How to Use the Suica card as a Tourist in Japan

Suica Card Tourist - how to use the Suica Card as a tourist in Japan

Sharing is caring!

The Suica card is an absolute must-have if you’re visiting Japan. Find out how to use it here (and why it makes your trip so much easier!)

Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming. I recently returned from a 15-day adventure through Japan’s most popular cities and it was unlike any other trip I’ve been on before. I was overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know. Cultural norms, restaurant culture, tipping or not, navigating public transit in a non-Romance language, etiquette and politeness, and more – everything was a bit unknown to me, no matter how much I researched.

But I was most nervous about navigating public transportation in Japan.

My arrival hotel was located adjacent to Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world! In the largest city in the world!

How would I know where to go? How would I buy tickets? Would the ticket machines even have an English option?

Within a day or so, however, I had effectively mastered public transit in Tokyo – and I can attribute a lot of my success to the Suica card.

I know, that sounds silly. But having the Suica card eliminated a lot of the barriers to getting on public transit. It even helped me at the conbini (convenience stores, like 7/11, Lawsons, or Family Mart) and even at Tokyo Disney!

If you’re a tourist visiting Japan, you absolutely need to get a Suica card. Find out why you need to use a Suica, how to use it, and even where to buy a Suica here!

Please note: this post may contain affiliate links. What that means is, if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may make a commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, please see my Affiliate Disclosure.

What is a Suica card?

A Suica card is a type of contactless smart card used for transportation in Japan, particularly in major cities like Tokyo. If you’ve been to New York, it’s similar to the Metro card there!

A Suica card can be purchased and loaded with a specific amount of money or linked to a credit card for automatic top-ups. It is used as a convenient and efficient way to pay for public transportation fares, including trains, subways, buses, and even some taxis.

To use a Suica card, the user just taps the card on the reader located at the ticket gate or on the transportation vehicle. The fare is automatically deducted from the card’s balance, and the remaining balance can be checked on the reader or at designated machines.

You can have either a physical Suica card or add your Suica to your iPhone and use it effortlessly from your Apple Wallet. Both are easy, but loading it to your Apple Wallet is definitely the way to go. More on that below.

It really couldn’t be any easier than that!

How do you pronounce Suica?

You may be tempted to say “soo-ee-kuh” but that is not correct.

Suica is promounced “swee-kuh”.

(You may think you’ll never need to pronounce Suica outloud, but your Suica can be used at convenience stores and Tokyo Disney, and you’ll almost certainly have to pronounce it then! Read more below)

Why use a Suica card?

A Suica is super convenient for public transit

You may be thinking “why bother with a Suica card? I’ll only be visiting for a short time – it’s going to be too much hassle for my short trip”.


So wrong.

I cannot emphasize enough how useful a Suica card is.

With a Suica, you can literally just tap into and out of turnstiles at public transportation hubs. You can skip the ticket line all together…

Why use Suica card

… And just head straight through the passenger gates to your platform.

Entrance turnstiles where you can scan your Suica

Just tap and walk!

This means you are (1) skipping lines that can be long AND (2) skipping what may be a confusing ticket buying experience. (I wouldn’t know how hard it is – I haven’t had to do it! #ThanksSuica). On buses and trams, it also means that you can skip having exact change to pay your fare and just tap in & out.

A Suica is also convenient for convenience stores and vending machines!

Yes, your Suica can also be used to buy things at vending machines or other convenience stores!

The three main conbini 7/11, Lawsons, and Family Mart – seem to have a surcharge if you pay with credit card. In my experience, at least, the cashier always seemed disappointed if I paid with credit card. Japan is very much a cash-forward society but I love the convenience of paying with cards.

Suica to the rescue!

You can nearly treat a Suica like a credit card. Top it up before making a purchase and then you can use tap-to-pay effortlessly at all the main conbini. Just politely say “Suica?” when going to pay and the cashier will help you navigate to do that.

You can also use it to make purchases at vending machines! Get water, electrolyte drinks, coffee drinks, juice, and even alcoholic beverages… all with a quick tap of the Suica.

Your Suica can even be used to make purchases at Tokyo Disney

Tokyo Disney was definitely more credit card friendly than anywhere else I went in Japan, but I hated having to pull out my card everytime I wanted a churro or a drink.

Using my Suica in my Apple Wallet let me make purchases super easily without whipping out a credit card. It was accepted everywhere that I found – including in the shops!

Why to get a Suica card on your iPhone

Tourists love to purchase the physical Suica card but getting the Suica on your iPhone just elevates the convenience of the Suica card.

Imagine not having to worry about keeping your little physical Suica card safe… not having to pull it out in the middle of hectic rush hour in Tokyo … not having to worry about topping it off… not wondering what the balance is on your physical Suica…

Without a doubt, the absolute best way to have a Suica is to add it to your Apple Wallet. Just pull the phone out of your pocket and tap in and out at the reader on the turnstiles above. You don’t even need to unlock your phone to use it! You can pull it out with a dark, black screen and tap in and out – and your fare will still be processed.

The tap-to-pay at the conbini and vending machines is equally valuable. No digging around for a card (of any kind!) or rumaging through your bag for coins to get your drink – tap, pay, drink. Easy.

How to get a Suica card on your iPhone

I hope you’re convinced now that having the Suica on your iPhone is incredibly convenient.

Open up your Apple Wallet and hit the “+” button in the upper right-hand corner.

Hit “Transit Card” in the bottom box of options and then search “Suica”. Tap Suica, press continue, and then select a yen amount. 1000 yen will be $10 or less with current exchange rates, but you can enter any value you want here.

After that, voila! You have your Suica linked to your Apple Wallet and now will get all the benefits outlined above.

If you weren’t able to add money to your Suica, you may have incompatible cards. When I visited Japan (November – December 2023), only MasterCard was accepted for foreigners. I had to open up a new card in order to top up my Suica which may sound crazy, but it guaranteed that I was alway carrying a broadly-accepted card while in Japan, so it was worth it.

Rumor has it that Visa is going to be accepted soon, but you may need to get a MasterCard until then.

How to buy a physical Suica card

Not willing to mess around with Apple Wallet? Not using an iPhone? No worries, you can always buy a physical Suica card!

To buy a Suica card, you can simply head to any major train station in Japan. Look for the ticket machines or ticket counters, often located near the entrance or inside the station. Go to the ticket machine or counter and select the option for purchasing a Suica card. The machine will guide you through the process, prompting you to select the desired amount to load onto the card. You’ll be charged a deposit that is refundable once you return the card.

The official Suica website indicates that the card can only be loaded with yen instead of a credit card, but some bloggers say it can be loaded with a credit card. It may depend on where you purchase your Suica, I’m sorry I’m unsure!

A “Welcome Suica” is an alternative option for tourists only. It is only valid for 28 days from the date of purchase and doesn’t require a deposit, but still carries all the benefits of the regular Suica card. Both physical Suicas and Welcome Suicas seem to be limited lately due to semiconducter chip shortages, so please research availability of both before departing for Japan.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top