Pasmo IC card transit card and coin purse change holder for japanese bills and coins

Stress-Free Tokyo Travel with IC Cards : Everything You Need to Know

Looking for a simple and hassle-free way to use public transportation in Japan? Look no further than IC cards such as Pasmo and Suica, two of Japan’s most renowned smart cards for transportation. These cards help you effortlessly travel throughout Tokyo and across Japan using trains, buses, and subways, as well as pay for food and other items without carrying cash.

Let’s walk through the ins and outs of IC cards, specifically Pasmo and Suica : Where you can buy them, how to use them to get around stress-free, and how to conveniently add money to them when your remaining balance is low.

Pasmo smart IC card with silver background and bright pink word Pasmo and train pictures
Pasmo card purchased at IC machine in Shinjuku metro station in Tokyo

Plus, we’ll highlight some of the awesome perks that come with these cards, like enjoying a small discount when using them, and being able to use them practically everywhere in Japan, and to pay for other services like vending machines and convenience stores.

With these cards, you will feel much more at ease going into the train and subway stations for your rides. And navigate the public transport system like a pro. So, if you’re looking for an easy breezy way to travel around Japan, read on and find out all the must-knows about these awesome IC cards!

What is an IC Card?

An IC card is a type of prepaid smart transit card used for all public transportation in Japan. They make traveling super easy and convenient. You buy one and load it up with some money, and then use the card to pay for trains, buses, and subways in Japan (pretty much like a debit card).

The neat thing about this card is that instead of buying separate tickets for each ride, you just go straight to your train’s or metro’s ticket gate and touch the IC card to an IC card reader at the gate when you enter and exit the station or bus. The fare is instantly and automatically calculated and deducted from the card balance. It’s that simple!

Not only do you not need to purchase any tickets for your rides, but you also don’t need to worry about carrying coins or figuring out the exact fare for every trip. One less hassle to have.

Plus, you can even use the card to buy food and drinks or goods at vending machines and stores! How cool is that?

When the balance runs low, you just stop by a ticket vending machine in any train or subway station, with the ‘IC’ label’ on it, and add more money to the card.

At the end of the trip, either use up your card balance, or return the card for a cash refund of the remaining balance.

Suica cards purchased in train station in Shinjuku, Tokyo

There are many different IC cards in Japan which are offered by different companies, however in this post we will discuss two of the most popular IC cards out there : the Pasmo and Suica IC cards from Tokyo, Japan. They are made by different companies, however used the same exact way. So choose either one, and you will be good to go. I highly recommend getting one right after you arrive in Japan.

Where Can I Use my IC Card to Pay for Transportation Costs?

IC cards can be used in most cities in Japan to get around within a city, but not to cross to another area. See the picture below for all regions of Japan where a Pasmo or Suica card is accepted as a form of payment.

For traveling from one large region to another large region, such as from Tokyo to Kyoto, you will need to buy a separate ticket at a ticket office (or use a JR Pass if you have one), and then use your IC card to get around and explore within Kyoto.

Note that most of the time it is not easy or not possible to use IC cards on shinkansen, so you would need to buy a separate ticket at the ticket counter in train stations, or use a JR Pass if you have one.

Apart from Public Transport Fares, Where Else Can I Use my IC Card to Pay for Goods and Services?

IC cards are very widely used in Japan. To confirm if a place, restaurant, or shop accepts IC cards as a form of payment, look for the large ‘IC Card’ label displayed next to the cash register. Or you can show the staff your card and ask if it is accepted there.

The following are places that you can use IC cards like Pasmo and Suica to pay :

  • Convenience stores : 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, etc.
  • Vending machines
  • Supermarkets
  • Fast food restaurants : McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, and more
  • Bookstores : Kinokuniya and Maruzen
  • Movie theaters
  • Theme parks : Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and such
  • Karaoke booths : Karaoke Kan and Big Echo.
  • Museums and galleries

Does IC Card Provide a Discount over a Paper Ticket?

