Mobile Phones in Japan

Your guide to keeping connected during your trip to Japan for World Cup 2019

The biggest Japanese mobile phone companies are DoCoMo, AU, and Softbank (formerly Vodafone, and before that J-phone). There are also several smaller companies which provide low-cost cell phone plans for residents and mobile internet products for tourists; but they typically use the same networks as the big three companies.

When we were in Japan on our site visit we found it impossible to get a Japanese SIM Card, because most mobile phone companies require you to have a Japanese credit card and Residence Visa.

SIM Cards

An MVNO, which stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, is the easiest path to getting online in Japan. MVNOs are not strictly their own carriers; they piggyback on existing networks like SoftBank, DoCoMo and AU to offer some good deals. For most of these SIMs, you must have an unlocked phone. Call your service provider to request this. Another thing, you might want to check what format of SIM you need. This should be listed on your phone manufacturer’s page. If you can’t work it out, your local phone shop should be able to help you with that. Try to get this info before you touch down in Japan. Here we will point you towards a few MVNO providers that might be of use.

Notes on the above
Mobal – When the 7GB is up, data is still available at throttled speeds. Long-term packages also possible. Free incoming calls and texts. Free worldwide shipping. With English speaking support this is our recommendation. Buy online and have shipped to you for free before you travel. Click their link for full details.
U-Mobile – SIM cards can be purchased at both Narita and Haneda Airport. 200MB of high-speed data (375Mbps) per day; after that speeds are throttled to 200kbps until midnight. Cannot be recharged. Prices listed are approximate.
Japan Travel SIM – Prices are approximate. Can be purchased at BIC Camera and several other retailers.
B-Mobile – Airport or hotel pick-up possible. NB: Check your phone is compatible before ordering.
Ninja SIM – Airport or hotel pick-up possible. Prices are approximate. Maximum period of use: 30 days.
OCN – Available at both airports, as well as major electronic retailers and a range of other stores. Prices are approximate. Maximum speed of 262.5Mbps; after 100MB has been used, speeds are throttled to 200kbps. 50MB/day and 1GB/90 days SIM card options may be available—ask in store.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before…”
– Dalai Lama

Do Foreign Phones Work in Japan?

Most importantly, there is no GSM network in Japan, so the older GSM-only phones do not work. The following is needed for a handset to work in Japan:

For Voice

Compatible mobile phones may be used via international roaming (check with your home provider for details and beware that this can be very expensive) or a SIM card from a Japanese carrier (unlocked handsets only). Alternatively, phones with wireless network (Wi-Fi) connectivity can use internet-based telephone services, such as Skype and WhatsApp, when connected to a Wi-Fi network.

For Data

Phones that work in Japan for voice (see above) can also receive and send data (such as emails and web content) via international roaming or a SIM card, but note that the cost for data transfer can easily skyrocket without an appropriate data plan. Alternatively, phones with wireless network (Wi-Fi) connectivity can take advantage of the numerous paid and free Wi-Fi hotspots found around the country.

Rental Phones

Several companies rent smartphones that include unlimited data and Wi-Fi tethering, effectively turning them into personal hotspots. This can be a great value as the devices serve as both a rental phone and as a means for connecting to the internet on the go. Both Android and iPhone models are available to rent on a daily basis at major Japanese airports or via the internet for delivery to your home or hotel. You can return the phones at the airport or through the mail depending on the company. Renting typically requires a picture ID and a credit card. The fees for rental phones vary and typically are around 200-500 yen per day for regular phones or 1000-2000 yen per day for smartphones. Additional fees may apply for calling, messaging, mobile data, insurance etc. Calling rates are typically 40-100 yen per minute for outgoing domestic calls while incoming calls are free. International rates vary depending on the country you are dialling to.

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