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 IC Cards to make traveling throughout Japan metropolitan areas 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.

Usually, the card will cost ¥2000. 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 IC Cards

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.

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.

ICOCA

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.

ICOCA Card

PASMO Card

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.

Initially, the PASMO costs 1,000 yen: 500 that you will get as credit and 500 as deposit, which will be refunded 100% once you give the card at the Japan Railways offices.

PASMO Card

SUICA

This popular card is offered by JR East. It services JR trains in the areas of Tokyo, Sendai, and Niigata including transport by train, subway, monorail and bus, but no bullet trains, long-distance trains or airport transfers. The SUICA, a friendly penguin is an icon of the Tokyo subway.

In the same way as the PASMO, you can use it as an electronic wallet in food stores, restaurants, taxis, station ticket offices and automatic vending machines where the SUICA logo appears.

Each SUICA is charged with 2,000 yen, including the 500 yen deposit that you can retrieve at JR East stations in Tokyo. Also, they don’t expire in 10 years and are not unipersonal, although only for adults (there is another children’s version that you buy in Japan).

SUICA vs PASMO

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 (Suica) or a Tokyo Metro station (Pasmo).

SUICA Card

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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27 thoughts on “Using Japanese IC cards: PASMO, SUICA and ICOCA”

  1. We ( group of 5 ) will go to Narita Airport on November 3, 2018 . We will sightseeing in Tokyo 2 days , after that we will go to Yokohama port on November 5 ,2018 for Cruise . On November 13 ,2018 we will want to have sightseeing in Yokohama before go back to Natita Airport.
    What kind of tickets we should buy ?
    Best regards ,
    Tammy

  2. Hello! We will arrive in Tokyo at Narita on May 19 and stay for 5 days before going to Kyoto for 2 days and Osaka for 2 days. In Tokyo we are staying near the Akhibara Line. What is the best transportation card for using both JR and Tokyo metro subway? I was thinking of buying a 72-hour tokyo metro pass + 1-way Keisei Skyliner pass and then buy a 48-hour tokyo metro pass, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to use the JR line that goes around the city, which seems like an important line. What do you suggest? Thank you!

  3. Hello. Will be in Tokyo and Kyoto for 8 days. Will be buying jr pass to travel down to Kyoto. What card do you suggest I buy to get around Tokyo city which compliments the jr pass?

    1. Hi Hatien! As described in this article, the best would be either PASMO or SUICA. Which one you choose will likely depend on which station you come to first, whether your travels take you to a JR train station (Suica) or a Tokyo Metro station (Pasmo).

  4. Hi! I’ll be traveling directly from Harita airport to Kyoto (one way) – can I use Suica card for the Tokyo – Kyoto portion and just buy the Narita Express ticket? I will have JR West Rail Pass once in Kyoto. Thanks!

    1. Forgot to mention, I am hoping to take the nozomi shinkasen tokyo – kyoto so I can make the checkin time before they close. Thanks!

  5. Hi,

    Please advise on the most cost-efficient way to travel around on my trip:

    – 22 Dec – Narita Airport to Shibuya 12pm
    – 22 Dec – 30 or 31 Dec or 1 Jan – travel around Tokyo and day trips nearby
    – 30 or 31 Dec or 1 Jan – Tokyo to Kyoto (please advise how I can book the seats in advance as I need to book my accomodations accordingly so I need to know availability on the trains)
    – 30 or 31 Dec ot 1 Jan – 5 Jan – day trips to Osaka and travel within Kyoto
    – 6 Jan – Kyoto to Kansai Airport 8am

    Please advise if the 14 day pass will cover all of this? If not, then the most cost-efficient combination option please?

    Thanks,
    Linda

    1. You can use the IC card for all non-JR transportation in that area. So all normal Tokyo subways are fine to go (also the new transit line Yurikamome which is fully automated; not sure about the monorail because I used my JR pass there). You can also use the IC card for the Enoshima Electric Railway if you’re going for places like Kamakura and Enoshima.

