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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 …
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