ゼクシィ (Zexy): A Good Start to Finding Your Venue – A Wedding Planning in Japan Adventure

So I don’t know if you know, but me and my wonderful boyfriend, Yuta, have been engaged since April of this year, 2018, and ’tis the season to start making wedding plans…

One word: EXCITE AF

Another word: A BIT STRESSED AF

My initial twenty-two-year-old plan of eloping slowly becoming no longer an option (wah wah waaah), my current plan is now to have two weddings: one in the US for my family and one in Japan for his family. But when it came to the Japanese wedding, I was a bit at a loss to say the least. At first, this was because I didn’t know what my options were there at all.

AKA: What venues do they have available in the Tokyo area (where most of my guests live)? How much do they typically cost? Would the venue allow a ceremony? How many people are typically allowed in smaller, budget-friendly Japanese venues?

It was through asking friends and getting advice that I discovered that Japanese weddings nowadays can be pretty much the same as US ones. It was also by asking around and doing more research on my own that nice weddings themselves cost quite the pretty penny out there. We’re talking Cinderella Tokyo Disney Castle Wedding at ¥7,700,000 for 50 guests. And that’s not including park tickets for guests. Salty.

Believe it or not, one of the most popular spots for wedding ceremonies and receptions is Hawaii or OUTSIDE Japan, since many younger couples can’t afford the dream wedding in Japan. As a matter of fact, when Yuta had done his rounds with a few wedding planners out in Osaka, both had recommended Hawaii; one even claimed they had no other options BUT Hawaii, which is interesting.

So, let’s talk venue-hunting. Recommendation for getting started Número Uno: zexy.net

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ゼクシィ Zexy (https://zexy.net/)

To start with, Zexy’s search tool is what I used to find some of my best potential venues. I’ve also used Minna no Wedding, another popular place to get personal reviews, but Zexy has a lot more information available on each venue, which is great for quick comparisons.

There are a ton of resources and searches available on this website that can help you find dresses, flowers, photographer, the works, and even ceremonies abroad, but I’ll leave the exploration up to you and just walk you through one of the searches I did, which was the…

二次会 (reception) search

I’m a girl of simple needs. After talking things over with Yuta, we decided on a 二次会 (nijikai  = reception) or 1.5次会 (ittengojikai = more informal reception); an informal, restaurant reception only that met these criteria:

  1. Gotta be in Tokyo (where a majority of my guests live)
  2. Gotta be buffet-styled (so people have the chance to mingle and not just sit and eat, which is common traditional Japanese wedding reception style – boring, I know)
  3. Gotta have speakers for my video game music playlists
  4. Gotta have cake (EDIBLE cake. Old school Japanese weddings have a giant, fake cake that only has a tiny edible portion that the bride and groom get to cut. Why? I don’t know.)
  5. Gotta be photogenic and fun
  6. Gotta be something within my budget (which Zexy does offer, but it takes looking)

Off to Zexy, I searched. First, under the 二次会 (reception) link, choose your エリア (area) you want to search for in Japan. I chose 青山・表参道・渋谷 (Aoyama, Omote-sando, and Shibuya) all in Tokyo, and hit 検索 (search).

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Because this initial search doesn’t actually show you as many results, hit the small, pink button that says “検索条件を変更する” (change search conditions).

After making my changes, here’s what my advanced search looked like:

エリア (area): I included 埼玉県 (Saitama), 千葉県 (Chiba), 東京都 (Tokyo), and 神奈川県 (Kanagawa), just to see what else comes up.

I also checked these bad boys off my こだわり (points) list:

  • ビュッフェ形式  (buffet)
  • ケーキオーダー (cake)
  • マイク・音響 (microphone/sound)
  • BGM手配 (background music)
  • ゲーム各種手配  (gaming arrangements)

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This time, my advanced search brought me 72 results. After you click on one that interests you, (for this example, I chose “Omote-sando Café”, which looks lovely), scroll down to see the こだわりデータ (the checklist of points included at this venue), and scroll down further to see general prices and plans.

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For the life of me, I haven’t found a link to the venues’ actual websites, but nothing DuckDuckGo (or Google) can’t find. Let copy/paste be your friend.

