Many people traveling to Japan will need a SIM card for their phone. Whether you are coming for a short-term or long-term stay, it is essential to know what type of SIM card you should purchase and the benefits of each one.
In this article, we detail some options so that you can make an informed decision about which plan would be best for your needs.
Short-Term prepaid SIM Cards Options
Several affordable SIM card options are easy to buy and set up for tourists planning to stay in Japan for less than three months. Regarding network operators, there are three big players in Japan – Softbank, Au, and NTT Docomo.
Most recently, these companies have been offering selected prepaid SIM cards to short-term visitors; however, some of the best deals can be found amongst MVNO options.
MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, a company that piggybacks on the network provided by a more prominent operator. The benefit of using these smaller Japan sim card companies is that they can offer more flexible data plans to suit specific groups of customers, so you’re more likely to find a plan that fits your needs.
Each MVNO has its advantages and disadvantages, some offer lower prices per data cap while others provide faster speeds, and some may have hidden fees.
Popular short term mobile plans:
|Description||IIJmio||Nippon SIM for Japan||Sakura Mobile||B-Mobile||Mobal|
|Plan||Japan Travel SIM||Nippon Sim for Japan||Sakura Travel SIM||5GB 10 Days||Japan Unlimited SIM 30 Day|
|Duration||30 days||14 days||30 days||10 days||30 days|
|Internet Speed||Fast||Average||Fast||Average||Very Fast|
|Additional Data (Top Up)||1,500 yen for 1GB||Not available||1,500 yen for 1GB||500 yen for 1GB||(Unlimited)|
|SIM Type||Data Only||Data Only||Data Only||Data Only||Data + Voice|
|Other Features||Includes a Brastel VoIP phone card for calling. Free Incoming Calls||Unlimited LTE data available for 10 specific apps (Google Map, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, Whatsapp, Skype, LINE, Wechat, Kakaotalk)||Online Top Up Feature *SIM card must be returned after use||Online Top Up Feature||Includes a Japanese phone number (Softbank). Free Incoming Calls & SMS|
|Where to get it||BIC Camera AEON Malls Family Mart Tokyo Tourist Information Centres and more||Dependents on the country it is purchased from. Check out the Nippon SIM website for more details||Online Only||B-Mobile Amazon and selected electronic stores in Japan||Online Only|
*All the plans mentioned above offer full English support, are shipped worldwide, or are available for pick up at major airports in Japan. Remember that these are only a handful of the available plans at each MVNO. Check out their websites for other Japan travel sim cards and flexible plans for short-term travelers.
How much data will I need?
The data you’ll need throughout your trip to Japan will depend on how much you rely on your phone. Most travelers will use a fair amount of data mainly to find their way around on the streets of Tokyo or for using the public transport system.
Generally, about 2 to 3 GB a month is more than enough for the average smartphone user.
iPhone users can track how much data they have used by going to Settings > Cellular > Current Period. There’s an option to reset it to follow it by weekly or monthly amounts.
Android users can do the same by going to Settings > Data usage. Some devices allow users to check by specific dates.
Tips before getting a short-term SIM card in Japan
Make sure your phone is “unlocked” before purchasing a SIM card. If you have purchased your phone through a specific network provider and have a contract with them, it may be locked to that service provider.
There are ways to unlock smartphones through your provider and other companies for a fee. An easy way to check if your phone is unlocked is to borrow a friend’s phone using a different phone carrier and insert their SIM card into your phone. If no error message appears, then you are good to go!
Know the size of the SIM card that fits in your phone. As mentioned before, it’ll often be one of these three sizes, standard(15 x 25mm), micro(12 x 15mm), or nano(8.8 x 12.3mm). You can contact your provider to find out the size of your SIM card.
Network compatibility. Ensure that the unlocked phone you bring from your country is supported by the radio frequency bands used in Japan. This is explained in more detail at the bottom of this guide.
Apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, or Tango are free and allow you to call, video chat, and message via an internet connection. Download a VOIP application before traveling to Japan. Also, it’s essential to let your family and friends know that you’ll be only reachable through that application, as regular phone calls will not be able to come through.
Some SIM cards require a PIN. SIM cards sometimes come ‘locked’ and can only be unlocked with a PIN written on the packaging the SIM card came in. Don’t throw the packaging away! Locked SIM cards usually need the PIN every time the phone is restarted. It’s best to keep it safe in your wallet.
Where to buy a Short Term Japanese SIM Card?
You have two options, you can either order a SIM card online before your travel to Japan, or you can buy one once you are there.
Buying a SIM card in Japan
In Tokyo, you can get a SIM card directly at Haneda and Narita airports when you arrive. You can find their booth near the exit; there are usually multiple local phone carriers providing phone services to travelers in international airports in Japan. You need your passport, and the English-speaking staff will help you in the process of switching your original SIM with a Japanese one.
You can also find a SIM card in a local store such as Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera (basically anywhere in Japan) or in a Docomo, AU, or Softbank branch.
Buying a SIM card online
You can order a SIM card on the Internet before traveling to Japan. Some short-term SIM card retailers offer this option, such as Mobal, Sakura Mobile, or Genki Mobile.
