Buying a re-loadable IC card for train and bus travel around Tokyo can save you time, money and most importantly, the embarrassment of lost tickets and flashing rejection from the ticket gates. Here’s the lowdown on Pasmo and Suica cards, with photo instructions on how to purchase and use them.
Tickets are the worst: working out the place, the price and then remembering where you put the tiny piece of paper 25 minutes ago does not add to the fun of traveling. Luckily, to help with the crazy queues and busy rush hours of Tokyo trains and buses, smart cards have been created to give smooth access to all lines in Tokyo—and beyond. Pasmo and Suica are the two types of Tokyo IC cards available, but can be used in many other areas of Japan too. They are basically the same thing, but offered by two different companies (more on this later).
Why you should consider Pasmo and Suica cards
If the confusing machines or the side-eye of salarymen as you search every pocket in vain for your ticket stub isn’t enough to convince you, here are some other great reasons:
- Time-saver: Changing train lines to make a connection can be stressful enough, and having to buy a new ticket in between can be all it takes for you to miss your last train home.
- Money-saver: Aside from costs of buying the wrong tickets and losing them, IC cards offer a marginal discount on every journey, from ¥1 to around ¥10 on a trip from Shinjuku to Asakusa, for example (depending on which route you take). It may not be much, but it adds up!
- Flexibility: Because you don’t specify a location when boarding a train or bus with an IC card, you have more flexibility, so if you change your mind, or see something cool out of the window, you can hop off without worrying about having the the right ticket. Also great if you don’t know the exact bus stop and rely on following Google maps on your phone until it looks close!
- Shopping: Like their counterparts in other areas of Asia, Pasmo and Suica smart cards can also be used for vending machines, coin lockers and in plenty of shops (especially convenience stores), which can help when you don’t have enough change.
- Looking cool: Trying to impress? Shrugged off the giant backpack for a night out? Don’t be the one person in your new group of friends who has to go buy a ticket.
- Budgeting: It’s much easier to know where you are with your money when you can top up in larger increments rather than ¥140 here and ¥200 there. Just try not to lose the card.
- Long-term: If you’re staying in Tokyo for a while, you can register your card and use it for a commuter pass, which can be reassigned to a new card if the original is lost. (Registration can be done retroactively too). Registration also means you are far more likely to get it back if lost, as your name will clearly be printed on the front (so people won’t pocket it as quickly).
- Bonus: You may have to put down a ¥500 deposit, but you get it back when you return the card, making it free!
Decisions, decisions …
Assuming you are convinced that Pasmo and Suica cards are the Tokyo travel god’s gift to all, which do you get? Sometimes, the smallest decisions are the hardest to make—so here’s a table to help!
|Refundable Card Deposit||¥500||¥500|
|Initial Charge Amount||¥500||¥500|
|Purchase Locations||JR Stations||Private Stations|
|Charge Locations||All Stations||All Stations|
|Use outside Tokyo||Multiple – see map below||10 regions|
*The ¥220 is only deductible from leftover charge, not your deposit. If you return it with less than ¥220 on it, you will not pay the fee. #cheapowinning
So, basically they are identical. The only real consideration is if you need a commuter pass, as journeys on a JR line require a Suica and vice versa. The only semi-real consideration is if you have plans to travel to an unusual area, and it isn’t listed by Pasmo—but then it may not be covered by Suica either; you might not find out until you get there.
TL;DR: Buy whichever you see first, it doesn’t really make a difference (two years traveling on a Suica card never presented an issue for us, basically).
Team Suica: What you need to know
Purchasing: Suica cards can be purchased from any machine displaying the Suica symbol, and a deposit of ¥500 is retained from your cost of ¥1,000, with the remaining ¥500 being your available balance. The machines have English guidance and are very simple to use.
Charging: Machines are available on both sides of the gate at every JR East station. Regular ticket machines are outside the gates, and fare adjustment machines are inside. You can charge up to ¥20,000 at an automatic ticket machine and fare adjustment machine. Note: You cannot use credit cards.
