Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Post: Is Western Union A Good Way to Send Money from Japan?

This guest post is written by foreign exchange specialist Peter Lavelle. How to send money home from Japan is a question I've heard asked many times, and Peter has offered to lay out one possibility for us.

Update 6/11/2012: For a much more extensive article about foreign exchange to/from Japan to which Peter contributed, check out Surviving in Japan.


Expat living in Japan? Then there’s a good chance that you (like other expats) have an ongoing need to send money out of the country. But what’s the best (that is, cheapest and most secure) way of doing so? Well, one of the most famous is Western Union. Is it any good? In this post, I aim to set out the pros and cons of using Western Union to send money out of Japan.


If you’re not familiar with the Western Union concept, it’s simple. You wire a set amount from one Western Union-approved location (you must physically be there to do so) to another, where the person picks up the cash (again, in person.)

Though you cannot receive money from Western Union in Japan, it’s quite simple to send it given that the company has partnered with several large outlets. These include Family Mart and Seven Bank.

How does it work?

As of last month (that is, April 2012) you can send money online through Western Union, which removes a huge drawback to the service i.e. you must physically go to the location to send the money.

However, if you choose the old fashioned method of going in person, then the first step is finding your nearest Western Union outpost. You can do that here (if you speak Japanese.)

Once you find a good location, it’s then a matter of registering. Frustratingly, the Western Union services available at Family Mart and Seven Bank (as well as others) are not compatible, so if you want to send money from more than one chain you need to register each time.

Then, whether you’re using Family Mart or Seven Bank, you just need to send the money. There is a diagram How To for Family Mart here, as well as a demonstration of the online service for Seven Bank here (though it is in Japanese.)

Pros and Cons

The chief pro of Western Union is its speed. It guarantees to have the money available for pick up inside two minutes, which compares to the hours and days it sometimes takes using a bank. Hence, if you know someone in a tight spot, you can get cash to them all but instantaneously.

The other advantage of course is that they’re receiving cash: there’s no bank accounts involved.

On the other hand, Western Union is not suitable for big transfers. This is because it has a limit of Y97,000 per transfer (plus Y3,000 fee)meaning it’s best suited to emergencies (that’s about $1,300 dollars.) If you need to send more, you’re better off using an alternative,unless you wish to incur a Y3,000 charge for each Y100,000 you send.

There’s also the point that Western Union does not publicise the exchange rates it uses, which could leave you open to a poor rate.

Last of all, if you’re sending money to yourself, it’s no good, because someone has to be there to pick it up!


For people willing to make the trip, Western Union offers a fast way to send money out of Japan, without using banks. Yet its lack of transparency regarding exchange rates, as well as relatively small transfer limit, mean it’s best reserved for emergencies.

About the Writer

Peter Lavelle works for foreign currency dealer Pure FX. He’s never been to Japan, but in his line of work has picked up a lot of knowledge about sending money to places. If you’d like to keep up with his exchange rate updates, visit his Google+ page.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post!
    I totally agree with you that Western Union is became more suitable for emergency cases, when you don't think about the price of transaction. With the appearance of options like Transferwise, Xoom or Paysera and development of new technologies it is not the best option any more. Moreover, the exchange rate is the most important criteria by which you should choose the money transfer service and it is not wise using a service without knowing how much it will cost you.