Using Your Suica Card and Pasmo Card

By Donald Ash | Japanese Train System

If you were trying to get your Pasmo or Suica card to help you get around a little bit more easily in Japan, I hope tutorial articles were easy enough to follow, and I hope you have your new Pasmo or Suica Card in hand. Now that you have it, what exactly can you do with it? How exactly do you use a Pasmo card? How do you use a Suica card.

Pasmos and Suicas follow the exact same guidelines so we’ll just look at one type of card as an example. Let’s examine four aspects of using your Suica or Pasmo card: 1) charging your card, 2) using your card to ride the train, 3) making purchases with your Suica, and 4) checking your balance.

How to Add Value to Your Suica Card

Remember the machine that you purchased your Pasmo or Suica from in the previous tutorials? You’ll use the same one to add value to your card.

Step 1. Touch the Pasmo or Suica button in the lower left panel, once again. This time instead or choosing the new card option, we’ll chose charge. Or on some machines you can start by touching charge in the lower left corner. If you get confused, touch the English option in the upper right corner

Touch the charge button in the lower left panel.

Step 2. Select the amount you want to add. I’m pretty sure that 1000 yen is the minimum amount of value you can buy.

Select the amount you want to charge

Step 3. Touch the receipt button if you need one, then insert your cash.

Touch the receipt button if you need one (see video) and insert cash.

Step 4. Take your newly charged card!

Take your newly charged Suica or Pasmo card!

How to Use Your Pasmo and Suica Cards At the Train Station

This is the main function of your Pasmo or Suica care, and probably the easiest to use. To use your card at a train station, simply touch your card to the IC reader on the ticket gate panel, and the gate doors will open.

If you hear a simple beep, and see the blue light blink, you’ve done it correctly. If you hear “bing bong,” and the IC reader turns red, it meant you probably don’t have enough value left on your card. Don’t panic if this happens, it’s an easy fix. Simply walk over to a fare adjustment machine (all of the train stations will have them somewhere near the ticket gates), insert your card, pay the difference, touch your card to the panel once more and go through.

Oh no! Insufficient funds! Just head over to the fare adjustment machine for a quick, easy fix.

ALRIGHT! It worked! It's blue!

*Note: The IC chip in your card is pretty strong, I don’t even have to take my cart out of my wallet. I simply touch my wallet to the IC chip and I’m able to go through.

How to Make Purchases with Your Suica

Many vending machines, convenience stores, and shops in general will allow you to use your PASMO or Suica cards. In general, a great way to find if a store will use your Suica is either to ask the clerk, or (more discreetly) see if there is a PASMO/SUICA scanner at the checkout counter.

A convenience store IC card reader

When making the purchase, just show your card to the clerk, and he’ll show you where to touch your card. Simply touch your card to the sensor, and that’s it. SUPER CONVENIENT (if you have money on your card, anyway)

How to Check Your Pasmo/Suica Balance

So are your wondering whether or not you have any money left on your card? You want to save yourself the embarrassment of trying to use a spend card, right? Well there are several ways to check your balance:

1) Train Station Information Booth: Go to the information booth and just say “Sumimasen, balansu wa nan desu ka?” “すみません、バランスはなんですか?” like you’re asking a question.

This place is a life-saver, they don't speak much English, though.

2) Vending machine: This is probably the simplest way to go. If there’s a vending machine, you can touch your card to the sensor, and it will tell you just how much you have. If you don’t have enough, just wait, the sensor will reset on it’s own, not charging your anything.

Vending machines can be great places to check your card balance with no fuss

3) At the store you’re shopping at: Ask that magic question again, “Sumimasen, balansu wa nan desu ka?” and they’ll let your touch your card to the sensor, showing your account balance.

Convenience store reader showing your balance and the amount charged.

4) Train Station Ticket Gates, Charge Machines, or Fare Adjustment Machines
When you touch your card to the ticket gate, the rectangular display farthest from you will show two numbers: the top number is your balance and the bottom is how much the current trip cost you.

Charge machines, will display how much money is on your card before you insert any money, and fare machines will do the same. The charge machine is better to use because usually people at the fare machines are in a bit of a rush.

**I also want to say I heard about a special feature with Docomo (one of the larger cell phone companies in Japan) cell phones, or was it au?, that links your card to your cell phone. You can check your balance and all that stuff, but don’t quote me, I’m still learning about the cell-phone PASMO/SUICA card link.

How to Use Your Pasmo/Suica Video

Just in case any of the pictures or instructions managed to confuse you, the video should simplify things for you. ENJOY!!

As both cards also have nearly the exact same two main functions, 1) riding the train more efficiently and 2) making purchases, they are both pretty straightforward once you get the hang of them. If you have any questions, let me know 🙂 and I’ll do my best to help.

