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Banking Made Easy: Why Suruga Bank is Best for Foreigners in Japan

If you’re a foreigner trying to manage your finances in Japan, you’re probably used to the struggle of smoothly opening a bank account. There is a lot of bureaucracy you have to wade through.

For example, six-month waiting periods before being allowed to open an account or being limited to cash cards that won’t let you shop online or pay with said card. Then there is trying to navigate the maze of the Japanese language on outdated websites. It’s enough to make you want to scream.

Some banks, however, understand the challenges foreigners in Japan face when choosing a bank. Some are trying to make things easier. None more so than Suruga Bank.

What is Suruga Bank?

Photo: Suruga BankThe Suruga Bank interface is easy and manageable.

Suruga Bank is a “challenger bank” from Shizuoka. Challenger banks are smaller banks that provide solutions or benefits to customers that larger banks (SMBC, Mizuho, MUFG, etc.) may not. Being smaller keeps them competitive and they’ll usually have unique strengths and perks compared to bigger banks.

For Suruga, some of those perks are aimed at foreigners. Feeling that foreign nationals are valuable to Japan’s economy, the financial institution has endeavored to make products as user-friendly and accessible to foreign users as possible. The company uses multilingual support, which makes it easy to handle.

Suruga Bank Benefits

Photo: iStock/ martin-dmEnglish support for any problem you might encounter.

If you’ve tried opening a bank account in Japan upon arrival, you’ll know that most banks will not allow you to open an account until you’ve been in the country for six months.

If you do find a bank without a waiting period, many will still come with restricted services—like limited usage of ATM cards. There is often little multilingual support, so if you can’t read Japanese, you’re stuck relying on Google Translate.

Suruga Bank, on the other hand, has taken care to ensure their accounts are better and more accessible for foreigners:

No waiting period: There’s no initial waiting period—you can sign up for an account immediately upon arrival. Also, the account is identical to those for permanent residents.
English support: Suruga Bank has multilingual English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish support. Multilingual support is available both when opening an account, as well as for day-to-day issues. Phone translation is also available in Russian and Burmese.
Apply online: You can apply online at your leisure—no need to head into a branch with a folder full of documents.
Visa debit card: You get a cash card that doubles as a Visa debit card, so online shopping is as easy as ever. Pay for services online and shop with your card. Suruga will debit it immediately, so you don’t have to worry about overspending. It also works overseas with affiliated ATMs.

What’s the Withdrawal Policy?

Photo: iStock/ MarsYuYou can use any ATM with a Suruga Bank card.

Most banks will let you withdraw money for free if it’s their bank or ATM. Unfortunately, your only option might not be your bank. Such is life. Right? Well, not necessarily. One of Suruga’s best perks is the Suruga Star program. If your account has a balance above ¥200,000 and you have a digital bankbook (all foreign accounts are this type by default), you can withdraw money from almost all ATMs for free with no monthly withdrawal limit.

Not only that, but the program will also give you 10 free online bank transfers a month. Those add up to some real savings over time, especially if you’re like me and get caught short pretty often!

Of course, even outside the Star program, you can use any ATM with a Suruga Bank card for a small fee of ¥110 or ¥220 (depending on the time).

Using Electronic Payments and Cash Refunds

Photo: Suruga BankElectronic payments are becoming the norm in Japan.

Recently, electronic payment services such as PayPay, LinePay and Merpay are becoming the de facto way to settle up. Stores that never accepted credit cards will now often accept electronic and contactless payment options and frequently integrate sales, deals and promotions into their system.

With a Suruga Bank account, it’s easy to start using these services. You can link your debit card (or your Suruga account) directly with the app and start using the service right away.

Suruga Bank will refund you ¥5 for every ¥1,000 you charge, snagging you some sweet savings if you’re always tapping, as well as on automatic withdrawals for things like bills. All the benefits of a larger bank, plus the challenger edge of a cash refund? What’s not to love?

Open an Account Online

Photo: iStock/ SushimanOpen an account entirely online.

Opening an account with Suruga Bank can be completed straight from your phone. Plus, you can apply for a cash card with the Visa debit function right from the start. There is no admission or annual membership fees.

Don’t think that Suruga Bank is only for the new arrivals, either.

While the account is ideal for newcomers, Suruga also has plenty of services for people who’ve been in Japan for a while. With notorious difficulties to arrange financing for larger purchases as a foreigner, Suruga’s auto loan service is definitely a welcome appearance on the lending scene. As part of their aims to work with the foreign community in Japan, the loan program treats people of all nationalities equally—no more rejections for vague and unsatisfactory reasons.

If this sounds like the sort of bank you need in your life, open your account today!

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