Using a credit card in Japan
Can you use a credit card in Japan? Yes, though a cash culture lingers.
Using a credit card in Japan isn’t as common as it is in most first-world countries. Despite an economy driven by technology, Japan remains a largely cash-based society. Credit and debit cards are becoming more popular, but if your card is issued by a bank outside of Japan, using it might not be as easy as you think.
If you’re travelling in a big city like Tokyo, Yokohama or Osaka, you can expect most big hotels and shops to accept credit cards. And with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on the horizon, more businesses should start following suit.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Japan
Cash in Japan
You’ll find that large shops, supermarkets and hotels accept credit and debit cards, as will most taxis. But smaller souvenir shops, neighbourhood restaurants, local market stalls and traditional Japanese ryokan limit their transactions to cash. This is also the case for most 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.
Cash machines in Japan
Cash machines (ATMs) are a common sight in big cities, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that accepts international credit or debit cards. You can however typically use your UK cards at post offices, however, and in 7-Eleven shops.
Unlike in most countries, many Japanese ATMs don’t operate around the clock. Instead, they’re often switched off at night — typically at 7pm on weekdays and 5pm on weekends. Some 7-Eleven ATMs operate 24/7.
Can I use chip and pin card in Japan?
Chip and pin is widely used in Japan. If you never got round to signing your card, however, do this before you leave!
Both magnetic-stripe and chip and pin credit cards are common in Japan. An increasing number of Japanese banks are switching over to chip-enabled cards because they offer enhanced security.
Potential credit card fees in Japan
When you find a merchant that accepts credit cards in Japan, you may face a handful of fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in Sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a less-than-favourable exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in yen.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll often get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Japan.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is assessed when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
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 about after dark. However, you should maintain the same caution that you would in the UK and use your credit card carefully.
- Keep your PIN safe. When using the keypad, shield it 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 in crowded places or post offices.
- Keep an eye 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.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
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. Using a neck pouch can help keep your cash, cards and travel documents close to you, no matter where you go.
How to prepare before travelling to Japan
- Select Visa or Mastercard. Visa cards are the most commonly accepted, followed closely by Mastercard. American Express is next in line, but finding businesses that accept these cards will not be easy. Cirrus and Maestro cards find very few takers.
- Get a card with no foreign transaction fees. Depending on how much you plan to spend, you could save money by getting a card with no foreign transaction fees.
- Inform your bank. If you haven’t used your card outside of the US in the past, let your bank know that you’re travelling to Japan. This way, your bank will not block your card because of suspicious activity when you use it overseas.
- Set up a PIN for ATMs. If you plan to use your credit card to withdraw money at an ATM while in Japan, you’ll probably need to set a PIN. It’s a lot easier to set up your PIN while you’re still in the UK, since you might need to call your bank or access your online account. Some credit cards don’t let you set up a PIN instantly, and might mail your PIN to you after you request one.
- 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 them accessible at all times.
- Identify where you’ll get money from. Given that you’ll need cash in different scenarios, find out where you can get some when you need it. If you plan to spend some time in the country, you can easily ensure that you have access to cash by opening a savings account with the post office.
Before you travel to Japan, ask yourself these questions to make your stay stress free.
Once you’ve established where you can use your credit card and where you’ll need cash, you can relax and focus on enjoying your stay in Japan!
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