Using a prepaid IC card in Japan is a guaranteed way to make your trip easier.

They’ll save you time, money, and most importantly, the embarrassment of lost tickets. But travelers who want to use IC cards in Tokyo always end up asking one important question about them: Which is better Pasmo or Suica? Not to worry, we’re here with the lowdown on the Pasmo vs Suica debate.

The latest on IC cards in Japan

In 2023, a worldwide chip shortage caused the temporary suspension of sales of all new Pasmo and Suica IC cards in Japan. This means that at the moment you can’t buy a new blank or registered Suica or Pasmo. However, you can still buy commuter passes, virtual IC cards, and the special tourist-only Welcome Suica and Pasmo Passport.

Suggested Activity
10% off Travel WiFi from NINJA WiFi
Save money on wifi rental from NINJA WiFi, one of Japan's leading pocket wifi providers, with 20% off the regular price for Tokyo Cheapo readers!

But, as with many things, the situation is always changing. As of our latest update, February 2024:

  • The Welcome Suica is only available for purchase online or at Haneda Airport
  • Regular Suica cards are available at Narita Airport and at travel service centers at major JR stations. But they are only for short term visitors
  • The Pasmo Passport is only available at ticket offices at Haneda Airport, not at ticket machines
  • At the moment the ¥500 issuing fee for the Pasmo Passport is being waived
  • Toica cards were available at Tokyo Station for a while, but now the sales are suspended
    • What are Suica and Pasmo IC cards?

      Suica and Pasmo cards are types of prepaid train card in Japan. They work similarly to smart travel cards in other parts of the world — you preload money and then tap them on a reader whenever you pass through ticket gates. Basically, they save you the trouble of buying (and potentially losing) tickets. And you can also use IC cards in Japan to shop at certain stores (including convenience stores), buy drinks at vending machines, and even pay for coin lockers.

      Pasmos and Suicas are just one type of IC card available in Japan. They both cover the Tokyo area, but are operated by different companies. Other parts of Japan have their own IC train cards, run by different companies. The good news is though, that for the most part all these different IC cards still work Japan wide. So yes, you could use your Suica card in Osaka.

      Why you should consider getting an IC card in Japan

      Buying train tickets or travel cards
      Grab yourself an IC card in Japan and skip the lines at ticket machines. | Photo by iStock.com/501room

      We can’t emphasize enough how handy IC cards are. Yes, you can skip confusing ticket machines and the side-eyes of salarymen as you search every pocket in vain for your ticket stub. But there’s more to IC cards than that. Here are some other great reasons you need to get one:

      • Time-saving: Changing train lines 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-saving: Suica and Pasmo cards offer a marginal discount on every journey. For example, you’ll save from ¥1 to around ¥10 on a trip from Shinjuku to Asakusa (depending on which route you take). It may not be much, but it adds up! You also won’t lose money by accidentally buying the wrong tickets.
      • Flexible: Because you don’t specify a location when boarding a train or bus with a Suica or Pasmo card, you have more flexibility. 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, IC train cards in Japan can also be used for vending machines, coin lockers, and in plenty of shops (especially convenience stores).
      • Long-term: If you’re staying in Tokyo for a while, you can register your Suica or Pasmo card. This means if your IC card is lost or stolen, you can get the balance transfered to a new card. You can also use a registered card to buy a commuter pass.
      • Tourist bonus: There is a ‘Welcome Suica’ card and a ‘Pasmo Passport’ only available to short-term visitors to Japan (more on these below).

      Suica vs. Pasmo: What’s the difference?

      Suica Pasmo Travel IC Card
      Pasmo vs. Suica: The age-old rivalry. | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

      To be perfectly honest, there isn’t a big difference between Suica and Pasmo IC cards. The main difference is that they are managed by different companies — Suica cards are managed by JR East, while Pasmo cards are managed by non-JR Lines, including Tokyo Metro and Keikyu Electric Railway. However both cards can be used on train lines run by other operators. For example, you can use your Suica on a Tokyo Metro Line or your Pasmo on a JR Line without issue.