Traveling: Suica is owned by JR East, and is a lot more helpful when it comes to identifying where you can use your card. They run on most other travel card systems, so for example if you see the ICOCA symbol down in West Japan or the Kitaca symbol up in Hokkaido, your Suica will also be accepted. In Tokyo, you can use it on the JR East lines in the metropolitan area, the subway, buses and on the monorail to Haneda Airport. Generally, if the card names end in ‘a’ it’s accepted, as well as on the Pasmo system. They even have a map:
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Replacing: If your card becomes invalid (which it will after 10 years of use), you can transfer the balance to a new card. Lost or damaged cards can also be replaced in the same way, but cards must be registered for this to be possible. Registration turns your card into a MySuica, and requires your name, gender and date of birth. Alternatively, you can record the number on the bottom right corner on the back of the card, so make a note of this when you purchase it. Head to a ticket office at a JR station and request a replacement card. The original card will be canceled and you can pick up your new card in 1-14 days from the same ticket booth. There is a fee of ¥510, and you must pay the ¥500 deposit again, so consider this against the amount left on the lost card, in case it isn’t worth it.
Returning: If you return your Suica card, there is a ¥220 fee, which is deducted from the balance on your card. It cannot, however, be deducted from you original ¥500 deposit, so it is better to return the card with as little as possible on it, so you can skip paying the fee. Note: If you purchased your Suica from the Tokyo Monorail, it can only be returned to them, not to JR East.
Pro tip: Buy your Suica card online and have it in your wallet before you arrive in Japan!
Photo guide for purchasing a blank Suica card
To buy a registered Suica, just follow the above steps and select “MySuica” in Stage 2, then input the necessary information (names, date of birth, gender and phone number) and confirm the information, and continue from Stage 3.
Photo guide for charging your Suica card
You can also put your card straight into the machine and select English in the top right corner of the screen, then continue from Stage 2.
Team Pasmo: What you need to know
Purchasing: Like Suica, Pasmo cards can be bought directly at Haneda or Narita Airports, meaning you can travel straight away. They can also be purchased at machines or service desks at private railway and subway stations, as well as bus depots. Ticket machines have English options and you can purchase the smart card easily, with options for registration presented immediately.
Charging: The machines are available in and outside of ticket gates, similar to Suica, with full English guidance available. They can also be charged at shops and (up to ¥1,000) on buses. Cards can be topped up in increments of ¥1,000, with some machines allowing coins to be used for smaller amounts. The maximum charge amount is ¥20,000. You can register for auto-charging with Pasmo, so when it runs out of cash, it will auto-charge as you pass through a gate.
Traveling: Aside from all over Tokyo, Pasmo can be used in 10 other areas of Japan, but only details Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka as examples. It can be used on trains and subways, as well as buses—which is useful in cities such as Kyoto. Look for stickers on buses to see if they accept IC cards; some require you to swipe when you step off as well as when you step on, but standard-fare buses like those in Kyoto only require one swipe.
Replacing: Named Pasmo cards and those with commuter passes can be returned if lost, but blank ones cannot. You must fill out a reissue application form and take ID to verify your identity—this can be done at any Pasmo sales office. You will be given a number ticket which you must keep and present with ¥1,010 in cash—¥500 of which is a new deposit and ¥510 is a processing fee. If you find a lost card, you can return it to an office and receive the ¥500 deposit back—however, it cannot be reactivated. Auto-charge details will be automatically carried over onto new cards.
Returning: There is no charge for returning Pasmo cards, so you will receive your full balance and ¥500 deposit back. If you refund a card with a commuter pass linked to it, there is a processing fee, but you will be given the refundable portion of the commuter pass, as well as your remaining balance and ¥500 deposit. It is possible to cancel only the commuter pass and keep the card active; you will be charged a processing fee but will receive the refundable amount of the commuter pass.
More information is available at: http://www.pasmo.co.jp/en/
Photo guide for purchasing a blank Pasmo card
To purchase a registered Pasmo, click the Registered Pasmo button and fill in the details.
Photo guide for charging your Pasmo card
You can also just put your card straight into the machine and select English in the top right corner of the screen, and continue from Stage 3!
This post was updated in May, 2018.
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