What do I need to know about money changing?
February 26, 2007 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I am leaving for Japan in two days: should I change money before or after I get there? Does it matter? How do I do it?
posted by davidriley to Travel & Transportation around Japan (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't matter. You do it at the airport money exchange or just an ATM. ATMs used to be great but check your bank, mine (Well's Fargo) now charges me $5 everytime I use it overseas. It'll be fine. Have a great time!
posted by wavejumper at 9:16 AM on February 26, 2007

What wavejumper said above. If you're with the MITFCU by any chance, you should have no extra ATM fees.

whoa. I'm also leaving from the same city on the same day. Now I'm going to be wondering if we're on the same flight or going to the same events...
posted by whatzit at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2007

As long as you have a safe place to store the extra, regardless of when or where you change it, take a ton out at once. It might make you feel better about your balance to only take out US$50 here and there, but (see ATM fees, but also airport money changing fees) it'll save you a lot to take out several hundred at one time.
posted by olinerd at 9:23 AM on February 26, 2007

I changed some at the Seattle airport (there was a money booth right by the security line) just so I would have yen in hand upon landing, but it was no big issue. Our hotel had online access so we were able to find the nearest Citibank (I think it was) location near us using the online site.
posted by GaelFC at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2007

Though it's been awhile since I traveled internationally, and even then, it was in Europe, it was my experience that the exchange outlets in airports and train stations charged higher fees than elsewhere. And though they were nominal (like paying a couple extra pennies per gallon at the pump), you end up paying for the convenience of the location.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2007

First off, call your bank and tell them you are going to be using your credit/debit card in Japan. If you dont they will refuse the operation and disable your account.

Secondly, dont use those money changing operations. Use either an ATM or use the credit/debit function of your card when making purchases and accept your bank's exchange rate.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:31 AM on February 26, 2007

I disagree with "damn dirty ape". They never stopped my card because I was using it in Japan. Money changers are fine for smaller amounts - you probably will want to use a bank for larger amounts, also to get your moneys worth after transaction fees.
posted by wavejumper at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2007

You can get money from most Post Office ATMs in Japan, with minimal fees.

Look for the Post Office symbol around (A T with an extra bar on top)--most should have an ATM, with English instructions and everything.

You'll get money in 10000 Yen increments (about $100) from most ATMs, and for most people I knew in Japan, carrying around about 20000 to 30000 yen in your wallet was pretty standard.

Japan still likes Cash.

Different banks have different policies re: card use in foreign lands, but it's still probably a good idea to call your bank to let them know, so that you don't end up in the situation where your card no longer works.
posted by that girl at 10:17 AM on February 26, 2007

We always had good luck using the ATM at Japanese Post offices. What olinerd said about taking a lot out at once is true- the fees add up, and the parts of Japan that we were in seemed remarkably free of property theft. Also, Japan is so gobsmackingly expensive that you will find you spend your yen much faster than you imagine possible.
posted by ambrosia at 10:20 AM on February 26, 2007

Also--for future reference, generally a good way to get foreign currency ahead of time, go to your bank, say "I need $X in Y currency please" and they'll order some and call you when they have it.

It generally takes a few days, so not so useful for this time around, but it is a good way to get reasonable exchange rates.
posted by that girl at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2007

Japan is a very cash-friendly place, avoid ATM fees by getting your money in large increments as olinerd says. I just got back from Tokyo, and was surprised to see that even the subway ticket machines took bills up to 10,000 yen (~$100).
posted by migurski at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2007

I'm going to Japan in less than a week and just did this through my bank. A word of warning: my bank only does foreign currency requests in US dollars, and they do not carry coinage reserves. Since Japan does not use bills for denominations under 1,000 yen, unless you can get someone to adjust the amount you request so it will come out in a unit of 1,000, you will lose money. Plus, they charged me a $10 fee, which wasn't so great.

