Credit Cards and ATMs in Japan

Japan seems like it should be so easy in terms of money. Every street is covered with snazzy vending machines. Shops have logos with various credit card networks. The country is so modern and high-tech. That perception is little more than a veneer for overseas travelers and their money. I had not spent time in Japan outside transit in more than a decade and was surprised to find little has changed.

Special thanks to my wife’s shopping list for my exasperated trekking around Tokyo’s Shibuya on a monsoon night in failed attempts to use my credit cards and then to find an ATM, which was a key part of my research. Other tests were in Tokyo, Mt Fuji area, and Okinawa.

Seven Bank ATM Japan

Credit Cards:

  • Overseas-issued credit cards are widely accepted in major cities, with some quirks. Hotels and restaurants that accept cards I had no issues. Retail stores are much more varied and quite a few rejected all my cards or had very low purchase limits. These included Amexican Express, Discover (which uses the JCB network), and Visa from Chase and Citi, some with chip-and-signature. I called Chase about two cards and none showed any transactions coming through or being rejected by Chase. This seems to be a cost control thing by the merchant, and does not seem an issue at high-end retailers.
  • For example, I went to five different discount beauty supply stores for items on my list and each rejected the cards. Some stores were able to break the purchases into small amounts that were successful. One store had a ready-made bilingual card saying that overseas cards could only be used for purchases up to 2,000 yen (about US$20).
  • Credit cards are not accepted in plenty of small shops, small restaurants, subway tickets, etc. Important to always have cash.

ATMs:

  • The Japan National Tourism Organization notes that overseas-issued cards can only withdraw cash at Seven Bank (as in 7-Eleven), Japan Post Bank and Citi Bank. Japan Post Bank has 26,400 ATMs, Seven Bank has ATMs in 7-Eleven stores and other locations, while Citi has a limited footprint.
  • I used my Charles Schwab debit card at Seven Bank and was not charged any fees despite the notice that I might be charged. Schwab would have refunded the fees anyway.
  • Visa Japan has a handy ATM locator by train station for areas that do not have a 7-Eleven on every street. The locator shows a map with locations but provides no detailed information.

Visa Japan ATM Finder

Readers, what are your Japan money tips and experiences?

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  • A

    The ATM and credit card situation is a nightmare in Japan. 90% of places (outside major stores, restaurants, and hotels) don’t take credit cards and when they do it takes forever. Even more frustrating are the operating hours of the ATMs. The only reliable ATM is the JP Bank (JP Post Office). They have really funky hours and physically close the ATMs outside those hours. Even more frustrating is that certain JP Branches have varying operating hours. The morale of the story is that Japan is back in the stone ages and is very much a cash based system. Make sure you always have enough cash for dinner, drinks, cabs, transit, gas, etc.

  • Beware the “0,000” button on ATMs! Between thinking that it must be a common multiplier value since it has its own button and misreading my currency conversion app, I withdrew ¥50,000 (5 + 0,000) instead of ¥5,000 ($500 instead of $50). Oops!

  • Wow, this is good to know since I’ll be in Tokyo next month! I appreciate the heads up. Where did you exchange your money initially?

  • Charlotte

    Am currently in Tokyo and am carrying a rather lot more cash on me than I normally would due to this issue. I am rather amazed (and not in a good way) that there are such problems with an international credit card issued on chase bank with a chip. So, I have learned this week that whenever I pass by a 7-11 or a post office I go in and take out the amount of cash that I have already spent since last using ATM. Cash really rules here… the only place that I was able to use my credit card was at a major department store (Isetan) for a large purchase.

  • ralf

    According to your criterion, the USA is in the stone age too.

    For example, foreigners often cannot use the creditcard at the fuel pumps (this is a real nuisance after closing hours), because it requires to enter a (US i.e. 5 digit) ZIP code.

