foreign-currencyIt’s important to travel with the right currency, credit cards, and bank cards. How else would you get around abroad? No one uses travelers’ checks anymore.

Before heading on my year-long journey through Asia, I prepared myself. After getting charged huge fees from my bank for using an ATM once in Reykjavik, I decided I had to find a better bank. I did some research and found that Capital One had no foreign exchange fees or ATM fees, plus I’d get more interest (still minuscule) than my savings account was earning. I thought I had the solution. It helped that my airline miles credit card stopped charging international exchange fees as well.

Then I came to Japan.

My cash went rather quickly as I can’t buy train/subway tickets with a credit card. Also, a lot of restaurants and bars don’t accept credit cards at all. At least the grocery store takes credit cards.

I was running low on cash before I decided to head to Mt. Takao on Saturday for a hike and a visit to the temples. As I checked the train timetable, I decided I didn’t have enough time to stop at the bank on the way out, but I figured I could find an ATM when I arrived (it’s a tourist attraction after all; it must have an ATM). Nope, nope, nope.

I never noticed, but my bank card is MasterCard, not Visa. This apparently causes some problems. The first ATM I tried didn’t accept MasterCard. The second one at Mizuho Bank claimed to accept it, but didn’t. I was afraid that something was wrong with my card and my account. I even tried two more banks at the next train station with the same result.

Fortunately, I made friends with some Chinese expats on my hike who were very helpful. They found that my bank card was only good at Japan Post ATMs. They also gave me enough money to get to Shinjuku and helped me locate a Japan Post ATM. I repaid their kindness when we went out for dinner.

This incident has made me worry a bit more about traveling to some other countries throughout Asia now. I have to do a little more research on where my card is accepted. I also plan on getting some yen exchanged into US dollars (or possibly another currency with better value) before departing Japan, just in case I need to exchange some.

I know when we assume it makes an ass out of you and me, but this time it just made an ass out of me.

Edit: After finding the ATM locator function on the MasterCard website, I found this message on the Japan search page (other countries seem to be alright):

Thank you very much for patronage with MasterCard. All Maestro-branded EMV cards issued outside of the Asia/Pacific region are temporarily unable to withdraw currency at domestic ATMs, while the regional ATM network is upgraded.

However, Maestro-branded EMV cards issued in the following countries are able to withdraw currency at domestic ATMs.

  • Netherlands
  • Canada

Maestro-branded EMV cards issued within the Asia/Pacific Region, Maestro-branded cards without EMV chip, MasterCard-branded cards, and Cirrus-branded cards are not affected by this temporary suspension of service. Cardholders can continue to be able to use these other MasterCard products at ATMs and merchants across Japan.