ADVISORY: Since June 2023, sale of PASMO/SUICA has been limited in the Tokyo area (see below). The Welcome SUICA card sales is limited to the airport, but as of Jan 2024 the Narita Airport station has run out of stock.
The PASMO or SUICA cards are reloadable transportation cards that work on practically every major rail company in Japan. How it works is similar to the Oyster Card in London, T-money in Seoul or the EZ-Link in Singapore, just to name a few.
Many bus systems allow use of these cards and it can also be used to activate the luggage lockers placed at stations or for payments at most convenience stores in the city.
Having these cards is not compulsory for travel and they provide little to no discount over the standard single-ride ticket, but they are recommended for its convenience since the Japanese transport system is made up of multiple public and private carriers who each have their own separate fare structure.
Each traveler will need to carry one card and tap-in/out every time you go through the automated gates.
IMPORTANT CHANGES IN THE TOKYO AREA SINCE JUNE 2023
Due to the worldwide shortage of semiconductors, the sales point of PASMO or SUICA in the Tokyo area is now extremely limited.
Short-term travelers to Japan may still obtain cards specifically for tourists at the airport or selected areas within Tokyo.
According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, JR East (the issuer of SUICA) is hoping to resume normal sales in spring of 2024.
1) At the Skyliner & Keisei Information Center in the Narita Airport Station
2) At the Keikyu Information Center in Haneda Airport Station
3) At other major stations mentioned on this website https://www.pasmo.co.jp/visitors/en/buy/
*Passports are required for the purchase and the payment must be made in cash.
1) Vending machines in the Narita Airport Station (Both T1 and T2/T3) or Haneda Airport Monorail Station (T3)
2) JR East Travel Center in Narita Airport (T1 8:30am-7pm, T2/T3 8:30am-8pm) or Haneda Airport (T3, 6:45am-8pm)
*Passports are not required for the Welcome SUICA.
The cards are not available at other stations such as Tokyo or Shinjuku.
Update Jan 2024: There is now a notice at the Narita Airport Station that the Welcome SUICA card is completely out of stock.
The PASMO PASSPORT with the exact same function can still be purchased at the adjacent Keisei station,
The PASMO PASSPORT or WELCOME SUICA will be valid for 28 days. The card can be topped up using a vending machine found in the stations including non-JR ones, in any region of the country. What is left on the card will not be refunded so be cautious about adding too much value into your card.
Since the point of sales in the city is limited, I recommend getting one at the airport, if time allows.
Also note the restriction of sales only apply to the Tokyo area, so cards with similar function (such as the ICOCA in the Kansai region) can be more easily obtained in other parts of the country.
THE APP VERSION (ONLY FOR IPHONE USERS)
iPhone users have the choice to download SUICA/PASMO on their wallet app instead of using the physical card. Apparently US-issued VISA cards cannot be used to add funds, but MasterCard or AMEX works fine.
For Android users, the app is only compatible with devices specifically marketed for Japan, so it is not an option.
Despite the shortage, a child version of the regular SUICA (without expiry date, for passengers under 12) can still be purchased at any ticket office, not restricted to the stations mentioned above.
You will require identification to verify age, such as a passport for the purchase.