When visiting Osaka, Kyoto, and other areas of Kansai, you will want to pick up an ICOCA card.
ICOCA stands for IC Operating Card. Offered by the JR-West transportation line, ICOCA is a prepaid card (similar to a debit card) used to pay for transportation on subways, trains, buses, shopping, and food.
It’s extremely convenient to have the card when taking local transportation around Osaka and Kyoto. You need to tap the card once at the entrances of the train stations and buses and tap the card again when exiting. There isn’t any need to figure out how much the route ticket costs and fumble around with cash prior to each ride.
We just found out how incredible it was to have an ICOCA card or IC card, used interchangeably. We’ve been to Japan a handful of times and never bothered to get one as we used either a JR Pass or took the time to figure out where to go and bought tickets at the ticket machine.
After using the IC card, we will never go back to buying tickets at the station since it saves so much time.
Here are reasons why everyone should have an ICOCA or IC Card when traveling to Osaka, Kyoto, and the surrounding Kansai region.
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1. You do not need to commit to a Japan Wide or Kansai West JR Pass.
Japan Railways (JR) offers international travelers an opportunity to use a JR Pass to travel around Japan or a specific region on the JR train and bus lines for a discounted price.
The Japan Wide JR Pass can be used across the entire country while Kansai West JR Pass is only for the Kansai region.
The JR Pass is helpful if you plan to travel long distances for 7 to 14 days. Riders can reserve seats on the shinkansen (high-speed trains) without any additional cost. The shinkansen tickets cost more than the local trains depending on the distance.
If the JR Passes sound perfect for your trip:
Otherwise, if you plan to stay in the Kansai region, or Osaka or Kyoto only, then a JR Pass may not be worth the price. Osaka and Japan have different railways besides the JR line so you can use an ICOCA card instead.
From Kansai International Airport to Osaka, we took the JR Haruka Line to central Osaka for an additional fee and then transferred to a local line to get to our accommodations using the ICOCA card.
2. It’s convenient and saves you time going through the train station and bus entrance.
As mentioned above, you have your ICOCA card and tap the card on any IC card reader for the train station and bus entrances and exits.
You do not need to worry about any shortage of cash to buy a physical ticket.
The buses do not have change when paying in cash, so the IC card is beneficial to have. We used our ICOCA card when boarding a Kyoto city bus.
3. It saves you some money on the fare.
We read that there is a small discount on the fare for using an IC card versus using cash to pay for a ticket.
4. Use the ICOCA card for most of the train and bus lines around Japan.
As long as the IC logo is present, you can use the card for the majority of the transportation options around the country – trains, subways, and bus lines.
Therefore, if you’re in Tokyo where Pasmo and Suica IC cards are distributed, you can still use your ICOCA card there (and vice versa). You do not need to buy another IC card. Yay!
Shinkansen high-speed trains or limited express trains will require extra costs and a reserved seat. The IC card will not cover the cost.
5. Pay for a lot of things such as coin lockers, shopping, and food.
If you want to use your IC card as a debit card, you can pay for most things in Japan.
For example, if you need luggage storage at the lockers in the train stations, you can use your IC card to pay for the locker. The IC card is also used to unlock the locker. There are coin lockers if you prefer to pay with coins.
The IC card is accepted at these convenience markets – 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Mini Stop. At restaurants, the card is accepted at McDonalds, Coco Curry Ichibanya, and more. Click here to see a list of places that accepts the ICOCA card.
Frequently Asked Questions About the ICOCA Card
Where can I buy an ICOCA card?
It’s easy to buy one at the JR train stations, convenience stores, and stores that have an IC or ICOCA sticker.
We bought ours at the JR Ticket Office at Kansai Airport Train Station and started out with 1500 yen on the card.
Can you use an ICOCA card in other regions of Japan?
Yes, you can! You can use the ICOCA card in places with an “IC” logo or sticker.
We bought our ICOCA card at Kansai Airport Station and used it in Tokyo on a separate trip.
Note: There are some restrictions where you cannot use an IC card to cross into another region, such as Kansai (ie: Kyoto) to Kanto (ie: Tokyo) area. Therefore, you’ll need to exit the train line from JR-West and then enter through the JR-East lines.
The workers at the ticket office are helpful so you can ask them if you have any questions.
How can I check the ICOCA card balance?
You can check your card balance at any train station ticket or recharge IC card machine.
Also, when you exit the train station, you can see on the small screen the cost of the train ride on top and the balance on your card on the bottom
What happens when I run out of money on the IC card?
To add money to your card, visit any train station ticket machine and find a sign that says “Recharge IC Card.” The machines are either at the ticket machines before entering the train station or right before exiting the station.
If you’re using the card to go to the airport and need to top up upon arrival, there are recharge machines right before exiting. You can pay the exact change too.
The machines have multiple languages including English available and will guide you through the process.
You can add as little as 1,000 yen or up to 20,000 yen. Cash must be used to recharge the card.
Can I use a credit card to top up?
No. With the ICOCA Card, you must use cash.
What is an alternative to the ICOCA card? Can I use my smartphone?
Using your iPhone or Android smartphone you can add a transit card to Apple Pay or Google Pay, respectively, and you can choose either Pasmo, Suica, or IC Card. You will need a Japanese phone number for this.
We didn’t choose this option as we don’t use our smartphones for digital pay.
I’m traveling for a few days and do not need the ICOCA card anymore. Can I get a refund?
Yes, you can. You will receive a 500 yen deposit for the ICOCA card at any JR West ticket office.
If you have any money left over on the card, then you’ll receive the total amount minus a 220 yen processing fee.
Unfortunately, if you’re traveling to Tokyo in the Kanto region and trying to get a refund, you will not be able to get one there as the ICOCA card was distributed by JR West. The refund can only be done at any JR West train station.
Even if you have a short visit to Osaka, Kyoto, and the Kansai region, there are many good reasons to use the ICOCA (IC Card) on your trip.
If you plan to visit other regions in Japan, you can continue to use the same ICOCA card for transportation, shopping, and food places. It’s a convenient card to have on your Japan travels.
Looking for ideas on places to visit in the Kansai region? Read our post below:
Happy traveling in Japan!