  • There are several ATMs in the Arrivals Hall to the left by the escalators after exiting the Customs area in Terminal 2 at Narita. On my last visit to Tokyo, I found that I could no longer use the ATMs with my MasterCard-based debit card.

  • Lively

    I had heard about this problem before we went to Japan last month. We went to Tokyo and Okinawa. I purchased JPY from BoA at home. Don’t know if that was a good idea. We bought 42,000 JPN for $431.91. (Off topic: we had a devil of a time trying to find a bank in South Korea that would accept our ATM card.)

  • Andrew

    When I first moved here, I still had my BofA account. My personal experience was the The Post Office ATM’s were usually the most reliable in terms of getting cash.

  • I used the ATMs at the Post Offices and found those to be easy and reliable – and, most importantly, to offer English language prompts.

  • David

    Just another note, most restaurants would not be able to split your check with different credit cards. So someone have to pay for it all on one card. I live in Asia and this has only happened on a consistent level while I am in Japan.

  • Mark

    The merchants which had a maximum of 2000 yen for purchases should be reported to whoever your card issuer was. This is typical of the racist discrimination that foreigners have to deal with in Japan. I’ve heard of minimum spends for credit card use in Japan, but that exists in other countries as well. Visa/Mastercard/American Express should also invalidate cards from being used overseas issued from Japanese banks that have ATM machines that won’t accept foreign-issued cards. Gaiatsu (pressure from abroad) is the only thing that has ever or ever will shake the Japanese from their racist isolationist mentality, and that includes merchants/banks. Give these people a taste of their own medicine – they deserve it.

  • VG

    SUICA cards are often useful (at least in the Tokyo area) for small purchases such as vending machines and some small shops and kiosks. They were originally for use as cards for the transportation system. However, you may need cash to recharge your SUICA card.

  • JB

    Last month all restaurants but 1 took US based credit cards. cabs do. Some department stores had a special desk for foreigners that let me skip the VAT (and not have to deal with it at the airport). I do have a Schwab ATM card with Visa logo – most banks dont take ATM cards issued outside Japan. hotels did not readily have foreign friendly ATMs.

  • Richard K

    I recently moved here to Japan and its a nightmare. Japan post takes foreign cards but ATM is only open 9:00 am – 7:00 PMnit including weekends. 7/11 recently stopped accepting MasterCard debit cards (my bank) and citi arms only take Citibank debut cards. Bottom line , always have 10,000 yen cash on you and plan ahead for cash. 75% of places do not take credit card

  • ffi

    Carry Dollars and buy JPY in Japan at Narita airport! or anywhere in Japan, not the US
    The travelex in SFO gave us 84Y/$; it was 94Y/$ on landing in Japan (we lost 10% minimum by changing cash in the US)
    For the large amounts (Japan Rail etc etc, always use the cards)
    It takes about 100$ a day to live in Japan per person as a rule of thumb; so at least carry 50$ a day per person for cash needs.

  • Patrick W.

    I’ve never had a problem in Tokyo – it’s somewhat inconvenient but nowhere near a “nightmare”. Just plan ahead a little bit and use your computer or mobile device to find post offices or 7-Elevens (the latter are everywhere). Also never had a problem in Tokyo at restaurants, or shopping with US credit cards.

  • Well this one touched a nerve…thanks for the all the great info.

    @ralf – gas stations are interesting, they are a pain in many places, US, Canada, parts of Europe. When I filled up in Okinawa I kept trying different cards thinking they were all being rejected based on the exclamation marked Japanese prompt and card being spit out, actually they were all ok and a helpful attendant helped me through the many steps as there were no English prompts and not enough Kanji for my to extrapolate from Chinese.

    @Travel Summary – if you take the limousine buses to your hotel or the central TCAT Terminal, they at least take credit card if you can’t find a working ATM in the airport. Much less hassle than the trains, JR would accept card I believe but not the subway for transfers. Once in Tokyo, 7-Elevens are everywhere, once you know to look for them and not actually try the banks.

