Like renting an apartment, obtaining a credit card in Japan is an exercise in patience and pain. To help ease some of that pain we have put together a simple overview to help you on the way. Do you have more personal experiences? Please feel free to add them in the comments.
Securing a yen-based credit card not only makes your life in Japan easier, it is also essential if you want to access services such as online travel and booking, local ecommerce sites and plenty more besides. If you run your own business in Japan then it becomes absolutely vital.
Using a credit card from home is an option, however it will leave you with plenty of extra charges such as a foreign currency exchange fee and in some cases, additional merchant bills.
The first thing to keep in mind if you have chosen to apply for a Japanese credit card is that there are three unique methods of re-payment. The three types are:
1. One-time or full payment (ikkatsu barai). Usually no interest is charged.
2. Multiple payment plans (bunkatsu barai). Divides the total charge by the number of months you want to pay for it. Interest added.
3. Revolving credit (ripo barai). Pay a set minimum monthly payment, and your total balance of credit is charged interest.
Each of these apply to the one of five international credit card providers: JCB, Visa, MasterCard, Diner’s Club and American Express. For the relevant benefits of each, you should check how they are sold in your home country, though do note that JCB is only available in Japan.
Next, choose where you would like to get your card from – e.g. a bank, a retailer, or another service type, such as the post office, department stores, or online services. There are pros and cons for each; a lot of it will come down to your needs, convenience and how much you value additional features such as IC card integration or store points.
Foreigners generally find it difficult to get a credit card as they are thought to be a credit risk as short-term residents. See here for one resident’s story on just how difficult it was when applying for a credit card with a nationwide bank. If you do go through something like this, consulting with credit counselors - usually found on the top floor of department stores – can often help.
Some cards in Japan charge an annual membership fee that can range from about 1,500 yen up to 10,000 yen per year but will provide cash-back programs, airline mileage points, and discounts. Some cards will offer specific combinations of these to specific customer groups, for example there are credit card services designed especially for woman.
There is a list available here of credit cards that are reported to be open to foreign customers. For those who might struggle with the Japanese, it essentially lists:
Promise (JCB Card)
Promise is a well known consumer financial service for short-term loans for a relatively high interest. After applying for a checking account, there is a high probabilty you will be deemed suitable to qualify for a credit card. For more info, click here.
Citigroup’s Citi Card
A high rate of approval. Annual fees exist. Applicable only with an annual salary more than 2 million yen. For more info, click here.
The approval system is known to be relatively lenient. The card comes with many benefits in terms of their point system. With a lot of points and travel insurance, there is annual fee. Recommended for those with a good and beneficial credit card. For more info, click here.
TSUTAYA W Card / Famima Credit (JCB Card)
One of the leading consumer credit cards in Japan, there is no annual fees and users earn accumulated points each time money is spent on the card. These points can then be redeemed at Family Mart convenience stores, restaurants, and many other retail outlets. For more info, click here.
Saison Card (American Express / Visa / MasterCard)
Department store credit card. Has an annual fee of 1,575yen. For more info, click here.
As mentioned above, this is only intended as an introduction piece as we are not qualified financial advisers or a credit managing company. Japanese site Super Credit Card contains a much more comprehensive breakdown of the various services. Kakaku.com is another place where you can find some fantastic credit card deals as well as user-reviews. If you have more info to share, please do add it in the comments section.
Photo Credit: Asacyan / Wikimedia