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Travel money guide: Japan
Despite living in a world where everyone is paying with credit or debit cards, Japan is still very much a cash society.
Whether you’re visiting the islands of Japan for business or pleasure, you can save money by using travel-friendly plastic while you’re there. Here we’ll look at the travel cards, credit cards and debit cards most suited to use in Japan.
Compare travel credit cards
How much ¥en do I need to bring?
|Budget (Cheap)||Mid-range||Luxury (High-end)|
|Double room at a business hotel
|Double room at an upscale hotel
|Set meal at casual restaurant
|Dinner at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub)
|Meal at a good sushi restaurant
|One temple or museum entry
|Half day sightseeing tour
|Private seven day tour of Japan: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto, Osaka
*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.Back to top
What is the best travel money card to take to Japan?
Best is a subjective term, but the travel money product you use should have one of these features:
- No currency conversion fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- Either no international or local ATM operator fee
- Travel extras: insurance, airport lounges, worldwide concierge service, etc
Next, you need to have an idea about how you plan to spend in Japan. While Japan is very much a cash society, there are times when you’ll need to use your card, for example when booking a hotel.
Case study: Roslyn’s experience
I visited Japan with my husband in October 2017. We brought ourCapital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card credit card, because it offers no foreign transaction fees and a flat cashback rewards rate on everything. We also brought several hundred dollars in cash to exchange at the Tokyo airport at a fair exchange rate.
I love that I don’t need to notify Capital One before I go abroad. The last time I visited Japan, my Bank of America account was flagged and locked for fraud, even after notifying my bank before I left for my trip. With Capital One, I get an email asking if I recognize suspected purchases, but I can still access my money.
At one point I needed more cash, so I used my card to get a cash advance, despite the fees and high conversion costs. The problem is that most ATMs require a PIN to access cash, so I spent an hour on the phone with Capital One’s customer support. It would have been easier to access cash if we’d called our bank before we left to set up the PIN.
Cash is still the most convenient and widely accepted payment method in Japan. (Plus, you’ll need lots of change for public transit and all the fabulous vending machines.) You might also want a backup method of getting money, like a debit card. And if you need a 24/7 ATM that accepts American credit cards, look for a 7-Eleven.
A quick summary of travel money options for Japan
|Travel money option||Pros||Cons|
|Debit cards for travel||
|Prepaid travel money cards||
|Credit cards for travel||
How the different travel money products work in Japan
Japan is a cash society; however, credit cards and debit cards are accepted in most places in Japanese cities. Establishments such local restaurants, markets and rural inns (ryokans) are cash only. In the places where you can use your card, you may have issues if your card doesn’t have your name on the front.
Using a debit card
The majority of debit card issuers charge you a fee when you make a purchase in a foreign currency, but there are a few who will let you slide. Look for a debit card that waives the foreign transaction fee and the international ATM fee as well – like a Discover Bank debit card. If you have an account with Citibank, locate and use a Citibank ATM in Japan and you’ll pay nothing.
Using a prepaid travel card
A travel card lets you dollars and convert the funds to yen (along with a number of other currencies). The main advantage to these cards are they allow you to spend without paying extra for currency conversion.
These products require a little more management than debit and credit cards, as you’re responsible for reloading the card before you run out of money. Remember it can take up to three business days for funds clear or even longer if it’s a public holiday or weekend.
Using a credit card
All credit cards allow you to spend in a foreign currency and some are cheaper to use than others. It’s smart to compare credit cards that don’t charge a fee for foreign transaction so you don’t have to worry about this pesky fee when you’re on vacation – the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard does just that and offers some perks.
The majority of credit card issuers charge a fee to use international ATMs, but the are some on the market that waive the fee. Keep in mind when using your credit card that cash advances will be subject to hefty fees and interest charges
Although traveler’s checks are becoming a dated form of travel money, they are still used by people who are looking to take a bulk of money safely to Japan. The traveler’s checks widely accepted in Japan are Visa, American Express and Thomas Cook.
