Yen (JPY). In order to get the best possible foreign currency exchange rate when transferring money to Japan, it is important that you do your due diligence.
When most people have a need to send money overseas, they think of Western Union or MoneyGram. And for good reason: these companies have been around for a long time. Transfers are completed by international banks, international money transfer agents and international financial institutions. The international bank will then debit the account of your choice (whether it be a Japan or US bank) in order to process the transaction. For example, if you want to transfer funds from your Japanese Yen account at Citibank to your US Dollar account at Wells Fargo, you would need to wire the money.
While international wires do offer international fund transfers between international banks and international financial institutions, there are a couple of downsides to sending money with these providers:
– The process of transferring the funds can take hours (even days) depending on where in Japan you are sending money from
– The recipient will often need to have a bank account in order to receive the funds
– The minimum and maximum transfer amount you can send is usually $1000 – $100,000
– Transfer fees vary depending on the company, but typically start at $30 and go up from there
MoneyGram and Western Union offer overseas transfers between international banks and international financial institutions. They both have good customer service, but fees can be very expensive if you are sending a large amount of money.
If you are only looking to send money to Japan in amounts ranging from $1000 – $100,000, then MoneyGram or Western Union are probably not the best money operators for you to choose, and TransferWise may be a better choice because of their large money transfer option.
International Money Transfers
If you need to send more than $100,000, sending money via your bank is likely to not only be more of a hassle, but cost you more as well. Fees to send money overseas are big money makers for banks, and they charge a huge markup on foreign currency exchange rates for this reason, and bury you even more with over the top fees. Bank fees can be anywhere from 0.75% – 12%. That is a lot of cash to pay to the bank for no reason at all when money transfer companies like Wise offer large sum transfers and superior customer service for a fraction of that rate.
If you are looking to send a large sum of money, your best option is to use an international money transfer company like TransferWise or Xoom. These companies offer competitive rates, no fee international transfers and excellent customer service.
6. Sending money to Japan using an online remittance service
If you’re not looking to leave your house, don’t want to tap into your bank account to send money to Japan, or simply want to take advantage of lower rates (or avoid international transfer fees altogether), online money transfer services are the way to go.
Topping this list are two giants: TransferWise (now Wise) (which even offers a borderless debit card for those of us in Japan and elsewhere) and OFX, who offer a lot of the same features as Western Union or MoneyGram but at much more competitive rates. With these companies, you can send funds from your international account to another account overseas, an international debit card (like the aforementioned one from Wise or international credit card (in some cases). These services can be used for either cash transfer or account to account money transfer, and they are super fast and affordable.
Wise (Formerly TransferWise)
I’m a wise customer and I love it. My father has previously tried to use Bank of America to send money to me here in Japan, and I too suffered the pains and arrows of banking fees when I first moved to Japan and was using my Stateside bank account to withdraw money from convience store ATMs using my debit card. Without a proper bank account here in Japan, and without Wise, the fees I was paying to get access to my own cash was maddening. Boy, how the fintech landscape has changed.
Wise is not only one of the most popular money transfer apps in Japan, but around the world. If you’re just hearing about them from me today, I would be surprised. Rates are extremely competitive, they charge NO MARKUP on the mid-market exchange rate, no hidden fees, and have solid customer service.
They offer a wide range of international accounts to choose from, including:
– Japanese Yen (JPY)
– Euros (EUR)
– British Pounds (GBP)
– US Dollars (USD)
OFX is another good option, and while a bit more expensive than Wise, it does offer slightly more accessible customer support when you’re only transferring smaller sums of money. It offers possesses 115 bank accounts in its global network and 50+ currencies (with more being added all the time.
Standard transfer currencies include:
- AUD Australian Dollar
- CAD Canadian Dollar
- EUR Euro
- GBP Pound Sterling
- HKD Hong Kong Dollar
- JPY Japanese Yen
- MXN Mexican Peso
- NZD New Zealand Dollar
- SGD Singapore Dollar
- THB Thailand Baht
- USD US Dollar
7. How about sending money overseas using a payment service providers (P2P)?
At this stage of the game, most of us are quite familiar with PayPal. PayPal will allow you to send money from one country to another and while it does not charge a fee for international transfers, it does take a markup on the foreign currency exchange rate. For example, if you need to transfer around $1000 USD to Japan using PayPal, they will charge you a markup of 0.75% and you will receive 978.19 JPY.
