A PASMO card is basically a prepaid card or recharge card to pay for public transportation in a convenient way.
You’ll put money on this card ahead of time so all you have to do for trains and buses is swipe to pay.
There might be a select very few trains in Tokyo that may not accept PASMO cards as a way to pay, but I think that you will find for most places you visit in Tokyo, you can use the card.
Reserved trains will still also need separate tickets on top of the normal train fare. The easiest thing to do in that case I think is to just find a nearby train station worker that can help you buy the additional ticket!
These are typically “limited express” type trains, and not “local” trains.
An example of this type of situation in which you need an additional ticket is going by train from Tokyo to the Chureito Pagoda for famous Mt Fuji views. You can swipe in and out at the ticket gate as you usually would, and then you can actually buy the added-fare ticket at the platform before you board the limited express train.
This might sound confusing, but don’t stress too much about it. You’ll probably figure it out! And if you do make some mistakes along the way… all a part of the Japan adventure. 😉 See some tips for your first trip to Japan though!
So about getting your pasmo card.
The prepaid card or recharge card you’ll use to pay for public transportation easily are collectively called “IC cards.”
There are many different types of IC cards, and in Tokyo the pasmo card and the suica card are among the most popular.
You’ll likely be able to buy a card at the first train station you go to in Tokyo. It may or may not be a pasmo card. Instead, it might be a suica card. For example, if you’re arriving to Japan at Haneda airport, you can get a suica card before you get a monorail train if the monorail is how you’re getting to Tokyo from the airport!
For purposes of traveling locally around Tokyo, it really doesn’t matter much whether you get a pasmo card or a suica card. It will be dictated more by the first train station you go to, and whether they are selling a pasmo card or a suica card!
If you’re at a train station that’s connected to selling pasmo cards, you generally are able to buy a pasmo card at the same ticket machine that you buy the train tickets.
Instead of buying a train ticket though, you’ll look for the option to buy an PASMO card. At major train stations, there will be an option to switch the language to English.
Everyone you’re traveling with will need an individual card.
While it’s possible to pre-order this ahead of time and buy it before you go to Japan, that is really not necessary, even if you are the over-planning type.
The card does NOT save you money
You’ll pay the regular bus fare or train fare, and this in no way will save you money.
It’s just highly convenient.
As a recharge cash card, it doesn’t cost you any extra money either. (Well, except to buy the card itself.)
But for individual trips, it won’t cost anything extra.
If you’ll be taking a lot of local buses and trains for travel within cities, you’ll want to highly consider getting one of these cards.
They can make your life MUCH easier!
One of the biggest advantages for the train is that you won’t have to buy individual train tickets. And when you don’t have to buy train tickets, it means it can save you time too!
For buses, you don’t have to be concerned about always having exact change.
How to buy train tickets WITHOUT a pasmo card
To show you why you need a PASMO card (okay, why you should REALLY consider it!), let’s talk about how to buy local train tickets.
First you’ll go over to the area to buy train tickets.
Then, you need to figure out how much you need to pay.
In order to figure out how much you need to pay, you’ll have to find the train station you’re going to on the map.
Then once you’ve figured it out, you go through the process to buy the train ticket at the ticket machine.
You can bypass all of this if you have a PASMO card! Which, in the end, WILL save time!
You can go straight to the ticket gate and swipe through! You’ll tap both on entry and exit.
When you swipe out after the train ride, it’ll show you how much the train fare cost, and how much money you have left on the card.
If you have a train ticket, you’ll insert the ticket in the slot, also both at entry and exit.
On entry, the ticket will come out again and you need to grab it.
On exit, you insert the same ticket, but no ticket will come out – you’re done.
If you want to keep train tickets as a souvenir to take home with you, you can go over to the train station worker at manned ticket gates and explain that you’d like to keep it. They will stamp or put a hole in the ticket indicating that it’s used up, and then you can keep it!
PASMO card in Kyoto?
If you’re in Tokyo first and you buy the pasmo card, you can use it in Kyoto too wherever IC cards are accepted.
Then when you are in Tokyo, you can use the icoca card wherever pasmo cards are accepted.
These cards are used all across Japan, so it’s also not just limited to the major cities.
PASMO card vs SUICA card vs ICOCA
Nowadays, these are all basically the same thing.
These are all called “IC cards” and can be used in the same way.
So wherever you see that IC cards can be accepted, you can use a pasmo, suica, or icoca card.
It used to be that the cards were region-specific and you could only use the cards in a certain area.
But now there’s generally no such restriction.
You’ll see PASMO and SUICA more so in Tokyo, while you’ll see more of ICOCA in Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima.
There are also more types of IC cards too.
One of the exceptions is that in Okinawa, you need to get a certain type of IC card called the okica card, as the popular IC cards aren’t accepted.
But in general, you’ll find it to be convenient to travel around Japan with a pasmo card!
Use IC cards for more than just transportation
Some convenience stores accept IC cards, and some vending machines do too.
You may even be able to pay for coin lockers (luggage storage) at train stations with an IC card.
How much do PASMO cards cost?
These cards cost around 500 yen (US$5), although technically this is just a deposit and you can return the card at the end of your Japan trip to get the money back.
But also consider keeping the card as a souvenir!
In order to get the deposit back, you’ll need to return the card at a station where you can buy PASMO cards. (So you likely won’t be able to return it in Kyoto.)
How to recharge PASMO cards
You can add more money to your card at the same place that you buy train tickets.
There may be separate “recharge stations” for IC cards next to ticket machines too.
You may also see these recharge stations within the paid/gated area of train stations too, in case you realize after you’ve gone through the gates that the card is low on money.
You would find these stations right near the ticket gates.
PASMO cards vs JR pass?
There’s really no comparison between a PASMO card and a JR pass, as you buy them primarily for different reasons.
You can use the JR pass on JR lines for travel around cities too, for example to get around Tokyo or to get around Kyoto.
But sometimes the best way to get around locally once in a city may not be to take a JR train or a JR bus.
And in those cases, you can just use your PASMO card to swipe through to pay.
And here are tips to figure out if the JR pass is worth it if you’re still deciding on that.
HAPPY TRAVELING TOKYO WITH YOUR PASMO CARD!