Starting out in a foreign country is never easy, especially when you’re in one which speaks another language. Even if you do have some background in the language, procedures and papers would require a certain level of proficiency to fully understand. This makes getting your essentials difficult. To add to the difficulty, for a phone contract, in most cases you would need a bank account or a credit card. Vice versa, some banks would require a personal phone number to open an account.
How to set up a bank account
While some Japanese schools and universities provide support for your bank account, for those that don’t, here’s a brief walkthrough of what to do. Some of the recommended banks include Shinsei, MUFG and Sumitomo as they have English support at some of their branches and for online banking too.
However, for MUFG and Sumitomo, they require a hanko/inkan (personal seal). For Shinsei, while a hanko/inkan is not necessary, a personal phone number is needed. If you want to avoid these requirements, JP Post (known in Japanese as Yucho Ginko (ゆうちょ銀行)) is an option but the forms are in Japanese.
So it’s a bit complicated, but not impossible.
To get a hanko/inkan, Tokyu Hands is one option where you can customize a simple seal for around 1,000 yen and in 30 minutes. The downside is that the seal can be easily forged (but what are the chances of forging a foreign name?) so if you are planning to use the hanko/inkan for business, please check out the hanko/inkan stores such as hankoya-san21（はんこ屋さん21）.
After preparing the necessary items, you could either apply online for certain banks or head down to the bank itself to set up your account. If you head there in person, don’t forget your Residence Card.
How to get a phone number
Once you have a bank account, now you can get a phone number. (While foreign credit cards are usable depending on the company, currency exchange fees might be incurred.)
For those of you who are here for under three months, prepaid SIM cards would be recommended. You can find them at your local electronics store such as Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, LABI, Edion etc.
For those who are here long term, a contract would be a cheaper option.
The traditional options would be to go to one of the 3 major companies: Softbank, docomo or au but the phone bills are usually around 3000 yen and above for a standard plan. Add in the installments for a new phone and you’d easily hit 5000 yen and above.
Instead of that, many foreign students are hopping on to SIM cards by Rakuten Mobile, Y!mobile, mineo, LINE mobile etc. You could even use your phone from overseas so long as it is SIM free! Plans range from as cheap as 500 yen (for just data) to around 4000 yen for 10GB data and voice calls
Here are some websites you can check out:
The downside is that most of these websites do not have English support but if you go to the physical stores such as Rakuten Café (yes, it’s both a café and a phone store) at Shibuya, there might be English-speaking or Chinese-speaking staff.
Or if you’re around areas where foreign students congregate such as Ookubo and Takadanobaba, some carriers around there have explanations in English and Chinese.
**One thing to note is that if you’re under 20, you might need a guardian/guarantor to sign your contract with you. One tactic is to have your senior be your guarantor.
How to get a credit card
Now with both a phone number and a bank account, you’re eligible for a credit card! While credit cards are not as widely used in Japan as in other countries, they’re useful when you want to make online purchases, or gain points for daily spending.
One of the recommended credit cards for foreign students is the Rakuten card. Not only is its screening relatively easy to pass, it has rewards such as up to 7000 yen worth of points when signing up. There is also an English guide written just to help with the process here: (https://rakuten-card-master.com/credit-card-for-foreigners-in-japan/)
You would just need to fill in the online forms and voila, in about a week you would get your card!
Another card is LINE Pay card which does not have any age restriction, annual fees or application screening! Although it is a debit card, you use it like a normal credit card. You can also earn points to convert into credit or use a barcode scanner on the LINE app to pay your utility bills. Besides that, the application process would appear in your phone’s language so that’s one less barrier to worry about.
Once you apply, the card would take about a week to reach you and then you would activate it via the app. After which you can charge it from your bank account or from the convenience store. And then you’re ready to shop!
In summary, once you get your bank account, you’ll be all set to apply for a phone and credit card. If you have any questions or would like to share with us your experience in starting out, do let us know!