  6. Hi
    I have bought the 7 day JR Pass for my 9 days stay at Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto & Hiroshima. The last two days I need to purchase an ICOCA card. I’ll be catching the shinkansen down from Tokyo to Osaka.
    Where can I purchase the ICOCA card with the Haruka ticket since I’ll be departing from Kansai Airport?
    I’ve been searching that we can collect the ICOCA card & Haruka from Kansai airport, is there another location for pick up other than the airport?

    Regards,
    Tracy

  7. Hi,

    I will be travelling to Kyushu. What is the best option?
    Fukuoka April 8-11
    Beppu April 11-12
    Yufu April 12-13
    Takachiho April 13-14
    Fukuoka April 14-15

    1. Hi Anna!

      The Kyushu region offers a perfect mix of history, natural beauty, and modern cities. You will for sure enjoy! The city of Fukuoka is one of the main tourist destinations in southern Japan, and it is listed among Japan’s ten most populous cities. To continue your journey throughout Kyushu, you can travel quickly and comfortably using the Kyushu Shinkansen. Also, JR Limited Express trains are available from Hakata Station. The Sonic Limited Express connects with Beppu and is also covered by the JR Pass.

      We hope you enjoy your stay!

    1. Hi Peter!

      As stated in this article, PASMO Card is available from non-Japan Rail transportation in Tokyo, such as the Tokyo railway, Tokyo Metro subway system, and city buses. It won’t be useful for Osaka and Kyoto.

  8. Hi, our family of 5 will be travelling to Japan on June 10-16,2018.
    Our itinerary will be Narita airport – Tokyo Shibuya – Osaka – Kyoto – Osaka Kansai airport
    What tickets should we buy?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Given your itinerary, we would advice you to buy the 7-day Japan Rail Pass It will cover both of your airport transfers as well as transportation in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto and the bullet trains connecting these cities.

      Have a nice trip!

  9. April 12/2018 we (2) wiil be at the NRT Terminal 1. Like to go to 169-0074. Stay until April 15 to check in to the cruise ship in YOOKOHAMA port 231-0002. Please advice.
    I plan to buy one Suica or Passmo card at the air port . Could this card be used to that destination? one for both or one for each?
    Do I have to line up to buy train tickets to transfer from NRT to 169-0074 even if I have the card above Suica/Passmo.
    Buy “3-day-pass subway” to go around Tokyo.
    Go to Yokohama and get there around noon April 15.
    Please advice thru my email. Thanks

    1. Hi NhanLe!

      As stated in this article, the PASMO Card is available from non-Japan Rail transportation in Tokyo while SUICA services JR trains in the areas of Tokyo, Sendai, and Niigata. Which one you choose will likely depend on which station you come to first, whether your travels take you to a JR train station (SUICA) or a Tokyo Metro station (PASMO). The Narita Express is not included with these IC Prepaid Cards.

      We hope you enjoy your trip!

  10. We (a group of 4 persons) would be visiting Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in the next few weeks. Can the Suica card be used for all 3 cities?

    1. Hi John!

      As stated in this article you are commenting, SUICA is a card that services JR trains in the areas of Tokyo, Sendai and Niigata. You will not be able to use it in Osaka and Kyoto.

      Enjoy your trip!

    2. Hi John,

      When we were last there, that was the majority of our itinerary as well. Our friend suggested we wait until we entered Tokyo and get a PASMO in the morning (it was 2am i think). I was able to use it between Osaka and Tokyo and pretty much all the railways in between, like Enoshima Electric down south in Kamakura and north of Tokyo to Seibu Stadium in Saitama to watch a baseball game. Between the JRP and my PASMO, I don’t think I paid cash for any rail transport except for the small fee the Seibu line charges for the portion that goes directly into Seibu Dome (500Y, iirc).

      Good Luck on your trip! Make use of that JRP, it’s a great thing to have.

  11. My daughter and I will be spending 10 days in Japan in June, visiting Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Will we need to purchase both ICOCA and SUICA IC cards for our rail transportation in addition to our JR 7-Day Passes?

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