This article was first published on November 23, 2020 and updated on January 25, 2021.
International residents starting their lives in Japan face many challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is opening a bank account and acquiring a debit or credit card. The thought of interacting with a Japanese bank can be intimidating, and the complicated language, processes and documentation can make it confusing and frustrating.
In the past, most banks did not offer any English-language support and non-Japanese speakers struggled to decipher documents and communicate with staff. International residents were asked to provide stacks of documents plus a personal seal (hanko) just to open a basic account. Unsurprisingly, many expats resolved never to enter a Japanese bank unless absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, times have changed and Sony Bank is here to help.
Sony Bank launched English online banking in March 2020, working with an international team focused on constant improvement and user satisfaction. No more waiting in line, limited opening hours and language barriers!
International residents can apply for a Sony Bank account from a free dedicated English-language app — no complicated paperwork (1), personal seal (hanko) or bank visits required. Simply download Sony Bank’s Open Account app, fill in the required information and securely upload images of necessary documents directly from your smartphone. There are no restrictions related to visa status or length of stay in the country, so any international resident of Japan over the age of 20 who can submit all the required documents can apply for an account.
(1) If you’re a U.S. citizen or have jurisdiction of residence (i.e. tax residency) in another country in addition to Japan, you’ll be required to submit additional documents.
Sony Bank does not charge account maintenance fees and customers enjoy a minimum of four fee-waived ATM cash withdrawals each month (ATM cash deposits are always free).
Who is Using Sony Bank?
Since the service launched, the customer base has grown. Many new account users hail from the United States (10.9%), Philippines (10.7%), United Kingdom (9.9%), Brazil (8.6%), and India (8.1%). Around 39% are based in Tokyo, 11% in Kanagawa, 6% in Aichi, 5% in Chiba and 4.7% in Saitama.
Which Products are Customers Using?
One notable product is the Sony Bank WALLET, a cash card with Visa debit functionality.
International customers who open an account will receive a Sony Bank WALLET, which can be used in over 200 countries. Cardholders can not only make immediate payments at shops or online, but also withdraw cash in Japanese Yen and 10 other currencies while overseas. This can save customers the hassle of exchanging yen for other currencies when traveling.
Sony Bank WALLET can be used anywhere Visa is accepted — inside or outside of Japan. The card also comes with Visa contactless payment functions to help customers avoid unnecessary contact at check out and promote a “cashless” lifestyle.
Sony Bank WALLET is equally useful for online shopping. As of October 31, 2020, international customers have used Sony Bank WALLET at a higher rate than Japanese customers (48% vs 25%) for payments in Japan.
Some reasons international customers use Sony Bank WALLET are:
- Cardholders receive between 0.5% to 2% cashback on payments made using Sony Bank WALLET in Japan.
- The cashbacks are automatically credited to their Sony Bank account, no formalities necessary
- As a Visa debit card, it can be used at any shop around the world that accepts Visa. Customers with a Foreign Currency Saving Account in the local currency will have payments debited directly from their account in that currency.
- The convenient cashless payment method makes shopping in Japan quick and seamless.
Implementing Customer Feedback
The response from international residents has been overwhelmingly positive, with many pleased with the simple and quick application process. Ever evolving, the bank is already working on improving functionality and efficiency based on customer feedback.
Sony Bank is working on streamlining the account opening process, adding detailed explanations about the account opening process on the English website and Open Account app, so customers can easily check what documents they need to provide. In response to customer requests, the bank has also started sending detailed feedback to customers whose applications have been denied.
In addition, Sony Bank is strengthening the English Online Banking side, with plans to roll out services that are available in Japanese but not yet in English. Once restricted to Japan, the Open Account app can now be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play in 19 countries.
The company shares tips on how to make the most of Sony Bank WALLET and other banking services via their English website, Facebook page, blog and emails.
For more information on Sony Bank WALLET, details on how to open an account and other related FAQs, see here.