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Money & costs

Money & costs

How to get money in Kyoto: the easiest and safest way to get cash in Kyoto. The lowdown on ATMs, changing cash and using credit cards in Kyoto.

The takeaway:

Do:

  • Use your ATM card to get most of your money after you arrive in Japan (make sure the account it draws from is cashed up). You can get your first wad of cash from an ATM at your arrival airport.
  • Bring a few hundred dollars in foreign currency cash (US dollars and euros get the best rate) for situations where you can’t use an ATM.
  • Bring a VISA credit card so you can do a cash advance if the ATM/cash options fail.

Don’t:

  • Don’t bother getting travelers checks.
  • Don’t get Japanese yen before arriving in Japan (exchange rates are usually better in Japan).

Here are the details:

ATMs In Kyoto

ATMs should be your primary source of cash while you’re in Japan. You can get yen cash from ATMs in Japan with a normal bank card, provided you have sufficient funds in the account that the card accesses. Cards on international networks like Plus, Cirrus, Star etc can be used in Japan. The back of your card may have the symbols for the networks it belongs to. Be sure you know the PIN number of your card.

3 important notes about using ATMs in Kyoto:

1. Some banks put daily withdrawal limits on their cards or prevent overseas use of cards without prior notification (this has been a problem with Bank of America-issued cards). So, before leaving home, ask at your bank about the daily withdrawal limit and overseas usage of your card.

2. Your card must be an ATM/bank card, which withdraws money from a live account, as distinguished from a credit card, with which you charge cash. Credit cards won’t work in most Japanese ATMs unless the card has a normal ATM/bank card feature.

3. You’ll find ATMs in every bank in Japan. However, most bank ATMs only accept Japan-issued cards, so don’t bother trying your foreign card. The only exception to this rule is Citibank (see below). Instead, you can use your bank cards at post offices and convenience stores (see below).

ATMs At Post Offices In Kyoto

All Japanese post offices ATMs and you can find post offices in almost every city, town and village in Japan. You’ll even find them on the far-flung outer islands. ATMs are usually open the same hours as the post office itself (9am to 5pm weekdays only), so don’t count on getting cash after hours from them. However, the central post office in each city will usually have ATMs that are open almost 24 hours a day. Occasionally, you’ll find that your card won’t work for some reason. Don’t despair. It may well work with a Citibank ATM (see below), and these are open 24 hours. Problem is, you’ll only find Citibank branches in the larger cities and at major airports like NRT and KIX.

Japanese postal ATMs have English guidance (select the English option from the first screen and follow the instructions).

Kyoto Central Post Office ATM hours: 

  • 12.05am-11.55pm Mon-Sat
  • 12.05am-9pm Sun and holidays

Kyoto Convenience Store ATMs

These days, Japanese 7-11s have ATMs that accept most foreign-issued cards. This is convenient, because these places are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, if your card won’t work at one of these, you will have to try a Citibank ATM. Most convenience store ATMs have English guidance.

Citibank ATMS in Kyoto

You will find branches of Citibank in Japan’s major cities, including two in Osaka, one in [Kyoto] and several in Tokyo. You will also find them in the arrivals terminal of Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport, making them a convenient place to pick up your first bit of yen cash.

Citibank ATMs accept the widest variety of international cards: if your card won’t work here, it won’t work anywhere. These ATMs are usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week (meaning, they’re open when the banks themselves are closed). Citibank ATMs have English guidance.

What Currency To Bring To Kyoto In Cash?

Bring a few hundred US dollars in foreign currency (US dollars are best, followed by euros) for situations where you can’t use an ATM. You can exchange foreign cash for yen at post offices, banks, some large hotels, department stores and discount ticket shops.

You’ll get the best rate at discount ticket shops, followed by banks and post offices, followed by hotels and department stores. You will get a competitive rate for US dollars, a decent rate for euros, and a terrible rate for Aussie dollars, Kiwi dollars, Canadian dollars and British pounds (meaning, they really only want to deal with US dollars and euros).

Kyoto Post Offices with Currency Exchange

Post offices will exchange major currencies for yen during their normal operating hours (meaning 9am to 5pm weekdays, with central post offices in cities open weekends). As mentioned above, the rates are best for US dollars. You’ll need your passport when exchanging money.

Kyoto Banks

Most banks in Japan will exchange major currencies for yen during their normal operating hours (meaning 9am to 3pm or 5pm on weekdays only). As with post offices, you’ll get the best rate for US dollars. Most banks will require that you show your passport when exchanging money.

Discount Ticket Shops

You’ll find discount ticket shops (known as “kinken shops” in Japanese) near train stations in larger cities. Your hotel front desk will usually be able to point the way to the nearest shop. Some of these places will exchange foreign cash for Japanese yen and you’ll usually get a slightly better rate than at other places. Additionally, they don’t usually require that you show your passport. You’ll get the best rate for US dollars.

The best discount ticket shop for changing money in Kyoto is the [Tokai Discount Ticket Shop] on the second floor of the building on the northeast corner of the main intersection outside the north side of Kyoto Station (it’s roughly opposite the Starbucks). Their site is in Japanese, but it’s easy to understand even if you don’t read Japanese (the column on the left is changing yen to foreign currency and the column on the right is changing foreign currency to yen): http://www.tokai-ticket.co.jp/foreign-exchange/

Currency Exchange in Kyoto Hotels and Department Stores

Most major first-class hotels and department stores will exchange major international currencies for Japanese yen. The rates aren’t so good and, as usual, you’ll do best with US dollars. Ask at the front desk or the information counter. In Kyoto, Takashimaya will exchange cash with a passport, while Daimaru does not require a passport. Note that both will reject bills of certain serial numbers due to fear of counterfeiting.

