Reduce your roaming rates by using a local SIM.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan, a top tip for keeping down costs is to switch to a local SIM card. Take advantage of better tariffs, plans and deals to dramatically reduce your roaming rates. You can get 1GB of data from Japan’s top telco providers for about JPY1,620 (US$14.25). Although this might seem expensive, it could work out to be cheaper than using your home phone there. So, whether you’re a short or long-term traveler, you can save money by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.Prices last updated 18 Sep 2017
Telco providers in Japan
There are three main telco providers in Japan: NTT DoCoMo, Softbank and au. There are also a few good mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that we have listed below. They are extremely popular in Japan and offer good deals: b-mobile, COMST and China Unicom Hong Kong. Both locals and travelers use prepaid SIM cards from all networks, and they can be trusted whatever plan you choose. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, Japan has a very good phone signal all over the country.
About Japan’s operators
There is a tricky registration process needed for travelers to purchase a prepaid voice SIM card. You must show your passport and visa stamp plus fill out lengthy forms to be able to use the service. You will then have to wait a few days for the request to be approved before you can use the service, and it’s mainly only granted to residents.
Prepaid data SIM cards don’t have the same restrictions and they can be picked up pretty easily. All device IMEI numbers must be registered with the local authorities via the retailer. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official outlets and approved resellers, and credit can be bought from those same retailers plus supermarkets and corner stores.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider and highlighted exactly what they can offer you during your stay in Japan.
NTT DoCoMo is the largest operator in Japan and has more than a 50% market share. It offers customers good 3G and 4G/LTE services, and 2G is not available. Internet speeds are fast and the network coverage is good. Your passport must be shown when purchasing a prepaid SIM card and a registration form will have to be filled out and signed before it can be activated. Credit can be purchased from supermarkets, corner stores and service stations.
NTT Communications offers prepaid SIM cards for smartphones, tablets and modems. Each gives customers 100MB of high-speed data per day and the cards come in all sizes The following two options are available:
Prepaid SIM cards come in both Japanese and English, and you can choose your preferred language setting as soon as the SIM card is activated. NTT also offers customers a free Wi-Fi service which can be used by any customer across Japan.
NTT’s APN: NTTnet, and Website: http://service.ocn.ne.jp/mobile/one/visitor/en/
NTT’s MVNO b-mobile also provides some great data packages for tourists visiting Japan. They offer customers 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Prepaid SIM cards and credit can be purchased from many retail outlets across Japan. The same rules and regulations apply when purchasing b-mobile SIM cards.
b-mobile offers a great pay-as-you-go SIM card for tourists and it offers a wide selection of data packages. The visitor SIM card offers users 21 days of data access to 3G and 4G/LTE and it comes with 5GB of data for JPY3,480. Data credit can be added for JPY500 per 1GB, valid for 1 day.
b-mobile’s APN: bmobile.ne.jp, and website: http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/payg_sim/travelers_to_japan.html
COMST is another MVNO run through NTT, and is one of the most popular in Japan. COMST offers customers 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid data SIM cards are called T-SIMs and they can be purchased from almost anywhere in Japan. The same rules and regulations apply.
There are two data plans available for tourists:
The following data credit amounts can also be added:
COMST’s APN: vdm.jp, website: www.comst.jp
SoftBank is the second largest operator in Japan and has some great data deals available. They offer customers good 3G and 4G/LTE services, and 2G is not available. Internet speeds are fast and the network coverage is good. Your passport must be shown when you’re purchasing a prepaid SIM card and a registration form will have to be filled out and signed before it can be activated. Credit can be purchased from supermarkets, corner stores and service stations. SoftBank is the better option for anyone looking for voice packages on a prepaid SIM card.
Prepaid SIM and phone packages are the only way to get good deals and extended validity periods with Softbank. Prepaid packages cost JPY15,000 for a phone and JPY10,000 voice credit. The voice and data on these prepaid SIM cards will last for 14 days. The only drawback here is that once the prepaid SIM card runs out after 14 days, you must purchase a new one rather than adding further credit.
There is also a prepaid SIM card available for tourists, called the “Tourist SIM”. It comes in two options: “Hello Kitty” and “Mt.Fuji”. SIM cards come with 1GB of data valid for 31 days, and is data-only on 3G and 4G/LTE.
SoftBank’s APN: plus.4g, website: http://www.softbank.jp/en/mobile/special/prepaid-sim-for-travel/en/
au is the third largest provider in Japan. They offer customers good 3G and 4G/LTE services on the CDMA platform. 2G is not available. Internet speeds are fast and the network coverage is good. Your passport must be shown when you’re purchasing a prepaid SIM card and a registration form will have to be filled out and signed before it can be activated. Credit can be purchased from supermarkets, corner stores and service stations.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for JPY1,620 which comes with 1GB of data, valid for 30 days. There are also a number of Wi-Fi hotspots located around Japan that can be used with this provider.
China Unicom Hong Kong
China Unicom Hong Kong offers roaming in Japan on the SoftBank network. So, if you are heading from Hong Kong to Japan then we strongly advise you to use this option as it will allow you to use voice and data packages at no extra cost in Japan.
The following roaming pack can be purchased in Hong Kong and used in Japan:
If you are not planning to head over to Hong Kong you can also order these SIM cards online to be delivered to your hotel address, or wherever you are staying in Japan. To ship these over to Japan you will have to pay a HKD25 shipping fee on top of the price of the SIM card.
China Unicom Hong Kong APN: 3Gnet, and website: https://www.cuniq.com/hk_en
- Japanese is the official language, and one of the main foreign languages is English.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM Kaa” or “SIM”.
- Ask the sellers to set up the SIM for you, because they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to get advice.
- We advise you to purchase your SIM card from official outlets rather than through a street vendor or small store.
- Get to the stores early to receive better assistance and to avoid the crowds
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Japan.
“I recently used a company called econnectjapan.com to get a prepaid iPad micro-sim (for data only) and was absolutely delighted with their services. I paid with Paypal and got them to ship it to my hotel in Kyoto where it was waiting for me.”
“If you head to an electronics store such as Yodobashi Camera you will have better options than what is in the airport. If you have to get something at the airport look for hidden vending machines by So-net (Sony / DOCOMO), that only take cash.”
“Since phone numbers are not allowed to be tied to SIM cards by Japanese law, one can use Skype or another VOIP service. With Skype one can create a local number, if locals (Japan natives) need to call you. During sign-up for the phone number Skype will ask if you are a resident of Japan, though they do not verify this.”
Pros and cons of Japan’s top telco providers
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- Some areas can suffer from bad coverage
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM or CDMA phones
- Voice plans are very hard to come by for tourists
- Complicated rules and regulations makes buying a SIM card difficult
More questions about finding the best SIM card?
Q: What about other providers in Japan?
A: There are many more MVNOs on the DoCoMo network, including eConnect Japan, IIJmio, So Net, U-Mobile, FREETEL, Yokoso Japan and Wi-Ho! which offer good deals. Although we advise you to use one of the providers we have highlighted above, all MVNOs can be trusted. Check the latest options before purchasing your SIM card.
Q: What do I do if I lose my phone in Japan?
A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when traveling around Asia. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you still have no luck then cancel any plans or payment methods associated with the phone, report it missing and make a note of the crime number to make a claim on your insurance.
Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let the new one out of your sight!