Getting a credit card in Japan

Is really not an easy thing to do……

So why is so much to effort to get your hands on a credit card in Japan when they are practically throwing them at you back home?

The difficulty in getting hold of a credit card stems from the idea that a foreigner with a credit card in Japan is a liability, capable of upping and leaving without notice, abandoning unpaid debt. In fact, it is for this reason that in most cases you will get turned down for a card, unless you have been working steadily at the same place for at least 3 years.

In my case, I had been refused for 3 applications before on the 4th I finally got accepted. Financially I wasn’t earning a great deal, about Y3.5 million a year, but it was considered enough to meet their conditions to advance me on to the next stages of acceptance. I had been working at a company for exactly 3 years at that time, something I had to prove.

It’s then common for credit companies to call your place of work to confirm details about you and your time working there. I got call part way through the application to say they had called my office but nobody had answered and that they would try again and continue the assessment once they had got in contact. Thankfully they did and all was finally settled that I got the elusive card.

Factors that affect the success of your Credit Card Application:

1. Type of Visa

It seems you would have more chance of getting accepted if you are on a ‘spouse visa’ than on a regular working visa. Tourist = no chance and working holiday, little. The more secure your status appears, the greater the chances of success.

2. Income

Most applications require you to prove your income before being accepted. Where as it’s not important that you be a high earner, having a steady salary, with a base of Y3million+ yearly is required.

3. Japanese ability

This may sound discriminatory but being at least conversational in the language is a helping factor when going through the application process. It’s quite obvious if somebody else has filled the application out for you. in which case the issuing company may assume you have little ability with the language reflective of intentions to leave Japan. They will call you at least once to confirm details of the application and your workplace and if you cannot converse with the operator, the application may hit a sticking point.

4. Years working

As mentioned above, this can be a crucial factor if you don’t have permanent residency, a spouse visa or a 正社員(せいしゃいん/seishain/full-time company employee status). Think 3 years working at one company as standard. This is not always fact but in many cases has seemed to apply.

Tips for being accepted:

1. Be thorough

When applying don’t be sloppy with the application and make sure everything is filled out exactly as they want it and you provide everything they ask for. Be specific about dates, your company, your position and salary as they will be most likely be checking up on this.

2. Japanese assistance

Not to be confused with the point above. Get a Japanese friend to help (but not actually write for you) fill out the application to make sure everything is in order and you have understood the small print. Try and get some confidence in Japanese before applying too. At least be familiar with some of the terms on the application as they most likely will ask you questions related to these when they call you.

3. Don’t give up if you get turned down

It can also be one of those ‘hit and hope’ situations where you may get accepted on your very first try. I had a friend who got very lucky on his first attempt after being here less than a year. It’s better to think of 3 years in the same place as being a standard as mentioned before, in Japan this indicates stability.

4. Try different cards

There are so many different cards on offer, not only those offered by your bank. Aeon shopping centres, Gold Gyms, Department stores (Parco, Mitsukoshi) are just a places you may frequent often and will often have application desks set up. If you use Rakuten to shop on-line, there is no harm in applying for a card at the same time (they are in the process internationalising the company and have a Japanese web page in English). Depending on the time of year, need to collect customers, conditions required etc, some cards can be easier to get accepted for than others.

Good luck with your card application.

  • cpwise2003

    why would you want a credit card? The japanese were more correct when they didnt have them at all while nations here in the west were building personal mountains of debt. I prefer Japan as they are, moving cautiously with every applicant for a credit card. they are so sensible.

  • Joe

    Why wouldn’t he want a credit card. Its simply more convenient.

  • Jodel_ans

    Thanks for your tips… I’ll try to get a credit card… Hope your tips will help..

    • Robert

      Good luck!!!

  • Alfred Rodriguez

    From the other side of the coin – Ive lived in Japan for 15-yrs, before moving to the US quite recently. I have had 4 credit cards (three of them premium GOLD – JCB, Citibank and AMEX, with one being a “standard” for daily use). My first credit card was from JCB, which was granted when I was only a student in a university.

    Here in the US? Two months down the road – cant get a credit card. And without a credit card, no credit history. No credit history – cannot get a CELLPHONE! What the hell is that? I told the provider Im willing to provide a deposit as collateral, no can do…

    Which is more difficult or discriminatory? The US? Or Japan? At least in Japan, without a credit history – you could still live your life. Here in the US – without one, you are practically near helpless. No cellphone, no car, no insurance, etc. In spite of Americans laden with LOTS of DEBT!

    On the other hand – was able to transfer my Gold AMEX from Japan to the US (only AMEX allows that), but still, with AMEX being a “charge card,” it is not much help in building a credit score.

    Note: A FICO score of at least 750 is required to apply for a Gold AMEX; but in spite of that, I cant get a cellphone plan.

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Hi Alfred. That sounds like a tough situation. I think the financial crises of the last few years doesn’t help. Lending and loaning is as easy as before for sure.

      I think Japan is getting looser or at least making it easier for foreigners get credit cards. I’ve been here for almost 9 years now and have 3 cards, a gold included.

      The first one was hard to get but the longer you stay, especially if you don’t keep changing companies, the easier it seems to become. It also seems to help after or if you can get hired as a 正社員 or “regular employee”. In Japan, this seems like a huge factor as the company you work for is essentially taking you on as one of their own.

      Rakuten is a really good way to go if you want a credit card here in Japan. I know of a few people who have been here just a short time and managed to get a card with them.

  • john76

    I applied for 6 cards:
    JP Post Bank – rejected
    Mitsui Outlet Park – rejected
    Rakuten visa – rejected
    JCB – rejected even after they called me to check my details
    SBI Mastercard – rejected
    AEON Visa – accepted after they called me and my employer to check details! 400,000 Yen limit (300,000 Yen cashing even though I asked for zero)
    So keep trying! Lived in Japan for 3.5 years, same company (despatch worker) for 3+ years, same address 3+ years. Have PR but they don’t know that because it’s not a question on the form. Have J-spouse but, again, they don’t know that.

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Hi John. Interesting……They say that having PR makes a huge difference to getting “trust” in Japan. But as you rightly mention, there are no questions asking for residence status on application forms. I wonder how much the employer and income hold weight? I found it very difficult to get a card before, but being with my current employer, I haven’t experienced a rejection. Glad you got the AEON card though, probably one of the more useful ones if you do a lot of shopping there.

  • Ana

    Hi there.. I applied rakuten card and they approved my CC , i cant believe they approved my application because i’m just arrived last March 2014. I have a 1yr japanese spouse visa.. Good experience for the first timer like me…after i got my rakuten CC i tried to apply in saison international but they rejected my application..

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Hi Ana I really think Rakuten are the way to go. They are super foreigner friendly, although I do believe the spouse visa helps (did you have to declare that on application?). Saison are a lot more traditional I’m not surprised you were turned down. Rakuten are good though – Good job!

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  • Rein

    I just applied for aeon visa credit card. Fingers crossed!

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Good Luck!