There are many websites out there selling the JR Pass, with several of them having very similar names. This leaves many would-be buyers wondering which is the actual official site to buy from, because they all look sort of official with JR Pass in their names. How do you decide which website is the right one to buy from?
The national JR Pass
The official JR Pass website does not sell JR Passes at all. Instead it has a list of designated JR Pass agents located in various countries across the world. This list gives the office address and phone number, but not the website. This makes it difficult to match the websites with the list, but if you are going to buy from a website, this is a basic check you should make. Look in the small print, usually the contact or about page, and find the address, then check that it’s one of the designated agents.
Once you’ve done this, you may still have a list of agents that you could buy a pass from, and you’re wondering which to choose. I won’t recommend specific agents because what is cheapest and fastest in one country will not be in another country. Be cautious about recommendations as sometimes these are made because the writer or blogger gets a commission through an affiliate link.
Factors to look at include:
- price – although the JR Passes are fixed prices in yen, some agents have more favourable exchange rates, which brings the cost down. The shipping charge will also vary between agents.
- location – if there’s an agent in your city, seriously consider buying direct from them rather than getting it sent from elsewhere. This is particularly true if your trip is only a short time away. Getting the JR Pass exchange order sent to you could be cutting it fine, particularly if it’s coming from an agent on another continent.
- reputation – look at reviews in various places – TripAdvisor forums, Japan Guide forums, Reddit, and others. Some agents get better feedback than others.
The JR Pass can also be bought in Japan from major stations but it is more expensive to do this.
Regional JR passes
Regional JR passes are often available through the same agents as the national JR Pass, however some are available via regional JR company websites. Take a look at the following JR company websites to see if the pass you want is available.
JR West – this includes the Kansai-Hiroshima area pass, Hokuriku Arch Pass and others.
Both these reservation systems enable you to reserve (payment optional) and then pick up from railway stations in Japan. Payment is in yen.
While JR East has a button linking to online reservation, it goes to an overseas agent based in North America. This could work well for you, but you may prefer to do a price comparison with other agents more local to you.
JR Hokkaido, JR Shikoku and JR Central don’t have online ordering of rail passes yet.
What might happen in the future?
This information is current as at October 2019 and may well change over the next year. JR companies are increasingly offering online train reservation facilities for international visitors, and I suspect this is likely to flow into rail pass sales as well. I am certainly keeping on eye on developments in this area.
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