In our brand-new Japan Travel Tips series, we share quick and useful information to help you get the most out of your trip to Japan.
Today’s Japan Travel Tip is about cash, currency, credit cards and ATMs in Japan.
Despite the fact that things are changing, it may surprise you to learn that an incredibly modern country like Japan is in some ways quite old fashioned when it comes to money.
Not only is the use of cash extremely prevalent, but in many places credit cards are simply not accepted. And to further complicate things, ATM machines that work with non-Japanese credit or debit cards can be hard to find, particularly in rural areas.
So to help make sure you’re prepared, here are our top tips for dealing with money when traveling to Japan!
Warn Your Banks
Before you go, make sure to tell your banks – and all credit and debit card providers – that you’ll be traveling to Japan. This helps ensure you’ll be able to use your cards while in Japan.
I also recommend double-checking your daily withdrawal limits, if any. Since in Japan you will probably be using cash more than you normally do in your home country, it can be nice to know you’ll be able to take out enough Japanese yen if you need it.
On a side note, if you don’t already have an ATM or credit card that offers you the perk of zero foreign transaction fees, it may be worth looking into as this can result in some nice savings.
Get Your Yen Before You Go
I usually recommend obtaining some local Japanese yen from your local bank before leaving for Japan. While there is no guarantee that you will get the best rate, it should be comparable – and it saves you the time and hassle of exchanging currency after you arrive in Japan.
You don’t necessarily need to get all the yen you think you’ll need before arriving, but it’s nice to have enough to carry you through your first few days in Japan as you get your bearings. You can then replenish your supply by finding a foreign-friendly ATM machine (see below) and withdrawing additional yen.
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Your local bank may or may not have Japanese yen on hand, but if they don’t they will most likely be able to order it for you. You can simply call them and find out.
If you do arrive in Japan without yen, you can quite easily exchange currency at the airport or withdraw yen from an ATM in the airport.
It’s not worth waiting until you get into Tokyo or Kyoto (or another city) to try and find a currency-exchange center. Some banks and hotels in Japanese cities can exchange currency, but it’s not as easy to find currency exchanges in Japan as it is in many other countries.
See the latest currency exchange rates.
Have Enough Cash
As alluded to above, Japan is a very cash-oriented society. Even though an increasing number of establishments have begun to accept credit cards, many places still do not. All of this means you will need to carry more cash (in yen, of course) than you’re probably accustomed to.
You’ll generally need to use cash at neighborhood restaurants, small shops, markets (such as Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market) and at rural ryokans, to name a few.
However, you can usually use credit cards at western-style hotels, department stores, as well as at many – though not all – major shops and restaurants.
Luckily, Japan is extremely safe so the biggest risk is probably losing or misplacing the cash. Regardless, be smart and take reasonable precautions if carrying large sums of money.
Know Your ATMs
ATM machines are not ubiquitous in Japan, and without proper preparation you may find yourself running all over the place in search of an ATM that will let you make a withdrawal with your non-Japanese debit or credit card.
Fortunately, in the cities it’s become much easier to find foreign-friendly ATMs, but in remote and rural areas it can be downright impossible.
There are a few types of ATM machines that usually work with major non-Japanese credit and debit cards, including post office ATMs and Citibank ATMs. However, our favorite tip for finding international-friendly ATM machines is to simply locate a 7-Eleven conbini, or convenience store.
7-Eleven has conbini scattered quite densely in cities and towns throughout the country, and the Seven Bank ATM machines located inside 7-Eleven conbini accept most major foreign credit and debit cards.
In addition, recently some Family Mart convenience stores have added foreign-friendly ATMs.
As for how much cash to bring and how much to budget for daily expenses while in Japan: unfortunately, this varies too much from person to person – due to each person’s own spending and shopping habits – to provide a definitive answer.
But you can get a good idea of how much things cost in Japan in our Is Japan Expensive? article.
Warning: even if you don’t like shopping, it’s wise to budget a bit extra as Japan is a shopper’s paradise!
We hope you’ve found our tips on cash, currency, credit cards and ATMs in Japan helpful!