Many people traveling to Japan will need a SIM card for their phone. Whether you are coming for a short-term stay or long term, it is important to know what type of SIM card you should purchase and the benefits that come with each one. In this article we break down some options in detail so that you can make an informed decision about which plan would be best for your needs.
Short-Term prepaid SIM Cards Options
For tourists that are planning on staying in Japan for less than 3 months there are a number of affordable SIM card options that are easy to buy and set up. In terms of 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, which simply put is a company that piggybacks on the network provided by a larger operator. The benefit of using these smaller 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. It goes without saying that each MVNO has its own advantages and disadvantages, some offer cheaper prices per data cap while others offer 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. Do keep in mind that these are only a handful of the available plans at each MVNO. Check out their websites for other flexible prepaid plans and visitor SIM cards.
How much data will I need?
The amount of data you’ll need throughout your trip in Japan will depend on how much you depend 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. In general, about 2 to 3 GB a month is more than enough for the average smartphone user.
iPhone users can track how much data you have used by going to Settings > Cellular > Current Period. There’s an option to reset it to track 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. An easy way to check if your phone is unlocked is to borrow a friend’s phone that is using a different phone carrier and insert their SIM card into your phone. If no error message appears, then you are good to go! There are ways to unlock smartphones, both through your provider and other companies for a fee.
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. Make sure to check 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.
Download a VOIP application before traveling to Japan. Apps such as WhatsApp, Skype or Tango are completely free and allow you to call, video chat and message via an internet connection. Also it’s important 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 that’s written on the packaging the SIM card came in. Don’t throw the packaging away! SIM cards that are locked usually need the PIN everytime 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 at Haneda and Narita airport directly when you arrive. You just 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 find their booth near the exit, there are usually multiple local phone careers providing phone services to travelers in international airports in Japan.
You can also find a SIM card in a local store such as Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera (they are basically anywhere in Japan), or in a branch of Docomo, AU or Softbank.
Buying a SIM card online
You have the possibility to order a SIM card on the Internet prior your travel to Japan. There are few short term SIM card retailers that offer this option such as Mobal, Sakura Mobile or Genki Mobile.
Another option: Renting a pocket WIFI
As a traveler you can also rent a pocket WIFI (also sometimes called a WIFI egg) instead of getting a SIM card. A pocket WiFi is a pre-configured mobile WiFi routers you can bring and use anywhere in Japan. It’s especially interesting when traveling with other peoples 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 that are planning on a long-term stay or are already a resident in Japan, having a phone with not just data but with a phone number too 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 main network providers -SoftBank, au or Docomo – all which require purchasing a brand new phone locked by the carrier along with 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 on staying in Japan for longer than 3 months. Price can range from ¥2,300 to ¥7,000 which is 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. With the exception of 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. If you’re the type of person that regularly likes to watch YouTube on their phone, Y-mobile or UQ Mobile are recommended. They are not true MVNOs as they are owned by Softbank and AU respectively and don’t throttle their data speeds. The only negative point is that you’ll still be required to sign a 2 year contract with them.
Sign up during promotion periods! During April and August, a number of discounted phone plans are often offered to first time customers. 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.
This applies to both short-term and long-term foreign residents in Japan. Before purchasing or signing up to an MVNO carrier, it’s recommended to 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.
A quick way to check whether your phone is compatible, is to either go on 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 that are supported by their network, here.
Smartphones and applications have taken the world by storm since their first conception. Whether it’s messaging and calling friends and family, figuring how to get to destinations on Google Maps or uploading photos of your latest adventures on social media, phones have become an essential part of 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.