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A Brief Guide to Credit Cards in Japan

Credit where credit is due.

By 3 min read

If there is one country in the modern world where you can get away without using a credit card it’s probably Japan. It’s still  largely a cash-based society and as such a large number of people don’t use credit cards at all.

But the times they are a changin’. Especially with the advent of online shopping and services, it’s becoming more difficult for old curmudgeons like me to justify my continued resistance to joining the plastic leagues.

There are quite a few instances where a credit card in Japan can come in handy. Anything that requires a contract (like a cell phone), buying something online or paying for big purchases like flights home are just a few examples.

Can foreign residents apply for a credit card?

Yes. Though unfortunately, as is the case with many financial services here in Japan, foreigners are at something of a disadvantage when they try to get a credit card. Tightening credit regulations coupled with the fact that few foreign workers in Japan have permanent employment status mean we aren’t exactly seen as good credit prospects.

There is a distinct lack of transparency with regards to credit scores in Japan.

I think I can say that I am a man who always pays his debts. And yet for some inexplicable reason I, and many of my friends, are consistently rejected when we apply for loans, credit cards and even cell phone contracts. Our only common trait is that none of us were born in Japan.

What about my credit score?

I tried to upgrade my cell phone last year and I was told I would have to pay for the entire phone upfront, instead of the regular monthly installment plan. Ironically, the staff in the AU shop told me that if I made a credit card payment I could still pay in monthly installments. But how can I do that when I can’t get approved for a credit card in the first place?

Regardless of how good your credit rating in your home country may have been, if you try to apply for a credit card here — especially if your visa is only for one year — be prepared to get declined continuously.

Try, try again

There are ways around this problem. To some extent, the process of acceptance and rejection for credit cards here in Japan does appear to be somewhat random. Also, the number of times you apply doesn’t really seem to affect your chances. So, if you are rejected for one company’s card, wait a few weeks and try again. Apply for as many cards with as many companies as you can. Eventually, you may get lucky.

Options to look into

Visa debit cards are a relatively recent addition to Japan, only really becoming popular in the last two or three years. UFJ Bank offers a debit card when you open a new account, as does Suruga Bank.

An alternative is a prepaid visa card. These are available from most convenience stores, and for the limited amount of online shopping I do, these are more than adequate.

However, my current bank Shinsei (in my opinion, the most foreigner-friendly financial institution in Japan), does not. Nor do they plan to start offering debit cards anytime soon. Instead, I’ve been encouraged to apply for the Shinsei credit card. But while they have the benefit of English-language online banking, their rates aren’t the most competitive.

More trouble than it’s worth?

This is another area where you may meet with some frustration if you’re the type who is used to having easy access to financial services back home. Banks in Japan are still very heavily regulated, and as a result, competition isn’t exactly encouraged. In much the same way as the big three telecom companies operate a trio-poly on the smartphone market here, Japanese banks are similarly collaborative when it comes to protecting their own interests.

To me, getting a credit card in Japan as a foreigner is probably more trouble than it is worth while living in this cash-based culture. What do you think?

Topics:

Japan101: Banking and Finance

  • Sizana says:

    Yeah it true. Its really hard to a credit card in japan. I had ran into many credit card companies. At first they say like you have a chance to get a credit card but after i applied it everytime i am being said like oh i am so sorry but you cannot get it. Everytime i feel like shit and just think why am i here?

  • Prabath priyashantha says:

    Dear sir or madam I am prabath. would like to use credit card I’m starting Japan gunma takasaki.and I’m working at Japanese biggest company. Please find me it thank you

  • Wabisabi says:

    The Japan Post actually sent me a letter rejecting my debit card application with the statement “We’re not going to to tell you why.”

    UFJ gave me one within ten minutes and their service is good so I recommend them, but you have to be able to speak a modicum of Japanese.

  • Ken says:

    “If there is one country in the modern world where you can get away without using a credit card it’s probably Japan. It’s still largely a cash-based society and as such a large number of people don’t use credit cards at all.”
    Umm… what body of statistics did you base this off and which countries (note: plural) did you do the comparison against? The US?

    • Kajol Khan says:

      I totally agree with you. I dislike hearing that, a country where you need a damn credit card to buy a cell phone, A CELL PHONE yuh, is described as a largely cash-based society. Really!? The more I understand Japan, is the less I understand JAPAN. It is a beautiful country but you see this bureaucracy against foreigners, it well working against again them ah. Especially considering that they are on path to host the Olympics (I hope this is an all Japanese Olympics, with no foreigners or they better straighten up rel rel (really) quick).

    • Morten says:

      What he said doesn’t suggest that there is only one country that you can get away without a credit card. What he said is more in line with the movie trailer taglines and reviews etc. “If you only see one movie this winter, see (insert movie title here)”. When you understand what he actually said, you have no need for any statistics – let alone an entire “body of statistics”. Also the use of “probably” in his statement makes it clear as a bell that he isn’t asserting that Japan is the only place in the world where you don’t need a ‘CC’.

  • Natatil says:

    As a 20 year old foreigner student that doesn’t work, getting credit card was hard. The one that I could finally get was trough Amazon

  • Yuri Yuhara says:

    Rakuten credit card is quite easy to get, even for someone without a proved income as students.

  • Alucard says:

    This article is 100% wrong. All Japanese credit card issuers use the same credit information sharing network (CRIN, of which an entity called CIC seems to be managing) that allows them to share credit information on applicants (see http://www.cic.co.jp/confidence/exchange/crin.html ). The policies of the card issuers differ, but based on various blogs, it seems that the companies outright turn down applications if there is a record in the credit information network that there has been application with the same personal details during the past 3 months or so. The records are stored for 6 months, and if one submits many applications in short time, one gets blacklisted until at least 6 months has passed from the most recent application. I personally went to CIC’s office in Shinjuku to check my credit records, and the papers I got, had detailed information of each credit card application I had submitted during the past 6 months. I made the mistake of submitting many applications in short time and haven’t still got even past the automatic initial assessment.

    When applying for a credit card in Japan, the most important things to remember are:
    1. do not submit applications often (best to wait at least 3 months between applications)
    2. apply for the lowest possible credit limit
    3. do not apply for キャッシング (cash advance?)

  • Dale Goodwin says:

    I would wager that if your visa status was for one-year and you were not allowed to work full-time, you would have just as much of a problem getting a credit card in the US. Having a full-time job has its perks and immediately being approved for a credit card is one of them. I did have a credit card application rejected once – I had just set up my translation company and had only been in business a year. I didn’t sweat it because I already have 3 credit cards in my name.

  • charlesmyers_au says:

    American Express is pretty ‘easy’ to obtain. Makes life so much easier when ordering on Amazon or groceries online (as we do)…

  • Lauren Laporte says:

    I have a JCB debit and it is a lifesaver for flights and amazon and such. The good part is, it comes straight out of your bank account, so there is no credit to worry about.

  • Dz says:

    What about cards where you pay all credit you have every month, instead of installments? I have that atm in my home country, and it seems safer for banks to do that with foreigners.

  • Stewart Dorward says:

    Odd. I got a card within 6 months of arriving from Citibank and have several others. All of these later cards were from organisations I had points cards with – e.g. I had an ANA mileage card and a few years later applied for a credit card through them and it worked without any problem. Later I did the same with a Yodobashi points card. I guess the retailer wanted the bank to grant the credit card and so their opinion pushed it through.

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