Adding Suica to Older iPhones From Abroad

A reader asked me to explain about adding Suica to an older iPhone from abroad paired with an Apple Watch Series 2 device purchased in Japan. Loading a physical Suica card requires a iPhone 7 device purchased in Japan but you can get around this limitation with the JR East Suica app. It’s not especially tricky but there are some basic requirements and you have to follow a particular order of steps.

First of all a disclaimer: I do not own an Apple Watch Series 2 device and have not personally tested all of the steps explained below. The instructions are based on discussions with Apple Store staff, Apple Japan Support staff, the JR East Support pages (Japanese only), the experiences of others, and my own testing with Suica Apple Pay and foreign issued credit cards. If you have any experiences of your own to share, please post them in the comments section.

Basic Requirements
You need to have a few things in place before starting. A quick preflight check list:

  1. An iPhone 6 or above running the latest iOS version that can pair with Apple Watch Series 2 also running the latest WatchOS. The iPhone can be from your home country.
  2. An App Store Japan account so you can download and install the JR East Suica app.
  3. A credit card that is already loaded into your iPhone Apple Pay Wallet. The card can be any Apple Pay compatible card issued from your home country.

Remember that only iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices sold in Japan support FeliCa which is required to use Suica, but you can use these devices for Apple Pay outside of Japan. Next up are the requirements to add Suica.

Suica Requirements

  1. Your iPhone must have mobile data turned on for Suica to work. If you plan to use Suica in Japan at all you must have a SIM card for using mobile data in Japan or have data roaming turned on.
  2. Make sure mobile data app use is turned on for Suica, Wallet and Watch apps.
  3. Make sure your iCloud account is signed in on iPhone with Wallet services turned on.
  4. Make sure you have a passcode set for both iPhone and Apple Watch. You can also use Touch ID on iPhone.
  5. Make sure that Bluetooth is turned on and your Apple Watch Series 2 device is paired with your iPhone.
  6. Make sure Apple Watch wrist detection is turned on.
  7. Make sure the Region setting for both devices is set to Japan. The Language setting can be any language you prefer.
  8. Download the Suica app from the Japanese App store.
  9. Launch the Suica app.

Adding Suica
Now comes the tricky part if you cannot read Japanese. Follow the screenshots and captions to create a new Suica card and add it to your Apple Pay Wallet.

Touch the “Add Suica”button at the bottom right of the screen highlighted in the screenshot.
In the next screen select the top “Suica Unregistered” option highlighted in the screenshot. This is the simplest option to create a Suica card on iPhone.
Ignore the notices and touch the “Next” button in the upper right as highlighted in the screenshot.
In the next two screens add the initial money amount to your Suica card account (SF) from your Apple Pay card.
In the next two screens: first select Apple Pay as your Stored Fare (SF) payment method, then confirm that you want to add this Suica card to your Apple Pay Wallet.
Last but not least you have to comply with the JR East Terms and Conditions by touching the “Agree” button highlighted in the left hand screenshot, if all is successful Wallet will notify you that Suica has been added to you Apple Pay Wallet as shown in the right hand screenshot.

If all went well you should now have a Suica card in your iPhone Wallet app. The last step is transferring the Suica card from iPhone to Apple Watch. Read the “Move your Suica from your iPhone to your Apple Watch” section of the Set up a Suica card in Apple Pay support page for details. The first Suica card added to Wallet will automatically be set to Express Transit mode. Those details on are the same Apple Suica support page.

Remember to keep the iPhone mobile data and Bluetooth services turned on. If you do not, Suica will stop working. Also, Suica will be invalidated for security reasons if you do any of the following: sign out of iCloud, unpair iPhone and Apple Watch, turn off passcode on either device, turn off wrist detection.

Enjoy using Suica.

What’s in a Comma? Unraveling the Mystery of iPhone 7 NCF, FeliCa Support

When Apple announced FeliCa support for iPhone 7 there was speculation that all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices could, in theory, use Apple Pay in Japan. The reality is that Apple uses the same NEC manufactured NXP 67V04 NFC controller in all devices worldwide but only activates FeliCa in devices sold in Japan.

The difference is confirmed on Apple’s iPhone 7 tech spec web pages in the USA and Japan.


The USA site only lists NFC Type A/B support as expected but the Japanese site lists all the NFC flavors: Type A/B, and FeliCa.

Does this mean that iPhone 7/Apple Watch Series 2 devices sold in Japan work in the other Apple Pay countries if you load Apple Pay compatible cards issued from those countries?

The answer is yes. Apple Japan Support says that you need to set the Region preference to the country that the credit card was issued in, then add the card into Apple Pay. It appears that the correct Region setting is required to match the appropriate NFC signal (Type A/B/FeliCa) for the card when adding it into Apple Pay.