Then bookmark what looks good and come back to it later once you’ve begun the narrowing-down process. Some other important keywords I decided to narrow down later in my search were ゲスト人数 (number of guests) and the highly-important 予算 (budget).

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Zexy Magazine

Zexy is first and foremost a wedding magazine, which showcases lots of ideas and lots of expensive venues for you to choose from. The magazines are great, but again; they’re wedding magazines. AKA Zexy’s general market is for the wealthy, but that aside, the magazines are great to thumb through for ideas and for finding places you would like to visit and/or get tastings from. These magazines can be bought at any bookstore or convenience store (Seven Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson, etc.) for about ¥500. Yuta found one at his local Tsutaya shoten, too, which you can find pretty much anywhere.

A quick warning about tastings, though, is that as much as I would recommend getting as many tastings done as you can (ahem free food, people), the tasting can last up to three hours, because of marketing staff going through options and whatnot. It’s all formality, but hey, free food.

Aaaaanyways, that’s my lowdown for getting a start on your international wedding in Japan! I may be keeping you all up-to-date as I discover more and get further along in my planning, but for now, while it’s still in its early stages, I’d like to recommend you a good first place to start.

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7 Apps That’ll Most Definitely Help You Out with Japanese (They’ve Saved My Hide, Anyway)

1. JED for Android
JED is my first go-to as a Japanese/English dictionary, and honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without it. While it barely takes up any space on my phone (about 5MB), it is also offline, meaning it doesn’t need any internet access for use (other than updates) and its lookup speed is super quick. Which already makes it top Weblio in my book.

Another feature that really makes this app stand out, in my opinion, is its ever-convenient tag feature, which lets me create decks of vocabulary words that I save and look up for later reference. I’ve got decks for JLPT, for questions I plan on asking my fiance when he’s awake (US/Japan time difference is a bi*ch), and for the words I’d like to review and make into flashcards for word memorization.

Unfortunately for you Apple people, I haven’t been able to find this app for Apple devices, but I’m sure you Apple people will be able to find something similar. Or maybe it’s already released a separate version by now, I’m not sure.

2. Weblio
Weblio is more popular for Japanese-speakers looking up English, I notice, but one thing Weblio does better than JED is its ability to look up phrases like slang, idioms, or proverbs that aren’t typically found in a traditional Japanese/English dictionary. It does require internet access for use (or at least, I haven’t found a roundabout way for this), so if you’re looking for a word mid-conversation, there may be a bit of awkward waiting for that word to load for you.

3. Google Translate
I can’t deny the power of Google Translate. My most common uses for this app are probably three-fold:

For taking pictures of kanji I don’t know.
For getting the furigana and romanji of kanji I don’t know.
For writing in the kanji I don’t know.

…Yeeeeeah, I don’t know a lot of kanji.

First of all, it has this pretty great Camera Mode that lets the user take pictures of Japanese text and then translates it on the spot. Naturally, this can be a bit buggy, but if you’ve got a whole block of text from a page of a book in front of you that you just don’t feel like translating yourself, this feature can give you a great start.

Second, a quick tip I learned is that if you translate into the Japanese language (say, even Japanese to Japanese), then not only does it show the native, written language itself, but it also shows you the romanji, so that you can easily read and look up those words you stumbled over.

Third, it’s Writing Mode, predictably, is great for hand-writing unknown kanji to look up. When it comes to unknown kanji (depending on how many there are), this Writing feature is usually my go-to, since all I need to do is just write in in Google then copy-paste that sucker into JED to figure out what it means.

4. Kanji Study
So like most Japanese studyers, kanji is a major weakness of mine, and has cost me many retakes of the JLPT, admittedly. I just started using this app the last time I was in Osaka, because I really wanted to level up my kanji reading skills. I will say that the full version of this app is $10, but I would say that – for those serious about kanji, and for those who are disciplined enough to utilize it to its full potential – it is a price worth paying.

I love how this app is organized by school grade, meaning that we work in the official, standardized Japanese system, and that we work from easy to harder. For each grade, there is a flashcard study, a multiple choice quiz, and writing challenges for the masochistic. Outside the school-grade decks, however, there is a lot of customization that can be done, too, with the paid version; such as making your own decks for those pesky kanji you always seems to get wrong but you just want to move onto the next grade so it sticks around and you can keep practicing it untilyoueventuallymasterthehelloutofitorforgetaboutitamonthlater (inhale). We all have those kanji, I’m sure.

