Life without a credit card can be hard, we know. But getting a credit card in Japan can be a real challenge too. So what’s a cheapo to do? Fortunately, you can get “prepaid credit cards” in Japan—both Visa and Mastercard, rechargeable and once-off types. Some of them you can even pick up or charge at your local convenience store.
We’ll tell you all about the rechargeable plastic, as these cards are generally the most convenient credit card alternatives for long-term residents of Japan. We’ll also take a quick look at some other cards, including the once-off “gift credit cards”.
First, a few notes: Neither the rechargeable cards nor the gift cards require a credit check. The minimum age to use a prepaid credit card in Japan generally seems to be 13. Oh, and you can’t use prepaid cards to build a credit history/rating.
Note: If you’re a tourist who has stumbled across this article, you’re better off using a credit card (or alternative) from your own country of residence. While you might be able to use a “gift” card, you won’t be able to sign up for a rechargeable prepaid credit card in Japan. You can, however, get a Suica or Pasmo IC card for cashless payment at stores and easy access to trains and buses.
Prepaid credit cards in Japan (and some alternatives)
What follows is an overview of some of the major prepaid credit cards in Japan. This is by no means an exhaustive list—just a quick introductory guide. Some of these cards may be linked to point-based reward systems, or other kinds of customer incentive schemes.
We’ve also thrown in a few other types of cards, including an international debit card, limited-functionality credit card and a couple of deposit-based credit cards.
Most cards, whether physical or virtual (digital), can be used both in Japan and abroad, within their limitations. So, for example, if your card is restricted to online shopping only, you can (in theory, anyway) make purchases from local and international e-commerce sites that support Visa or Mastercard, but not in actual physical stores.
Prepaid credit cards in Japan typically cannot be used for subscriptions or other recurring payments (like rent), utility bills, highway tolls, or at gas stations. Many of them also cannot be used for online shopping where 3D Secure authentication is required.
Wise Debit Card
An international alternative to a prepaid credit card in Japan is the debit card from Wise (formerly TransferWise). Linked to the Wise multicurrency account (previously known as the borderless account), this debit card has been available to adult residents of Japan since January, 2021.
The multicurrency account is an electronic money account which you can use to hold money in 56 currencies, including Japanese yen. You can use the debit card for online shopping (in Japan and other countries), and in brick-and-mortar stores, paying at the real exchange rate, or using the currencies in your account. You can also use the debit card for ATM withdrawals abroad, but not currently in Japan. The card offers 3D Secure authentication for online shopping, which prepaid credit cards typically do not.
You can apply for the Wise Debit Card online or via the Wise app, in English. It takes all of five minutes if you already have a Wise account. It costs 1200 yen to have the card issued, and takes about 10 days to be delivered. While you are waiting for the physical card to arrive, you can start shopping online immediately with a virtual version.
Another prepaid Visa card, this one issued through the Life Card Company, the V-preca is for online shopping only (both local and international). It is a virtual card—there is no physical version.
V-preca cards cannot be recharged. They come in denominations of 500 yen to 30 000 yen, with a sales markup of about 200 yen. You can use multiple cards for one transaction, to a total of 100 000 yen.
You don’t need a bank account to get a V-preca card, there is no screening, and you can even use a nickname when purchasing it. You just need to complete a basic registration online, then pay for the card, or buy it from the ticketing terminal at a convenience store.
Each card is valid for 12 months, but if you don’t use it for 3 months, 125 yen will be deducted each month as a “dormant card maintenance fee”. You can also buy V-preca “gift cards” at some convenience stores. These don’t require registration. They’re plastic, but still virtual, so forget about swiping.
You can use a V-preca card for online shopping where 3D Secure authentication is required, using your V-preca login details.
Popular SIM provider Mobal has recently entered the Japan prepaid card market, launching the MobalPay card (which carries the Mastercard logo). It can be used for online and in-store payments, though you can’t use it to withdraw cash from an ATM.
While you don’t need a Japanese phone number or bank account to get a MobalPay card, and there is no minimum residence requirement, it does come with a ¥2,970 set-up fee and a ¥385/month subscription fee.
As of mid-November 2022, MobalPay was still in a testing phase, with a select number of early bird sign-ups eligible for a ¥5,000 cash bonus, as well as a lifetime discount on the card fees. Find out more.
Contract au customers, including au Hikari internet customers, can apply for an au Wallet Prepaid Card, which bears the Mastercard logo. You can apply online or at an au store—note that you will need to know Japanese for this, as well as the activation of the card.
The au Wallet card can be charged online or through the au app, as well as at au stores and convenience stores (just look for the au Wallet sign near the cash registers). It has the same limited functionality as other prepaid cards in Japan (i.e. you cannot use it for subscriptions, utilities, or to put gas in your car).
Pro tip: Read up on other cashless payment options in Japan, including Rakuten Edy, PayPay and nanaco.
SoftBank Prepaid Card
Contract SoftBank customers can apply for a prepaid card of their own—this one is a Visa card. You can apply for the card from your smart phone, and select a virtual or real card (linked to your T Points). As with au, the application process will require Japanese.
You can recharge your SoftBank Prepaid Card via the SoftBank app or at JP Post ATMs, and you can also set it to auto-recharge.
d Card Prepaid
Of course, there’s a prepaid card for Docomo accountholders too (note: you don’t actually need a contract to create an account). The d Card Prepaid, which is a Mastercard, can be recharged, and is linked to d Points. It’s issued through SMBC, and you can use it both online and offline. Applications happen online, in Japanese. Kids as young as 12 can apply. The maximum amount you can load onto the card is 300 000 yen.
