Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

CGE Influencer: Taylor Moore | Need-to-Know Budgeting Tips for Kansai Gaidai University

Want to study abroad, but afraid the cost is way out of your range? You’re not alone, and I am here to help! I am entering my third month here in Japan and I can say, without a doubt, I am enjoying it to my utmost ability while still on a budget. It has been a blast so far, so I am excited to share my budgeting tips and tricks that I have learned thus far!

            One of the biggest concerns with studying abroad is money. It can cost a substantial amount even if it’s a shorter program, and even with financial aid it can still be expensive. This ends up driving people away. I am one to always encourage trying to get as much financial aid as possible, but I also understand that can be difficult. That’s why today I will give you the best tips for budgeting in Japan, while still being able to go out and travel in your country. This will be especially useful for those interested in the Kansai Gaidai University Exchange Program, but it may also be useful to those interested in going elsewhere.

  If you are looking for something specific, here is what I will cover:

  1. Exchanging money and using the ATM
  2. JR discounts on long distance travel, and other transportation (plane, ferry, night bus, etc.)
  3. Trains, buses, and the IC cards
  4. Going abroad while in Japan
  5. Getting a job (IF your visa allows)


1.) Exchanging money and/or using the ATM when you first arrive

First and foremost, I recommend researching the current rates at which the currency you need is going for. Try checking out resources like to get a feel of the cost of living*. Then, figure out how much you will need for your trip. Are you going for a short mini-term, or are you going for a year? Do you even need cash, or can you use your card everywhere? In Japan you WILL need cash. Look into your country and its cost of living. What $100 gets you here in the US, might get you a lot more while in Japan. Most things in Japan are much cheaper. For example, on average my meals cost between 400-1000 yen, which is currently about $2.60-$6.46.

Once you establish how much money you want to bring, look into where you can exchange money. I was able to go to my bank and get Yen there, just call your bank to find out if it is something they can do! There is typically a fee for doing it through them, however it is usually worth it – you’ll get a fee anywhere you go. If your bank cannot get the currency you need, then consider exchanging the money at the airport upon arrival. This is where knowing the exchange rate will come in handy! There will be lots of places that will offer not so great rates, and you want to stay away from those. Most convenience stores in Japan have ATMs which use the standard exchange rate. They are both easy to use and have an English option! They accept most card types, but again, there are fees.

My overall recommendation, especially if your program is longer, is to exchange a large portion of the money you think you will need, and then use the ATMs to pull more money out when you need. Japan is a very cash oriented country, so I recommend not planning on using your card at all. There will definitely be instances where you can use credit cards, however there will be international usage fees and it is just overall much easier to have cash in Japan. To add to that, Kansai Gaidai will give you an allowance on a Visa gift card. Use that to avoid extra fees!


2.) JR discounts on long distance travel

You are going to want to travel when you go abroad! Japan is a very small country compared to the US, so travel is much easier. At Kansai Gaidai University, you are living right between Kyoto and Osaka. Because of this, I go to these two places more than anywhere else. But! You can also take a day trip all the way across the country and go back home the same day. KGU has a 20% discount on any JR transportation so long as it’s over a certain distance. This comes in handy when you are wanting to use the bullet trains and go to places like tokyo. You do not have to go and come back the same day though. I suggest staying at least a weekend to really get your money’s worth, but then you need to find accommodation. It really all depends on what you are wanting to do while away!

But wait! There’s an even cheaper way to travel! Japan also has lots of night buses, ferries, and – get this – planes. Taking a plane in Japan can be a lot cheaper than taking the trains in some instances. I will talk more about the planes and their prices later in section 4!


3.) Trains, buses, and the IC cards

If you’re like me, and you want to get out of the city frequently, you will want to know how to use the trains. First, you have to buy an IC card at a station. There are two close to KGU, Hirakata station and Gotenyama station. They will have machines near the entrance you can purchase the cards on, and there is an option for english. These machines are both right before the gates and inside, so if you ever run out of money, you can easily recharge! Just make sure you have cash! I’m not sure that I have seen one that accepts anything other than cash.

Once you have the card, you can use public transportation! You will use the card to tap in at the gates of train stations or when you get on and off a bus. Trains are pretty straight forward, but buses can be a little confusing at first. Make sure to get on the bus at the door in the middle, and not the front. Immediately, you will see a place to tap your card. Don’t forget to tap when you get on, or it will create an awkward situation later when you go to get off. When getting off you will go to the front of the bus, tap your card again, and then use the door at the front. The door in the middle can be used if you have a ticket or exact cash. You can also pay with coins at the front of the bus too. Say you only have a little bit of money on your card, and it is not enough to cover the fee. You can use the rest on your card and then the rest in coins. However, the bus cannot give you change so it’s best if you have exact change.

I also wanted to reiterate that google maps is super useful in japan. It will tell you the platform, the type of train, and the best car to get in. And if you don’t have a phone plan when you come, you can download the directions for offline use.


4.) Going abroad while in Japan

Traveling around Asia while you are in Japan is an opportunity I don’t recommend missing out on. Within Japan, you can get flights from Osaka to Tokyo for around only $60. If you had taken the bullet train, even with the discount, it would have been over $100. Outside of Japan, you can get flights for ~$200 to China or Singapore. About $170 to Vietnam. There are also flights around $100 to South Korea. I know $100-$300 can sound like a lot of money depending on the circumstances, but when else will you get the same chance. Before I came to Japan, I also thought it was too much money. However, I severely overestimated how much money I would be spending on a daily basis, and I now have lots of saved money that I can spend on things like travel. 

Of course I can’t say the same for everyone. Don’t take these words and assume you can come and spend all of your money just because I said it took me by surprise. I still recommend budgeting your day-to-day life, being reasonable with the souvenirs you buy – as you might not have room in your suitcase -, and limiting your big trips. If you are over cautious, like I was, then you can only really be pleasantly surprised, rather than realize you are running out of money. Planning ahead helps tremendously. 

Also know you will have to make sacrifices. If you want to go to an amusement park, remember that the food inside will be more expensive, so plan to eat before or after. If you are going on a big trip in or out of Japan, maybe don’t do anything costly the week before. Little things like that will really save you throughout the semester. Because Japan is a very cash based society, keep track of what you are spending. It won’t be like a credit card where you can check your account at any time. Make notes on your phone, write it down somewhere, or figure out some method of keeping track of your money. This will really be the most useful budgeting tip.


5.) Getting a job

Lastly, you can get a job while abroad, IF the government and your school allows. I was told I cannot work while I am here, but I have several friends that are working! If it is something you are interested in, I recommend looking into it more. Email the university you want to study abroad at or UT’s programs abroad office, as I think they would know more than me.

If you get approval to work while abroad, some of the jobs you can look into include English tutoring, bartending at bars around campus, or working for your university to name a few. Do note, however, the work culture here in Japan is a lot different than the US. Your priority while studying abroad is to, of course, study. This is why they don’t want you to work in the first place. They really want to make sure you will still be able to prioritize school and do well. Just something to take into consideration!

*Please note: The University of Tennessee and Center for Global Engagement does not endorse organizations mentioned or used by students. Suggested external resources are meant to assist students but are not monitored or maintained for accuracy or quality control.


More about Kansai Gaidai University>

More from Taylor Moore>