As a foreign visitor to Japan, getting an IC card is one of the first things you must do first thing after you arrive at the airport if you want to have a convenient payment card that you can use to make payments all over the city.
Simply put, an IC card is a reloadable transport card that you can use to make payments for train tickets and other modes of transportation in Japan, and you can also use it to make payments at thousands of establishments, restaurants, hotels, and even at 7-eleven and other convenience stores (konbini).
This means that with an IC card, you wont have to fumble through your pocket for coins or cash when at the konbini, and you won’t even have to figure out the automated ticket vending machines at the train stations each time you travel by train. All you need is to tap your IC card and boom, payment complete (if you have loaded your card with funds, that is).
As tourism is very popular in Japan, IC card companies have created IC cards that are specific to visiting tourists, those that are visiting Japan for 28 days or less. Two of the most popular contenders are the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica cards.
There’s also the Pasmo and Suica cards that are more suitable for longer-term visitors (those staying beyond 28 days can simply use the ordinary Pasmo and Suica cards used by the locals), but in this post I’ll focus only on the Pasmo Passport and the Welcome Suica which are for tourists staying 28 days or less.
Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica – What are these tourist IC cards?
The Pasmo Passport and the Welcome Suica are both tourist IC cards issued by the Pasmo company and Japan Rail (JR East) company, respectively.
Although they’re issued by two different companies, they’re practically the same and one can be used anywhere you can use the other – so you can get only one of them if you really wanted, but since basically almost free, why not get the two as they will also serve as your souvenir? 🙂
These tourist IC cards are for use by visitors to Japan who are staying in Japan for only 28 days or less. These cards let you conveniently pay for shopping and travel in most trains and buses across the country – you can even use them to pay for taxis, restaurants, vending machines, coin-operated lockers, and convenience stores.
Having a Pasmo Passport or a Welcome Suica card with you means that you no can pay with just a tap of your card (no more figuring out the coins).
Since the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica is only for visitors, so you may have to present your actual passport in order to get the actual cards – this depends on where you get your card from, as from my experience I was able to get my cards from the dedicated vending machines at Narita Airport without having to present my actual passport.
Check this out: Guide to the 24, 48, and 72-hour unlimited Tokyo Subway Ticket
Why use the “tourist” IC card (Pasmo Passport or Welcome Suica cards) over the “regular” IC card (Pasmo or Suica cards)?
I mean, what’s the diff, right? Well, the tourist IC cards and the regular IC cards both function the same – you can use it to make payments as per usual, but here are the key differences that’ll make the tourist IC cards the better choice for visitors staying for 28 days or less:
For the Pasmo Pasmo Passport:
- The kawaii Hello Kitty / Sanrio design of the Pasmo Passport makes for a perfect souvenir. This alone should be enough. 😛
- The Pasmo Passport offers exclusive tourist discounts (explore the discounts offered here), while the regular Pasmo card does not.
- The Pasmo Passport is valid only for 28 days while the regular Pasmo card is valid indefinitely (extended stays).
For the Welcome Suica:
- The sakura design of the Welcome Suica card is a cool addition to your souvenir stash.
- No deposit fee required for the Welcome Suica – it’s free!
- The Welcome Suica is valid only for 28 days while the regular Suica card is valid indefinitely (extended stays).
I guess that clears up any confusion between Pasmo Passport / Welcome Suica and regular Pasmo and Suica cards – they’re basically all the same, with some minor differences that benefit the tourist card holder.
Where can you use the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica?
You can use the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica basically anywhere in Tokyo – they’re practically the same, so one can be used anywhere you can use the other.
As for the areas outside Tokyo, you can basically use these cards nationwide across Japan, but there are many exceptions and may now be used in some areas and you may have to confirm in each area. As a general rule, you can only use it at machines that have the IC Card logo.
Where and how to get the Pasmo Passport, and how much is it?
You can get your Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica at many locations across Tokyo, including Haneda and Narita airports, as well as in select Tokyo subway stations. For the complete list of places you can get your cards from, check here for the Pasmo Passport and here for the Welcome Suica – but let’s be practical here – actually just get your cards at the airport, before you even leave the airport, as it’s easier to find and get at the airport and also so that you wouldn’t have to stress yourself on where to get one when you’re already in the city.
It only costs an issuing fee of ¥500 (Good news: Issuing fee of ¥500 is discontinued indefinitely 🙂 ) to get the Pasmo Passport card, but you’re required to top up on a stored fare of ¥1,500 initially as you buy your card, so the total is ¥2,000 (stored fare of ¥1,500 + issuing fee of ¥500) get the card.
As for the Welcome Suica card, you don’t have to pay any issuing fee or deposit – just load it up in ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥3,000, ¥4,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000 increments and you can already get your free Welcome Suica card that’s already topped up with how much you put in.
For both cards, children can also have a “child” version so that you can get the card for cheaper and you pay discounted transport rates for children. Just select the “child” option when getting your card. When you receive your Pasmo Passport or Welcome Suica, together with the card you’ll also receive a Reference Paper as an addition to your actual card that you’re advised to keep with your card at all times – this is so that you have it when requested by the staff to verify your card’s validity.
How to use the Pasmo Passport or Welcome Suica
Simply tap it at any payment points where there is an “IC” card logo, meaning virtually everywhere in Tokyo – at trains, buses, taxi, convenience stores, vending machines, coin-op locker storage, and at some restaurants and shopping centers.
If you need to add more funds, you can always top it up at ticket machines at the train stations or at 7-eleven and other convenience stores. The top-up limit is ¥20,000, but make sure to top up only what you can consume – remember, the value on your card is non-refundable. 😉
Validity and Refund
Both the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica cards are valid for only 28 days. After this date your card expires, and any remaining balance in it will be forfeited so you better make sure to only top up as needed and use your funds before the card expires. The cards are non-refundable, but you get a kawaii card as a souvenir in exchange.
Check this out: Your guide to the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass)
Pasmo Passport VS Welcome Suica: What’s the diff?
By know you know that the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica are practically the same, as they serve the same purpose and the coverage / network where you can use them are practically the same, but aside from the obvious that is difference in their designs (Pasmo Passport is waay more kawaii IMO), these are the main difference between the two:
- The Pasmo Passport has an issuance fee of ¥500 and has tourist discounts (more info on tourist discounts here)
- No deposit required for the Welcome Suica – you can spend all the amount that you top it up with
All in all, if you’re having a hard time choosing the perfect IC card for souvenir purposes, the regular Pasmo and Suica cards and the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica cards are actually already cheap (if not free) enough so you can get ’em both if you really want to.
Do you have any questions, or have any tips to share about the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica cards? Feel free to comment down below! 🙂