How Far in Advance Should I Buy The Japan Rail Pass?

Shinkansen N700 Series at the station
© Ana Costa

If you are traveling to Japan, you will probably need a Japan Rail Pass. We all love to prepare for our travel in advance but make sure you read all this information to ensure you’re not buying it too soon. Indeed, there’s a time window to buy the Japan Rail Pass before traveling to Japan.

The Japan Rail Pass can be bought 90 days before the exchange date. After the online purchase, you receive a voucher that you must trade for the Japan Rail Pass in Japan within 90 days (which is the validity period of your exchange order). After 90 days, the voucher is no longer valid.

In the next paragraphs, I will show you exactly what you need to know, so you can avoid any problems related to the purchase, the delivery times, and the validity of the Japan Rail Pass.

Japan Rail Pass Dates

Let’s say you arrive in Japan on January 24, and you decide to exchange the voucher to get your pass on the same day. This means you can buy the Japan Rail Pass on October 26 (90 days before you arrive in Japan). You should not buy it before October 26, and you should even wait a few days after that date.

There are 3 important dates to consider when buying a Japan Rail Pass.

  • Purchase date: the day you buy your voucher online
  • Exchange date: the day you exchange your voucher for the JR Pass in Japan (must be within 90 days after the purchase date)
  • Starting date: the day you will start using your JR Pass. You define the starting date at the JR office when you exchange your voucher. Once the starting date is defined, it can’t be changed

To know your purchase date, you need to know your starting date and exchange date. The first question you need to ask yourself is “When will I start using the JR Pass?”.

Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order
© Ana Costa

If you need to start using your JR pass right away once you get to Japan, your exchange date and starting date will be the same, and that’s perfectly fine.

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Now, let’s say you arrive in Japan and don’t need to use the famous high-speed bullet train immediately. Or you have a late arrival, and you are only going to exchange your voucher the next day. Once you exchange the voucher for your pass (again, 90 days maximum after the purchase), you have to choose your starting date. This starting date can’t exceed 30 days after the exchange.

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You should also take into consideration that the Japan Rail Pass is valid for consecutive days. The validity begins at the starting date you choose and goes on for 7, 14, or 21 days, depending on the type of pass you bought.

So if you’re staying 15 days in Japan and you buy a 14-day pass, you won’t be able to use either the first day or the last day. Again, using the example above, if you arrive in Japan on January 24, exchange the voucher the same day, and start to use it immediately, you won’t be able to use it for the last day of your travel (even if you didn’t use it one or two days in between because it refers to consecutive days).

Make sure you buy your Japan Rail Pass from an official reseller like Japan Experience or Klook with good delivery times. You don’t want anyone sending it too soon or too late.

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Purchase and Delivery of the Japan Rail Pass

14-day Japan Rail Pass
© Ana Costa

If you’re reading this post and your departure date is in a week or so, you’re still able to buy a Japan Rail Pass online. Most websites guarantee deliveries between one and three days. But if you’re not sure whether you’ll get it on time, some websites allow you to receive your order directly at the hotel you’re staying in Japan (just make sure you’re staying at the same hotel for at least 4 days).

Buying Japan Rail Pass Online Step-by-Step

To buy your Japan Rail Pass, just type your research on Google – it will be something like “buy Japan rail pass”- and then pick one of the official websites. I suggest picking Klook because the purchase process is really simple.

Just select the type of the pass (green pass for first-class travel, or standard), the duration (7, 14, or 21 days), and the number of adults and children (children between 6 and 11 years old pay half the price; children under 6 years old don’t pay, but they don’t have the right to a seat; children above 11 years old pay as adults).

Once you made your choice, click the button to go to the next step. In this step, you’ll have to enter your name, nationality, estimated time of arrival, and delivery information (name, complete address, and phone number). Please be sure to fill in all this information correctly, to avoid any problems. The names must be the same as on your passport and the address must be complete for the delivery.

The last step is payment. Some websites recommend insurance at this point, but it’s not mandatory. You can say no and select your payment method. Please pay attention to any payment fees. Normally you have the choice between a credit card, PayPal, and bank transfer. A bank transfer is not recommended if you are in a hurry as it takes around 3 days to receive your payment and the seller will wait for it before processing your order.

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There are plenty of websites where you can buy your Japan Rail Pass, but if you prefer going to an office, you have a whole list of authorized offices in the US.

Canceling or Changing Your Order

Most websites allow you to cancel or change your order. For instance, if you didn’t get the time to exchange your voucher in Japan for some reason or if you cancel your travel, you can ask the seller to accept your voucher back. This can be done within a year after the purchase, but it will cost you between 10 to 20% of the price. Be aware that if you exchange your voucher in Japan, you won’t be able to ask for a return (even if you didn’t use it at all).

However, if you just want to change your order, like getting a Regional Pass instead of the Japan Rail Pass, or change the duration of your pass, you’ll usually have no fees other than the delivery cost.

Either way, just make sure you get all the information before making your decision and buying the pass. In addition, look for the return policy of the website you choose to avoid problems later. Most of them are great, but you never know, so take at least a quick look to see if there’s something that could make you think twice before making your purchase.

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