Dollar to Yen exchange – cash vs travelers cheques vs USPS money order vs ATM


I had a hard time getting straight answers from my bank – they didn’t know what rate they would give at foreign ATMs for example. So here’s my current research.

This page for the airport exchange rates shows a full 3% better rate for exchanges done with TC vs cash:
The airport in Japan has a reliably good rate compared to other money exchange options.

Today (8/8/2014) buying Yen via cash at the airport is at 98.75
and T/C is at 100.75 (travelers cheques)
Interbank rate is 101.86 (not what it’s really called I guess)

So it seems travelers checques (T/C) are best — but if you have to pay for them you will quickly cut into whatever savings you might see. Many banks no longer offer them at all. If you have an American Express card you may be able to get them free.

I heard that USPS (Post Office) International postal money orders were a good deal but the max amount is $700 and there is a $5 fee. So that’s a .7% fee. You can buy as many as you want but each one maxes out at $700. One big advantage is that you get a receipt and can get them back if you lose them – it’s not a simple process but it is possible. You need to make them out to yourself – or whomever is to receive the money – as soon as you get them.

I just went to a Japanese post office (JapanPost) to exchange the USPS postal money order that I bought at USPS and got a rate of 100.60. Note that you need to have something with your address on it so you might want your passport plus a drivers license since passports usually don’t have addresses in them.

So now we know that the exchange rate at a Japanese post office is similar to T/C rate (I could not find that info online anywhere). Since the T/C rate is about 3% I saved about 2.3%. On $1000 that would be $23.


Here’s a sample transaction:
$245.60 for ¥25,000 yen = a rate of 101.79
(101.91 was the interbank rate that day – That’s what I call it but someone out there can give me a better term?)

So that’s a great rate (I paid no fees) but…. there are usually extra fees – and lots of them. Some banks waive fees under certain circumstances.

typical fees:

  • @1% percentage fees “conversion fee”

plus fixed fees:

  • $5 (charged by Wells Fargo)
  • $2 or $3 local bank fee

Wells Fargo gives discounts on some PMA accounts – 2 withdrawals per month for free (2 per account per statement month) – but that only waives the $5 fee. Other PMA accounts get both fees waived for unlimited withdrawals.

So one trick is to raise your  withdrawal limit so you can get more money at one time. Any bank will do that – limits usually start at $300 and I’m not sure what the upper limit might be. But if you have to pay $5 or more per transaction then having a high limit will make that a low relative %.


  • percentage fees
  • 3% fee for debit charges – or free for some accounts

1 USD = 101.7605 JPY


  • As of 11:30, Jun 11, 2013 T/C 97.80 CASH 95.80
  • As of 11:30, Jun 17, 2013 T/C 93.67 CASH 91.67

and now, one year later, it’s up about 10%: 100.75 (cash at 98.75)

Google offers a nice graph of the exchange rate of Yen to Dollar

Links about banks and ATMs

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