5. NHK Easy Japanese News
I was almost hesitant to write about this app, because for whatever reason, lately my luck with getting this app to load has been not-so-successful. Some days it just crashes, some days it takes a while to load, but on the days it works fine, it works FINE.

This is really a great resource, as you can imagine for a number of reasons. One, because the stuff you’re reading here is really beneficial if you want some legit reading practice. Especially for that next JLPT or to get your feet wet practicing reading actual Japanese newspaper-leveled material (bless you). Since I’m not quite at the newspaper level yet, I like going through this app, picking out articles that I’m not very familiar with that’s filled with a bunch of new technical terms for me to learn.

It’s an excellent source, but if you have trouble getting the mobile app working, I would still recommend the official NHK Easy Japanese News website.

6. Study Droid
I add this one to my list with a heavy heart. My main squeeze for flashcards and route memory learning is kind of majorly an abandoned app, and it’s no longer offered on Google Play. I will start by saying it has a couple of awkward bugs about it (if you still decide to try it out), like after you’ve deleted a card, it still shows up on the Search screen… I’ve emailed them about it before, but never got a response or update… Sad days.

However! Sentiments aside, I know that a lot of schools and teachers recommend Quizlet (which I also do, but for different reasons), but let me list thy ways in which a more simple, searchable flashcard app like this can work better.

First, no internet needed. It’s completely offline, which means no data/wifi being used, no battery life being drained, and no slow-moving search time. This app has been my best friend when I’m sitting/standing on the train and need some brainless repetition to keep my Japanese fresh.

Second, have I mentioned the Search option? IT HAS. A SEARCH OPTION. I’m not sure why Quizlet hasn’t thought of this yet, but to be able to search through decks of 1,000+ flashcards for a word that’s on the tip of your tongue or you KNOW you’ve learned before, but just can’t remember what it is… Well, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to reunite with it again.

7. Quizlet
Ladies and Gents, you knew this was coming. This one is good for those words that you don’t necessarily need on-hand, but still want to get some study time in for that next test coming up, for example. There are a few other things that Quizlet really does well, such as…

Number One. Detecting dupes of cards. Reeeeeally nice if you’ve got a deck for JLPT N2 that has 1,000+ cards.

Number Two. Its online compatibility. Because editing massive decks on mobile is very time-consuming and frustrating, all I need to do is just get on my Mozilla Firefox on my PC and start editing away,

Number Three. Its ability to be shared and viewed by other people, too. For group studying, this is nice. Or again, wanting to get some extra study time in on a different device without the pesky, distracting cell phone.

These have been my seven suggestions that hopefully can help you out, too. Good luck with your language acquisition and happy learning!

How to Make Reservations at Ikebukuro’s Swallowtail Butler Cafe

Ikebukuro is my bae of Japan, seriously. Ladies of the interwebs that are interested in being treated like a lady, trying out some delicious teas, or just want to ogle the boys (let’s be real), then this is my recommendation for you.

One thing that really stood out for me with Swallowtail is its relaxed, very comfortable environment. Bit of back story. When my sisters came to visit me in Japan, I wanted to take them someplace where they could experience luxury and calm (in the busy city of Tokyo) and that would give them the culture shock of a lifetime (an experience that they – even today – can recall in STRONG deets).

Back then, I knew that host clubs are typically more accessible, but I also know that they are sometimes dangerous, expensive, and filled with pushy salesman that make you buy lots of alcohol. Just a heads-up for those staying in Tokyo, red-light district Kabukicho Shinjuku, in particular, is notorious for these sort of host club establishments. Avoid, (or visit, if you’re about that kinda life) at your own risk.

To avoid the pushy salesmen and sketch neighborhoods (though Ikebukuro does have its share; it’s a metropolitan city, after all), I decided to give Swallowtail a shot by myself, and if I was happy with the experience, I’d take my sisters with. Which I’m glad I did. And now, I’m encouraging you adventurous ladies to do the same.

