Save Money and Travel Japan in Style With Suica, Japan's Most-Used Transit IC Card
Working out how to use the local public transport is a common hassle when traveling overseas. Luckily, the Suica IC card, issued by JR East, magically solves this problem for you! Use cash to charge your Suica card and you can glide through the ticket gates with just a tap. Suica also automatically calculates your fare, so there's no need to work out ticket prices. Plus, it's not just valid in Tokyo; you can use Suica all over Japan! Suica cards can also be used for cashless payments at convenience stores, taxis, game centers, vending machines, coin lockers, and more, which saves you from carrying around wads of cash when you travel. In this article, we'll run down all you need to know about Suica cards so that you can travel smart in Japan!
May 11 2020 (Sep 09 2020)
What Is Suica, Japan's Number One Transport IC Card?
Many Japanese transport companies have introduced IC cards in recent years. These cards save time by removing the need to buy tickets, and also often offer discounted fares, which has led to a rapid uptake by the public. Certain IC card types, when pre-loaded with cash, can also be used as digital money to pay at shops or taxis.
Issued by the East Japan Railway Company (or JR East), Suica is the most-issued IC transit card in Japan. Used mainly in the Tokyo area, Suica is accepted on public transport systems all over the country. More stores accept cashless Suica payments than any other IC card, making it a good choice for locals and international visitors alike. Let's dig a little deeper into how to use Suica and save money!
Not Just for Transit! The Many Places Where You Can Pay with Suica
Suica is sold and mainly used in the greater Tokyo region, but is accepted all over Japan. Suica's coverage extends beyond its four core areas of the Greater Tokyo Area, Sendai, Niigata, and Okinawa. It's also accepted in Hokkaido, the Tokai and Kansai regions, and Kyushu, meaning you can use it wherever you go in Japan. However, you do need to buy a ticket in advance if you want to travel across different areas. Suica can also be used on a number of local bus and train networks.
The areas that accept Suica are constantly expanding. You can check the official JR East website or ask JR staff for the latest network details.
**The difference between the "core areas" and other areas is that other regions have their own IC cards that they sell primarily, although they accept Suica. Learn more about the dizzying array of IC cards with this article!
Suica is also a very convenient method for cashless payments. It's accepted at large chain stores like convenience stores, supermarkets, drugstores, and electronics stores, as well as vending machines, restaurants, variety stores, clothes stores, and recreation spots like karaoke, manga cafes, and arcades. You can even use it to pay for a rental car or when filling up your car at a gas station. As of September 2019, around 750,000 stores around Japan accept Suica, with the number growing all the time!
However, many smaller independent stores and restaurants may not accept cashless payments. There are also stores that accept Suica payments but don't provide recharge services. You can request a refund if you don't manage to use up all the cash you've loaded onto your Suica card during your travels. Since refunds do come with a service fee of 220 yen, it might be easier to load an amount you know you'll be able to use up before you leave.
It's easy to find stores that accept Suica. Just look for the Suica logo displayed at the counter like in the photo below.
There's Even a Card for Tourists! How to Get and Charge a Suica Card
Suica is very convenient for getting around and shopping, so if you're planning to travel in Japan, it's smart to have one. But how do you actually get a Suica card of your own? Let's look at the different types and how to get them.
Suica Card Types and How to Get Them
・My Suica (Registered)
A "My Suica" card can be reissued if lost. The advantage to this type is that if you lose it, you can suspend the card to protect its remaining balance. However, you have to register the card with your name, birthdate, and gender, which limits its use to the registered user, which may be a downside for some travelers. You can buy a "My Suica" at ticket machines or ticket offices at major JR East Stations.
If you are traveling with a child aged 6 to 11, we'd recommend making a children's My Suica. Children's fares are around half the cost of adult fares, but an unregistered Suica card only supports adult fares. To get a children's My Suica, you must visit a staffed ticket office at a JR East station in the areas Suica are sold (Greater Tokyo Area, Sendai, or Niigata). You'll just need your child's passport as proof of age.
You can first charge your "My Suica" at 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, or at 10,000 yen, which all include a refundable 500 yen deposit.
・Suica Card (Unregistered)
An unregistered Suica card can be used by anyone. The fact that you don't need to register your personal details may be more convenient for some, but you do run the risk of losing your balance if you lose the card. You can also buy this card at ticket machines or ticket offices at major JR East Stations. Like My Suica, you can load the card with your choice of 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, or 10,000 yen, including a refundable 500 yen deposit.
There is no children's version of an unregistered Suica card, so unfortunately any children using one will be charged the full fare. We recommend making the effort to get a children's My Suica if you are travelling with children aged between 6 and 11.
・Welcome Suica, for International Tourists
Welcome Suica is a version designed specifically for international tourists. If you'll only be using your Suica for 28 days or less, this is a good choice. Designed with a Japanese feel in colors that resemble the Japanese flag, with white sakura blossoms on a red background, this card can be taken home as a souvenir. Only valid for 28 days, the Welcome Suica doesn't require a 500 yen deposit, but you can’t have the balance of the card refunded. The rest of its features are identical to a normal unregistered Suica card.
