The moments I am most thankful for on the road are the ones that shake me up a bit. When I traveled to Kyoto, I discovered the hard way that few ATMs accept foreign cards or at least, the debit card I was carrying. Since cash is king in Japan, credit cards had to sit on the sidelines.
When I arrived in Kyoto, I had only 3,000 YEN (roughly $30 USD) left in my pocket and thought nothing of it. The ATM on the corner from my hostel would surely provide my allowance for the week, right? Well, it didn’t. That’s fine. There were plenty of ATMs throughout the city. After trying about 14 different ATMs and hoping the Japanese script on the screen would magically turn to English if I glared at it long enough, an interesting challenge presented itself. With one week left in Kyoto, I needed to consider all of the options for accessing my money and act quickly. It was that or not eat for a week. The latter was obviously not a viable option so I had to seek out a different alternative.
So here is what you can do if you find yourself in a similar predicament.
Take Money Out from an ATM at the Airport
Most visitors arrive in Japan through Tokyo’s Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport, but this goes for any of the airports throughout Japan. There are ATMs you can use to take out however much money you think you’ll need for your trip. Never carry more than $1,000 USD cash on you at one time though.
Use Japan Post Office ATMs
Lo and behold, post offices throughout Japan have ATMs that accept internationally issued cards and provide English instructions. Hallelujah for this option. This is how I ended up taking out cash for most of my trip. Post offices are the easiest way to access your money as there are usually a few locations in each neighborhood. In most of the post offices, the bank branch is known as JP Bank. If you see a sign for JP Bank independent of the post office, know that they’re good to use.
The next best alternative after post offices are Citibank branches. They offer tourists an international ATM in a bind. Though there are far fewer locations compared to post offices, it’s nice to have that option available. Plus, you’ll usually be able to find one or two staff who speak English well enough to help, should you need the assistance.
Your Country’s Currency
Always carry extra of your country’s currency so that, in an emergency, you can exchange it. I wouldn’t recommend exchanging at an airport booth though as they are known to have some of the worst exchange rates. Wait until you get into the city so you can compare rates at different booths in popular neighborhoods like Shibuya or Shinjuku.
Use Credit Cards When Possible
For the few places that do post credit cards as a payment option, take advantage of it. If you’re truly low on cash, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can use your credit card. It’s always a good backup option so that you can save whatever cash you do have left for when you really need it.
When in doubt, ask your hotel or hostel staff where you can find an ATM that will accept your card. Tourist information centers and police offices are good places to ask as well so that you aren’t left penniless in a country with an incredibly solid language barrier.