For me (especially back when my Japanese was not at the level it is now), making reservations was a little tricky. When making up this tutorial for y’all, I noticed that their website has changed a bit (even an English Guidance page has been added since then!), but the reservation process hasn’t changed. I’m here to walk you step-by-step to get you through those doors and into a comfortable seat, where a butler can then tend to your tea and cakey needs.

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Unlike the infamous maid cafes of Akihabara, you can’t usually just walk into a butler cafe like Swallowtail without a reservation. Well, you can, if the time schedule has a vacancy. Which you can check near their front door, where they have a schedule of their business hours, open, and reserved slots.

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The Reservation Process

1. Check out their HP (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/) Reservations are only made online, not through phone.

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2. Click 予約 (reserve) on the top-right corner (https://www.butlers-cafe.jp/reserve/)

3. Click on 予約フォームへ進む (continue to reservation form)

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4. Choose your preferred time and date. For this example, I chose 09/04 10:55, 3-4 名様(customers, people attending)

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5. Enter your Email address, Number of people, and Hit the 確認 (confirm) button

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6. Check your inbox for an email from this address “webmaster@butlers-cafe.jp”. Luckily, for non-Japanese readers, they’ve added English instructions to their emails. Do as the instructions indicate and follow the link to get to part 2 of registration.

7. Aaaaand back to Japanese-only stuff. Confirm your email address here.

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8. Fill out your information:

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  • A. Name (must be typed in Japanese characters, katakana or hiragana is okay)
  • B. Furigana (name again in hiragana)
  • C. What you would like to be called by your butler. Options for women: お嬢様 ojou-sama (lady, younger), 奥様 okusama (lady, older), options for men: 旦那様 danna-sama (sir, older), お坊ちゃま obocchama (young sir)
  • D. When it’s time to leave, what kind of send-off phrase do you want your butler to say to you (Options: おまかせ Omakase (Leave it to them.) お出掛けのお時間でございます。(It’s time to go out now.) ご出発のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your departure.) 乗馬のお時間でございます。(It’s time for your horse riding.)
  • E. Phone number. You can use your own number, it doesn’t have to be Japanese.
  • F. This section is if you have a members card. If you do (I do, they’re free, use like a point card, and make for a cute souvenir), you may enter your card number here, not including the front zeros. If no card, leave this whole section blank.
  • G. Are you ordering an anniversary cake or need a cooler bag for the cake? Choose なし (no) or あり (yes)

9. When done, hit 送信 (send).

10. When you get to this screen, check your inbox again to receive your final confirmation email.

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Aaaand you done, girl! Just show up on time, be somewhat nicely dressed, and enjoy your time there.

This blog post is really just meant to show you how to reserve a time slot, but I figured I’d also give you a heads-up about what to expect while you’re there, since the staff does not speak English there, and they do have a process and a couple house rules.

  • Once you arrive, you may be asked to sit and wait on a bench. First, an older gentleman (the owner) will greet you, take your coat and purse for you, if you’d like, and then your butler will introduce himself and show you to your table.
  • Your butler will take his time with you to introduce you to the items on the menu (if you don’t understand Japanese, you guessed it; just smile and nod). Afterwards, he’ll walk away.
  • When you want his attention, ring the bell. You will be asked to ring the bell for two other occasions, too: when you want him to fill up your water or tea (you don’t do this yourself, he’ll do everything for you), and when you want to go to the bathroom.
  • You don’t leave the table by yourself. You ring the bell, he escorts you to the bathroom, waits until you’re done with your business (or if he is busy and can’t, another butler may wait instead) and then escort you back to your table.
  • When it’s time to leave, your butler will lead you back down the hall, collect your things, and the owner may also send you off with a farewell greeting, too.
  • Another predictable house rule, no picture-taking allowed inside.
  • Also, quick tip! If you’re interested in purchasing some of the teas or sweets or some cute souvenirs from across the street, you can do that at the Swallowtail gift shop, where the cashier is also one of Swallowtail’s own butlers! Very nice marketing touch.

Komeda Coffee – A Recommendation

So it’s 3:00PM. Time for tea. Or in this case, coffee. Nagoya-styled coffee. Your place of choice? Before you get comfortable and say, “Starbucks”, let me first urge you to “give Komeda Coffee a shot”.