To get the best rates, you can redeem them at banks and post offices. Redeeming the check at stores or hotels will attract fees and commissions. In Japan, the traveler’s checks attract a relatively better exchange rate than bank notes.
If you plan on indulging in Japanese culture — think tea ceremonies, guided tours in Sakura season, entry to the Emperor’s Palace and small cafeterias and eateries — you’ll need cash. The cost of ATM withdrawals should be a factor in your comparison when looking for cards.Back to top
Case study: Luke’s Tokyo Trip
Luke spent two weeks exploring in Tokyo.
What cards did you take with you?
- Bank of America Debit Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
Why did you take these cards with you?
Luke says he used the Bank of America debit card to withdrawal money as soon as he arrived at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. He used his Bank of America debit card throughout Tokyo because it is part of the Global ATM Alliance.
Luke took his Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard as a backup and saw an instant perk when he purchased his airfare with the card and received complimentary insurance for the duration of his trip. He used this card when he shopped because of the points he could earn and the lack of a foreign transaction fee.
How did you find withdrawing from ATMs?
Luke definitely advises that anyone visiting Japan should familiarize themselves with Post Bank and Seven Bank (inside 7/11) ATMs in the area. Luke withdrew up to the ATM limit each time: 60,000 to 80,000 yen (about $500 to $700). It should be noted that his cards wouldn’t work at other ATMs attached to Japanese banks.
Were there any places where you had trouble using your card?
Luke says it should be pretty obvious whether a place takes plastic or not. Most places he could tell by the look of the establishment, but he always made sure to ask. Luke points out in Tokyo there are a lot of good “hole-in-the-wall” places to eat, and these establishments were mostly cash only.
Why we like: Travelex Money Card
Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.
- Not linked to your bank account for safety.
- Convert currency with a 5.50% foreign exchange fee
- Contactless payments
- Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.
A guide to the Japanese Yen
Since the introduction of the yen, the denominations have ranged from 10 yen to 10,000 yen. The following is a brief description of the ¥1000, ¥2000, ¥5000, and ¥10,000.
- 1,000 Yen note. This note has been in use since 1945 and it is currently the lowest value Yen banknote. The front side of the note bears the image of the legendary regent and politician under Empress Suiko, Prince Shōtoku. The reverse side bears a drawing of Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms.
- 2,000 Yen note. This banknote was issued in July 19, 2000. The front side of the note bears a serial number and portrays Shureimon, a 16th-century gate at Shuri Castle in Naha, in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. The reverse side portrays a scene from “The Tale of Genji'” and a portrait of Murasaki Shikibu, the noblewoman to whom this work of literature has been attributed.
- 5,000 Yen note. The front side of the 5,000 note has a portrait of Ichiyo Higuchi, a Meiji era writer and poet. The reverse side depicts “Kakitsubata Flowers”, from a folding screen by Korin Ogata.
- 10,000 Yen note. The front side of this note has a portrait of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a Meiji era philosopher and founder of Keio University. The reverse side has a drawing of the hoo (Chinese phoenix) in the Hall of the Phoenix, Byodoin temple.
Most ATMs in Japan do not accept international cards. Look for ATMs inside Japanese Post Bank and Seven Bank. Citibank have a presence in major cities and airports. Visa and Mastercard have ATM location tools on their website you can find the closest ATM.
This may change in the future. Tokyo is host the 2020 Olympic Games. The government is pushing Japan’s national banks to connect to the international ATM network. As the Olympics approach, expect more and more Japanese banks begin to accept international credit, debit and travel cards.
Get travel insurance quotes for your vacation in Japan
There are many types of travel insurance out there, ranging from basic to comprehensive and additional coverage options such as winter sports insurance – which if you’re planning on taking on the powder in Japan, it’s a must.
Japan travel insurance cover situations such as:
- Emergency medical and dental
- Personal liability
- Lost or damaged luggage
- Lost or stolen travel documents
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Japan offers so much for tourists to do and see. From the world-famous Cherry Blossom festival to the Ski fields of Nagano, Japan is fast becoming favorite destination for travelers. Compare your travel money options and make your dollar go further in The Land of the Rising Sun.
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