Japan is a unique country in more ways than one. One interesting aspect of their economy is that they are both extremely cash-centric and extremely expensive. Therefore you will need a lot of money on your person since things are expensive and you will only be able to pay using a credit card at a small set of stores. I would generally feel a bit uneasy carrying around massive amounts of cash in a foreign country but fortunately Japan is just about the safest country on earth.
Because you will ultimately take out a lot of cash when you visit Japan, it is critical to arm yourself with a debit card that does not charge a foreign transaction percentage fee or you will wind up with lots of unwanted fees. To complicate matters, it can be difficult to find ATMs in Japan that accept US Debit Cards so the brand of the card and where you are headed does matter.
Debit cards don’t get too much coverage on the blogs but there are three that I have recommended in the past.
- Bank of America Checking used only as a member of the Global ATM Alliance
- Capital One 360 Checking (My 20 USD referral link)
- Schwab checking account
I want to review each as it applies to travel in Japan, a location in which I receive a lot of reader questions.
Bank of America Debit Card
First off, forget about the Bank of America debit card. Japan does not have a member bank in the Global ATM Alliance so you will pay a 5 dollar out of network ATM fee and an additional percentage. Don’t do it.
Capital One 360 Debit Card (MasterCard)
In two past trips to Japan, the Capital One 360 Checking MasterCard was a great choice since it was usable at Seven Banks in Japan for no fees at all. It can be a bit difficult to find ATMs in Japan that accept US Debit Cards but since Seven Bank ATMs are the ATMs in all 7-11 stores, you are covered well given 7-11 stores are literally on every corner in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and more. Unfortunately a recent change to the bank’s policies removed the ability to use MasterCard at their ATMs which is the only branded option for Capital One 360.
When I was in Japan last month I had to look elsewhere to see if this card was still useful in Japan. The good news is that other convenience stores including Family Mart which are also extremely prevalent in Japan accept the MasterCard and neither bank charged a fee. I compared the exchange rate and it appeared to be a direct match to the previous day’s official rate.
Another interesting trick for Japan travelers is that their post offices have ATMs that accept US debit cards. I tried my Capital One 360 at the postal office in three cities and was never charged a fee.
Schwab Debit Card (Visa)
The Schwab checking account offers unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide and no foreign transaction fees. There are no minimums on the account but having the card does require a link to a Schwab investment account (which also does not currently have minimums). This card will work just about anywhere in Japan including the Seven Bank ATMs in the 7-11 stores because it is a Visa.
The bottom line
If you are traveling to Japan, you will almost certainly need to take out large amounts of cash from an ATM so picking the right debit card is crucial. Both the Capital One 360 MasterCard and the Schwab Visa are great options for a trip to Japan. What are other debit cards have you found useful in Japan?