Cash Advances on VISA Credit Cards

If you find that you’re ATM card won’t work and you run out of cash, there is one final option before heading to the embassy and begging for mercy If you have a VISA credit card, you can charge yourself some cash at any Sumitomo bank (you’ll find these in the larger cities). Note that this is a counter transaction; it can’t be done at the ATM. You’ll need your passport to do this.

What you’re doing is buying cash, so it works like any other credit card purchase. You’ll find the cash you charged listed like any other purchase on your next monthly statement. Needless to say, you won’t be able to charge any cash if you’re over your limit.

You can get cash advances on VISA cards at the 1st-floor Kyoto Marui Department Store branch of Mitsui Sumitomo Bank.

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – A hostel in Kyoto will cost between 2,000-4,000 JPY per night for a dorm room. Many hostels are within a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station, have free wifi, a kitchen, and some offer private terraces.

Budget hotel prices – For around 8,000 JPY or slightly less, you can get a nice budget hotel with free wifi and all the other normal amenities hotels have.

Average cost of food – Eating out can take your money if you’re not careful. Luckily, not all restaurants are expensive and there are many cheap ramen, tempura, and sushi belt restaurants in Kyoto. Curry bowls are as cheap as 340 JPY per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around 500-620 JPY. Ramen is never more than 865 JPY. Groceries aren’t as cheap as you would expect, and will cost about 8,680 JPY per week. Most sit down restaurants with table service will cost between 1,240-2,480 JPY.

Transportation – The easiest way to get around the city is by bus. It starts at 230 JPY for a single ride or 500 JPY for an all day pass. You can take the subway as well which offers two main trains – Karasuma and Tozai lines – and its fares start at 210 JPY.

Money Saving Tips

Eat curry, ramen, and donburi  – Curry bowls were as cheap as 370 JPY per plate. Donburi, bowls of meat and rice, are around 500-620 JPY. Ramen is never more than 865 JPY. The main train station has a lot of these kinds of restaurants.

Get the temple pass – For 3,800 JPY, you can get a two-day pass that gives you a discount on many of the temples and gives you free public transportation. If you plan on seeing multiple temples (some of which are very far apart), get this pass. The city is too big to walk around, so you’ll to learn the bus.

Stick to sushi trains – The sushi in Kyoto is very expensive. If you need a fix, stick to the sushi trains around the city. The train station has a very good one that won’t cost you the 6,200 JPY that most of the restaurants will cost you, although there usually is a long wait.

Money Exchange

Cash or travelers checks can be exchanged at any "Authorized Foreign Exchange Bank" (signs are displayed in English) or at some of Kyoto's large hotels and department stores. Main post offices also cash traveler's checks. Rates vary little between banks, if at all (even the exchange counters at the airport offer rates comparable to those offered by downtown banks). In Kyoto, most major banks (including Citibank) are located near the Shijo-Karasuma intersection, two stops north of Kyoto Station on the Karasuma subway line.

Withdrawing Money: ATMs

Visitors to Japan no longer have to carry around large amount of cash -- withdrawing money is as easy as going to one of Japan's ubiquitous Seven-Eleven convenience stores. Japan's Seven Bank, related to Seven-Eleven, accepts foreign-issued ATM and credit cards. Cards displaying VISA/PLUS, MasterCard/Cirrus, American Express, JCB, Maestro, Discover, Diners Club International, or China Union Pay logos are accepted for yen withdrawal (handling charges are applicable). Language options for the ATM screen and receipts include English, Korean, Chinese, and Portuguese.

In addition, those with a Citibank account may withdraw yen from Japanese Citibank ATM's without incurring a surcharge. Details here. Foreign issued bank or credit cards are accepted at Shinsei Bank ATMs also for a slight transaction fee. One option useful for travelers all over Japan, including the countryside, is the Japan Post Bank. ATMs are located in most post offices throughout Japan, accept foreign-issued ATM and major credit cards, and have English menus.

Note that virtually no ATMs are open 24-hours a day in Japan, and withdrawals from foreign issued cards often must be made before 5:00 p.m.

Credit Cards

Hotels, department stores, high-end restaurants and shops accept credit cards, while many of the smaller shops do not. VISA has the largest number of users followed by JCB and MasterCard.

The telephone numbers of their Tokyo offices:

  • Visa: toll free 006633-800-553, from abroad +1-303-967-1090 
  • MasterCard toll free: 00531-11-3886
  • American Express toll free: 0120-020-120 24hrs.

Note, Japan is definitely a cash-based society, so having cash on-hand is highly recommended. You can withdraw money using your credit card at any post office ATM machines and at select banks.

Tipping

Basically, not only is tipping unnecessary in Japan, but your attempts to tip will either be greeted with bemused expressions or utter confusion. Hotel bills include tips in their service charge. There is no tipping at restaurants, nor do you tip taxi drivers, although a small tip for bellhop services may be accepted.