Japan is very much a cash-driven economy, with a lot of places still only accepting cash.
The national currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (¥). It's best to get some cash converted before you leave home so you have change to catch the train to your destination, otherwise you can access cash exchange places at the airport.
Also keep in mind that while credit, debit and travel money cards are accepted by some larger companies in Japan, many places (including hostels and small restaurants), will still only accept cash.
Make sure you plan ahead so that you will have enough money on you for the day.
There are 3 main options when it comes to cards in Japan – credit cards, debit cards, or travel money cards. Having at least one on you is essential for ease of access to your money.
It’s also an alternative to carrying wads of cash, which could easily be stolen, lost, or just spent too quickly.
Debit cards from your home country generally aren't advised because of the fees – there are withdrawal fees, international ATM fees and, depending on your bank, you might get a bad conversion rate (plus more fees). They also can't be used over the counter in Japan.
Credit and travel money cards are the most convenient options – research to find what cards are best for you, as many offer competitive benefits which differ depending on your needs.
Credit cards can be a good option too as some providers might offer perks like no transaction or currency conversion fees, frequent flyer, reward points and even emergency card replacements.
On the downside, they may also come with a spending limit that is higher than what you may want, and you may be hit with expensive cash advance and withdrawal fees.
Travel money cards are another option. These are handy as you can load Japanese Yen onto your card before you go, and transfer money electronically from other accounts while you are in Japan. Most also come with emergency back-up cards. Just be aware that if you are transferring money onto your travel money card, it may take a few days and you may also be charged local ATM withdrawal fees.
The main places to get cash out of foreign cards are at ATMs located inside post offices and 7/11 stores, as other ATMs may not accept your card. Once you have inserted your card, you will usually be given the option to use the machine in English.
These ATMs can be found fairly easily in many parts of Japan – particularly in large cities like Tokyo, where 7/11 stores are everywhere – and the cost of withdrawing money from these ATMs is decent. Just be aware that you may be charged international withdrawal fees from your bank at home, so it's best to check this before you leave.
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