Jun 8, 2012
Francesco Agresti

A Guide to Prepaid Travel Cards

If you are planning to come to Japan for any length of time, then getting a prepaid travel card should be on the top of your itinerary list. Having a travel card will eliminate the need to buy individual train tickets as well as the need to check fare prices—making life in Japan a lot simpler.

There are two different travel cards available for purchase within the Kanto region. However, they are virtually identical and can be used on most train lines and buses in the area:


The PASMO is an IC card (integrated circuit) which allows you to simply touch your card to a sensor panel on the ticket gate and go through. You can get this card at any train station and will cost you 1000 yen (500 yen refundable deposit + 500 yen initial travel money).


Suica is also an IC card which can be used in the same fashion as the PASMO. You can purchase this card for 2000 yen (500 yen refundable deposit + 1,500 yen initial travel money).



 How do I get one?

You can get a PASMO/Suica card at vending machines and ticket counters at any train station. Usually the pink colored machines deal with PASMO and the green ones deal with Suica. Both cards are virtually identical so take your pick.

*This particular machine offers both PASMO and Suica cards.

The process is very simple: First touch the blue button in the top right corner labeled “English” and then touch the PASMO button as labeled above. Now that everything is in English, you can just follow the few simple steps to getting your prepaid travel card.


How do I charge my travel card?

Simply feed your IC card into the machine (both PASMO and Suica machines will work no matter what card you have) and select the “PASMO/Suica” button. Then select “Charge” to top up your card.

You can now select how much you would like to add to your card as well as being able to display and print your balance history.


Other uses

Believe it or not, you can use your prepaid travel card for more than just riding trains and buses:



Vending Machines

Several vending machines selling drinks and snacks have an IC card touch panel so you can use your card without having to scrounge around for loose change.




Convenience stores

You can also use your IC card to purchase items in selected convenience stores, shops and restaurants. Just look for the IC card touch panel by the register if in doubt.




Cell Phones

Selected cell phone models (smart phones not included) can be set up to serve as an IC card. However, you must be a resident of Japan to be eligible to apply for a phone contract.



Is there a discount over regular tickets?

No, but if you use the card on buses, you automatically receive “bus points” which can be used to get discounts off future bus journeys.

How do I get back my 500 yen refundable deposit?

Simply hand in your IC card to a train attendant at the counter. Unused credit can also be refunded (with a 210 yen handling fee).

Is there an expiry date?

No. The card will only become invalid if it is unused for ten years.

  Download the Suica user’s guide

Leave a comment