Credit Cards in Japan and How to Get One
Japanese credit cards are notoriously hard to get for foreigners but there are alternatives. From credit cards that are easy to apply for to prepaid credit cards at the convenience store, there are various options to help you shop cash-free in Japan.
Credit Card Essentials in Japan
As students one might get by without a credit card, but once we get a job most of us try to get a Japanese credit card, only to get turned down. Specific cards and alternatives are introduced in the below, but first let’s take a look at the minimum requirements.
You need to meet the following to have a chance at getting a Japanese credit card.
1. Stable Income
Without regular income you don’t stand much of a chance to receive a credit card. Even with a steady job, many banks will turn down applicants if they are not 正社員 (せいしゃいん、regular employee). So, for all of us with limited work contracts that get renewed on a regular basis, this is a tough hurdle.
2. Good Credit Score
A good credit score is another must-fulfill item but hardly worth overthinking at this point. Just pay your bills on time, there isn’t much else you can do here.
3. Long-term visa
To be eligible to receive any Japanese credit card one also needs a visa that is valid for at least one year. Any shorter than this and it’s not worth the trouble for the banks. To avoid the extra costs of using a foreign credit card in Japan take a look at the debit and prepaid alternatives below.
4. Japanese Bank Account
You will also need a bank account to link your credit card to. This does not always have to be an account at the same bank. Especially credit card that are affiliated with certain stores often let you link a Japanese bank account of your choosing.
5. Mobile Phone
To complete your application for your credit card, a Japanese phone number will be necessary. Overriding the error message with a random row of numbers can not be recommended. Credit card companies often call to check your identity and most customer service is going to take place by phone too, so have a working number ready.
6. Japanese Skills
Here’s an obvious secret. The better your Japanese the better your chances to navigate the banking jungle. Most companies don’t have any English customer service or forms. If you feel your Japanese is not up to the challenge, get a friend to check the conditions and help you with the application process.
Credit Cards Options for Foreigners
To get a proper credit card it never hurts to check with your Japanese bank first. There are no services that are not available for foreigners, but the lack of credentials and Japanese skills can keep us from accessing these services. With this in mind, be prepared to get turned down because of your employment status, income, visa duration, and a number of other factors.
Also, be prepared to just keep trying. Processes vary from bank to bank, so if one doesn’t work out, try another. It’s even possible to reapply to the same bank at a later date.
Online Banks/Shopping Malls
To my knowledge the easiest credit card to get for foreigners is a Rakuten Card, affiliated with the big online shopping site of the same name. Even new recruits stand a good chance here. It’s also completely free and let’s you save points when shopping with it.
You can also get credit cards with all their functionality from a couple of less likely sources. Big shopping centers etc. partner with banks to offer credit cards that also let you save points for their stores. EPOS card is one such example.
Visa/Master/JCB-enabled debit cards are another option to give you something to make “credit card” payments, without actually borrowing any money. These cards are either prepaid or work like a standard debit card, just that you can use them at all shops where the corresponding credit cards are accepted.
Shinsei Bank offers the GAICA Flex Prepaid Card to its customers, completely in English. The convenience store chain Family Mart also offers a Visa Debit, the Famima TCard, that you can use worldwide within the limits of your bank account balance.
For occasional online shopping or when you immediately need a credit card, head to a convenience store. They sell prepaid credit cards. These cards can only be used online, but you can get them, no questions asked.
Find the card for you!
If you need a credit card in all its functionality, keep applying until you get lucky. Otherwise Visa debit, prepaid, etc. offer viable alternatives for your life in Japan.