Getting A Japanese Credit Card

(Photo credit: Matt Nelson)

by Kelly Jackson

I never thought that I would need a credit card while in Japan. Before coming to Japan I had a debit card from my local credit union that could also be used as a credit card. Since I’d heard that Japan was a cash-based society, I was confident that I would be set. Yet, in my third year on JET, it became necessary for me to buy an airplane ticket with a credit card. I immediately applied for one with my local bank of three years and was promptly rejected.

Fast forward a year. I tried again to apply for a credit card, but this time with au, my cell phone company. By chance, when I tried (and eventually failed) to get a cell phone at Softbank in the same period, I was also was asked to sign up for a credit card. A few days after my Softbank rejection, which stated “Something came back on the credit check,” I received a letter in the mail from a credit card company. It stated in the politest keigo possible that I was not eligible for a credit card. Does this sound familiar to those of you who have tried (and failed) to get a credit card in Japan?

Well, I’m going to tell you how I eventually got mine, and thinking back it was quite easy. After re-reading the letter I gave the card company a call. I stated my query and a day or two later I received a call from a supervisor authorized to answer my question. She asked if I had applied for and been rejected for a credit card before (no), if I had any outstanding loans (no), and assured me that my foreigner status had nothing to do with their application criteria.

So, why was I rejected? Her answer was “There’s no credit record of you in Japan.” She offered to put the Softbank card application through, but I told her to find the au one (my application from a month earlier still had no response). A few weeks later I was the owner of a brand-sparkling-new au Jibun credit card.

The main point is that you shouldn’t give up easily. If you are not approved, call up the company and ask why. It could be something as simple as not having an established line of credit in Japan. You never know if you don’t ask. Furthermore, obtaining a credit card should have nothing to do with your visa status. When I was approved I was in my fourth year with one year left on my visa. If you are going to a bank, ask to speak to a supervisor. If they say that you can’t be approved, ask them who has the ultimate decision on approval, and get that person’s phone number and call them!

I am certain that this advice sounds simple, and I hope that getting approved for a card turns out to be as relatively simple a process for you as it ended up being for me. Good luck!

5 comments

  • Chris

    Thanks for this insight. I was rejected six times from various Japanese credit card companies, including one issued by the bank I use for my regular banking. I was later told by someone that used to work at a Japanese credit card company that there’s a central database where those who fail their applications are stored for up to six months. In several of the online credit card applications I made, the rejection email came so quickly, it could have only been automated. I have to say though, I never bothered to call and follow up and get an explanation like you sensibly did. Eventually I worked out ways to get around the need for having a card at all, but I’m glad you eventually got there.

  • Dan

    Wow, that sounds like a complicated journey to a simple answer. Aren’t there a lot of people without a credit record apply for a first credit card? I’m basing the credit score on the American system, but basically if you haven’t paid bills yet, you have no score. Aren’t there a lot of college kids in Japan in the same “debacle” you had? If that’s the case, I feel like there’s something else effecting it…dare I say, not understanding, not trusting, or finding it burdensome to deal with foreigners?

    Thanks for the interesting article!

  • Torasan

    I wonder if indeed foreigner status is not a factor. I’ve been beginning the steps to move from a spousal visa to permanent residency mostly to have a chance to establish some financial legitimacy. Thanks for the article.

  • Courtney Coppernoll

    Speaking from personal experience, being a foreigner doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be rejected. I received a credit card in Japan the first and only time I applied for one, as did a friend of mine. Having said that, though, I don’t know enough about credit card companies to know what other factors they take into consideration. If credit scores are universal (i.e. if a credit card company in Japan has access to my American credit score) that may have helped in my case.

  • henen

    Rakuten card is the one of the easiest credit card to get.
    http://rakuten.japanese-credit-card.com/