Is really not an easy thing to do……
So why is it 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 worked steadily at the same company or organisation 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 requirements and advance me on to the next stages of acceptance. I had worked 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 a call part way through the application to say they had called my office and that 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. I got the elusive card and it felt like winning the lottery.
Factors that affect the success of your Credit Card Application:
1. Type of Visa
It seems you have more chance of getting accepted if you are on a ‘spouse visa’ than on a regular working visa; in other words you are married. A “Tourist visa” = no chance (understandably) and a “Working holiday visa”, little. The more secure your status is on paper, the greater the chances of success. Those with “Long-term-residence status”(永住権) have no such problems at all, but to even apply for this class of visa requires either 10 consecutive years stay in Japan, 3 years of being married to a Japanese national or Nobel Prize level contributions to the Japan economy.
Most applications require you to prove your income before being accepted. Where as it’s not that important that you be a high earner, having a steady salary, with a base of 3 million Yen or more a year seems to be 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 your skill in the language is reflective of your intentions to be in Japan short-term. They will call you and your workplace at least once to confirm details of the application, 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 a standard requirement. This is not always the case, but again seems a rule of thumb.
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 that 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 factor 3 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 may be that you strike it lucky on your very first application, but it may also be that it takes a few attempts. Keep trying. I had a friend who got very lucky on his first attempt after being here less than a year. Like me it might take some persistence. Again, the number of years you are here, stability in a job and employment status can all contribute to your success.
4. Try different cards
There are so many 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 globalizing the company and have all instructions now 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.