Get a Credit Card

Am I crazy? Am I seriously advising you to be frugal by getting a credit card? Well, yes actually I am, and I’ll explain why.

Itemized billing:

The absolute best part of having a card is getting an itemized bill at the end of month that tells you exactly where every yen went. In most countries, internet banking allows similar functionality if you use your banks debit card, but sadly the Japanese banking systems are stuck somewhere between 1910 and 1960, so your only way to get this functionality is with a credit card.

Using the itemized bill for December last year, I was able to break down my credit card spending as follows.


Now you can truly start budgeting and take control of your finances.


It’s not often you can get nothing for free, but credit card points are really one of those times. Even if the point percentage is 1% (1 point for every ¥100 you spend), that’s still going to add up over the years you are in Japan. There’s a pretty good selection of products you can choose from including kitchen appliances and short breaks in a traditional Japanese ryokans (at least with my Aeon card, which I thoroughly recommend). Get even more out of your investment payments and utility bills (gas, keitai, internet, electricity) by having them go through your card too. My average monthly credit card bill comes to about ¥150,000 yen, but that includes ¥50,000 that I invest into a managed fund and all my utilities, all of which are getting me an extra 1% return in points!

Getting a Card in Japan:

Most foreigners in Japan are unable to get credit cards, even directly with their banks. I only managed to get one after 2 years of being here. You will have to wait too, this is unavoidable. You can complain that this is discrimination all you want, but then consider that most foreigners end up staying for a year or less.: But to avoid having to wait even longer though, make sure you always pay your phone and utilities bills on time. In addition, when applying for the card always select the lowest possible credit rating and lowest withdrawal limit (you shouldn’t be using it as a credit source anyway if you’re following my advice).

Avoiding the credit part of credit cards:

When you set up your credit card, choose to have the entire balance paid off each month. This is the easiest way to never get into debt. As a responsible adult, you should be quite capable of realising how much you earn each month and therefore roughly how much your personal absolute limit on your card is. Do not make large purchases on a credit card unless you can split up the payments interest-free directly with the shop involved, or unless you know you have the cash in the bank to be able to pay it straight off. For example, Sofmap computer store allows you to break a payment into 6 months at no extra cost, so purchasing a new computer is not impossible (although you’re much better off upgrading instead, and always buy a desktop tower style computer for regular home use – not a laptop).

18 thoughts on “Get a Credit Card

  1. Thanks David. Quite right about the yen, the ideal situation is to be earning in Yen right now. I have some money in my English account too, but compared to last year it’s just not worth touching right now. This year we should all just buckle down, not touch foreign accounts, and wait for the financial crisis to blow over – by which time all our frugal habits should have become normal life 🙂

    Some additional advice for anyone coming to Japan: do not withdraw money on your credit card. Use it only for purchases and pay off the balance immediately. Unlike purchases, cash withdrawals on your credit card start generating interest from the moment you withdraw as opposed to the end of the month when you can’t pay it off. In fact, if you’re thinking of visiting Japan with lots of dollars right now, then just don’t. Wait for the exchange rates to go back up to normal. In the meantime, give your eventual trip to Japan even more meaning by studying lots of Japanese before you come! A good free place to start might be iKnow

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  4. I got a credit card from my Super Market no problem. I was here less than a year.

    A friend of mine signed up for a gym membership and was offered a credit card and got it no problem.

    You face troubles if you want to get a Credit Card from a bank, but there are an abundance of other sources dying to give you a card.

  5. Perhaps you had a good credit history, as it’s taken most people I know here over two years to get one. All credit cards essentially come from two main credit companies, so whether it is with your bank or the supermarket shouldn’t make a difference. But then again, approving someone’s credit rating is a very random affair…

    Mic, how much do you spend on your card per month? Do you collect points? Have you ever used them to get something or take a holiday? Please let us know!

  6. Two thoughts.

    If you get a bank account with Suruga or eBank, they will give you a Visa debit card as part of the account package. This is great if you can’t get credit but need a card for whatever reason. eBank’s card gets a damn good exchange rate on foreign purchases too (I think their spread is something like 1.5%, which is cheaper than most credit cards.)

    Also, one potential source of credit cards for gaijin is JAL. They issue their own credit cards and, according to some web sites I saw, don’t care much about credit history. I got a JAL Suica Card, which is a JCB card and works everywhere, when everyone else was turning me down (including Tsutaya and Family Mart).

    Everyone used to say Citibank was the way to go, but they seem to have become much tighter lately.

    Joe Jones’s latest blog post is…Rare family names

  7. Since the start of this year it’s been a lot easier for foreigners to get credit cards with their banks as long as they can prove they work and are on at least a working visa or better.

  8. I have been denied by:
    Pita Pa
    Yodobashi Camera
    Bic Camera

    and now Costco as well.
    I have been here 3 years with the same job and income. No debts and an excellent credit rating overseas.

    However I assume I have NO credit rating here.


    Buu Buu to me.

  9. Sorry to hear that Caniman. It does seem to be rather complicated. I wonder if you’ve always paid your gas and electric bills on time here. If you think so, perhaps its time to get a professional credit check. Sorry I cant be more help, from what you’ve written you should be able to get a card, which is why I suspect something a little strange in your case. You only seem to using 3rd party issuing companies though, how about talking directly to the Visa subsidaries like Aeon, you can usually find them inside large supermarket outlets. Make sure you sit down with the nice young lady who will walk you through the application process, dont just take an application home and try to do it there. Good luck!

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  12. Thanks for the post and I just wanted to say if you are struggling with credit card debts in the UK Debt Free Scotland offer free Debt Advice to anyone in need of help 🙂

  13. More foreigners might stay longer if they felt welcome. It’s kind of hard to want to stay here when you can’t get a house, can’t get an apartment, can’t buy a car, and can’t even get a credit card. These policies are very antiquated and most rightfully don’t want to put up with it.

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