Credit Card Use in Asia



One of my original goals for Foreigner’s Finances was to personally learn more about how different nations view money.

I’m fascinated by the topic of money in general. The fact that everyone uses money everyday, but relates to it differently, fascinates me. Throw in international differences and customs and there are some interesting facts and opinions to be found.

Today we’re going to narrow down the international money topic and take a look at how different Asian nations handle credit cards. I’ve managed to accumulate some interesting facts about six of the Asian countries to give you an idea about how they react to credit and plastic.

To give my American audience some perspective, I started off with American credit card facts so you can compare to the Asian countries.



Population: 304 million

  • There were 173 million credit cardholders in 2006, expected to rise to 181 million in 2010 (
  • There are a total of 1.5 billion credit cards in the U.S. (
  • At the end of 2008, Americans’ credit card debt reached $972.73 billion (Nilson Report, April 2009)
  • The lowest credit card delinquency rate was 0.66% in North Dakota, while the highest was 1.98% in Nevada (Newton Daily News)
  • The average American credit card debt was $5,612 in the third quarter of 2009 (Newton Daily News)

Verdict: Addicted to credit and debt. A dangerous combination.


Population: 127 million

In a  survery of 14,886 Japanese citizens:


    • 15% had zero credit cards
    • 48% had over three credit cards
    • 8% charged less than 3,000 yen/month ($34)
    • 15% charged 10,000 to 19,999 yen/month ($115-$230)
    • 11% charged 100,000 yen  ($1,152) or more
  • In 2005, there were 10,765 ATM terminals for every million people (New York Times)

Verdict: Cash-based society, but warming up to the idea of plastic.


Population: 1.34 billion

  • First credit card launched in 1985 by the Bank of China (
  • Credit card debt is up more than 130% to $838 million (
  • Credit card issuance is up 32% in the past year (
  • The total number of bank cards, including debit cards, topped 1.58 billion by March 31, up 29.1% over the year (Asia Times)

Verdict: Will continue to blow away the rest of the world in credit card users. Needs to educate before debt becomes out of control.

South Koreasouth-korea-flag

Population: 48.5 million

  • The economically active Korean has on average 4 credit cards (World Socialist Web Site)
  • “By the end of 2003, about 4 million South Koreans — nearly 10 percent of the entire population — had defaulted on credit card debt” (
  • Ranked 34th in per capita income amongst countries, but 5th in per capita credit card spending (New York Times)
  • “For every million people, there were 403,000 electronic cash registers that allowed them to pay with credit and debit card” (New York Times)

Verdict: Citizens have no idea how to handle credit and it has shown for the past decade.


Population: 1.17 billion

  • Just 24.38 million credit cards (
  • “The credit card population fell by 8.62% to 25.87 million at the end of January 2009 (
  • Credit cards account for just 1% of all purchases (
  • Average credit card debt is $540 (The Times of India)

Verdict: Not interested in credit cards, but this should change as they rise in power.


Population: 140 million

  • Number of credit cards doubled in 2008 (
  • 24 million credit cards in a country of 140 million people (
  • Card fraud tripled in 2008 to $31 billion (

Verdict: Another cash-based society that is slowly getting used to credit cards for purchases.

Saudi ArabiaSA_flag

Population: 28.7 million

  • Number of cards rose 104% to 12.3 million from 2003-2008 (
  • “Cards are controversial as some Muslims believe credit cards of any kind violate Shariah’s prohibition against businesses that charge interest” (

Verdict: Struggling to fit credit cards into their culturally rich society.

There you have it. Some credit card facts for some of Asia’s more notorious countries. I know I’ve gained a great amount of insight into the world of credit cards in Asia, and hope you found this beneficial as well.

Next week, I will take a look at credit card facts in Europe and see how their continent’s citizens are handling credit in their day to day lives.


Photo by: centralasian

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