PayPal’s exchange rates are not nearly as competitive as those with TransferWise or Xoom (despite ownership by PayPal).
Venmo, too, allows you to send money without an international transfers, but it does take a markup on the foreign currency exchange rate just like PayPal.
While Venmo international transfers are not as competitive as TransferWise or Xoom, they do offer wires at a lower rate than PayPal international.
8. Should you send money overseas using a personal check?
If you are looking to transfer a small amount of money, then personal checks drafted from your bank account could be an option, but be careful, many banks will run you through a time and hassle gauntlet for the “convenience.” So, no fees, but big pain in the neck. It can also take a long time for a check to arrive via the post, if it ever arrives.
9. Are money orders and traveler’s checks still a good option?
Years ago, any time I stepped on a plane and head to a land beyond mine, American Express travelers checks were my friend. And, knowing I’d be covered if I lost them, or if they were ever stolen (as they were the very first night in a Galway, Ireland hostel, they were a nice reliable source of currency while traveling overseas.
That said, traveler’s checks can be a little hard to cash in some places these days, and since there is now such a thing as a borderless debit card, this is the route I would go if the world ever opens up again.
The downside to using money orders is that they can only be used to transfer smaller sums of money. Money orders can also be shifted across borders using a bank, but the exchange rates are not as competitive as if you use an international money transfer company like TransferWise or Xoom.
10. Sending cash
Um, no. Please do not send money to the bad guys.
11. What about payment systems?
Payment systems are international money transfer services just like any other, that allow you to send money from one country to another.
The downside to using payment systems is that they typically charge a fee and can sometimes take several weeks for funds to arrive at their destination bank account in Japan.
Here are a few options, though should you decide to consider them:
Adyen allows for overseas money transfer, but has transfer fees that aren’t as competitive as many of the others on this list. They do, however, offer lower fees than PayPal.
Like, Adyen, Braintree provides cheaper money transfers than PayPal’s worldwide money transfer service, it’s exchange rates and fees are not as competitive.
Stripe, too beats PayPal, and is really best used for e-commerce purposes.
With a N26 cardless payment system, you may send money from one nation to another without the use of paper bills. They charge a fee for international transactions, and the exchange rate is not as good as some of the other choices presented in this post, but they do offer the option to send money to Japan t a cheaper price than if you were to use PayPal. Are we seeing a pattern here?
What are the benefits of using a PSP payment provider?
A PSP service can provide a number of benefits, including:
– Lower Fees: Many PSPs offer lower fees than traditional banks.
– Better Exchange Rates: PSPs usually have more competitive exchange rates than traditional banks. This can save you money on sending money abroad.
– Faster Transfers: PSPs often have faster transfer times than traditional banks. This can save you time overall.
– Customer Support: PSPs typically offer excellent customer support, which, of course, is a good thing.
– Secure: PSPs are typically very secure, so you don’t have to worry about losing your cash.
What are the risks of international wire transfer? The biggest risk is that international transfers can be expensive, and sometimes it can take several weeks for your international wire transfer funds to arrive at their destination
12. The Verdict—TL;DR
Need to transfer money to and from Japan? Read my breakdowns of each of the popular online remittance companies.
The cheapest way to send money overseas.
No hidden fees. Super-fast. Safe. Great Customer Service. More on why it's one of my family's favorite ways to send and receive money, in my review.
Howdy, all, I'm Doc. I live in the beautiful port city of Kobe, JAPAN with my wife Reiko. Together we co-founded the Japanese literature translation firm, Maplopo. Nihon Hustle grew out of my desire to help others interested in working with, or starting, a business Japan—or anywhere else in the world!
We all wear different hats and my job is to help you find the one that fits you best. Thanks for reading, and go get 'em!