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Moving Money

November 30th, 2006

It feels kind of strange to be walking down the street with tens of thousands of dollars in your bag. In the U.S., I have to admit, I’d feel like I had a huge target painted on my back, and I’d go to a big expense to avoid that risk. But in Japan, even in Shinjuku, which is close to some of the “more dangerous” neighborhoods in Tokyo, I felt only slightly odd. But certainly not at risk.

The purpose was to transfer money from my main bank to my other bank, a U.S. bank from where I transferred the money to a third location electronically. The two banks are only about a block apart, so it wasn’t such a big deal, and avoided the costs of having to use a cashier’s check, not a standard monetary device in Japan. Still, the money was given to me in several nicely wrapped bundles of one hundred ¥10,000 yen bills–more than I transferred the same way a few years ago, which I photographed at the time (see right–this time I didn’t have my camera).

I also am catching a break on the exchange rate; it had been up as high as ¥120 in mid-October, just a month ago, but today it fell to ¥116, saving me about $1700 in the transaction. Furthermore, although the usual exchange rate banks charge is three yen off the mid-rate (the one you see in reported–this moment, it is ¥115.92-95), when you issue traveler’s checks or make a bank transfer, they only charge you one yen off the mid-rate, saving me a further $850 on this transaction–but that’s standard, of course, so is not really a savings or anything.

The fact is, leaving the money here in Japan doesn’t make too much sense, since interest rates here are virtually zero (I think my main bank here offers 0.1% interest). I’ve left too much here for too long, not certain whether I would use it to make a down payment on a home at some point–but finally got around to realizing that it just didn’t make sense in the long run. Better to invest in the U.S., and bring the money back if I have to.

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  1. Tim Kane
    December 1st, 2006 at 12:49 | #1


    I am now living in Korea. A small town of Yeon Cheon, just 35 miles, and 100 years from a bigger modernistic city of Daegu teaching English. In fact, many of the teachers here live in Daegu and make the commute. It is definitely backwards, and my first big panic was trying to wire money from the bank that the school forced me to use and my bank in St. Louis.

    The first branch was in the center of town, it didn’t have any tellers that spoke English or new the least thing about xfering money overseas, and my bank in the states is a small credit union in a St. Louis suburb. On top of that my main co-teacher (mentor/host teacher – who is suppose to help me over come all the hurtles) speaks much better French (has a phd) then English. They couldn’t figure it out so attempted to give me internet privledges. The security apparatus was so convoluted that it proved impossible. Furthermore, Korea doesn’t want me to make money being an independent teacher praying on citizens because English is a huge deal here (as I suspect it is there), therefore my visa only allows me to remit no more than my salary, which means I need to provide pay statements. The combination of all these things made it impossible for me to transfer money home. I began to panic as my bills went unpaid.

    Finally, after over a month of trying, the co-teacher called in sick on a festival day, a younger teacher, with much better English skills, more patience and dedication went with me to the bank. We went to a different branch, which was only a block from my home (and no one bothered to tell me was there). This branch was much bigger, had more personell, who were more dedicated and more knowledgable. It took three or four bank personell, my young teacher friend and two and a half hours, but the money was wired, and six hours later I got an email from the Korean bank that it went through. I then forwarded that email to a bank contact at my credit union in Missouri to keep an eye out for it, eight hours later, and three emails later it hit and showed on my online balance. Eight hours later, I sat down to do my bills, pay my late fees, and found my self almost broke again. But happy that I had finally stopped the bleeding.

    What an ordeal. At least now some people at the bank know me and know how to do this. So I can go to the bank once a month and wire money to pay my bills. In the mean time I study korean, study bar law, and save money to go back to the U.S. in the summer and take my bar exam. Hopefully I will pass, and I can get an international job here or there at above subsistence wages.

  2. Luis
    December 1st, 2006 at 20:02 | #2

    Tim: Wow, sounds like Japan 20 years or more ago. An interesting choice of venues to take up practice though, isn’t it?

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