Japan is very much still a cash based society. You will find that many restaurants, retailers and taxis will not accept credit card as a form of payment. It is always advised to carry cash with you. Using large notes, even for small transactions does not seem to be a problem at most retailers, so it is vital to exchange your currency while in Tokyo. In regard to the safety of carrying money in Japan, not to fear; Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world so you don’t need to be concerned about carrying large amounts of cash on you.
Exchanging money at the airport
There are several points to exchange money when you arrive at Narita airport. You can do so at one of the major banks’ counters or at a foreign exchange counter.
Here is a list of all of the currency exchange counters and their location within Narita airport. This list also indicates which currencies each bank will exchange.
Narita Airport Guide
Currency rates at Narita Airport will differ slightly from bank to bank, so if you are prepared to walk around to find the best rate for your currency then you might save a couple of dollars. Narita airport also publishes a daily exchange rate table for major currencies on their website. The rates are based on the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
Narita airport daily exchange rate table
There are also several ATM points at Narita from which you can withdraw Japanese Yen using your banks ATM card. Note that some banks ATM’s will not accept foreign bank cards. Look for the Post Office ATM or the 7 Eleven ATM, both of which accept foreign bank cards. Fees will be incurred and depend on your banks charges.
Exchange counters at airports don’t usually have very favorable rates and Japan’s airports are no exception. It is advised to exchange some money before you arrive in Japan so that you have some cash on you. However, if you need to exchange money at the airport look for the Post Office, located in both terminal 1 and 2 at Narita Airport, as the exchange rate at the airport Post Offices will be the same as the Post Offices across Japan.
Exchanging money at Banks
You can exchange money at any bank with a foreign exchange counter. The most common banks to easily exchange are:
Japan Post Bank
The hours of operation are usually limited to 9 a.m to 3 p.m Monday to Friday, and closed on public holidays. They often require you to fill out a form, in English, requesting your passport information, so it is advised to have your passport with you when you want to exchange money. They accept major currencies of the world, but the exchange rate is usually only decent for common currencies such as US dollars and Euro.
You will also find foreign exchange companies such as Travelex and Daikokuya (Western Union) have several branches across Tokyo. They usually offer competitive prices.
Withdrawing Yen from ATMs that accept Visa
For short term visitors and tourists withdrawing cash from overseas bank accounts, using an ATM in Japan is probably the easiest option. Any Post Office ATM and many convenience store ATMs will accept VISA bank cards. 7 Eleven Stores operate their own ATM machines – 7Bank ATMs which accept foreign cards with Visa, Maestro or Cirrus. Citibank ATM’s will also accept foreign cards. The fee you will incur will depend on your own bank charges, as usually there’s no fee from the ATM.
Most domestic banks ATM’s will not accept foreign bank cards.
Foreign Exchange Brokers
For longer term visitors who live in Japan and have a Japanese bank account the cheapest way to send money to Japan is by using a foreign exchange brokerage. Very good rates can be found through USForex (OZForex for Australians and UKForex for British). It is a very quick and simple service to use and can be done entirely online. You simply create an account with them, place a currency order e.g. buying $xxxx worth of Yen, transfer the money to their account, and then they transfer the Yen to your bank account in Japan. Usually the transaction will take a few days to clear into your account.
International transfers via Japanese Banks
If you live in Japan and have opened a Japanese bank account then it is worth checking what your banks’ fees are for foreign transfers. It can often be the cheapest way to exchange money and with the most competitive rates. The time it takes for the funds to reach your account in Japan will also vary depending on your bank.
Hotel Exchange Counters
Some of the larger hotels in Tokyo will have an “exchange desk.” They use the same rates as banks, and in some instances you can be fortunate if exchanging on a Sunday as they will use the closing Friday or Saturday rate. They are a convenient and fast way to exchange currency.
Exchanging currency in Tokyo is relatively straight forward. If you have cash to exchange then visiting a bank or a foreign currency company when you get into Tokyo is the best option. If you have a foreign bank card and would like to withdraw cash from an ATM look out for a Post Office or a 7 Eleven ATM as your card is guaranteed to be accepted at these outlets.
Tokyo is a cash based society so it is recommended to carry cash on you at all times and use it for all purchases. If you have cash remaining at the end of your stay, you will receive a more favourable rate exchanging it before you reach the airport.