Using international credit cards and debit cards in Japan, including American Express, Visa and Mastercard.

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Using Credit and Debit Cards in Japan

Note: I originally wrote this page in about 2003, so many things have changed. See my update below. Also, due to changes in the Postal Bank system, I don't think their ATM's are necessarily a good way to get cash (although they do still work for international ATM cards unlike most other banks). Try the ATM machines inside 7-11 Stores in a pinch.


There are people who show up at the airport in Japan and use most of their cash taking the train to their first destination. Then they discover they don't know how to get more.  That makes life difficult.  Having said that, let me assure you that you can get by in Japan with a minimum of cash plus a debit and/or credit card.  (Note: A debit card is not necessarily the same as an ATM card.  I am talking about a debit card.)  Before you leave, check with your bank to make sure your debit card works internationally, and find out the daily limit for debit withdrawals (this is different than the limit for ATM withdrawals).  If you plan to use your credit card to withdraw cash, make sure you bring the PIN number. 

Japan has been converting its entire system of Post Office cash machines to work with international credit and debit cards (Visa, American Express and Mastercard).  It's a great improvement!  Now you can withdraw cash in Yen at over 80 percent of the Post Offices in Japan, and Post Offices are everywhere (especially near train stations).  Plus, the machines include clear instructions in English.  Locate machines that work with your card by clicking here.

Remember what I said about daily limits?  My bank lets me withdraw up to $700 (US) per day using my debit card (that's about 100,000 Yen, depending on the exchange rate).   Why is this figure higher than the $200 a day I could withdraw in the States?  Because this is a debit withdrawal, not an ATM withdrawal, and the limits are different. I can withdraw a similar amount using my American Express card.  Why all this talk about cash?  It's true that debit/credit cards are widely accepted here, but you will need to pay significant expenses in cash.  The biggest cash only expense will be your upfront "deposit" when you move into an apartment.  This can easily run over 500,000 Yen (about $3800 US).  Plan to visit a post office cash machine several days in a row, if you need to, or bring that amount with you in dollars (or pounds, etc.).  Just be aware that the exchange rate is BETTER using your debit card to withdraw yen than the rate you get for exchanging cash.

UPDATE: Since writing the above, I have changed procedures. Since we receive most of our money from the USA, I have found it's best to make a large wire transfer every two or three months. Depending on the amount you transfer and the fees (for the sending AND receiving banks), the cost of a wire transfer can easily be lower than the currency conversion fees on bank cards. For example, if you're bank charges $50 for international wire transfers, then the fee for a $5000 transfer is just one percent (although the receiving bank will probably hit you up with a charge, too).

Finally, if you are moving to Japan, consider your banking needs before you move.  We have two bank accounts.  The first is a regular bank account with an online bank.  This bank account requires a US address, so we use my parent's address for that.  This has turned out to be a good thing, because certain online and offline services require a Visa/Mastercard with a US address.  If you can keep a bank account or credit card with a US address, then I recommend doing that.

We also have an account with PayPal -- a great service.  We can move dollars from our PayPal account to our bank account, then withdraw them in Yen at any post office. We also use PayPal to buy items on Ebay that we can't get Japan (like cheap DVD's in English).

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