You can get a Welcome Suica card from JR East Travel Service Centers, as well as dedicated Welcome Suica vending machines at Narita and Haneda airports. Check the official website for further details.
・Where Is the Best Place to Get a Suica Card?
All Suica cards, with the exception of the Welcome Suica, are available to buy at any major JR East train station. That said, we recommend visiting a JR East Travel Service Center at Narita Airport Station, Narita Airport Terminal 2·3 Station, Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, Ikebukuro Station, Ueno Station, or Hamamatsucho Station. These centers sell tickets and have a range of services for international visitors, including English-speaking staff who can help with sightseeing information. If you have questions about using your Suica for sightseeing, they'll likely be able to help.
**If you're planning on staying in Japan for a bit longer, then you should look into Suica's points program, where you earn points by spending money on JR East fares and retail!
How to Charge a Suica Card
Suica cards are rechargeable, not single-use. When the balance runs low, you can recharge your Suica at ticket machines or convenience stores in Japan.
・Station Ticket Machines
You can load up to 20,000 yen onto your Suica card at ticket machines with an IC logo. If you're already inside the ticket gates and need to recharge, you can also add funds using the machines labeled "Fare Adjustment".
To add funds using these machines, first either insert your card or place it on the designated reader. Select your preferred language on the upper right hand side of the screen. Select the amount to recharge, insert your cash, and the charge will complete.
Please see this pamphlet for more details on the process.
Using machines at the station may be the easiest way to recharge, but if you're able to communicate a little in Japanese, you can also do this at convenience stores. Some electronics and drug stores also provide recharge services, but convenience stores are probably the most convenient place to do it. Almost every major convenience store chain like 7-Eleven or Lawson will let you recharge your Suica at the register. To do this, tell the register staff the amount you want to recharge, give them your cash, then place your card on the Suica reader.
Go Cardless and Travel Even Smarter! All About Mobile Suica
An additional service called Mobile Suica is also available. The benefit to this service is that you can use your smartphone rather than needing to keep track of a separate card. There's also no need to make a 500-yen deposit. Just like a physical Suica card, you can use Mobile Suica both for public transport and cashless payments. The official website and App Store listing are only in Japanese, which could be a barrier for some, but if you can manage to get it set up, it's very convenient.
To get started, first download the Suica app. On Apple devices, you can use Suica with Apple Pay to use the service on your iPhone or Apple Watch. On Android devices, you can link Suica with Google Pay. If you don't want to link a credit card and would rather just recharge by other means, EASY Mobile Suica is another option to consider. Recharges are available from 1,000 yen and up, and can be done using a registered credit card/payment service, or with cash at major convenience store chains and other shops.
Please keep in mind that Mobile Suica isn't available on all devices. For more details, check out the official site (in Japanese only).
Good to Know! Suica How-Tos and Troubleshooting
You Can't Leave the Ticket Gates Without a Sufficient Balance!
You tapped your Suica on the reader, but the gates won't open? Don't stress! It's likely you need to just recharge your card. At most major stations, you can add funds at the automatic machines located before the ticket gates. If you can't find the machines, ask the staff at the ticket gate window. They can help you charge your card there, too. If you don't have cash on you, speak to the station staff. They can either help you buy a new ticket with a credit card, or help find another solution.
What Happens If You Lose Your Card?
If you lose your registered My Suica card, you can have it reissued. Ask a station attendant at a major station within Suica coverage areas. When you apply for a reissue, the balance of the lost card is frozen at the time it was suspended. You can pick up your new card the next day. To reissue a card, you need to pay a processing fee of 520 yen plus a 500 yen deposit for the new card. So, if you can't find the card, it's best to take into account the amount actually left on it and apply for a reissue if it makes sense to you.
Unfortunately, unregistered Suica and Welcome Suica cards can't be reissued. If you're planning to put a significant amount of cash onto your card, a My Suica will give you more peace of mind.
What If There's Money Left on My Card?
If you can't use up the whole balance of your card while you're in Japan, you can have the remaining balance refunded. The amount refunded will be the remaining balance plus your initial 500 yen deposit, minus a 200 yen service charge. Refunds are available at all JR East station ticket offices within the core Suica area (Greater Tokyo Area, Sendai, Niigata).
If you're planning to come back to Japan, it's also fine to leave some balance on the card for next time. If you don't think you'll come back but don't want to pay the refund fee, you can also just try to use the balance up. Some convenience stores sell candy for a few dozen yen, including some around the 20 yen range, which are perfect for using up your last remaining balance. You can use your Suica card at many airport shops and restaurants, too. Enjoying some Japanese food and souvenirs before you leave could be a worthwhile way to finish up your Suica balance!
Don't worry if your bill comes out to more than your Suica balance; you can pay the remainder in cash if you need to. Doing this is a hassle-free way of using up your Suica balance completely.
"Suica" actually stands for Super Urban Intelligent CArd. Just as this name suggests, Suica magically guides you to easy travel and shopping during your trip. Suica is the most-used card of its type in Japan, and is accepted in an impressive range of stores. It's even conveniently available on your smartphone! It's clear why you should choose Suica, so pick one up as soon as you arrive in Japan and travel stress free!
■ What Is Suica? JR East Japan (English)
■ JR East Guide (English)
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.