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Using a credit card in Japan

Although a cash culture lingers in Japan, you can still use a credit card.

Despite an economy driven by technology, Japan remains a largely cash-based society. That said, credit and debit cards are relatively popular, especially in large cities and areas frequented by tourists. However, in smaller towns and villages, shops and restaurants are typically cash-based.

Compare credit cards for use in Japan

When planning your travels overseas to Japan, you’ll want to be sure your credit card charges no foreign transaction fees. This rare credit card feature can save you some money by ensuring that you won’t be racking up fees on every purchase you make during your trip.
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Brim World Mastercard
Up to $300 worth of bonuses
1.5 points for every $1 spent
19.99%
$99
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to $300 worth of bonus points when you shop with Brim retailers for the first time through the Brim mobile app. 
HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®
70,000 Points
Up to 6 points per $1 spent
19.9%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($149 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get a Welcome Bonus of 20,000 Points ($100 travel rewards). Plus, earn an additional 50,000 Points and get a 1st year annual fee waiver. Apply by September 27, 2021.
BMO U.S. Dollar Mastercard
N/A
N/A
19.99%
$35 USD
Min. recommended credit score: 725
When your purchases total US$1,000 or more in a year, the next year's annual fee (US$35) is rebated to your card.
Brim World Elite Mastercard
Brim World Elite Mastercard
Up to $500 worth of bonuses
2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($199 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Collect up to $500 worth of bonus points when you shop with Brim retailers for the first time using your Brim World Elite Mastercard.
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
40,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 40,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year (that’s up to $400 towards travel) Apply by August 31, 2021.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
40,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 40,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points in your first year (that’s up to $400 towards travel). Apply by July 1, 2021.
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Canadian Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted abroad. Check with your bank before traveling to Japan to confirm whether or not you’ll be able to use your credit card during your trip.
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
HSBC +Rewards™ Mastercard®
20,000 Points
2x points per $1 spent
11.9%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($25 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 630
Get 20,000 Points (up to $100 in value), plus get a 1st year annual fee waiver. Apply by September 27, 2021.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to max. spend of $2,000). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
Tangerine World Mastercard
1.95% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
3.99% rate on balance transfers for 9 months
N/A
12.99%
$20
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Brim Mastercard
Up to $200 worth of bonuses
1 point per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to $200 worth of bonus points when you shop with Brim retailers for the first time through the Brim mobile app.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
1.95% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 680
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
Refresh Financial Secured Card
N/A
N/A
17.99%
$12.95
Min. recommended credit score: Any score
Take advantage of a low annual fee, with no credit check and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with some funds.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
10,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 725
Get a bonus of 10,000 BMO Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Apply by October 31, 2021 . Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO World Elite Mastercard
30,000 points
Up to 3 points per $1 spent
20.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 30,000 points and the $150 annual fee waived in the first year. Apply by October 31, 2021
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
0.99% rate on balance transfers for 6 months
N/A
12.99%
$29
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by July 1, 2021.
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How to find restaurants that accept credit cards in Japan

Looking to eat out but want to make sure the restaurant you choose accepts credit cards? The easiest way to find out ahead of time is by checking online Japanese restaurant guides like Gurunavi or Savor Japan. These websites usually state whether or not credit cards are accepted at a specific restaurant, as well as what kinds of cards you can use.

If you want to be a bit more spontaneous, you can also just walk into a restaurant and inquire about whether they take cards. Most will have stickers of the credit cards they accept displayed by the cash register or near the front door. If you don’t see any, you can ask a server. Restaurants that have ticket machines that you use to purchase food tickets usually only accept cash.

Potential credit card fees in Japan

There are two types of credit card fees you could incur:

  • Foreign transaction fees. Canadian credit card issuers typically charge a fee of around 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. There are a couple of credit cards in Canada that charge no foreign transaction fees.
  • Currency conversion fees. If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in Canadian dollars, turn down the offer. Also known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC), you’ll actually end up getting a less-than-favourable exchange rate with this type of transaction and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with the option of paying in Canadian dollars, choose to pay in yen.