    @David – that’s interesting because many in Asian find it amusing that Japanese whip out their calculators to split bills, which would be humiliating to all involved in many countries in the region.

    @VG – I did see Suica logos but did not investigate, thanks for the info. There also another called Edy that at one office building cafe was the only non-cash payment method accepted and many other businesses also had Edy card readers. Maybe cheaper for the merchant than accepting Japanese credit cards.

    @Mark – I thought maybe Discover would work since it is supposed to process as JCB, and has been working in China as UnionPay, but no dice at those retailers. Unfortunately, those were the only ones that had what my wife wanted.

  • Stephanie

    I successfully used my ING Direct Electric Orange (now Capital One 360) debit card at the 7-11 ATMs and got the best rate there – no foreign or commission fees. My BofA card had an expensive exchange; I think it was a flat $5 fee plus 2%? of the withdrawal amount. The USAA debit card is a good backup, even though it’s not fee-free. 1% of the withdrawal amount, but USAA covers up to $15 of your ATM fees every month. I like carrying multiple cards just in case… you never know.

    As for credit cards, I never experienced any problems using my Hyatt or Chase Sapphire Preferred cards at places that took credit cards. Always best to have cash on you though and on your Suica… It’s also good to have at least around $100 in cash when you arrive. I had a late flight in once and almost missed the last limo bus because I had to go wait and get cash from the ATM in the arrivals hall at NRT.

  • Hmm . . . was able to use my overseas HSBC card at the ATM just fine when I was there a couple years ago.

  • Jamar

    This is a little late, but I’m surprised how different my experience was due to different arrangements.

    I maintain bank accounts in the US, Canada, and China. My no-fee Chinese bank accounts were a lifesaver due to UnionPay having agreements with Japan’s big banks to link in to their ATM networks. Not being limited to Citi/Post Office/7-Eleven during daylight hours helps (some bank ATMs also seem to close at night).

    Another thing that helps me is that I bought a Japan-market Galaxy S3. It supports Mobile Suica- for a 1000-yen annual fee I can link it to most foreign Visa/MC/AmEx cards, effectively extending their acceptance by a mile (I’m still trying to see if Suica reloads code as travel for purposes of CSP 2x bonus).

    It also supports Mobile Edy, which charges no fee and earns me 1 ANA mile per 200 yen spend but only supports loading from certain foreign cards. Bluebird works fine so I go CC->VR->Bluebird->Mobile Edy and pick up CC points and ANA miles- not much of a double-dip, but it’s something.

    Speaking of Bluebird, Japanese merchant terminals can’t tell it’s a foreign-issued card. I can use it pretty much anywhere, even places that place restrictions on or don’t allow foreign cards. Those swipe purchases also help make usage look better.

  • @Jamar – awesome info, I need to incorporate this into a follow-up post, so much great info, especially for US travelers the BlueBird angle which I did not even consider to carry.

  • well

    Not sure about ATM in Japan,Tokyo – afraid they’d rip off some pretty awful withdrawal tax or fee, so I never tried. Instead I came with some cash, and some money on the Debit Master card. Where I have tried to pay with the card within the month I’ve already spent here, only one place did not accept the card, and another was “cash only”. Of course, transportation like Suica/Pasmo, cash is must-have. However, there is one thing, cashiers asked me something and I was not sure, but later on I noticed the amount of money was billed twice to my bank account (for example, I have to pay $10, but the invoice in bank said $10 and another $10, same purchase, same seller). I contacted the bank and they refunded overpay, however I am now paranoid if it will ever happen again and I won’t notice and pay twice in the end (leaving me wondering about this double-pay “WTF?!”). If to live in Japan, of course, Japanese bank account is a must, and I guess, using cash only would be my advice.

  • Daniel C

    I am currrently facing this issues now. It keeps telling me that my ATM is invalid. Daniel.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Daniel C – is 7 Bank working for you?