When you think of Japan, you are probably thinking of all the flashy billboards in Tokyo, the high-speed train called Shinkansen, or the lovely Japanese food (my partner REALLY loves Japanese snacks, which is tasty, I can tell you!). You probably have heard or seen that Japanese people are polite, clean, and just lovely to interact with – a trip to Japan should be on everyone’s travel list, I believe.
What we are more interested in are the smartphone connectivity options we have when visiting Japan. Roaming with your provider can be expensive because roaming on its own is overpriced. This is why a lot of travelers want to buy a local SIM card when visiting a destination – in this case, Japan. Can you actually buy a Japanese SIM? Some countries put restrictions on who can buy SIM cards. Let’s see what we can do in Japan.
Telecom Providers in Japan
Japan has three networks: NTT DoCoMo, SoftBank, and au. A license to a fourth provider was given a few years ago to Rakuten Mobile, which is bound to be launched in 2020. I am interested to see what they will be offering, especially for travelers like us.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Japan? If you want to buy a SIM card in Japan, I would recommend getting one from Mobal because they have a wide variety of cards and plans, meaning that you will find one that fits your needs. The Japan SIM Card and one from B-Mobile would be good options too, although B-Mobile is expensive.
It is important to know that there is no 2G network in Japan because it was shut down a few years ago. If you have a modern smartphone, you should not have to worry because it will be able to use the Japanese 3G and 4G/LTE networks. If you have an older phone that cannot handle those speeds, you may want to get a traveler’s phone (but in that case, you probably are not interested in data anyway).
In Japan, you must have gone through the alien registration process to buy a voice-enabled SIM card because, by law, only those who have shown identification and have a residential address in Japan can buy and use a voice-enabled SIM card. Unfortunately, ho(s)tel addresses are not accepted for this purpose.
If you have a temporary resident visa, like a student visa, then you can register yourself. If you are from a visa-free country, then voice-enabled SIMs are not available to you. Unfortunately, I am not sure whether people on an actual tourist visa can register themselves. Most likely not, as I believe tourist visas are not given for more than 90 days, but I could be wrong.
If calling or getting called is important to you, I would recommend using a VoIP app like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, of Skype, as the law does not prohibit foreigners from calling from such apps.
Now, let's see what type of SIM cards we can buy.
Mobal offers several different plans – those tailored for long-term travelers or short-term travelers. With the Mobal SIM long-term plan (more than 90 days), you will have access to unlimited data, free incoming calls and texts, a Japanese phone number, and customer support in English. All of this is offered with no contract, so you are free to cancel anytime – perfect for even the most spontaneous of travelers!
Travelers with plans to bounce around countries or just stay for a short time can opt for the short-term plan, which is offered at 16, 30, 31, 60, and 90 days. Depending on the length of your SIM card service, prices may vary and options for unlimited data on talk and text being to open up.
Mobal also offers many different sizes of SIM cards to fit all different kinds of basic- and smartphones.
Japan SIM Card
Although it is not the most distinct name, the Japan SIM Card is right up there with Mobal in terms of abundance of data and flexibility of short-term service. The service ranges from 5 to 21 days and offers unlimited data with each plan.
You can have this SIM card delivered to you anywhere in the world, and, when finally in Japan, you will have nationwide coverage from Japan’s DoCoMo network at 4G LTE. The only catch with this SIM is that your device must be unlocked for it to function in full capacity – so do not expect to get notifications while your phone is locked in your pocket or overnight when charging.
This SIM is also offered in multiple sizes: nano, micro, and standard. A significant disadvantage of this SIM card is that it does not offer voice or SMS – rather, it exclusively offers data. Note, too, that the use of more than 3GB of data per day will result in reduced data speeds for 24-48 hours.
B-Mobile offers SIM cards for periods of either 10 or 21 days, with 5 or 7 GB of data at 4G/LTE speed (or 3G when 4G/LTE is not available). If you wish to have your SIM card before you arrive in Japan, you have the option to purchase your SIM card ahead of time online through stores like AEON, Yodobashi Camera, and BIC Camera. There is an airport pickup option as well.
There are limitations to B-Mobile, though, as your visitor SIM can only be used when your device is unlocked and is only compatible with LTE devices, and devices that are safe to use in Japan.
Find out if your device is safe to use on the Docomo network website.
Smash Mobile is a network running on the NTT DoCoMo network. You can buy a Smash Mobile SIM card on their website (they sometimes have promotions, which will make the SIM cards a bit cheaper, like during Christmas).
Smash Mobile offers the following plans, which are all excluding 10% tax. For reference, 1000 JPY is 9.20 USD:
- 2000 JPY: 1 GB valid for 7 days
- 2800 JPY: 3 GB valid for 15 days
- 4000 JPY: 6 GB valid for 30 days
- 5500 JPY: Unlimited data valid for 31 days
- 10000 JPY: Unlimited data valid for 60 days
- 14000 JPY: Unlimited data valid for 90 days
Ninja SIM by Biglobe
Biglobe offers the Ninja SIM that runs on the NTT DoCoMo network. You can buy the SIM card on their website or in various stores. For 5292 JPY or 8316 JPY (that includes tax), you can get 5 GB or 7 GB of data, respectively.
NTT Communications, U>mobile, and MAYASystem
NTT Communications, U>mobile, and MAYASystem all offer SIM cards that come with unlimited data. After using a set allowance, which between 200 and 220 MB per day, the speed gets reduced to 200 kbps, which is close to 2G speeds.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Japan
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Japan
Getting a SIM card from Mobal would do you well when considering a Japanese SIM card.
Local Prepaid SIM Card in Other Asian Countries
Visiting other countries in Asia? Check out my SIM card buying guides for individual Asian countries:
Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
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