Or “get a shot… of coffee… from Komeda…”

…I tried the pun thing. Maybe I’ll be more creative next time.

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Komeda’s Coffee is a great cafe that offers decently-priced delicacies from Nagoya. My favorite of which is the infamous Ogura Toast, which is basically a thick (and I do mean thiccc with three C’s) piece of bread, slathered with sweet, whipped butter and red bean paste. You can order this Ogura Toast thinly-sliced or thickly-sliced. But let’s be real, thick is where it’s AT.

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Their sandwiches are also excellent. I ordered a Fried Pork Cutlet Sandwich (no pic included) from them, which was quite sizable and tasted fresh. And, of course, I highly recommend their coffee (pic included way above).

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They’ve got coffee. They’ve got Ogura Toast. They even got fluffy, Shiro-Noir Danish pastries. For your viewing pleasure, the menu: http://www.komeda.co.jp/en/menu/index.html

Since Komeda Coffee started off in Nagoya, you can find them all over the Aichi prefecture, but I’ve also seen them around the Kansai area, as well. If you spot one, and if it’s remotely close to 3:00pm, I’d highly recommend popping in to scope out those sweet, sweet (and I do mean sweettt with three T’s, if that’s a thing) tasties.

Ikumimama’s Animal Donuts – A Recommendation

Here is another example of Japan being really good at producing quality goods that are detailed and downright adorable.

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Ikumimama no Doubutsu Donatsu, everyone! If you are lucky enough to happen upon one of these little shops, I highly recommend giving these delights a shot. Even for those foodies without a sweet-tooth, the taste of these donuts are very light, as the ingredients used are very raw; the eggs, wheat, salt, butter, and not a whole lot of processed chemical bits.

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But enough about the nutritional facts, let’s check the spoils.

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Handmade with smiles in mind, these adorable snackies are all shaped like animals such as cats, bears, tigers, penguins, and depending on the day and season, they also have a great selection of seasonal goodies, which you can check out on their website.
https://ikumimama.com/

DSCN9551I’ve seen these shops pop up around Tokyo, and now I’m super thrilled to have finally found one in Osaka. If you come across it, just remember these words of Runa, “Give into the cuteness, feast, and be merry!”

Osaka’s Valentine’s Day Chocolate Expo 2018 Results

So White Day, March 14th, has just passed me by. The day in which women receive a return gift from those they have given Valentine gifts to. Since I, too, participated in the Valentine gift-giving, this March 14th, I received some Mister Donuts from my wonderful boyfriend, who knows me so well.

To those unfamiliar with Japan’s “Mister Donut” shops, I beg you to try their “Pon De Ringu”. https://www.misterdonut.jp/m_menu/donut/ That stuff is fluffy gloriousness.

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This Valentine’s Day, I was fortunate enough to visit Osaka Hankyuu’s very own St. Valentine’s Day Chocolate Expo 2018. There’s not much else to say, other than “Holy chocolates, Batman!”

There were lots of hungry consumers, and there were lots and lots of glorious chocolate stands, all of which had a different theme to them.

For example, there were the “cute” styled ones.

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There were “cool” themed car ones, which you could actually “take apart” and eat. Very creative.

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There were “Godzilla” themed ones, the largest of which cost 7,560en (about $75!).

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The most popular ones seemed to be the “sake chocolates” and the “animal” themed booth, which I had a hard time taking a picture of because of the extensive lines and crowds surrounding the poor stand and its very busy, underpaid part-time workers.

 

There were also very badass “outer space” themed ones, Foucher Olympus, and I’m telling you, I felt like the Chocolate King of the Cosmos, going back a second time to actually buy these (shameless Katamari reference). http://valentine.season-evt.info/foucher/

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I’ve searched the web to try and see if you could order these, but all I’ve found is, “There are no more products found for this product”, meaning they’re probably sold out… Which sucks, because I would definitely buy these suckers again.

They had a very mature, kind of sophisticated taste about them, most of the flavors dealing with an alcoholic beverages, like brandy, vodka, and more. Very quality, creamy, and light stuff. If I can ever find a link that sells these, rest assured, I’ll be posting.

