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Suica for dummies (IC cards)

Suica and other IC cards can be really confusing at first, I mean In London you have the Oyster card and you do everything with it. Why does Japan have so many options I do not know, but stick with me and I'll try to explain Suica as best as I can and add some info about the other IC cards.
(This penguin is just too cute :D )
What is Suica:
It's a prepaid money card that you use to pay for the trains and busses, but not only
(Also called IC card)

Why Suica:
Because trying to buy a separate train ticket for every ride is just not worth the hassle

Where to get Suica:
Go to a ticket machine (like the one in the picture) or talk to someone who works at the station if you want to practice your Japanese. All ticket machines I have used in Tokyo have English menu and are pretty self explanatory, just don't rush and read what it says.
Look for the Black/Pink machine, you can't purchase Suica from the green or purple machines.
(It normally will say Buy New Suica/Charge, or something like that, look carefully and don't worry if you are at the wrong machine, everyone does it. If you are not sure you can handle it just try to talk to someone at the station, many times they won't speak English, but will go out of their way to help you.)

How to get Suica:
Pretty simple, read and follow the steps on the screen.
I'll let Donald Ash explain that for those of you who want it in detail- step by step with pictures:
(In case you tend to loose things all the time having your card personalized might be very handy. You do not have to necessarily have it personalized tho) 

How much does a Suica cost:
It costs nothing/ close to nothing, here's why:
When you get the card you pay 2,000 yen- 500 is a deposit for the card and 1,500 you can use right away.
You get your 500 yen back once you return the card, or you can keep it and use it the next time. 
It won't expire for about 10 years.



How to return Suica:
Return the card at the ticket office in the city you purchased it. They can refund the remaining credit, but a small handling fee might apply. 
(Card with no remaining credit will get you 500 yen back
Card with remaining credit will get you 500 + remaining credit - 220 = amount you get
If you have less than 220 remaining you will get just the 500yen)



How many cards do I need:
You need one Suica PER PERSON, just like you need a ticket for every person.
Children under the age of 6 ride of free, just get them trough the gate when you are passing.
Two children per adult are allowed for free and you will have to pay for reserved seats.
Older children from 6 to 11 years of age get a special children Suica card, which you have to get at one of the counters at the train station. Fares for that age are about half the price of a fare for adult. (Bringing your passports when getting Suica for your little ones is a good idea)
For ages 12 and up you need a regular Suica card.

How do I put more money in my Suica:
Go to the ticket machine and bring cash.

How much money do I have left in my card?
When you touch your card to the reader on the ticket gate it will show you how much you have left. If it's not enough to complete the fare don't worry there are going to be machines where you can adjust your fare and charge your card INSIDE the bigger stations. If you don't have cash you can go to the nice people at the station and tell them that, they will deduct the amount that you are needing to pay from your friend's card. But please keep some cash on you, having to explain that you will go to the ATM and come bak to pay is embarrassing :D
 
Other things to pay for using Suica:
Bus fares, vending machines, some convenience stores, some cabs, coin lockers found at the bigger stations, some restaurants. They will usually have a sticker with the Suica logo at the counter.
What can I NOT pay for with my Suica?
Traveling outside or between IC card areas (between cities)
Shinkansen (Super Express a.k.a. the fast trains)
Tokkyu (Limited express trains). - You can only pay the base fare using your IC card (Suica) for those trains (by passing through the ticket gates). But you need to purchase a supplement ticket separately at a ticket machine or ticket office.
....Because why not make it more difficult than it has to be :D
Here's detailed explanation of IC cards and the areas where you can use them:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html

Suica, Pasmo, Icoca and seven more of Japan's most popular IC cards were made compatible with each other in 2013. As a result, it is possible to travel on almost all trains, subways and buses in most of Japan's largest cities with just a single of these cards.

Is Suica right for me?
Yes, If you are going to be traveling within Tokyo and in bigger Japanese cities go ahead and get your card already! Make your life easier please!
In case you just really want to know EVERYTHING about the trains in Japan:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2016.html
What is Pasmo card?
Pasmo is Suica's ugly little sister if you are asking me. I never had a Pasmo, but after researching it I can tell you that it's pretty much the same thing as Suica. Kinda like Coke and Pepsi.
All you need to know about Pasmo you can find here:
http://www.pasmo.co.jp/en/about/

Some good deals and daily passes:
https://www.viator.com/Tokyo-tours/Sightseeing-and-City-Passes/d334-g8-c30?pref=02
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/travel/practical/tonai_ticket.html
Just make sure you understand what you are buying, don't get unlimited ride Tokyo subway ticket if you are going to be traveling with a bus or Shinkansen for example.

Suica from the future:
You can add your card to Apple pay for iPhone or to other brands cell phones and charge it on the go without having to use the ticket machines. However this might only work if you have a phone from Japan. Try it and let me know how it went :)

Hope this was helpful, I really needed to read an article like this when I first came to Tokyo. Unfortunately a lot of the information you can find online talks about just one or two of the questions you have regarding traveling with IC cards. I did my best to put it all together for you and make it easy to understand, but if there is something that you want to add please feel free to leave a comment
  

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16 comments

Should have told my friends to use IC card for the trip , useful item especially you don't want your wallet packed with plastic 1 yen coins :D

Thanks for the useful article!

Question - Is this card valid only in Tokyo ? Can I buy it in Tokyo and use is also in Kyoto and Osaka (inside the cities) ?

Sorry for the late answer, Yes you can use Suica in Kyoto and Osaka :)

This has been really handy, thank you. I am definitely going to get one for when I go to Japan in a few weeks, its just a lot more convenient. also, being able to pay for some vending machines with it as well.

We didn't have cash and used my Suica for the taxi home last night, it was awesome :)

This has definitely been my fave article so far- this has been so helpful and I'm so glad you've gone through so much detail and linked to further resources~

Great Article! I loved using my Suica card during my travels in Japan! Except when I kept using it for the crane games at the arcade :(

Yes, I have Icoca card and use it in Tokyo as well. It's very convenient!

Great article! Suica is a must get, even some restaurants are starting to accept them!

I am planning on just being in the Tokyo metro area, so I'm going to get a Suica card once I get to Narita. Useful information:) Thanks

Definitely useful - once you have a Suica or Pasmo it makes life in Japan so much easier!

That's what I'm trying to tell people lol

Really helpful article! I will definitely get an IC Card when I travel to Japan!

Very informative and very useful! I wish I saw this before I went to Japan but good stuff!

THIS WAS A FUN AND REALLY HELPFUL READ! :) THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PUT IT TOGETHER !

Ah thank you I really tried hard to put all the info in one place.
It was suggested to me to add info about how to get a special edition Suica card and a few other things, so I'm panning to collect some more information and eventually write vol.2 stay around :)