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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.
- 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.
- 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.
Readers, what are your Japan money tips and experiences?