Suica Inbound and credit cards

Now that global FeliCa is supported in iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch Series 3, anybody coming to Japan with the new devices can add and use Apple Pay Suica. Suica will be the main reason visitors from abroad will use Apple Pay in Japan. Charging Suica is very simple, you simply use an Apple Pay credit card.

The Apple Pay support site is short on details but the general rules are:

  • Any Apple Pay loaded credit card is good for charging Suica.
  • Credit cards issued from your home county loaded into Apple Pay are good. I have VISA cards issued from Wells Fargo and Marriott/Chase Bank that work fine for Suica charging. Other users from abroad have reported success as well.

There is one exception: Japanese issue VISA cards cannot be used for charging Suica with Apple Pay. This is because VISA KK has not signed an agreement with Apple directly but is obligated to support all iD and QUICPay store payment network licensees which includes Apple and the card issuers.

I suspect the reason is that VISA still wants to market Visa payWave in Japan which uses the NFC A-B flavor instead of FeliCa/NFC-F. Now that Apple has gone in for Global FeliCa and NFC A-B-F in every new iPhone, who cares? And with Apple doing it all the top smartphone vendors are sure to follow so why bother. Now might be the time for Visa to get out of the payments infrastructure business and focus on making their credit card ‘just work’ everywhere.

Mobile Suica
The other credit card option for charging Suica is the iPhone Suica App. This requires signing up for a Mobile Suica account but you get bonus features such as Shinkansen e-ticket purchase and ticketless Shinkansen boarding. The Suica App/Mobile Suica registered credit card is completely separate from Apple Pay.

Enter credit card information in the Suica App for more payment flexibility.
Mobile Suica lists seven eligible credit card brands: View Card, VISA, JCB, Master Card, American Express, Diners Club, JR Central EXPress Card. I have not tested Suica App credit card charging but have read posts that foreign issue credit cards work with the Mobile Suica payment system. JR East support of foreign issue credit cards is likely hit and miss so be aware and use Apple Pay as a fallback.

There are also some limitations to be aware of:

  • Suica App auto-charge only works with JR East issue View cards
  • Suica auto-charge only works within the JR East rail network region. It won’t work for example when you are using transit in Nagoya or Osaka
  • Suica auto-charge does not work with store or vending machine purchases 

With Suica ‘Inbound’ starting with the September 22 release date of iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 things are going to be very interesting, and a little messy.

Don’t forget that you can charge Apple Pay Suica with cash at train station kiosks and covenience stores.