Is it safe to use my credit card in Japan?

Crime levels in Japan are very low, and it’s typically safe to take public transportation or walk around after dark. However, you should maintain the same caution that you would in Canada and use your credit card carefully.

  • Keep your PIN safe. When entering your PIN number, shield the keypad with your hand to keep your PIN safe from curious eyes and hidden cameras.
  • Choose ATMs carefully. Don’t use an ATM in a secluded area, and ideally stick to ones found inside banks or shopping malls.
  • Keep an eye out for skimmers. If your card does not enter the ATM slot as smoothly as it usually does or if using the keypad feels unusual, cancel your transaction immediately. Someone might have installed a card skimmer on the ATM.
  • Keep your card on you at all times. Even though levels of crime in Japan are low, you wouldn’t want to become the victim of an isolated incident. Keep your credit cards with you at all times, and don’t let them out of your sight — even when paying bills at hotels, restaurants or bars.

ATMs in Japan

ATMs are a common sight in big cities and many of them will accept Canadian credit and debit cards.

However, unlike in most countries, many Japanese ATMs don’t operate around the clock. Instead, they’re often switched off at night — typically at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends. Some 7-Eleven ATMs operate 24/7, and most of these work well with Canadian-issued cards.

Should I use my card to get cash?

Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM is expensive and should be avoided at all costs – unless it’s an emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM using your credit card, you’ll pay a cash advance fee. In addition to this fee, you’ll also pay the cash advance interest rate and you won’t be offered a grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest on the withdrawn balance immediately.

What is a cash advance fee?

A cash advance fee is charged when you withdraw cash using your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, the cash advance fee may be either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Cash in Japan

You’ll find that large shops, supermarkets and hotels accept credit and debit cards, as will most taxis. However, smaller souvenir shops, small restaurants, local market stalls and traditional Japanese ryokan typically limit their transactions to cash. This is also the case for many guesthouses operated by private owners.

If you buy a low-cost item and pay with a large bill — such as a 10,000 yen note — you’ll typically have no problem receiving change. Whether you’re limiting your visit to a big city or plan to travel to rural areas, make sure you carry enough cash for your daily needs.

Using your debit card is the cheapest way to withdraw cash overseas. While you’ll likely be charged an ATM fee, you can avoid paying any interest as you would with a credit card. You can also avoid the ATM fee by choosing a debit card that has a wide range of ATMs in its network, such as the Global ATM Alliance offered by Scotiabank.

How to prepare before travelling to Japan

  1. Take a Visa or Mastercard. Visa cards are the most commonly accepted, followed closely by Mastercard. If you have an American Express credit card, you may have a harder time finding businesses that accept them.
  2. Get a card with no foreign transaction fees. Every time you make a purchase overseas, you will incur a foreign transaction fee, which typically costs around 3% of the value of the transaction. Save money by getting a card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
  3. Inform your bank. It’s always a good idea to let your bank know that you’re travelling overseas. This way, they won’t block your card due to suspicious activity from a foreign country.
  4. Keep emergency numbers handy. Find out what numbers you’ll need to call if you lose your card or end up needing an emergency replacement. Keep these phone numbers accessible at all times.
  5. Identify where you’ll get cash from. Given that you’ll need cash in different scenarios, find out where you can get some when you need it.

Next steps

Before you travel to Japan, ask yourself these questions to make your stay stress free:

  • Which credit cards should I take? Choose either a Visa or Mastercard, and consider taking two or more cards with you in case one doesn’t work. Ideally, use credit cards with no foreign transaction fees to save money.
  • Have I informed my bank? If you fail to inform your bank, you may have to deal with a blocked card during your trip.
  • What kind of fees am I looking at? It’s best to understand the credit card fees you may incur before you head overseas and start spending on plastic.
  • What’s my source of cash? You will need access to some cash while in Japan, so consider where and how you will be able to access it.

How to use a credit card in …

Frequently asked questions

Pictures: Shutterstock

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