Japanese Suica Card + new iPhones = Japan Points Galore!

I've been debating getting an iPhone 8 before our next Japan trip, but was sorta on the fence. On one hand, I'd like to wait for the X, but on the other hand, I'd love to play with the 8's support for an AppleWallet version of the Japanese Suica card. (for the iPhone 7, only models sold in Japan supported Suica; with the 8, all iPhones worldwide do).

Since Suica transit payment card was launched over a decade ago, it's become the standard payment method for nearly all vending machines in the country, and many businesses have added support for their customers to pay at the register with it. Further, any shop within a train station has to accept Suica for payment, and huge numbers of stores in Japan are located within train stations.

all iPhone 8 models support mobile Suica

Add money instantly with your Apple Pay credit cards!

So aside from my train nerdery, why does this matter? Because with this new system, visitors can reload their mobile Suica with any ApplePay credit card. (In the past, visitors could only use cash).

Ergo, this means that every subway trip, vending machine beverage, and purchase from a convenience store now codes as travel on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, and that means:

3 points on anything I buy with my Suica

Furthermore, with this Chase ApplePay promotion, my first $1500 in Suica spending will yield 4 points per dollar (Not sure if I'll come anywhere near that, so effectively all of my spending will be at 4x! UPDATE: The promo ended November 4th, but I still managed to put several hundred dollars of Suica on the card before the deadline!)

4x points!

Another exciting thing about this new feature is that I can instantly top up my card when it's getting low. I don't have to go find a machine, make sure I have enough cash, wait in line (gotta LOVE the first of the month in Tokyo when every single machine in the city has a massive queue), reload my card, and then get back on my way.

Ticket machine lines are brutal near the first of the month

 

So how do you do it?

In short: lay your phone on top of your Suica and it will "ingest" your card to your Apple Wallet. The plastic card is deactivated in the process. That ¥500 you paid when you first bought your Suica is kindly refunded onto your mobile Suica as part of the ingest process.

The iPhone 8 can ingest Suica card to the Apple Wallet

There are some great step-by-step guides out there already, so I'll just link you to them rather than re-invent that wheel here. One quick tip from me before you begin: if your Japanese is a little rusty, remember that Google Translate works on screen captures.

 

Gotchas

Change.  One of my first thoughts was, "Wait, but Suica is how I used to get rid of all my coins! No more feeding 3 dozen coins into the machine to top my card off and lighten my wallet?!" According to this blog, there are now smart-phone savvy Suica machines where you can use cash to top-up a mobile Suica, but from the looks of the pictures and the video, there aren't any coin slots on them. I guess I'll have to report back if mobile Suica means I end up with fewer coins and/or if there are coin-accepting top off machines. [UPDATE: While I saw plenty of machines that would let you use bills to reload your mobile Suica, in 3 weeks I didn't see a single one that would let you use coins.]

New phone/Reinstalls. Since your physical card is now dead, be careful when you do anything that resets your Apple Wallet (i.e., new phone, full reinstall). Make sure you set iTunes to make encrypted backups, so your Suica can be restored by an iTunes sync. Also, make sure you go back and set your phone's region to Japan before you do any upgrades or restores so the Apple Wallet can actually "see" the mobile Suica.

This is Suica ONLY. Official document say that other regions' IC cards (e.g., Kitaca, ICOCA) won't work.

No refilling your card at night. Suica's web payment system goes down for maintenance every night, just like the trains. You have to wait until 4 a.m. to reload with ApplePay. (This is more of a concern when you're in a different time zone topping off before you begin your journey).

 

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