Rakuten Virtual Prepaid Card
Rakuten offers a virtual prepaid card (a digital card) for online shopping, but only to existing Rakuten Card (credit card) customers. You can order a virtual prepaid card from the Rakuten e-NAVI portal.
Since the prepaid card can be used in the same way as a credit card, minus the actual credit or revolving payments part, we guess it could be useful for avoiding overspending, or for a teenage kid or your feline overlords.
Line Pay Prepaid Card
You can also get a Visa Line Pay prepaid card for online shopping. This is a virtual card that you can recharge. You can apply for the card from Line Pay, as long as you have a Line account registered with a Japanese phone number. Each account can only be linked to one virtual card.
You can add your Line Pay card to Apply Pay and Google Pay. When shopping online with your card, the spending limit is 100 000 yen per month or transaction, if you have a Line Cash account, but up to 1 million yen per transaction, with no monthly limit, for Line Money accounts.
Previously you could get a Line Pay card issued with the JCB logo instead of Visa; however, these are no longer being issued.
Gaica Flex Prepaid Card
The Gaica Flex Prepaid Card is available to SBI Shinsei Bank’s Power Flex account holders. You can apply for it right after opening your bank account at a branch, or you can apply online—it’s a simple process that can be completed in English. The portal which you’ll use to manage your Gaica card (load money, check statements and so on), is partly in Japanese, though, so be prepared for that.
The card, which can take a week or two to arrive, is linked to your SBI Shinsei bank account, and you can choose either manual or auto-charging. You can load money in five different currencies (USD, JPY, EUR, GBP or AUD), and you can use your Gaica online and in physical stores, both domestically and overseas. In our experience, the card is occasionally declined by some international online merchants, for unknown reasons. If this happens to you, you can call the English help line to find out what’s potting.
You can also use the card for overseas ATM withdrawals, though you need to notify the good Gaica people in advance if you intend to do that.
One disadvantage of Gaica Flex is that it’s not compatible with digital wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay.
The Vanilla Visa card is different from other prepaid Japanese credit cards (except for V-preca) in that you can purchase it at convenience stores and drug stores across the country. It’s called a “gift card” and is essentially a once-off Visa card that comes preloaded with either 3 000 yen or 10 000 yen. It cannot be recharged, so if you want to do more shopping, you’ll need to buy another one.
You can use the Vanilla card both online and in physical stores, in Japan and abroad, as long as Visa cards are accepted. Before using your Vanilla card for online shopping, you will need to complete initial setup. This is a quick and simple process, but it does require a Japanese mobile number.
Multi-pronged company GTN offers a limited credit card to their foreign customers in Japan. This includes people using the GTN Rent Guarantor or Real Estate Agent service, GTN Mobile, GTN Jobs, and their Specified Skilled Worker program. A requirement to apply for the card is that you have a visa valid for two months or longer.
Called GTN Epos, it is a Visa card that includes international travel insurance and Apple Pay support. It seems closer to a real credit card than a prepaid one, as you can make payments in instalments. You also need to link it to a Japanese bank account, and you have to go through a screening before being issued a card.
Deposit-based Japanese credit cards
Another option is to apply for a deposit-based credit card in Japan. Two names in this game are J-Trust and Life. These cards have more functionality than prepaid cards—they are closer to actual credit cards, so you can generally use them for a wider range of payments. However, deposit-based cards tend to have higher fees and lengthier application processes.
The deposit may be equal to your credit, but it’s made as a security guarantee, and cannot actually be used. You need to pay off your spending separately.
Note: You might also be able to apply for a debit card through your Japanese bank, but you’ll need to ask them directly about this.
Comparison of prepaid Japanese credit cards and alternatives
Here, we compare some of the cards mentioned above. We’ve skipped the ones that involve in-depth screenings or credit checks.
|Name of card||Plastic or virtual||Visa or Mastercard||Type of shopping||Apple Pay & Google Pay||Rechargeable||English support||Fees||3D Secure authentication||Link|
|Gaica Flex Prepaid||Plastic||Visa||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Neither||Yes||Yes||None||No||More info|
|Wise Debit Card||Plastic||Mastercard||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Both||Yes (debit card)||Yes||1200 yen||Yes||More info|
|V-preca||Virtual||Visa||Online||Neither||No||Limited||125 yen/month if card not used for 3 months||Yes||More info|
|au Wallet||Plastic||Mastercard||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Apple Pay. Ask about Google Pay.||Yes||Limited||None||No||More info|
|SoftBank Prepaid Card||Both||Visa||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Apple Pay. Ask about Google Pay.||Yes||Limited||None||Yes||More info|
|d Card Prepaid||Plastic||Mastercard||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Apple Pay. Ask about Google Pay.||Yes||No||None||Mastercard SecureCode||More info|
|Line Pay Prepaid Card||Virtual||Visa||Online/mobile payment||Both||Yes||Limited||None||Yes||More info|
|Vanilla Visa Gift Card||Plastic||Visa||Online and brick-and-mortar stores||Neither||No||Limited||None||No||More info|
Need to use Google Pay? See a list of cards that support Google Pay in Japan.