SUICA – What a useful prepaid card


English translation of my german article about Suica.

There was a time back in the 90s and early 2000s, when you needed a phone card to use telephone booth on the street. Coin phones were rare, so you had to buy a phone card at a kiosk or gas station, to be able to use them. And those were the days hardly anyone was in possession of a mobile phone, so if you really had to call someone, to tell them you were coming home late, you better had one of those pretty phone cards.
But nowadays they are all relicts of a different time. The last few pay phones are back to accepting coins. The idea of prepaid cards has never been really successfully developed in Germany. Whereas in other countries…
 
For example in London, as a tourist you have probably heard of the Oyster Card. On your way to take the subway you have to hold the card to a scanner, which reads the chip, and when you leave the subway station at your destination you have to scan it again and the machine will calculate the fair and extract it from your balance.

 Suica (and Pasmo also) work just like London’s Oyster Card. You can recharge them anytime you like and your ticket fares will be subtracted. No annoying coin counting needed. When you hold your Suica to a scanner it will show you how much balance you have left.

 But Suica is not only useful for buying metro or subway tickets, but also for buying drinks at vending machines. No cash needed! Also UFO-Catcher and many convenience stores accept Suica and Pasmo. Just watch out for that cute little penguin on a sign or on the vending machine itself.
 
So, if you plan to visit Japan again, you should definitely keep your card, because it’s valid for ten years! Or you could lend or gift it to a friend, helping them having an easier trip with fewer costs.
How to buy a Suica?
 
The Japanese love their vending machines. Indeed, you buy and charge your Suica at a Suica Vending Machine.
 Getting a new one costs 2.000 Yen (500 Yen of which is deposit) and you can charge them in 1.000 Yen intervals, up to 10.000 Yen in one run. Charging is only possible with cash.
 
If you want to return your Suica at the end of your trip, you’ll get a refund of your remaining balance and deposit. However, this comes with a fee of 220 Yen.
 If your balance equals 0 after the subtraction of the fee, you’ll still get your deposit back.

 Which means:
  175 balance
  – 220 fee
  = 0 
  + 500 deposit
  = 500 Yen refund
 
You can only return the Suica in the same region you purchased it. So, a suica from Tokyo cannot be refunded in Kyoto.
 There are Midori-no-Madoguchi offices at JR stations, where you need to go to return your Suica and get your refund.

Kiara Threepwood