Travel Tips: Cash or Credit? Which is best in Japan!
You’re going to spend lots of money when you’re in Japan! So what is the best method for you? Based on my experience, here are some tips of what to use when purchasing, with little repercussions. These tips are also based on experiences coming from the United States, your country may differ in policies but this may all be similar to one another.
Cash is definitely king when you plan to spend money in Japan. Even in the largest metropolitan city in the world, cash is preferably the ideal method when spending money. You may think that this being a very well developed country, credit cards will be common. Surprisingly, I rarely ever used my credit cards, instead I purchased using cold hard cash. Lots of shops in Japan are run by small business owners, and judging from my experience in the US, it’s difficult to use a credit system in these shops due to the costs for the owners. Even some retail chain stores accepted cash only transactions. You are better off keeping cash with you at all times.
Of course there are several methods of withdrawing money in Japan, the most common being from an ATM. ATM is my choice when I need to withdraw money, as the international fees aren’t very costly when withdrawing, usually 1-3% of the withdraw amount. You can also look into currency exchange centers. However, they tend to cost more in fees.
For US foreigners, your go-to ATM will be from any 7-eleven/Seven&iHoldings convenience store. These ATMs accept the majority of all major US banks like Chase, and Wells Fargo, and they're very easy to use. All ATM machines at these stores have an English option which the text and voices are in English. Receipts are given in Japanese yen, but they will show how much you have remaining in whichever account you chose to withdraw from. You can try other convenience stores such as Lawson and Family Mart, but those ATMs did not accept my US debit card.
As with all ATM withdraws, it’s best to withdraw using your debit card. Some credit cards have no international fees applied if you do a cash advance in Japan (I checked with my bank), however the cash advance interest rate will still apply, which can be upwards of 20% of the withdraw amount. Also, 7-eleven/Seven&iHoldings don’t charge their own additional fees using the ATM, so that’s a plus.
If you’re staying awhile in Japan, try to withdraw more money with fewer ATM withdrawals so your foreign fees don’t stack up. It may be nerve-racking to carry large bills, but crime rate is very low in Japan, and you can always store any excess funds back in your hotel room.
Last thing to note with cash is coins. You will definitely carry a lot of coins in Japan! 100 and 500 yen are in coins, which are equivalent to the US $1 and $5 (US $1 = ¥113.7). It may seem strange at first, but you’ll get used to it in a timely matter.
In the off-chance that you can spend with credit or debit card, this can be to your advantage. It falls towards foreign transaction fees. Cards like the Discover it and Capital One cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees, but cards like Chase Freedom and Citi Double Cash Card have a 3% fee of each purchase in US dollars. Check with your local credit card to see if foreign fees are applied. Also, check with your credit card company for any alternate credit card logos in Japan that apply to yours. For example, some stores will not display “Discover” logos as credit cards accepted, but they do display “Diners Club,” “Union Pay,” and “JCB” as accepted credit cards. So if you see any of these other logos, your "Discover" card will be accepted.
When it comes to credit card security, a lot of stores I shopped in Japan still used the traditional “swipe” method rather than having a chip reader. So just a note that if you’re used to doing the chip reader method now, it may seem odd that you’re swiping instead to pay for your goods. I am unsure of how common credit card fraud occurs in Japan, but most credit card companies do not put you liable for fraud, so swipe away! If you're able to use the card and you don't have any foreign fees, use it! It's a good way to take advantage of buying items and not breaking the bank!
Other useful tips
· Some shops require your purchase amount to meet or exceed a certain limit before cards are accepted. I found out in Akihabara retail sets limits from 3000 yen or more.
· Let your bank know prior to your trip that you’re going to Japan! My cousin was unaware he had to do this, but this is important so your bank doesn’t freeze your account thinking someone’s using your money in Japan. Most US banks have an online option that you can select the dates which you’ll be in a foreign country.
· You will see a small tray next to the cash register which you put your money or card in when you purchase an item. I’m not really sure of the true history of these trays, but I know for sure is that’s where to put the money. The cashier may hand you your change, or on some rare occasions, in the tray.
· If you’re terrible at searching through your thousands of coins you’ve accumulated to make the exact amount for your purchase, try tossing a bunch into that tray, most Japanese cashiers can sort through all your coins to get you the correct amount fast. It’s convenient!
· Don’t forget that 100 and 500 yen are coins and not bills, so you may have more money than you think, I kept forgetting thinking I had no money on me.
· Fear the 1-yen coin! I honestly hated this coin because I had so many of them during my trip. It’s best that you spare the time to count up x10 1-yen coins instead of searching for x2 5-yen coins. This is practically the most accumulated coin I had. Some good advice I suggest you do like what I did is use these for your coin tossing games at the shrines, just a note, windy days will drift the coin significantly.
· Be smart in your ATM withdraws, it’s good to withdraw more money, but don’t withdraw too much that you end up not using all of it at the end of your trip. As converting yen back to your local currency can be costly in fees.
· Take advantage of tax-free shops! Lots of souvenir and gift shops are tax free, which is a plus for bargains! Also, most shops that do tax will include it in the price label, so you don’t have to do the math!
· Have a Pasmo/Suica card? This is also an acceptable way of purchasing goods, which is helpful in case you forgot to withdraw cash. There’s a fellow Odigoer who wrote an article about it and I highly recommend it!
Be smart, always have cash ready for your purchases, and if you can use your credit card, use it! Hopefully these tips can make your shopping experience a great one in Japan! Now get out there and win those crane games!
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