Shared bank account for non-married couples in Japan

The internet wisdom seems to agree that shared accounts (or joint accounts) are illegal and impossible in Japan. As a workaround some banks will issue a second card in the name of the spouse (e.g. SMBC), however that’s generally only available for married couples.

So if you live with a partner, but not married, you are out of luck? Not entirely.

The solution is a pre-paid debit card called Kyash (affiliate link).

The sleek, modern Kyash cards

Kyash is a pre-paid VISA debit card that comes with a mobile app. You can top it up multiple ways, including linking a bank account, at an ATM or from a debit card. Then you can spend the money with the very stylish card.

Kyash also allows shared balances, that multiple Kyash users can add money to and withdraw money from. Moreover members added to the shared balance can assign their card to that balance (instead of their main account), so any payment maid with the card will be taken from the shared account. These payments send push notification to every member of the shared balance, and the account history also shows whose card made a given payment. Moreover any member can easily (and for free) move money between the shared account and their own account (which again sends a push notification to all members).

Shared account view

This for all intents and purposes can act as a shared account to cover shared expenses.

Here is how we use it with my partner to cover shared expenses (e.g. groceries):

  • At the beginning of each month we both put an agreed amount of money into the shared balance (we both have our main bank account linked to Kyash)
  • We both added our card to PayPay, so we can use it at places that don’t take card but take PayPay
  • For places that are cash-only, we take the money out from the shared balance into our individual balance (which is used next month when topping up the shared account)

Things that don’t work:

  • Since this is not a real bank account, direct debit (often used to pay rent) is not possible. The way we get around this is that I’ve setup direct debit with my own bank account, and I put that much less into the shared account
  • Places that expect credit cards don’t always work (e.g. car rental, highway payment gates, gas stations). We either use cash or a personal credit card, and then take the money from the shared account for these.

Bonus point: there is 1% cashback (up to a monthly limit), which is nice 🤑.