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 traveling 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.
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, neighborhood 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.
ATMs in Japan
ATMs and “cash dispensers” 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 typically use your US cards at ATMs operated by Citibank, at post offices or at 7-Elevens.
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.
Magstripe and chip credit cards
Both magnetic-stripe and chip credit cards are common in Japan. An increasing number of Japanese banks are switching over to chip-enabled cards because they offer enhanced security. However, many places still use machines compatible with magstripes.
Can I use my chip-and-signature card in Japan?
If you have a chip-and-signature card, ask the person billing you to swipe the card instead of dipping it into the machine. This way, you can simply sign for your purchase. You may also need to sign for your purchase if the merchant does not have a credit card machine meant for chip enabled cards.
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
American credit card issuers typically charge a fee equal 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.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in US dollars, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a less-than-favorable exchange rate. And you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in yen.
Should I use my card to get cash?
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’ll 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.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you’ll need to pay if you use your credit card for cash advances 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, the cash advance fee for the Chase Sapphire Preferred is either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
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 US 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 traveling 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. Examples include the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, the Barclaycard Ring Mastercard and the USAA Rewards Visa Signature Card.
- Inform your bank. If you haven’t used your card outside of the US in the past, let your bank know that you’re traveling 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 states, 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.
- Which cards should I take? Go with either Visa or Mastercard, and consider taking two or more cards with you. Ideally, use cards with no foreign transaction fees.
- Have I informed my bank? If you fail to inform your bank, you may have to deal with a blocked card during your travel.
- What kind of fees am I looking at? A little information ahead of time can save you considerable strife later on.
- What’s my source of cash? When in Japan, you cannot do without using cash unless you’re limiting your movement to the best places in town. So plan to keep your cash flow in place.
Once you’ve established where you can use your credit card and where you’ll need cash, your stay in Japan is bound to be easy.