Yes, there is a small discount in train and subway ticket prices when you use an IC card to pay instead of a paper ticket. It varies based on the ride, but often somewhere between 5 to 20 yen.

See the screenshot from JapanTravel by NAVITIME below, which shows Shinjuku-to-Shibuya train ride costs for both paper ticket and IC card.

JapanTravel by NAVITIME guide from Shinjuku JR station to Shibuya JR station and showing train ride costs for both paper ticket (more expensive) versus IC card (cheaper)

By paying with an IC card, the cost of this short train ride is 157 yen, compared to 160 yen if using paper ticket. So using IC card will give you a small price discount. Even though the saving is small, it really adds up when you use the card to pay for daily transportation costs.

There Are Many Japanese IC Cards out there – Pasmo, Suica, Icoca, Manaca, Kitaca, Sugoca, Pitapa. Which One Should I Get?

All of these cards are essentially the same with the same functions, so buy whichever card you want or the one easily accessible to you. Each will be sold at a different region, like Pasmo and Suica in Tokyo, Icoca in Osaka, Kitaca in Hokkaido, etc.. So it depends on the region in Japan you first arrive by plane.

One thing to keep in mind : If you want to return your IC card for a cash refund of your remaining card balance at the end of the trip, you would need to return it in the same region you purchased it from. So if you bought your Pasmo card in Tokyo, you will need to return it in Tokyo for a refund.

What Are the Different Types of a Specific IC Card I Should Purchase?

Depending on the IC card you choose, there could be a few different types to pick from. Let’s use Pasmo as an example, and look at the different types of Pasmo cards you could purchase :

  • Blank Pasmo : This card may be purchased by anyone and used to pay for public transport at an Adult ticket price. It is highly recommended for tourists and visitors to Japan. If lost, this card cannot be reissued.
  • Personalized Pasmo : Same as a Blank Pasmo, except you have to register your personal details (like name, date of birth, gender, phone number) at the time of purchase. Only the person whose name is on the card may use it. If lost, it may be reissued with a fee.
  • Child Pasmo : This card is for a child age 6 to 11 (kids under age 6 ride for free), and it helps pay for public transit at a Child ticket price. You must register the child’s personal information with this card as well as provide proof of age (age 6 or younger). If it is lost, it can be re-issued with a fee.
  • Pasmo Passport : This card is similar to the Blank Pasmo, however only available to foreign visitors to Japan, will expire after 28 days of use, and also provides special discounts to some attractions, restaurants, and shops.

How Do I Buy a Pasmo or Suica card in Japan?

Step 1 : You can buy your IC card at any ticket vending machine located near the ticket gates. They have either the ‘Suica’ or ‘Pasmo’ or ‘IC Card’ label on the machine.

  • If you want to buy a Suica card, look for the ticket vending machines at the train station. These machines have a ‘Suica’ label on top of the machine, and are recognizable by their green and white colors.
  • If a Pasmo card is what you want, look for ticket vending machines at any Tokyo metro station. These machines have a ‘Pasmo’ label on top of the machine, and are recognizable by their pink color.

Step 2 : Select the language you prefer. Most machines have an English option, which will make it easier for foreign tourists to navigate.

Step 3 : Let’s assume you want to buy a Pasmo card. Look for the option ‘Purchase a New Pasmo’. The button for this option is located on the main screen with the Pasmo logo.

Step 4 : The machine will ask you to click on ‘Yes’ if you don’t already own another IC card, such as a Pasmo, Suica, Icoca, or other smart transit cards). Click ‘Yes’.

Step 5 : You will be asked if you want to purchase a blank Pasmo or a registered Pasmo. In this case, we will click to buy a blank Pasmo. (See section above for differences between the 2 types)

Step 6 : Select the amount of money you want to put into the card. Note that there is a one-time-only deposit fee of 500 yen when a brand-new card is purchased. So if you want to put 5,000 yen into the card, make sure you enter the amount as 5,500 yen instead.