      So, which do you get? Sometimes, the smallest decisions are the hardest to make — so here’s a table to help!

      FeatureSuicaPasmo
      Refundable card deposit¥500¥500
      Initial minimum charge amount¥1,500¥500
      Where to purchaseJR stationsPrivate stations
      Where to chargeAll stationsAll stations
      Can it be registered?YesYes
      Replacement fee¥510¥510
      Return fee¥220*¥0
      Use outside TokyoMultipleMultiple

      *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 

      Suica vs. Pasmo: Which train card should I buy?

      Essentially, Pasmo and Suica cards are identical. The only real consideration is if you need a commuter pass, as daily work 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 and you might not find out until you get there.

      tl;dr: It doesn’t really make much of a difference, but if you are only staying for a few weeks and know in your heart of hearts you won’t remember to return your card for the ¥500, we suggest the deposit-free Welcome Suica. The regular cards can easily be bought at machines in train station.

      Specifically for short-term visitors to Japan

      Both Suica and Pasmo have special IC cards for short-term visitors to Japan. The Welcome Suica is a blossom-themed card while the Pasmo Passport features Sanrio characters. Like regular Suica and Pasmo cards they’re not too different from each other — both automatically expire after 28 days and you cannot return them for a refund. Yes, that means you’ll lose whatever balance remains at the end of the 28 days. The Welcome Suica has no deposit but doesn’t have associated discounts, while the Pasmo Passport has a ¥500 issuing fee but entitles you to discounts at participating businesses.

      Suggested Activity
      Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND) Airport Limousine Bus Transfer
      Some cheap luxury to welcome you when you arrive at the aiport in Tokyo. A great option if you have luggage, but don't have the budget for a taxi.

      What else you need to know about Suica

      a suica card
      Get a Suica if you like penguins.  | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

      For a full break down of everything Suica related, check out our dedicated Suica IC card guide. It has the answers to all your questions, including information on children’s Suica cards and virtual Suica cards.

      Everthing else you need to know about Pasmo

      Pasmo card
      Pink is for Pasmo. | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

      Ditto Pasmo — we’ve got your information needs covered in our full guide to Pasmo cards.

      Video on how to buy and use Suica and Pasmo cards

      Bonus: Turn foreign coins into IC card cash

      If you have any foreign currency you want to get rid of, or you want another option for topping up your IC card in Japan, you can always use a Pocket Change machine. These machines — which are dotted around the country — collect your foreign coins and transfer them into digital cash and vouchers in yen form. They support both Suica and Pasmo services and even take 1 yen and 5 yen coins. They’re a worthwhile way to make use of miscellaneous coins collected along your travels.

      Frequently asked questions about IC cards in Japan

      Can I use a Suica or Pasmo card in Kyoto?

      Yes, you can. Suica cards can be used in most areas of Japan, including the old capital and its merchant neighbor, Osaka. Pasmo cards also have a wide range, which includes Kyoto.

      Pro tip: If you’re planning to head that way, see our Tokyo to Kyoto transport guide for a few money-saving tips.

      How do I refund an IC card in Japan?

      This is one of the times when it actually does matter whether you have a Suica or a Pasmo card. Both cards can be returned for refunds of the ¥500 deposit, but you have to return them to the right place. Suica cards need to be returned to a JR Ticket Office, while Pasmo cards need to be returned at a non-JR Line Station Office, for example at a Tokyo Metro Station.

      Which IC card in Japan is the best?

      When it comes to the Pasmo vs. Suica debate, there’s no clear winner. They’re both super convenient and will definitely make your life easier. The only time it will really matter is if you need to buy a commuter pass.

      As for IC cards in the rest of Japan, the regional versions are also great and work all over Japan just like the Suica and Pasmo do.

      While we do our best to make sure it is correct, the information in this post is subject to change. Post first published in April, 2017. Last updated by Maria Danuco in February 2024.

Ask our local experts about Tokyo

Get our Tokyo Cheapo Hacks direct to your inbox

Watch this next