I successfully loaded my Wells Fargo USA issue Visa card into Apple Pay. Unfortunately there is no nearby store to personally test the setup but after a card is successfully loaded into Apple Pay the Region setting appears not to have any affect on the NFC signal: FeliCa Apple Pay works just fine with a non-Japanese region setting.

There are stores in Yokohama that accept NFC Type A/B  Apple Pay,  I will update this post after testing them.

Apple Pay Suica Express Transit Card & NFC Readers

Using the Apple Pay Suica Express Transit Card feature of iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices purchased in Japan is slick and convenient. It’s the big killer feature heavily marketed by Apple and JR East in Japan and fun to use for transit and store purchases.

The Apple Pay Suica support page store section states:

If your Suica card is set as your Express Transit card, simply hold the top of your iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus or the display of your Apple Watch Series 2 within a few centimeters of the contactless reader until you see Done and a checkmark on the display. You don’t need to wake or unlock your device or open an app to make the purchase.

In the field however this is not always reliable and depends on the kind of NFC reader and the store POS system.

The Good
Fortunately, most NFC readers are Express Transit card savvy. Tell the clerk you want to pay with Suica, when the reader lights up put your device a few centimeters away, it beeps a completed transaction and you are on your way. No need to wake the device, choose the Apple Pay card or use TouchID. It just works.

The Bad
Unfortunately some  NFC readers are not Express Transit card savvy. Be wary when you encounter the NFC reader pictured below. Seibu Ikebukuro and all the Tokyu Group line store readers force you to wake the device, select the Suica Apple Pay card and perform TouchID confirmation. On top of everything else, they are slow and prone to electromagnetic interference.

One Tokyu shop clerk inside Ikegami station told me to wait for the train to pass before paying with the NFC reader. She said, “This thing never works when the train goes by. You just have to wait.”

The Ugly
I have written about temperamental Transaction Media-Networks UT1-Neo NFC readers before. These readers are Suica Express Transit card savvy but are sensitive about how the device is held. I found they work best holding iPhone 7 a little further away and not too close.


Panasonic NFC Readers
Panasonic makes some of the most reliable NFC readers I have encountered. On February 8 Panasonic took an unusual step of announcing a new NFC reader device, JT-R600CR. The new reader is FeliCa and NFC Type A/B compatible, it accepts any and all NFC and swipe cards if the POS system is plugged into the appropriate credit card networks. It is also the first Panasonic reader that is Apple Pay savvy  and will improve automatic Apple Pay card recognition on the POS side.

Panasonic is aiming this international savvy NFC card reader for the flood of overseas visitors for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Engadget Japan’s Junya Suzuki wrote a good Japanese article covering the Panasonic announcement.

Clearly, Apple Pay is already shaking up the Japanese contactless pay market.

Apple Pay Suica Express Transit and Security

YouTube blogger macgeek discovered that Apple Pay Suica works on his Apple Watch Series 2 device even with the device locked and off his wrist. As explained in his video, this is the way Apple Pay Suica is supposed to work when Express Transit is turned on, but what about security?

Express Transit only works with the Stored Fare (SF) on Suica and debits the SF amount. Once SF is used up you have to recharge Suica using an Apple Pay credit card which requires TouchID authorization. 
If your iPhone or Apple Watch are stolen the thieves could use the SF amount of your Suica but could not use Apple Pay to recharge Suica or make purchases.

The only potential fly in the ointment would be if you have Suica SF auto-recharge enabled in the JR East Suica app. JR East limits daily SF auto-recharge to a 20,000 JPY maximum. 
In any case the solution is simple: if your iOS device is lost or stolen the first step is to turn on Lost Mode which disables Apple Pay.

Japanese Travel with Apple Pay

Digital ASCII writer Kenta Yamaguchi traveled to Osaka, Nagoya, Akita and Okinawa with only Apple Pay in his pocket. His verdict: Japan is getting closer to the government’s stated goal of having an 80% cashless/e-money society by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics…but we’re not quite there yet.

Yamaguchi san found pesky Airport Express Train ticket machines in Nagoya and the Okinawa Urban Monorail that do not accept NFC transactions, as well as temperamental Transaction Media-Networks UT1-Neo NFC readers that I wrote about earlier.

The next step for Japanese Apple Pay is to provide seamless NFC Type A/B support for Japanese loaded credit cards going abroad, as well as Japanese contactless payment system support for inbound NFC A/B customers. If credit card companies and transaction processors cooperating with Apple and Google can accomplish that, cashless society will become reality.

In other news Android Pay v1.12 launched in Japan this week wth support for NFC Felica and Rakuten Edy, just as predicted by Android Police on Friday. It will be interesting to watch the pay system race in Japan between Apple and Google in 2017.