Most machines offer pre-set options for charging the card (1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen, or 10,000 yen), but you can also select a custom amount.

Step 7 : Insert the money or card payment into the machine. Some machines accept cash only, while others accept credit cards as well. If you are using cash, insert the bills and coins one at a time.

Step 8 : Take the Pasmo/Suica card that is dispensed from the machine. Any change results from the transaction will also be dispensed into a separate tray for you to collect.

Step 9 : That’s it! Now you can use it immediately to pay for public transportation fares and daily purchases at convenience stores, vending machines, small shops, and even at large department stores. All with ease.

How Do I Use My Pasmo/Suica Card at the Train and Metro Station?

Step 1 : Locate the entrance gate to your train line or subway line inside the station. These gates are typically where you need to either insert your paper ticket into the machine’s slot or use your IC card to get through.

Step 2 : Hold your Pasmo/Suica card over the card reader on the gate. The card reader is usually located on the right-hand side of the gate, and is marked with a ‘IC’ logo.

Step 3 : Wait for the gate doors to open. The IC card reader will make a sound and display the remaining balance on your card. Once the gate opens, you can walk through and proceed to the train or subway platform.

Step 4 : When you arrive at your destination, exit the train or metro and locate the exit gate. These gates are usually marked with a sign that says “Exit” or “Ticket Gate”.

Step 5 : Tap your card on the IC card reader on the right side of the exit gate, or hold the card over the reader. You will hear a sound, and the gate will open instantly. Also, the fare for your trip will be automatically calculated and deducted from the balance on your card. This will be shown on the small display on the gate as you pass it.

Step 6 : If you don’t have enough funds on your card to pay for your ride, you can recharge it (add more money to it) at any ticket vending machine nearby before you exit the gate. Simply follow the instructions on the vending machine to add funds to your card.

How Do I Add Money to My IC Card?

You could add money to your IC card with cash or credit card. However, cash is the easiest and most convenient way, as you could do this at countless ticket vending machines at any train or metro station.

To add money to an IC card with a credit card, you might need to find specific ticket machines that accept credit cards, or go to a Tokyo Metro ticket counter of JR ticket office and ask the staff to help you with it.

Pasmo IC card rechargeable with cash at IC ticket vending machines at train and metro stations in Tokyo

Below is the step-by-step guide on how to easily recharge your Pasmo card with cash :

Step 1 : Locate a ticket vending machine at a train or metro station. These are usually located near every ticket gate. Choose those that have a ‘Pasmo’ or ‘IC’ logo on it.

Step 2 : Select the language you prefer. Most machines have multiple language options, which makes it easier for non-Japanese speakers to use.

Step 3 : Insert your Pasmo card

Step 4 : Look for the option called ‘Recharge IC Card’ on the main menu screen

Step 5 : Choose the amount of money you want to add to your PASMO card. The machine will usually display pre-set amounts that you can choose from (1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen, or 10,000 yen), or you can select a custom amount.

Note that the maximum allowed balance on a Pasmo card is 20,000 yen. If you insert more money than that amount, the extra change will be automatically returned to you.

Step 6 : Insert cash into the machine

Step 7 : Wait for the machine to process your payment. The remaining balance on your card, including the new amount you added, will be displayed on the screen. Any change will be dispensed into a tray on the machine for you to collect.

Step 8 : Take your PASMO card from the machine slot. It is now recharged with money and ready to use!

How Do I Check the Current Balance on My IC Card?

Your card balance can easily be seen on the small display at the IC card reader after you pass through the train or metro gate.

It is also displayed on the cash register screen at convenience stores or shops when you tap the card to pay for goods.

You can also check your balance at the ticket vending machines (those with the ‘IC’ label on it) at train or metro stations.

Where Can I Recharge my IC card?