Another option: Rent a pocket WIFI
A pocket WiFi is a pre-configured mobile WiFi router you can bring and use anywhere in Japan. As a traveler, you can rent a pocket WIFI (sometimes called a WIFI egg) instead of getting a SIM card. It’s especially interesting when traveling with other people so you can share the cost and use it without hassle as you don’t need to set up anything as it works just as a hotspot.
Long-Term Options SIM Cards Options
For those planning on a long-term stay or are already a resident in Japan, having a phone with not just data but also a phone number is essential for daily life and business. Contact number is often required for job applications and renting an apartment.
There are two options for long-term SIM cards. One is to sign up with one of the three leading network providers -SoftBank, au, or Docomo – all of which require purchasing a brand new phone locked by the carrier and the SIM card. In addition, these companies also ask for a two-year contract with a high penalty fee for early termination to prevent their customers from switching to other providers.
However, a much cheaper option is to sign up with an MVNO company that offers Data + VoSIM cards specifically for those planning to stay in Japan for over three months. Prices can range from ¥2,300 to ¥7,000, a stark contrast to the usual ¥7~11,000 monthly phone bills that come with signing up to one of the larger network providers. Check out the chart below for the best options available on the market right now.
Popular long-term mobile plans:
|Description||Line||Sakura Mobile||Mobal||U-mobile||JP Smart SIM|
|Plan||コミュニケー ションフリー||Mini Plan||Voice + Text + Data Plan||U-mobile 通話 プラス||JP Smart Data|
|Monthly Price (excluding tax)||¥2,220||¥2,980||¥4,500||¥1980||¥3280|
|Minimum Contract Length||12 months||None||None||6 months||None|
|Contract Cancellation Fees||¥9800||None||None||¥6000||None|
|Other Fees||Administrative Fee ¥ 3000 Sim Card Fee ¥400||Activation Fee ¥15,000||None||Administrative Fee ¥3000 SIM card fee ¥340||Contract Commission Fee ¥3000|
|Payment methods||Japan Issued Credit Card Line Pay||Credit Card Convenience Store||Debit Card Credit Card Paypal||Japan Issued Credit Card||Japan Issued Credit Card Convenience Store|
|Other Features||Roll Over Data Unlimited LTE Data for LINE, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram Apps Add On Features Available||English Support Student Discounts Available 30 Free Calling Minutes No Japanese Address Necessary for Sign Up||English Support Discounts available for committing to 6 months with Mobal Unlimited Free Calls to Mobal/ Softbank SIMs||Unlimited Free 3 Minute Calls||English Support First Month is Free|
|Where to get it||Yodobashi Camera BIC Camera K’s Denki||Online Only||Online Only||Online U-NEXT Stores||Online Only|
Tips before getting a long-term SIM card in Japan
A Japanese address is required. Except for a few selected MVNOs, a physical address in Japan that can be verified with official documentation such as a residence card (在留カード) is necessary for purchasing a Data+Voice SIM card.
High-speed data won’t always be available. Since MVNO networks are ‘renting’ the network provided by larger telecommunication carriers, particularly in crowded areas, internet speeds may slow down. This will be due to the main carriers prioritizing customers who have paid premium prices for their network.
Y-mobile or UQ Mobile are recommended if you’re the type of person who regularly likes to watch YouTube on their phone. They are not true MVNOs as Softbank and AU own them, respectively, and don’t throttle their data speeds. The only negative point is that you’ll still be required to sign a two-year contract with them.
Sign up during promotion periods! LINE is known to give away Line Points to customers switching over to their company. These points can be used to pay for your monthly phone bill. Some discounted phone plans are often offered to first-time customers during April and August.
Before purchasing or signing up for an MVNO carrier, you should check that your unlocked phone will be supported by the radio frequency bands used in Japan. Mobile networks and carriers in Japan use 5 UMTS bands, 9 LTE bands, and 2 CDMA bands. This applies to both short-term and long-term foreign residents in Japan.
A quick way to check whether your phone is compatible is to go to FrequencyCheck.com or contact the MVNO company directly. Keep in mind, though, that SIM cards offered for long-term residents may have limited English customer services.
Sakura Mobile offers a compiled list of phone models and tablets supported by their network here.
Smartphones and applications have taken the world by storm since their first conception. Whether messaging and calling friends and family, figuring out how to get to destinations on Google Maps, or uploading photos of your latest adventures on social media, phones have become essential to everyone’s routine.
Make the most of your time in Japan by saving some of your hard-earned money and choosing a SIM card and phone plan that works for your daily and travel needs.
Frequently Asked Questions about Japan Sim Card:
Japan is relatively rigid regarding SIM cards, but things have changed in recent years. In Tokyo, international travelers can buy data SIM cards directly at the airport, at Haneda or Narita.
You can buy a prepaid sim card at the airport upon arrival or at electronics stores like Yodabashi Camera or BIC Camera, which you can find anywhere in Tokyo. The sim card cannot be purchased directly from major Japanese telecom companies like SoftBank. The card should be bought from prepaid sims providers like Sakura Mobile.