Japan running out of credit card numbers

This has caused issues for me in the past at physical stores too. My Chinese debit card has 19 digits. Here in the States, it’s supposed to work at any store that takes Discover because UnionPay signed a cross-network agreement to make that possible. In practice, it sometimes failed because a lot of card terminals couldn’t handle the extra 3 digits.


19 digits is technically permitted, though I agree it’s an inconvenience. I’m curious how it works abroad, as frankly US is a laggard at best with regard to payment technology.


Outside the US, it works fine at the few merchants that take it (UnionPay isn’t very widely used outside Asia). It’s just that merchant acceptance is pretty bad in the rest of the Americas and Europe, mostly limited to higher-end merchants or merchants that otherwise see a lot of Chinese customers. For example, in Vancouver, Canada I can use it at a local Asian grocery store chain and at certain shopping centres to buy gift cards that then work at the rest of the stores in that shopping centre. Otherwise it’s only good for ATM withdrawals up to the annual limit (the Chinese government sets a limit of around US$14500/£11500 per year that a person can withdraw from their Chinese debit cards while abroad as part of their capital outflow control measures).


That’s interesting, thanks for sharing. It’s good to hear about experiences outside the Western world’s way of operating. I honestly wouldn’t have the slightest idea about Discover acceptance outside the US where it appears to be an in joke of being rather poorly accepted.


Indeed, although they do have a cross acceptance agreement with Diners Club International, so restaurant-type places will often accept them outside the US.

I think the running joke is also that it’s generally quite easy to get a Discover card as they have quite generous acceptance criteria, so cardholders are looked-down upon to an extent as “obviously with poor credit”. This kind of reminds me of this scene from Family Guy.


I avoid that whole thing by using a UnionPay+MasterCard credit card. Makes life much easier.

Anyway - doesn’t Japan have it’s own JCB payment network? I wonder how many cards over there are that as opposed to Visa / MC

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Yes, although JCB has a cross-acceptance agreement with Amex. So if you are stuck in Japan but they do accept JCB, you can use your Amex (although this would be expensive as there aren’t any free-free FX Amex cards left any more as far as I know).

But better than nothing!

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Yep. Their main cross acceptance is with Diners Club so they work anywhere a Diners Club card would work, and they have country-specific agreements with JCB in Japan and UnionPay in China (this particular agreement is fraying at the seams- EMV chip AIDs are only cross-compatible with a very limited subset of merchants on each side, so most card terminals won’t accept the other’s cards except by magstripe).

I’ve got a credit line attached to a UnionPay, MasterCard, and Diners Club card from ICBC, it’s just that they cut my credit limit to 900RMB (a bit over £100) when I missed a couple of payments so it’s not that practical to use anymore. The Diners card gets me into airport lounges even though it doesn’t have an annual fee, though, which is nice.

It apparently also applies vice-versa in most of the world except the US- JCB cards are supposed to be accepted anywhere that takes AmEx cards (except the US, where they signed on with Discover instead). However, within Japan, pretty much any shop that takes JCB/AmEx/Discover will take MasterCard/Visa as well, so it’s rarely an issue where you have to resort to an AmEx with FX fee. This used to be an issue back before 2010 or so- I remember Japanese 7-Eleven stores refusing all foreign credit cards except JCB and AmEx back in the day.



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I remember Switch cards in the late 80s and into the 90s having 18 and 19 digits, but that whole card scheme was a bit weird. My first Natwest Switch card had colour coding highlighting the different parts of the card number; 4 digits presumably identifying a Natwest Switch, 6 digit sort code, 8 digit account number, and a check digit.

I do remember when I was configuring card acceptance criteria a few years ago that 13 digit Visa card numbers were still catered for (my first Barclaycard was 4929 xxx xxx xxx) as well as Diners (14), Amex (15) and legacy Switch/Maestro of 18 and 19 digits, and a few other oddities.

So I think the capability is there (though all systems would need to be configured to accept it) but as someone else has pointed out, Mastercard now have the entire 2xxx xx range to play with, so would that be a better bet for the Japan problem? Edit: hopefully someone with more recent knowledge can answer that.Switch

As somebody with no expertise, it seems like the 2 BIN range would solve the problem far more simply and with the minimum of hassle.

But then again, perhaps this would also require a huge number of merchants to update their systems as they may not have listed those BINs are valid yet?

You’re absolutely correct there - but as Mastercard has had this range for a while now I’d expect that process may have begun. Having said that, the acceptance criteria tend to be quite specific (hence occasional Monzo acceptance issues) and merchants can be slow to update their systems.

Perhaps it’s me just thinking 17 would look inelegant on the card too, although the 15 digits of Amex have never bothered me :slight_smile:


I wonder whether or not merchants, having known it’s not yet in use (or wide use anyway) have simply thought there is no need to implement support for it yet.

If true, this could present acceptance problems.

To correct my own previous statement, they don’t have the entire 2xxx xx range:

“Mastercard is rolling out an additional range of six-digit BINs (222100-272099). These 2-series BINs adhere to today’s ISO industry standard and will work exactly the same way as the 5-series BINs do today.”

“In November 2014, Mastercard announced the required technical updates to add the
2-series BINs to its supply. The changes to support the Mastercard 2-series BINs need to be
integrated into issuers, acquirers, merchants and processors’ systems by October 2016.”

Having said that, this would refer to the ability to accept these cards, but specific BIN ranges might still need to be configured.

I think that those BINs were allocated to Mastercard under the assumption that they would, it needed, expand out to use the entire 2 range in the future as I believe the rest of the range is currently empty?

So 2 is, provisionally, all Mastercard in a way.

1 is also a vacant BIN so I could see this being given to Visa if they run out of numbers too.


Yes, but… why continue to permit this as an industry? How is this vaguely compatible with the aims of SCA etc?

That’s completely against the aim of SCA, which is why it won’t be allowed in the EU after September next year (the SCA enforcement date).

Outside of the EU… Good luck


It does seem to affect cards issued outside the EU being used in the EU, however. For example, some prepaid cards in Japan already warn you that your card won’t work at EU merchants if you haven’t completed identity verification. Although that sounds like it might be a misinterpretation of what SCA is.

With all of this shortage of numbers what happened to the old Switch, Solo and Irish Laser BINs.

None of these schemes is still in use so can’t these bins be reallocated.

Presumably, in the case of Switch/Solo the ranges were put to use by MasterCard/VISA by the previous scheme members, where possible.

It looks like the ranges commencing with 4*** are now in service with VISA, which is to be expected. The other’s don’t appear to be in use or haven’t been updated, however I’m sure they belong to someone.