Before You Go!

Here's a video on how to find your train route. I hope it helps. CHEERS!


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • CluelessTraveler says:

    Will the gate only show insufficient funds when you exit the station? When you enter how would it know as I thought the card worked by recording you entering a station, then exiting a station and calculating your fare upon exiting? Thanks

    • Donald Ash says:

      Cool name, Clueless Traveler.

      The card will signal whether you’re entering or exitign the station. If you don’t have enough money on your card to make a trip, the touch panel will “bing bong” you. It will also show you what your balance is so you’ll know exactly how much you’re working with. I think the card works just how you’re saying it does, it does calculate the entering and exiting station, but if you go further than what you balance will allow, you get that signal. Great question.

    • thejapanguy says:

      I don’t know why I have never seen this question. It’s a good one.
      You will get the insufficient funds “bing bong” whenever your funds are insufficient, entering or exiting the ticket gate.
      Thanks for your question.

  • afiqah says:

    So what is exactly the different between those two cards?

    • christopherjacques says:

      Basically the same. They started out as competitors but realize it just works better when they play along.

  • Lessa Traboco says:

    I accidentally stumbled on your website while doing research for my trip to tokyo this may. Ive been to japan before, but only at the kansai area. Very helpful. 🙂 thanks!

  • happyzippy says:

    Really clear detailed instructions on how to a Pasmo/Suica card. The video was definitely helpful. Thanks

  • Qwerty says:

    I put my suica card in my phone case so i can use it more conveniently and it doesnt read my suica card, i had to take it out to be able to read my card. 🙁

    • christopherjacques says:

      Things like phones, sim cards, other IC cards can interfere. I’ve found putting a blank plastic “point card” in between, with the suica at the outer edge, seems to help.

  • Peter Harper says:

    Are there any area limits to the use of each card, or can they be used all over Japan. e.g. Suica is issued by JR East is it limited to JR East territory. I will be travelling as far north as Sendai and as far south as Tanegashima.

    • christopherjacques says:

      You can usually use them anywhere IC cards are accepted, but there are many places where IC cards are not accepted at all. Just look for the touch pads.

      • Peter Harper says:

        It did work most of the time when I used public transport, however it was not accepted when I tried to use it on the Sendai local train network. Not sure if there are other situations like that it would apply to. My trip to Japan was over a year ago now.

  • mye says:

    Is the machine only accepts cash? Will you be able to use credit card to purchase/charge a suica/passmo?

    • christopherjacques says:

      Only cash. You have to have a japanese credit card and set up a whole recurring charge thing if you really want to use a credit card.

  • Bje says:

    Can 2 people share one pasmo? Can the excess money in the Pasmo be refunded at the end of the trip?
    I have been contemplating whether to get Pasmo or the JR pass. I really cant decide.. Arriving in Kansai airport, and staying near Osaka Namba station. Visiting Kyoto, Nara, Kobe (for the kobe beef) and possibly Nagoya. Pls give your thoughts on this.Tnx!! btw, video was informative!

    • christopherjacques says:

      You can, though the station attendants would probably get suspicious. You really don’t need to since you do get all your money refunded at the end of the trip, including the 500yen card fee, as long as you return the card in working condition. I would recommend just getting two cards, and saving a little extra time and grief not leaning over the gate handing it to someone else.

  • christopherjacques says:

    An update, JR East (at least) has added a 500 yen option. You can even put in 1000 yen, hit the 500 yen button and get a 500 yen coin as change.

  • steve read says:

    Can a Suica card be recharged in Saporro?

  • solidsnack says:

    If I have a Suica card and a Pasmo card in the same wallet and touch the wallet to the sensor, it’s bad, I bet.

  • Er says:

    How do you use the SUICA card on a bus? I scanned it on the way onto the bus, but on the way off there was no scanner at the rear door. I had to push through angry people getting on at the front door to scan it before getting off the bus. It didn’t feel right. But how else do you scan the card before getting off? Or don’t you? But then how does it know how much to deduct from the card when you get on? I’m confused.

    • Chirp says:

      If you’re on a city bus the fares are the same throughout the city so you only touch getting on. That’s how it is in Tokyo anyway. Out in the countryside, you new to touch getting off because of the distances. I know this comment was a year ago so you probably figured that out, but maybe it can help someone new looking at this page.

  • sru says:

    Thank You, Japan guy, and thank whoever mentioned you do not have to input your phone number in the comments. I was just trying to get a commuter pass for my school (yes, I know that student passes are different; my school does not let me get one, so I just needed a regular pass) and asked about my phone I just stood there confused (don’t have a phone here yet). JR Information sent me to Ticket Office and they gave me a form (in Japanese) to fill. Great. Luckily thanks to finding this page and reading the comments I actually got the pass, just without a phone number. It works.

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