Sunday, December 30, 2012

Japanese Bank Account With SOFA Status

People in Japan under SOFA status:

It is possible for you to open a Japanese bank account, even if you don't have a Japanese spouse. But only if you are willing to jump through several hoops and demonstrate the patience of a saint.

If possible, bring a translator, a utility bill, your passport, your military ID, and a US driver's license. The process may be streamlined if you can also bring a letter from a superior officer stating on official stationary that you belong to your APO address. (Note: I didn't have one, so I don't know for sure that it would have helped.)

If you live on base, this may be more or less a straightforward process. We live off base, so we have a Japanese address that receives our bills, an APO address for US mail, and an address in the US where we are technically residents.

Here's my headache-inducing experience, so you can learn from it. My friends tell me that Shinsei has pretty crappy service, but foreigners don't have so much trouble opening an account. Circumstances brought me to a different bank, so I can't comment on that one with authority.

Because I hate making posts without pictures, for all intents and purposes, this is me:
We will be marking the progress of my emotions.
I am signed up with several talent agencies, one of which insisted on my opening a Japanese bank account to be paid by direct deposit. Problem 1: I'm here under SOFA status, so I don't have a foreign residency card or a work visa. Customer service people have no idea how to deal with that. Problem 2: my Japanese is terrible and I can't explain anything. I'd made a couple attempts, but got turned away pretty quickly because of one or both of these problems.

So my agent said he'd go with me to help the process along. We met at the Shibuya branch of the bank where the agency has its accounts. A month prior, my local branch was one of the banks that refused me. We were there for an hour and a half. It turned out that my Japanese address can't be used because even though we can prove we live there, we're not residents. We don't live at our APO, and a US credit card statement or statement from a US bank aren't enough, for no reason I can fathom.
We were eventually told that I couldn't open an account at that branch because they couldn't process accounts with military IDs, but the branch near Yokosuka Naval Base would be able to. They'd also have English-speaking representatives. A call was made to the Yokosuka branch to confirm. So I went the next day, the last working day of the year.

Yokosuka isn't far on the map, but from where I live, it's about a 2-hour trip each way. The agent didn't go with me, but he was available by phone if I needed him. Which I did, almost immediately. The person that sat across the table from me spoke a little English, and said I should have gone to my local branch to open an account. I said I had, but they had refused me. She asked why, I reminded her that I don't speak enough Japanese to understand a word they had said beyond "can't." She asked a couple more questions, but between multiple days, languages, and branch locations, something was about to get lost in the translation, so I called the agent and they talked for several minutes.

After a couple hours in the waiting area and a few angry phone calls from the agent to both of the bank branches (he updated me as things moved along or stalled out), I spoke with an English-speaking representative from the Shibuya branch on the phone. She said they never told me to go to Yokosuka, that I shouldn't have gone to Yokosuka, that I needed to open an account in Shibuya because it was closer to my address.

This was 20 minutes before the doors to the bank closed for the year.
Remember how I mentioned needing the patience of a saint?

She asked me if I'd like to go back to the Shibuya branch next year to try again. Insisting that I was specifically instructed to make this very inconvenient trip was getting me nowhere, so we moved on to the list of required documents.

I had a military ID and passport to prove my identity and two different bills to prove we lived at our Japanese address, but I don't know what would have been sufficient to prove that our names were connected to an APO address. She (and several other people over the last two days) didn't seem to know either. Apparently my (US) credit card and (US) bank statement weren't acceptable, and neither was our mobile phone bill (mailed from a Japanese company, in Japanese, to our APO). But they might accept some sort of letter from my husband's boss on official stationary stating our names and our APO address.

That sounded way too easy for them to refuse it later. So I asked for that list in writing.

"Can that list be emailed to me?"
"No, we're not allowed to do that."
"Can it be emailed to the agency? They are already clients."
"We're not allowed to do that, either."
"Can it be physically mailed to the agency?"
"Why? Don't you trust me?"

No, madam, I do not.

I managed to not say anything rude, but my reply had a more complicated sentence structure than she could follow and was probably much too fast. I took a breath and rephrased, slowly, by saying I would feel better if I had a written list.

It's a little bit of a rage-filled blur, but somewhere around here I mentioned that I had a US driver's license.

Finally, she said that if I had a passport, a US driver's license, and utility bills, she could have the Yokosuka branch make an account with the Shibuya branch on my behalf.

Yes, I'd like to do that. Please! Thank you, merciful spirits of commerce.

It makes me nervous to sign contracts I can't read. Especially when some of the blanks need to be filled in kanji that I can't read, which has been helpfully written on a sticky note for me to copy. I asked several times to confirm what I was writing. If I didn't misunderstand, it was just a note stating that my primary correspondence address was my Japanese address, not my US one. That is what I wanted.

Eventually a little money changed hands and I received a bank book.

The ATM card will be mailed to me in two weeks, and I hope I'm home to sign for it. She said if I miss it twice, they destroy the card. Picking it up at the branch is not an option.

Oh good, there might be a sequel to this post.

EDIT: I was home when it arrived. I did a little dance for joy.

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