Money and Budgeting
The Basics of Currency in Japan:
As with all currencies, the dollar <-> yen exchange rates fluctuate every day. An online search will reveal many websites and mobile applications that can help you track these changes and assist with budgeting.
As a general principle, do not convert more dollars to yen than you can reasonably expect to use during your stay in Japan. Money is always lost in the conversion process, as banks set different rates for buying and selling currency, as well as charge a service fee. Exchange counters in airports or other locations tend to cost more in fees. To minimize fees, it is a good idea to do fewer exchanges of larger amounts than several smaller exchanges.
While traveling, it is a good idea to carry a minimum of $100 in US currency for incidental expenses incurred en route to and from Japan. Once you arrive in Hikone, tuck it away until you are ready to come home. It is also recommended that you have yen (approximately $300 worth) available to you prior to your arrival in Japan to cover travel costs and to help you get settled for the first week or so of the program. If your arrival is unexpectedly delayed or you cannot find an ATM, already having yen will be very helpful.
Many items in Japan are, for the most part, more expensive in Japan than in the US. During your first few weeks in Japan, you will quickly learn how to budget for daily living and other activities based on your personal lifestyle habits. To get a general idea of what things cost in Japan, please visit:
Managing Money from Abroad:
For a variety of reasons, it can be beneficial to arrange to give POWER OF ATTORNEY to a parent or close relative for the period that you are overseas. Power of attorney enables your designee to handle business and legal matters on your behalf, such as paying bills, depositing financial aid and personal checks, etc. In the past, students have had a hard time with things such as class scheduling and financial aid departments because they did not have the relevant information. As you know, some information will not be given out freely over the telephone or to anyone but you unless you grant power of attorney.
IMPORTANT: Take care of all of the details with your academic counselor, financial aid office, and your bank before you leave. Make sure that your bank, financial aid office, and designee have a copy of the Power of Attorney document. Some banks and other institutions require another form along with the standard power of attorney form. Check to be sure.
Using an International ATM (debit) card to withdraw money from your U.S. bank account may be the easiest way to access your funds in Japan. Most ATM cards with a 4-digit PIN will work, though it is advisable to double-check with your bank just to make sure. There are ATMs available in many convenience stores in Japan, including 7/11. There is a 7/11 with an international ATM about 15 minutes from JCMU by bike which is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. While most U.S. debit cards work at 7/11, some cards do not work, in which case using the post office ATMs is recommended. International ATMs are found in most post offices in Japan, though they have strict hours. There are three post offices in close vicinity to the center and in general, post offices tend to be near major train stations as well. Remember, there will be a service fee on top of whatever your bank charges.
Credit cards are very useful when an emergency arises when traveling, but credit card use in Japan is not as common as in the United States. Unfortunately, most stores and restaurants in Hikone normally will not accept credit cards.
A VISA account can be very handy in Japan, both for making larger purchases (such as hotel rooms or long-distance train tickets) and for cash advances. The bill will be automatically converted to dollars (often at a rate equal or better than what you would get exchanging cash at a bank), and charged to the account in the US. However, don’t depend on using your VISA all of the time because it is not accepted everywhere. Also, interest rates and fees for cash advances on credit cards often tend to be higher than the fees for purchases with the credit card, or withdrawals from ATMs with a debit card. Check with your account provider to make sure you are aware of fees and other charges in advance so that you can make an informed decision about cost-effective methods.
Traveler’s checks are one of the safest forms of money to carry when traveling, but are quickly becoming obsolete. In Japan, American Express or Visa checks are probably your best bet. They are difficult to cash in Japan; inside the airport is the generally the best option. You may be able to purchase traveler’s checks through AAA or your local bank or credit union; however, most banks don’t issue travelers checks anymore.
Opening a Bank Account in Japan:
It is possible to establish a bank account with a Japanese bank after your arrival. If you wish to open an account, please consult with the staff at JCMU.
Transferring Money from the US to Japan:
The easiest way to receive money in Japan, besides depositing money into an account from the US that can be accessed by ATM, is a US International Postal Money Order issued by the U.S. Postal Office. They can be purchased for under $5 with a max value of $700 each. It can be sent by regular or express mail and cashed at the main post office in Hikone. Avoid using personal checks or any other kind of money order. Never send cash!
Program Fee Payment and Financial Aid:
Payment is due before the beginning of the program. Make certain that everything is in order and clarify the procedures for the release of financial aid checks for the period when you are out of the country. These offices may require a letter in advance from you authorizing the release of checks to a parent, etc. and may require that you provide them in advance with a copy of the “power of attorney” letter. Check with your office of financial aid to make sure the awards will be available when you expect them to be.