Getting a credit card in Japan

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.

2. Income

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.

  • 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!

  • Francesca

    I have only been in the country for 4.5 months and have been rejected for 2 creditcards now (JAL and Rakuten). Both my husband and I have good, permanent, jobs with very good salaries (I thought that is better than a spouse visa, but Japan does not seem to agree), but is the short tenure preventing us from getting any card? We both have 5-year visas.

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Hi Francesca, good to have you here. I am 99.9% sure this is down to the fact you have only been in Japan 5 months. I also don’t believe your tenure is short at all – 5 years is pretty long for a first visa in Japan. I would stick with applying to Rakuten, but maybe give it another couple of months before then next try. As international as they are, they are still going to be a little cautious of any applications that come in before at least 6 months here. Maybe send them an email and ask what their current requirements are – they may be able to offer some useful advice.

      • Francesca

        Hi Robert,

        Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately my Japanese language skills are practically non-existent. I have asked colleagues to help with various things in Japanese, but also feel I cannot bother them every time. Perhaps I indeed try again in a few months (does that really work? It is not a matter of “once rejected, always rejected”)?


        • Nagoya-info Robert

          Don’t worry too much about the Japanese skills, especially if applying for the Rakuten card as they are officially and all-English company now. If applying to others then some basic Japanese is useful. Do try them again, every 2-3 months or so as they will probably get the message you really want a card with them. In response to your final question – absolutely not. They will not blacklist you. It’s likely there was a condition you didn’t quite meet this time that will you will the next. As I mentioned before, this is more than likely due to the short time you have been here and nothing else.

          • Francesca

            We just got approved for Amex cards! The trick was that we used them already in the UK and could apply for a “transfer”, which means they could refer to our track record in the UK. May be a tip for others too!

          • Nagoya-info Robert

            Great news!
            Yes this is a good tip. I wonder is all companies have the option to transfer??

  • Kalani

    Hey Robert, Thanks for posting this article. It will be extremely helpful when I do apply for a credit card. As of right now, I am mainly troubled as to which card to apply for. I am looking for a card that can help me to earn flier miles for my family and I. I researched ANA and Rakuten but I still do not know which one would offer better benefits and lower annual fees. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks

    • Nagoya-info Robert

      Hi Kalani. As far as I know, Rakuten offer two cards – a regular with no annual fees and a gold for around 10000 Yen ($120) a year. The benefit of the Gold is that you can use priority lounges around the world (separate priority card application required but free) at major airports for free. Saying that, it’s not airport lounges you are after, right? lol. ANA looks like a good option. If not ANA directly then another card which also earns ANA miles might work for you. I found this on their homepage – a list of credit cards you can earn ANA miles on:
      I would also look in the JAL (Japan Airlines card) if earning miles is the most important factor in choosing a card – all in Japanese unfortunately: