The Sad State of Apple Pay Suica Guides

Now that tourists are back in Japan it’s time to take a look at the state of Apple Pay Suica English language guides. Since AtaDistance is mostly one big Apple Pay Suica (and Apple Pay PASMO and now also Apple Pay ICOCA ) guide site, it’s helpful to examine other guides in case I’m missing something. My basic stance is one size does not fit all. The more good guides that are out there, the better. But with conditions: the guide must be accurate, up to date, easy to understand, and so on.

You might not realize it but the Apple Pay Suica landscape has changed a lot since the 2016 launch on iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. At the time Suica was limited to Japanese models and plastic Suica card transfer to Wallet. Suica App was the only way to add a digital card. Here’s what has changed:

  • 2017: Global NFC support in all iPhone 8 / Apple Watch Series 3. Any model sold in any country can add and use Suica.
  • 2018: Express Transit Mode Cards with Power Reserve. iPhone XS/XR and later iPhone models all support Express Transit Mode Power Reserve, if the iPhone battery drains too far, Power Reserve mode kicks in and you have up to 5 hours of reserve battery to complete your transit. As regular non-Shinkansen Suica transit is limited to 2 hours from gate entry, 5 hours of Express Transit Power Reserve is more than enough to get you to the exit gate.
  • 2019: iOS 13 Wallet now has direct Suica add card support in Wallet. No more Suica App nonsense.
  • 2021: iOS 15 Wallet now has a region free add Transit Card category. No more device Region switching to Japan to add Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA nonsense.

User guides are like underwear and socks, if not changed regularly, they stink. Most Apple Pay Suica guides out there are stinky outdated guides with obsolete and confusing information…road kill you must steer around. The biggest mistake, by far, is ‘use Suica App’, which is irrelevant because you add and use Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA directly in Wallet. People endlessly confuse and equate using Suica with using Suica App. They are 2 separate, unrelated things.

With that in mind, let’s take at look at some current guides and grade them using the trusty old US school report card format (A=excellent, B=good, C=fair, D=poor, F=fail).

  1. Apple Support Add a Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA card to Apple Wallet (Grade: A+), the gold standard go to guide for adding Suica, PASMO, and ICOCA. Not flashy or fancy but always up to date.
    Apple Support Use Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA cards on iPhone or Apple Watch in Japan (Grade: B+), almost great but docked a notch for outdated Suica App information (Suica In App Shinkansen eTickets were eliminated in 2020).
  2. Japan Living Turn Your iPhone or Android into a Mobile Suica/PASMO IC Card (Grade: A-), a decent iPhone guide, but as the majority of short term visitors don’t have an Osaifu-Keitai Android device, that part is less guide, more wishful thinking.
  3. GaijinPot How to Use a Mobile IC App (Grade: F), not only obsolete and incorrect when it was created in 2020, a lousy Suica App guide to boot.
  4. Travel Codex How to Add Your Japanese Suica Card to iPhone 8 or iPhone X (Grade: D), outdated plastic only Region changing nonsense, nothing about adding digital Suica.
  5. Tokyo Cheapo Setting up a virtual (mobile) Suica card in Japan (Grade: F), a cheapo worthless guide as the writer had no idea what they were writing about, mashing together Wallet and Suica App into one confusing mess.
  6. GaijinPot YouTube How To Use PASMO & SUICA with an iPhone For Commuting in Japan (Grade: D) decent guide for getting plastic Suica but servers up confusing mobile information “some iPhones cannot be used” and so on, why not just say iPhone 8 and later? Garbage content.
  7. Smart Japan YouTube How to add transit card in your iphone (Grade: D), plastic narrated non-guide for transferring a plastic Suica. Not helpful.
  8. Automation Fixation YouTube Using Suica with iPhone and Apple Watch without Apple Pay (Grade: B+) Helpful video that covers all the basics with an unfortunate focus on transferring plastic Suica and cash recharge because the creator only has a VISA card. It’s important to remember that foreign issue VISA cards don’t for recharge because VISA, not JR East, is blocking them, use Mastercard or AMEX instead.

Other blogs with outdated or confusing Suica guidance to avoid: Swiss Mac User, Shutterwhale, Tap Down Under, Kevin Chen, HIS Malaysia, Hiroshi Sensei, and How to ride trains/busses cashless in Kansai that references the long dead SuicaEng app, but since it also references AtaDistance I have your ass covered. And let’s not forget the breathtakingly incompetent UnSeen Japan post by Himari Semans that attempts to explain the transit IC card system…a piece of crap that not only neglects the ground breaking development of Mobile Suica but confuses a Japan Rail Pass with Transit IC cards.

You have been warned: most Apple Pay Suica English guides are content creator one offs, tossed out to flog crappy service content, quickly forgotten about, vacuumed up by search engine bots and vomited up in Google search results. Use the Apple Support pages, they are easy to understand, guaranteed up to date and localized in many languages. You can’t go wrong. And if you want a deep dive into the Mobile Suica universe, there’s always my up to date user guides.

That said, there are some fine Transit IC • Suica video guides focused on plastic cards. I highly recommend: SUICA CARD JAPAN | What’s the BEST CARD for TOURISTS? How to BUY-USE-TOP UP? JAPAN TRAVEL GUIDE as it covers the background and basic differences of choosing regular Suica or Welcome Suica.

Another handy guide is How to charge Mobile Suica with coins. Personally I only use Apple Pay Recharge and JR East station recharge kiosks, convenience stores, recharge ATMS only take paper bills. You’ll have to search but most non-JR East stations seem to have a mobile friendly recharge kiosk that takes coins. Handy for keeping your real wallet nice and trim.