For travelers from abroad experiencing Japan’s wonders, having a smooth and convenient transportation system is essential. However, for those visiting Tokyo for the first time, the city’s vast and diverse railway network, along with the two prepaid card options—Suica and PASMO—may initially seem confusing. In this article, we’ll break down Suica and PASMO for international visitors exploring Japan and Tokyo, making it easier for you to navigate the city’s transportation options.
There are as many as ten types of transportation prepaid cards available in Japan, but in Tokyo, you can purchase two main cards: Suica and PASMO.
Tokyo’s railway network is known as one of the most intricate in the world, with numerous railway companies operating in the Tokyo metropolitan area, as listed below:
Some railways have limited through-service, but generally, when transferring to a different railway company, you would need a new ticket each time, which can be cumbersome. However, Suica and PASMO are here to free you from this hassle.
Suica is a rechargeable prepaid card sold by JR East, while PASMO is jointly sold by other railway companies. Despite having different sellers, both cards can be used for all public transportation in Tokyo, including trains and buses. By preloading money onto the card and tapping it at station gates or when boarding a bus, you can enjoy smooth transitions. Additionally, you can use them at various restaurants, shops, convenience stores, and vending machines. Since Suica and PASMO offer the same convenience, you can simply choose based on your preferred design.
Unlike Suica and PASMO cards intended for residents of Japan, Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT for foreign visitors to Japan have no differences other than the 28-day validity period. However, as of the time of writing this article, sales of Suica and PASMO cards for Japanese residents have been suspended due to the international semiconductor supply shortage, making them unavailable for purchase. Nevertheless, Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT for foreign visitors to Japan are still available for purchase, so you can rest assured.
Keep in mind, though, that the availability of these cards for foreign visitors is limited to certain locations, and there might be instances where you cannot purchase them immediately when needed. Therefore, upon arrival at Haneda Airport or Narita Airport, it is highly recommended to purchase them promptly. Be aware that there might be waiting lines for purchases, causing delays.
Note that there are also Suica and PASMO cards specifically designed for children under 12 years old. These cards automatically provide a 50% discount on fares.
Either Welcome Suica or PASMO PASSPORT is generally OK. You can choose based on your preference for the design on the card. However, if you are arriving at Narita Airport and your first usage involves JR East’s Narita Express (limited express) or Keisei Electric Railway’s Keisei Skyliner (limited express), it’s more convenient to opt for Welcome Suica for the former and PASMO PASSPORT for the latter. Details will be explained below.
Upon arrival at Haneda Airport, you have three ways to reach the center of Tokyo:
Both the Tokyo Monorail and the Keikyu Line accept both Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT, so either card will work. However, for the highway bus, you generally cannot use Welcome Suica or PASMO PASSPORT, as you need to purchase tickets in advance from vending machines or ticket booths.
In case of Narita Airport, there are five ways to travel from Narita Airport to the center of Tokyo, and it’s a bit intricate, requiring attention:
As mentioned earlier, the railway system in the Tokyo area is dominated by more than ten different railway companies. When you navigate through this intricate network and use multiple rail lines, you’re required to purchase tickets separately for each individual railway company.
If you’re arriving from Haneda Airport, when you reach Hamamatsucho Station by taking the Tokyo Monorail, or if you arrive at a station where you need to transfer from the Keikyu Line to another line, if you don’t have a Welcome Suica or PASMO PASSPORT, you will need to find a ticket machine again to purchase a ticket. While at Haneda Airport, there are guides proficient in languages, it’s unlikely that such guides will be available at other stations.
In reality, a significant number of foreign visitors to Japan encounter difficulties. For instance, when they disembark from the Keisei Skyliner at Nippori Station or Ueno Station after arriving at Narita Airport, they have to purchase new tickets when transferring to JR East’s lines or the Tokyo Metro subway, leading to scenes of long queues and struggles with large luggage.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Tokyo is a city where you can’t get by without a Welcome Suica or PASMO PASSPORT. Once you arrive at the airport, I strongly recommend purchasing one right away to make your Tokyo life more comfortable.
PASMO PASSPORT can be purchased not only at the airport but also at the following stations. However, as mentioned above, I strongly recommend purchasing it at the airport.
PASMO PASSPORT cannot be purchased at the ticket vending machines; it must be obtained at a staffed counter.
Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT can be charged at ticket machines in any station, whether operated by JR East or other railway companies. Multilingual menus are available, so please select your preferred language and proceed with the operation. You can charge up to a maximum of 20,000 yen on Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT.
We, the Hello Volunteers, an organization born from TOKYO 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, extend our warmest welcome to your visit to Japan! The allure of breathtaking tourist spots, rich culture, and exquisite cuisine awaits you, promising heartwarming experiences.
Our volunteers, well-versed in international sports events, are here to assist you according to your preferences. Whether guiding you through stations and tourist destinations or providing support on the usage of Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT as mentioned earlier, we are fully prepared to help with transportation-related matters.
Feel free to reach out to the Hello Volunteers. We’re here to ensure your stay in Japan is even more fulfilling. We’re excited to contribute to your journey of creating unforgettable memories during your wonderful trip to Japan!
For other inquiries, please send them to the following email address.