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Getting a Japanese credit card 2022 - a story/report


6 May 2015
A little while back I went through the well-known painful process of getting a credit card as a foreigner in Japan, and I wanted to drop the bit of info I had in case it might help someone else.

Disclaimer: none of this is financial or other professional advice, it may not be appropriate to your circumstances, and you should consult with an expert before carrying out any suggestions you read online.

Firstly: if you're coming to Japan, bring credit cards from your home country and keep them alive. Keep an eye on expiry dates, and either get a new one prematurely, or make sure your credit card companies have a mailing address you can ultimately get your mail forwarded from to you in Japan. If you can make do with this, this will save you a lot of unnecessary hassle. But if that won't be enough, e.g. you're planning to move here permanently or you're getting paid in JPY and routing money around is too much of a pain, or you run into "Japanese credit cards only" situations too often (its a thing... sakoku didn't end it just got reduced), read on.

My experience: I applied to several cards. I applied to various credit cards, in order of them being listed online as the "easiest credit cards to get in Japan", as well as a collateralized credit card (explained later), and got rejected. I tried again later, and got one. I go through the details of this below.

I also attempted to apply to some others, but their forms made it literally impossible for a foreigner to apply in sneaky and covert but very clearly foreigner-excluding ways, such as limiting name lengths to less than 6 characters. Other forms had different problems: they were out of date with the law around corporate forms, in that they didn't include new mochibun kaisha (which have been around for more than a decade -- for instance Amazon Japan is a GK) -- so just have to pick "other", but "other" is possibly a less trustworthy answer, who knows.

The first cards I applied for were the classic "easy cards", at least that's what people said online. I think it was Rakuten, Saison, and one more that I forgot the name of. These rejected me. This surprised me. My profile didn't seem "high risk" at all. My salary was relatively high and I was a permanent employee and so on.

But I really wanted a Japanese card, for JPY expenses, so I kept researching. I then found a special kind of credit card called a "deposit credit card" (I forgot the company name, and I think they changed owners). This removes all risk from the issuer, because you have to post collateral. If you deposit 500,000JPY collateral (from your bank account), they will set your credit card limit to 500,000JPY. Once you're done using it, you tell them to close the account, and they send you back the collateral (after 2 months though...). Perfect right? They bear zero risk, so they must issue without reservation, right? Nope, rejected. Man I was pissed after that one. Not a single part of that made any sense. If I was a crook who just left Japan without paying my bills, I'd lose my collateral and they'd keep it. So that was nothing more than sakoku, through and through. Which made no sense since it was specifically aimed at foreigners. No wonder the original company had dumped that business onto someone else (who appeared to have even less clue how to operate it). Probably doesn't make much money if you reject your only customer base... These same dumbasses would probably buy an inbound international tourism agency and then restrict their services to only Japanese customers, then scratch their heads why they have no revenue.

Thereafter I took a break from it. I then applied for a credit report from JICC. I was wondering if there was something amiss that I had no awareness of, like I hadn't paid some bill that got mailed to the wrong address or something.

You'd think this part of the story would just be "I asked JICC for a credit report, they gave it to me". Oh no. You must be thinking of another country, dear reader.

I went through JICC's online process, which produced a filled in form that I had to print out and mail to them. In Japan the idea that a website form can, you know, submit digitally and instantly to the end recipient via email, rather than producing a paper output that needs to be carried around the country by mailmen, hasn't registered in the brains of some people yet. No idea why. Maybe some of these kabushiki kaisha only recently got hooked up to the new invention we call "electricity" and are still feeling their way around. Not sure.

This got bounced back as "not at address". Odd... definitely wrote it verbatim as they had stated. So this time I printed out a screenshot of their address from their website, stuck it to the envelope, and sent it again.

They then returned my form after a week or so, rejected, stating they wouldn't accept a foreign passport as proof of ID. Note: two forms of ID were included, my residence card, and my passport, both with matching names and pictures. But they rejected it nevertheless on this made-up technicality. Fuckers.

So I sent it again. This time, I supplied my residence card, plus a photo of myself holding a piece of paper with "JICC" etc written on it. This was one of the options of ID they said you could supply, for your two forms of ID.

They returned my form, rejected again, again after a week or so, stating that the photo ID had to be done via some convoluted process involving installing a special app and some other bullcrap (don't get me started on apps and bureaucracy in Japan -- look up the process for filing e-tax via accounting software, absolute joke that involves opening regedit.exe and altering your operating system configuration). At this point I was fuming.

I then did the following. I sent them a letter, in English plus a translation. Included with that letter was another form, and another form of ID (I think an insurance card, which had no photo on it). The letter referred in detail to their statutory requirements under the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, specifying the specific parts of the act they were violating, that there was no plausible scenario that someone who had supplied the identifying information that I had was someone other than the person I'd stated I was, that therefore was no reasonable interpretation other than that they were deliberately refusing to obey the law by not providing me with the requested information, and that if they failed to promptly respond to my letter with a credit report I'd forward the matter to the Personal Information Protection Commission. I immediately got a credit report sent to me. Turns out that turds only understand being spoken to in one type of way... Huh, fancy that.

Finally I got to see my credit report. Only one of the cards had pinged it (can't remember which, but I think Rakuten), and that was the only record on my report. The others had rejected without even checking credit worthiness. But at least I now knew there was no real problem.

So then I forgot about it a while, until I got a new residence card. I then immediately applied for the next easy card on the list, the Amazon card (issued by Sumitomo Mitsui), and got it. Not easily -- had to go through two rounds of manual paperwork back and forth after the initial online application, because of middle name account matching issues and a single character on my address not matching something in their system (both addresses were equally correct). And the card has my middle name mushed after my first name as a single word, because Japanese don't have middle names and therefore middle names aren't a thing, which looks dumb, but the card works.

So I think the most important factor in getting approved for a Japanese credit card is your remaining visa length. Not how "easy" the card company is, not what your salary is, not how you make your money (permanent, freelance, whatever), not how likely your visa is to renew or what kind it is, but how long remains. I can't remember exactly how much I had remaining, but I think it was around 6 months. Once I got a new one and gave the expiry date (years into the future), the application was approved. This might indicate immediately applying for a few credit cards on the same day, on day one (or possibly even just before arriving via a VPN, if that could work such as you already have a job and address etc, not sure). Then their system will see you have a full year or however much on your visa. I read many reports online from new arrivals who had low salaries and contract employee jobs who got a card, for instance.

Naturally, this is stupid, but I sometimes get the feeling here that the guideline anyone in a paper-pushing bureaucratic job has to follow is "it's not real bureaucracy unless its mind-numbingly stupid, bad faith, unfair, and counterproductive".

The next card I was considering was Amex. These have a significant yearly fee, but they appeared the most foreigner-friendly cards that I saw. For instance the application form had a middle-name field.

Hope this report ends up useful for someone!
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