Suica and Pasmo: Prepaid IC cards in Japan

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A person holding a pasmo IC card in their hand.

Information updated as of September 2023

When you arrive in Japan, one of the must-haves for a seamless and convenient trip is a prepaid all-in-one IC card such as Suica or Pasmo. IC cards in Japan are a game-changer for students and travelers alike, making sightseeing, payments, and exploring Japan much easier. With these cards, you can bid farewell to the hassle of purchasing individual tickets for each train or bus ride.

Moreover, they offer the added advantage of serving as cashless payment methods at select stores and vending machines, enhancing your overall convenience during your stay.

Hand holding one of the Suica IC cards in Japan.

Where can you buy IC cards in Japan?

From August 2023, regular IC cards in Japan are no longer sold at train stations throughout the country, due to a global semiconductor shortage. But, don’t worry whether you are coming as a traveler or staying long-term as a student, there are still other ways for you to get IC cards in Japan.

Welcome IC cards in Japan for tourists

If you are a traveler, there are special IC cards in Japan only available to visitors from overseas. Arriving in Tokyo will give you the opportunity to purchase the Pasmo Passport or the Welcome Suica. Both IC cards can be bought in Narita and Haneda airports, with the Pasmo Passport also being available at some train stations in the Tokyo area. These IC cards are rechargeable and can be used for up to 28 days throughout the entire country. There are a few differences between the two cards, so we recommend checking which one best suits your travel plans.

IC cards for Mobile phones and smartwatches

With the sale of the regular physical cards on hold, another possibility is to add one of the IC cards in Japan to your smartphone or smartwatch. Language school students or travelers planning to stay longer than 28 days should consider this option. The mobile IC card works the same as a physical one, with the added convenience of having it on your device!

The first step is to ensure your phone’s region is set to Japan. For iPhone users, open the Wallet app, choose “Add,” select “Transit Card,” pick Suica or Pasmo, enter your desired amount, and confirm. Apple Watch users follow similar steps. Android users, ensure NFC and contactless payments are on in settings, then use Google Pay to add the card. Instantly recharge your mobile IC card through the app. If needed, cash top-ups are available at designated train station ticket machines offering “contactless” recharge options.

These prepaid IC cards in Japan are so useful and convenient in everything from getting around to buying a can of coffee at a vending machine or a sandwich at a konbini.

Note: Some Android phones purchased outside of Japan do not have an NFC chip inside, and users are unable to download the IC card app. In this case, we recommend purchasing a Welcome IC card for your travels.

Two train ticketing machines in Japan.

How do IC cards in Japan work?

The IC cards in Japan are contactless smart cards that act as prepaid electronic money and fare cards used throughout the country. Once the card is charged, you can use it anywhere it is accepted by scanning it over a machine. When the transaction goes through, the card reader shows you how much you have left on your card.

For the train system, you scan the card at the ticket gate when you enter, depart, and when you change lines if applicable. If you don’t have enough money left on the card for your train fare, don’t panic! There’s always a charging machine nearby to top up. If something is wrong with your card, you can always go see the station staff at the window next to the machines.

Some stores inside and around train stations, many konbini, vending machines, and other stores accept payment with these prepaid IC cards in Japan. Taxis and buses also accept these cards for payment.

Different IC cards depending on the region

All the major regions in Japan have different IC cards: Suica and Pasmo in Kanto, Icoca and PiTaPa in Kansai, Kitaca in Hokkaido, Toica and Manaka in Chubu, Hayaken, Nimoca and Sugoca in Kyushu, etc. Before, it was necessary to buy different cards when traveling around Japan, however, since 2013, the cards are all compatible with each other, so whichever one you get, you can use it everywhere in Japan.

Note: As of 2023, all regions have halted the sale of physical IC cards in Japan. Alternatives such as the welcome and mobile IC cards can be used in their place.

Entrance of Enoshima station with a credit card banner hanging.

Alternatives for IC cards in Japan

Planning to travel to an area that doesn’t offer welcome IC cards in Japan at the airport, or can’t use a mobile card? From April 2023, some of the major rail companies have been pushing to offer ‘tap-to-pay’ ticket gate systems compatible with credit and debit cards at popular train stations.

While this system hasn’t caught on in all regions of Japan yet, before you start exploring, it might be worth it to check if the stations you plan to visit offer this service, so you can enjoy hassle-free travel!

For more tips about living in Japan keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.

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