Despite continuing to be a fairly cash-based society, there are still various purchasing limitations if you do not have a local credit card. While many larger shopping outlets in central Tokyo will take an international credit card, some lifestyle payments such as mobile phones, food delivery services, etc. might not. Plus, there is an increase of online delivery systems for getting those ‘can’t live without’ items from home that will require a credit card on file.

Therefore, it is worthwhile to take the steps for a credit card application.

Where do you apply?

1. Banks
Banksare a very easy and straightforward way to get a card, as most of them have some kind of promotion or offer for a credit card when you set up your bank account. Just be aware that some banks may decline your card application for no obvious reason. Still, this will be your easiest method especially if you are gainfully employed, as they will do a “credit” check with your employer.

2. Stores
Such as convenient stores, department stores, electronic shops, supermarkets and phone companies – often offer various types of credit cards that carry the MasterCard, Visa or JCB logo. They are often combined with a point card and may have annual fees. A JCB card, which is the Japanese Credit Bureau card, is almost always connected to a point card system with the sponsoring store. Some stores may not accept foreign applications, so double check to avoid the disappointment.

3. Travel companies
Such as airlines or JR may also offer a frequent fliers/travelers credit card that you could apply for. For example, in ANA card, you can transfer your points to your mile, and you can effectively stock your value points when you pay fee that cost for shopping or mobile phone charge.

Check point when you select credit card brand

Once you get the information packet and application form that you need for the credit card of choice make sure that you check on the following points before moving forward:

-Is there a yearly fee? If so, how much?
-Is there a reward system and will you be able to take advantage of it? (Is there anything worse than collecting points for nothing? 😉 )
-Is the brand the one that you want? For example, American Express is accepted less and less these days, so you may want something more universal. JCB seems to be limited to Japan, so think about how long and where you might want to use this card.

If you are clear on these points, then it is important to understand the payment system.

Payments

Whenever you make a purchase with a card, the cashier will generally ask you if you would like to charge the amount all at once or if you’d like to break it up into small amounts, usually up to thirds, but you can adjust it later to more depending on your card service.
The reason for this is due to your method of payment. To prevent people from overspending or rather from defaulting on payments, most credit card companies have three different ways to make your repayments.

1. One time payment in full This means you won’t pay interest, and your credit card is paid up each month.

2.Multiple paymentsThis is where the payment amount asked by the cashier comes into play where you can divide up the total amount charged over a few months to pay for items in full. Of course, interest do apply.

3. Revolving creditWhen you get your credit card, you can set up a minimum amount that is paid on your card every month causing you to roll over balances and pay interest, which will be added to your minimum amount each month. This is the system more commonly used in the West.

These payment options allow you to control what items you pay for and when. Most services will send you an email or notification a couple of weeks in advance about your upcoming payment. You can then go on to their online system (if they have one) and adjust what gets paid so that your payment amount is within your budget. Just remember that interest is always applied

Which card?

This is a rather subjective question as people on various forums seem to have differing experiences depending on their jobs, nationality, level of Japanese or even time of day according to some.

The general consensus is to try getting a bank credit card first. Since you generally have to fill out all the paperwork at the time of opening your account, the application for the credit card follows easily with no extra effort – which is already a lot if you do not speak Japanese well or are without a Japanese-speaking friend to help you. In most cases, you can also request additional cards for spouses or family. However, again, keep in mind that you may not necessarily be successful even though you are able to have a bank account.

If you choose a credit card that is foreigner-friendly, then they will likely have an English version of the application form either online or on paper.

In the event that you need to apply for a credit card in Japanese, the best way to do this well is to get a Japanese speaking person to help you with it. Internet searches may provide you with screenshots for specific card companies and help in translating the online forms. However, you must also consider that if you cannot understand the application form, you may not understand any other communications sent regarding the card, payments, etc. Therefore, this may not be ideal for you.

With that said, it seems that the most favored credit card company is Rakuten. They offer quite a few different options of cards and related point systems, so this might be a good starting point. This site can help guide you through the process of creating an account and applying online.

Also, Costco has just released a new credit card as they no longer accept American Express. However, the application online is in Japanese and requires a great deal of information about your employer.

No matter what you choose, the short-term headache of the application process can be worth the peace of mind of having, at minimum, an emergency credit card. Just remember to do your research, stay calm and, if possible, find a Japanese speaking friend!

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