You can recharge, or add money to your card, at any ticket vending machine (those with the ‘IC’ label or sticker on them) or ticket counter in train or metro stations, or even at convenience stores anywhere in Japan.

Does My IC Card Expire?

Yes, your IC card will expire if it is not used in 10 years. If you use it in Japan and re-visit 9 years later, your IC card will still be functional and ready for immediate use then.

Only when you don’t use it for 10 years straight, it will expire on its own, and you will need to purchase a new IC card if you ever need one again.

If I Lost My IC Card, Can I Have It Reissued?

If you get a blank Pasmo card (non-personalized card) and it is lost, there is no reissuing.

If you get a personalized Pasmo card on which your personal info (name, date of birth, gender, phone number) is stored, then yes, it can be reissued with a service fee of 550 yen.

The only time when a blank Pasmo can be reissued is when it’s damaged and cannot be used at the stations.

Can I Move My Remaining Balance from one IC Card (PASMO) to another IC Card (Suica)?

No, each type of cards is created by a different company with a different operating network, therefore balances cannot be transferred between them.

Instead of the Actual Physical Card, Can I Use the Digital Version of Pasmo or Suica on my Mobile Phone Apps?


Adding the digital Pasmo or Suica card app into your Apple Wallet or Google Pay is a great and convenient way to pay. You can use your debit or credit card to conveniently load money into the digital Pasmo or Suica on your phone. Then, instead of using the physical card, just hover your phone over the IC card reader at the ticket gate in train or metro stations, and your fares will automatically be calculated and deducted from the app.

Suica Smart Transit Card app in Apple Wallet, rechargeable with debit and credit cards when needed

However, note that this might not be easy for tourists with foreign Visa cards not originally issued in Japan. There is a recent known issue where many Japanese websites and services are unable to accept non-Japanese Visa credit cards. If you fall into this case, try using MasterCard or American Express credit cards to add money to your digital Pasmo or Suica card instead, and you should be fine.

If I Don’t Use Up the Balance on my Pasmo or Suica Card, Can I Return it for a Cash Refund?

Yes! At the end of your trip, if you still have money on your IC card, you can return it to get your card balance + the original 500 yen deposit in cash.

Note that you must return the card in the same Japanese region as the one you originally purchased the card in. For example, if you bought your Pasmo card in Tokyo, you will need to return the card for a refund in Tokyo.

For Pasmo card : return your card for a refund by going to any metro ticket office or metro ticket vending machine in Tokyo. Since there is no refund service fee, whatever amount is left on your Pasmo card, you get it back in cash plus the initial deposit of 500 yen.

For Suica card : return the card at any JR East ticket office or JR ticket vending machine in train station in Tokyo. However, with Suica, there is a 220 yen processing fee, which is taken out from your card balance first, then the 500-yen initial deposit is added to your balance and returned to you.

So, for example : If you return your Suica which carries the card balance of 2,000 yen, then after subtracting 220-yen processing fee, the card balance is now 1,780 yen. Then add the 500-yen initial deposit to it makes 2,280 yen cash total. This is the amount to be refunded in cash to you.

If your Suica card balance is 220 yen at the time of refund, then subtract 220 yen = 0 yen left in the card. Then add 500-yen initial deposit = 500 yen is returned to you.

If your Suica card balance is 0 yen, then there is nothing to subtract 220 yen from. Then add 500 yen from deposit = 500 yen to be returned to you.

If I there is a question you’d love to ask and don’t see it here, feel free to email me at

Wonder what other awesome tips you could get in order to navigate Tokyo and Japan in general smoothly and stress-free, with or without a JR Pass ? Read my “12 Ultimate Tips for Taking Tokyo’s Public Transport With Ease” post here.

Wonder what this JR Pass everyone talks about all the time is? More importantly, if getting a JR Pass would be a good idea and save you a lot of money on transportation costs? Get concise and practical answers here in my “Japan Rail Pass : Answers to All Your Questions, and Is It Worth Buying? post.

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