***This article was last updated on December 2019

Despite continuing to be a fairly cash-based society, there are still various purchasing limitations if you don’t have a Japanese credit card. While many larger shopping outlets in central Tokyo will take an international credit card, many mobile phone companies, food delivery services, etc. might not. Here, we’ve outlined how to get a credit card in Japan– from how to apply to where to go.

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Photo of online shopping

Photo from Photo Ac by acworks

Where do you apply?

  1. Banks

Banks are often the easiest and most straightforward way to get a card, as most of them have some kind of promotion or offer linked up when you set up your bank account. Just be aware that some banks may decline your card application for no obvious reason. Still, this will be your easiest method especially if you are gainfully employed, as they will do a “credit” check with your employer.

  1. Stores

Many national convenience stores, department stores, electronics superstores, supermarkets, and phone companies often offer various types of credit cards that carry the MasterCard, Visa or JCB logo. They are often combined with the store’s point card and may have annual fees. A JCB card, which is the Japanese Credit Bureau card, is almost always connected to a point card system with the sponsoring store. Some stores may not accept foreign applications, so double check before you apply to avoid disappointment.

  1. Travel companies

Many transportation companies like airlines or railways may also offer frequent fliers/travellers credit card, where you can exchange points for miles. This can be effective for people travelling a lot for work, though their bonus offers are often not as good as most international miles cards.

Setting up a credit card

Photo from Photo AC by FineGraphics

Before You Apply:

Whichever credit card you decide on, make sure that you check the following points before moving forward:

-Is there a yearly fee? If so, how much?

-Is there a reward system and will you be able to take advantage of it in a useful way? 

-Is the brand the one that you want? American Express is not commonly used outside of Tokyo, and Discover is practically unusable as well. Visa, Mastercard, or JCB is your best, though even domestically JCB can sometimes run into trouble.

Photo of a man thinking

Photo from Photo AC by acworks

Payments

Whenever you make a purchase with a card, the cashier will generally ask you if you would like to charge the amount all at once or if you’d like to break it up into small amounts, usually up to thirds, but you can adjust it later to more depending on your card service.

The reason for this is due to your method of payment. To prevent people from overspending (or rather from defaulting on payments), most credit card companies have three different ways to pay off your balance.

  1. One-time payment in full. This means you won’t pay interest, and your credit card is paid up each month. Unlike foreign credit cards, this is the standard option

2.Multiple payments. This is where the payment amount asked by the cashier comes into play. While not available everywhere, asking the cashier to use multiple payments allows you to divide up the total amount directly at the point of sale, getting multiple months to pay for the items in full. Of course, interest does apply.

  1. Revolving credit (Ribo-barai). This is the payment plan most like a US or UK based credit card. Once you’ve received your credit card, you can change your default payments from the full balance to a minimum amount (generally anywhere from ¥10,000-¥50,000 you pay on your card every month. Most card servicers will send you an email or notification a couple of weeks in advance about your upcoming payment. You can then go on to their online system (if they have one) and adjust what gets paid so that your payment amount is within your budget. Just remember that interest is always applied. Want to pay more just this month? You can either call your company, or some (such as the Saison Visa) have credit card ATMs where you can pay your bill directly at the ATM.
Paying using a credit card

Photo from Unsplash by Blake Wisz

Which card?

This is a rather subjective question, as people on various forums seem to have differing experiences depending on their jobs, nationality, or level of Japanese. The general consensus is to try getting a credit card from your bank first. Since you have to carve out the time to fill out paperwork when you open your account, it’s easier to just continue on that roll instead of starting all over again somewhere else. In most cases, you can also request additional cards for spouses or family.

However, again, keep in mind that you may not necessarily be successful even though you are able to have a bank account and have a well-paying job. If you choose a credit card that is foreigner-friendly, then they will likely have an English version of the application form either online or on paper.

If you need to apply for a credit card in Japanese, the best way to do this well is to get a Japanese speaking person to help you. Internet searches may provide you with screenshots for specific card companies and help in translating the online forms. However, you must also consider that if you cannot understand the application form, you may not understand any other communications sent regarding the card, payments, etc.

With that said, the Rakuten credit card repeatedly comes at the top of foreigner-friendly credit-card lists, and for good reason. They offer quite a few different options, with their basic option topping our charts with the combination of big points and no annual fees.  This site can help guide you through the process of creating an account and applying online.

We at MetroResidences have confidence that you’ll find exactly the card that works for you! Happy Hunting!

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