Costs, Budgeting, and Money Matters

In this post I will summarize my budget and expenses during my year abroad.  Please note that general living expenses will vary based on a number of things, including the lifestyle of the person, the current exchange rate (during this time -2011 – 2012- it was between 70 and 85 cents to the 100 yen), the costs of things in general at the time, and personal preferences and ability to budget.
These amounts are listed in yen.  They are approximate numbers.

Living:
Summer term room and board (Ginkgo House): 80,000
Autumn term room and board (Global House): 206,000
Winter term room and board (Global House): 206,000
Spring term room and board (Global House):  206,000
Bedding: 14,700
— Required rented Noguchi Co. bedding (all bedsheets, blankets, pillows, futon, etc) for one year.
NOTE: “room and board” includes the dorm living amount and extra dorm fees.

One time expenses:
Required insurance: 8,000 to 10,000
Bicycle: 10,000
— I highly recommend buying a bicycle.  The public transportation system is incredibly widespread and efficient, but you will save a lot of money if you buy a bicycle and bike to any place that is within a 15 or 30 minute ride away.  It is very possible to get to anything you could possibly need by bike, as Tokyo is very condensed.  I generally used the busses and trains only when I was going very long distances.  Most bikes come with a basket, a rear platform for strapping items, a headlight, and a built in lock.

Average monthly expenses:
Food: 13,000
Fun: 20,000
Transportation (busses, trains, and taxis): 3,000
Necessities: 5,000
— This includes household items, emergency expenses, etc.
Phone: 2,000
— Both the price of a cellphone and the monthly payment will differ depending on carrier and plan.  I got a prepaid style phone from Softbank.  I spent about 8,000 on my phone, the charger, etc, and the setup.  Then each month I paid 1,500 for unlimited mail (text) and about 20 minutes of outgoing calls.  **In Japan ALL incoming calls are free, no matter what.**
Note: There are three cell phone companies; Softbank, AU, and Docomo.  The plans and phones available change very frequently, so in order to see what is available currently and to find the best company and plan for you, you should consult with a Japanese native, and if your Japanese skill is good enough, go to a carrier’s store and talk to a staff member.

Other expenses:
Textbooks (for the year): 8,000
— Depending on how many classes you take and what they are, this number can and will vary greatly.
Souvenirs (total for the year): 25,000
Trips: 60,000
— I took a couple of trips both within Japan and outside of Japan.  This was my average approximate cost for a week long trip, including housing, food, souvenirs, transportation, etc.
Tuition: ????
— I can not speak for any school other than ICU, but all exchange students at ICU pay their home university’s tuition for the year, NOT ICU’s tuition.  For information on ICU’s tuition, check here.

Monetary information:

Credit cards:

Japan (Korea, too) is a largely cash based society.  Do not expect to use credit or debit cards anywhere.  I was able to use a credit card only a small handful of times, including some (not all) hotel/hostel payments, purchasing my bike, and sending large packages through FedEx.  Expect to keep cash on hand at all times.  Paying bills (tuition, cell phone, insurance, etc), sending regular mail, daily shopping, etc. are all paid for in cash.  Yes, I had to bring approximately $2,000 USD in CASH to the bank (about a 15 minute bike ride away) once per term (for dorm fees).

Banks:

There are three ways that you can handle money while abroad.

1. Set up a bank account with a Japanese bank (this is by far the most common approach)
— You can open a bank account with one of the many Japanese banks and wire/transfer any amount of money from your home bank account to your Japanese bank account.  In order to do this, you will need to communicate with both your home bank account and your Japanese bank account.  Then any time you need money, you can go to the bank and withdraw your cash from your Japanese bank account.
Pros: Simple, convenient, safe, common
Cons: You will be hit with a transfer fee every time you transfer money from your home bank account to your Japanese bank account.  Also, you will have to find your own bank to withdraw money, or you will be hit with ATM fees.  This can be a bit stressful if you need money quickly and your bank is not in the area (or if there are no banks at all in the area), or if banks are closed at the time (Sundays, holidays, outside of working hours, etc).

2. Using a card with an international bank.
— You could set up an account with an international bank (if your current bank isn’t already an international one) and simply withdraw money using an ATM in Japan, with your home international bank’s debit or credit card.
Pros: Simple, convenient, safe, no hassle with setting up a bank account in a new place/in a language you do not understand.
Cons: You will be hit with massive transfer fees every time you withdraw money.  Also, you will still need to be wary of when banks are open, because it seems that 24/7 ATMs are scarce in Japan.

3. Skip the bank and only bring cash (this is what I did)
— I personally did not use a bank while in Japan because I was weary of the hassle.  Instead, I withdrew the money I would need while still in America, converted it to yen with my bank, and brought it in my suitcase.  My mom did visit me once, and she brought the rest to me at that time.
Pros: always have cash on hand (which I already said is necessary), never have to wait for banks to be open, no transaction fees.
Cons: incredibly unorthodox, very nerve racking/unsafe (having all that money on you while traveling, and keeping it all in your room).
I did, however, still open an account with an international bank (Chase – who I absolutely would never recommend to anyone) so that if I ran into an emergency I had both a debit and a credit card.  But as I mentioned above, I only used my credit card maybe three times, and I never touched my debit card.

NOTE: Take all of this information lightly, as, like I said, I did not have a Japanese bank account.  This is simply the information I have gathered from brief research and from friends who did have accounts.

I hope this information is helpful to someone.  If you have any questions about anything at all, leave a comment and I will try my best to help as best as I can.