If you have an account with a major national bank, you should have no problem withdrawing money from a branch of Citibank Japan in Tokyo. I highly recommend doing that and withdrawing 30,000 yen or more at once. Japan is an extremely safe place and people routinely carry large amounts of cash on their person.
posted by armage at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2007

Like others said... just use your Debit card. USAA gives you the best exchange rate for the entire month. Also, if you're leaving via SFO (San Fran), they have multi-foreign currency ATM's just before you go through security. Go ahead and get yourself some yen!!
posted by matty at 10:53 AM on February 26, 2007

Seconding wht damndirtyape and thatgirl.

Japan likes cash. I paid for a month stay in a hotel with cash (250,000 yen) and no one blinked. It's pretty safe, I wouldn't think twice about carrying $500 USD in yen around with me.

And I've had my credit cards turned off even after I told them I was going to be in Japan. And it's a bitch to get fixed. One card company wanted to verify the charge with the merchant, but the merchant didn't speak English and even if they did, they were not open the same hours that the fraud prevention line in the US was open.

Post offices and Citibank ATMs always worked for me with no fees. Not sure which Airport you're flying into, but Narita has a Citibank ATM right next to of where immigration dumps you into the airport proper. I'd bet they have a presence in other int'l airports too.

Credit card use is not nearly as common in Japan as it is in the States. Unless it's a large name brand store don't assume you can use a credit card. Even then there might well be a lengthy phone call involved.

posted by Ookseer at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2007

You should call your bank/Credit Card companies to let them know you're travelling. They won't think it's been stolen this way.
posted by filmgeek at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2007

iit was my experience that the exchange outlets in airports and train stations charged higher fees than elsewhere.

This is generally true -- but Japan is the exception. The exchange counters at Narita give excellent rates, and it takes less time there than in banks. After years of messing around with travelers checks, now I just take my wad and convert it to yen at the airport, first thing.
posted by Rash at 2:08 PM on February 26, 2007

I've always thought that the best exchange rates are to be found at a bank, preferably at a bank where you have an account. Perhaps takes a bit longer, especially at a small branch/small town (they may have to send out for the yen they don't have lying around, which can take a whole day or so). But the exchange fees are better.
posted by zardoz at 5:18 PM on February 26, 2007

I vote Narita exchange counter or ATM in Japan. Easy peasy. (The Japan Post has great rates, but the process can be a bitch and I sense the employees hate doing it. Plus not all branches have the cash.)

Nth-ing notifying your bank/credit card company if you will be using a debit or credit card. Some banks really do freeze them if you don't, and require a long-distance phone call during US business hours to turn them back on. It's happened to me a few times when buying electronics. After the 2nd or 3rd time, I made sure they input a note in my profile and it hasn:t happened again.

(Also nth-ing that you don't use a card for small purchases--below, say, 5,000 yen--and if you really must, make sure it's at a well-known chain. )
posted by QueSeraSera at 6:10 PM on February 26, 2007

I agree with damn dirty ape. We should have called our bank first to let them know we wanted to use our cards in Japan, because it turns out due to identity fraud they assume transactions made in Japan on a US account are fradulent unless they put some note on your record. It was a pain to call them from Japan, do it before you go, even if you're not sure you need to.
posted by GaelFC at 8:53 PM on February 26, 2007

Narita Exchange Counter ++

That's what I did in 2003, and they had some of the best rates.
posted by blasdelf at 1:14 AM on February 27, 2007

I changed money at the Narita ticket counter, and once at an ATM, while I was in Japan. The ATMs can be a bit intimidating to use, but I seem to recall getting better rates from them. It might all be in my head. You probably need to find one in a post office that will work with international cards. You *will* need to get cash to do pretty much anything in Tokyo. It's hard to find places that take debit, and in many cases credit. There is a kiosk at the bottom floor of the Narita airport you can change your money in, near where the bus ticket place is.
posted by chunking express at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2007

That's the place we're talking about, chunking. In fact, there's two of those counters down there, now; but sometimes, one of them is closed.
posted by Rash at 5:20 PM on February 27, 2007

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