Using Japanese IC cards: PASMO, SUICA and ICOCA

Japanese IC cards

International travel can be an intimidating experience for both the novice and seasoned adventurer. Japan, however, has taken steps to make internal transportation easy and stress-free, for Japanese residents and tourists alike. Learn to use the simple IC Cards to make traveling throughout Japan a breeze.

What is an IC Card

Similar to those subway cards used in transportation systems around the world, the Japanese IC Cards are rechargeable prepaid travel cards that can be loaded with funds and used for public transportation at train stations, metro stations, bus depots, ferries, and cable cars. It is also accepted at some convenience stores, vending machines, and restaurants throughout the country.

Where to buy an IC Card

Upon your arrival in Japan, you can purchase an IC Card from a ticket counter or an automated kiosk at any major train station. Kiosk instructions are available in English to aid international travelers. Initially, the card will cost ¥2000. This includes a ¥500 refundable deposit and ¥1500 loaded to the card for use.

This includes a ¥500 refundable deposit and ¥1500 loaded to the card for use. The card can be loaded with up to ¥20,000. When your balance gets low, the IC card can be recharged with additional funds at any train station and at other convenient locations.

How to use an IC Card

When using the train or metro lines, find a ticket gate that accepts IC Cards – be advised that some gates accept regular tickets only. At the gate, just touch the contactless card to the blue illuminated card reader for a second. Your card’s balance will be displayed near the card reader. Kiosks are available on the platform side of the station in case you need to recharge your card before leaving the station.

IC card reader
To use your IC card, bring it close to the illuminated reader at the gates

Cards must be used within their service area. This means that both the station of departure and arrival must be located within the card’s geographic area. If you pass through the wrong gate or scan your card in error, see a station attendant for assistance.

To use your IC Card to make purchases at vending machines, stores, or restaurants, look for the IC Card logo. Once you have located the card reader, scan the card as you would at the station. Look for participating vendors in urban areas and near train stations. For buses, the card reader will be located at the vehicle’s entrance or exit.

As you prepare to leave Japan, you can return your card and redeem your deposit. To do this, bring the card to a station attendant. You may also collect the balance of your card for a processing fee of ¥220. Balances less than ¥220 cannot be redeemed. If you plan on traveling to Japan again in the future, your card and its balance will remain valid for ten years.

Regional prepaid cards for Japanese travelers

There is a number of regional IC Cards to choose from. Many are compatible with one another and differ mostly by where they can be purchased. Consider 3 of the most popular IC Cards.


The Icoca Card is offered by JR West and services JR trains in the regions of Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, and Okayama. This card covers a slightly larger area than the others and is also compatible with some minor local cards, such as the Paspy Card in Hiroshima.



This credit-card-size card is available from non-Japan Rail transportation in Tokyo, such as the Tokyo railway, Tokyo Metro subway system, and city buses. The Pasmo Card can be purchased at Tokyo Metro stations.

Pasmo cards come already charged and ready to use, and can also be employed as an electronic wallet to make small purchases in convenience stores and vending machines.


SUICA Card: where to buy

This popular card is offered by JR East. It services JR trains in the areas of Tokyo, Sendai, and Niigata. Can’t decide on whether to use PASMO vs SUICA? The cards are compatible and nearly identical in their uses. Which one you choose will likely depend on which station you come to first, whether your travels take you to a JR train station or a Tokyo Metro station.


The cards discussed above are compatible with one another. IC Cards are available for other areas and specific forms of transportation within the areas discussed. Talk to an attendant when visiting a station in these or other areas to discover what card options may be available to you.

You can purchase an IC Card once in Japan and use it along with your Japan Rail Pass for an ease of travel like you’ve never experienced before. With them, you will be able to move quickly through busy train stations without waiting in long lines to purchase your ticket. This speedy combination will provide you with less wait time and more time to enjoy your Japanese vacation.


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