All in all, I had a fun time at the Expo, contributing to the heavily-marketed Japanese Valentine’s Day. I’ve noticed that, to Japan, Valentine’s Day is really money-oriented, rather than the more traditional Western representation of a “holiday of love”. (Taking it a bit further, White Day can also be observed as another “Japanization of Western culture”, as it created the day – pessimistically speaking – to make some more money.)

However, when you think about it, gift-giving has ALWAYS been a big part of Japanese culture to begin with. And as a consumer, I think the products they deliver are very creative, and the holiday can be a lot of fun; especially the giving part. And with Mister Donuts, I mean, who can complain?

IMG Global Travel Insurance Review – STAY THE FUCK AWAY

So, it’s time to get real with you guys for a sec. I know this isn’t as light a topic as I usually try to tone this blog to, but this time, please let me warn you about this fraud travel insurance I came across.

I figured I would need some precautionary health insurance during my 3 months abroad in Japan. And so per recommendation from my current American health insurance consultant, I went with IMG Global (International Medical Group).

My honest review is this: IMGLOBAL IS A FUCKING SCAM, FRAUD, AND THIEF. PLEASE GO SOMEWHERE ELSE WITH YOUR BUSINESS.

During the beginning of my stay here, I had a few health issues that worried me. Namely, a travel diarrhea that evolved into severe constipation and an inability to sleep and eat (I know; I should’ve drank more water on the plane and ate more yogurt, but now is not the time for regrets).

My wonderful boyfriend took me to see a doctor, who took some blood and prescribed me with some drugs. Here, I paid everything out of pocket, because the doctor wouldn’t accept the IMGLOBAL ID CARD that was issued to me.

In the mean time, I sent IMGlobal a quick email, asking a few tips on how their file claim system works, to which I received their reply WE CAN’T FIND your information. PLEASE RESPOND WITH YOUR CERTIFICATE NUMBER, INSURED ID NUMBER, AND ITS EFFECTIVE DATE AND EXPIRATION DATE.

That’s a lot of information to NOT HAVE on your client, but okay, resent them the email with all those little information bits they were unable to find. Finally got a response after a few days.

Here’s where shit gets really dicey.

After I was feeling a bit better, I sent in my claim on their useless-ass website on January 14th. They told me they would let me know once my claim went through the Claims Department.

THEY NEVER DID.

I checked the website TWO MONTHS later, just to see if the claim actually went through.

It did. I was NEVER INFORMED by IMGlobal. And it said on the website that they had DENIED MY CLAIM. They would cover $0 of my $80.17. News to me.

I have a right to submit an appeal, but on the “Submit Appeal” website, NO CONTACT INFORMATION OR DIRECTION WAS GIVEN.

I immediately send them a very polite email to the generic address I had been using, telling them that I NEVER RECEIVED A DENIAL LETTER, and ultimately asking why they had denied me (as I have the right to submit an appeal). I gave them the claim reference number, I gave them my ID number, and asked for a prompt response.

THREE DAYS LATER (March 6), I got a response (their responses, in general, are VERY SLOW, usually DAYS OR WEEKS LATER):

“Unfortunately we are not able to locate the claim in question. Please provide us with a screen shot of your online account so we can research this further for you.”

What the fuck.

I send them screenshots, I send them doctor’s receipts. I send them all my original documentation I had originally posted on their website, all in attachments on my response email. (March 9)

I get a response (March 12), saying “An Explanation of Benefits, detailing claim determination and/or additional information required, will be sent to the address on file and will become accessible online, once processing is complete.”

IT’S BEEN MORE THAN A WEEK LATER, AND NO RESPONSE FROM THEIR “CLAIMS DEPARTMENT”.

IMG is a THIEF, is NOT COMMITTED to its clients, and when you google it, just look under the comments sections to find more horror stories. One guy actually wrote that his wife got hit by a car and IMG didn’t pay a penny!!

I’ve been had. And it’s a really, REALLY annoying feeling. So from here on out, I guess I’ll try harder not break an arm or something while I’m out here, because you can bet your bottom dollar, that I’ll be paying for it ALL OUT-OF-POCKET, NO THANKS to IMGlobal.

Needless to say, I’ll be writing an email to my American insurance consultant shortly upon my return to the States, asking her NOT to recommend this joke company to anyone else. Buyers and international travelers, please be warned.