Mar 2, 2019

Battle of the bank account

Battle of the bank account photo

Moving overseas is a big deal. There’s a lot that needs to be arranged and planned both in your home country and wherever you’re headed. All those things you simply took for granted back home, they need to be organised all at once.

You need to find accommodation and then register where you live. You need to set up and learn how to pay for various insurances and utilities. You’ll likely need a new phone carrier and getting job is also high on the to do list. But before you can get a job, you need somewhere to put your wages. You need a bank account.

I moved from Australia to Japan with my wife almost a year ago on a working holiday visa. The process of getting the visa was very easy. A straight forward list of requirements that once met, resulted in the problem free granting of a working holiday visa, valid for six months after arriving in Japan. The visa could then be extended twice while in Japan, meaning we could live and work there for up to 18 months total. No problems.

Once in Tokyo, we began getting set up right away. We had an apartment, we had registered where we lived, we had new phone numbers and were ready to find work. But no employer (at least no reputable one) was going to pay us cash. We needed those bank accounts.

So with all of our documentation, we set off in search of banks that would take us in. There were plenty to choose from and we weren’t going to be picky. Whoever could help would get our business. Heading deep into the city, we were ready to do battle with piles of paperwork (most things require a lot of paperwork in Japan), but we soon came to find that paperwork was the least of our problems.

Entering the first bank, we were greeted with a smile and seen to almost immediately. Upon explaining our situation via broken Japanese and Google Translate, the bank staff understood what my wife and I were trying to achieve. We were asked for our residence cards and then offered a seat in the waiting area while they did some checks. Nothing out of the ordinary.

It was only a few minutes before the lady came back and explained that there was no way that they could open a bank account for either of us. It wasn’t because we were without the relevant documents or because their systems were down. They couldn’t open accounts for us because our visa was only granted for six months.

We thought that it was strange. How did people live and work in Japan on a working holiday visa, only granted in six-month blocks, if they were unable to establish bank accounts? What if they only planned to stay four or five months? Having never heard of this problem before, we figured that perhaps it was just the rule of this one particular bank. So we were off again, onto the next one.

But the next bank was the same. And the one after that and even the one after that. Every time we handed over our details, we were declined based on the duration of our visas. Something completely beyond our control.

For hours we wandered the streets, trying every bank we could find, and every time the response was the same. It was even suggested by staff at one bank that we “Come back in six months” to open a bank account. Six months of living on dust and rainwater, I guess.

Finally, after much rejection, we found a bank that would accept us and our apparently undesirable working holiday visas. We completed the Fuji sized pile of paperwork (we knew it was coming) and shortly after, were the proud owners of two empty bank accounts.

I’m forever grateful that countries like Japan offer working holiday visa’s to foreign visitors. It’s a great way for people like myself to travel and truly immerse themselves in the culture of countries around the world. It’s just unfortunate that there appears to be no communication between those who stipulate the terms of the working holiday visa, and those in charge of the necessities one requires to survive.

On one hand, it appears that Japan welcomes and encourages foreigners to come and work here, on the other, it seems to make the process as difficult as possible.

But looking on the bright side, although it was incredibly frustrating at the time, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a free sense of accomplishment that came with that bank account.



An Australian man who quit his job and moved to Tokyo, all because it sounded like a bit of fun.