Your Prepaid SIM Card Options for Travel in Japan

Ryo Seven
Cheapo branded SIM card
A number of prepaid SIM cards are available for short-term visitors to Japan | Photo by Ryo Seven

You land in Tokyo and ride the train into the big city. Maybe you stand in the middle of Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing, delaying traffic while you take a selfie. Or you hit up a restaurant, pointing at a random photo on the menu and hoping the waiter gets what you’re trying to order. And when it arrives, the first thing you think is, “I need to post this to make my friends envious.” Here’s the lowdown on getting a Japan SIM for your visit, for your data and voice communication needs.

The most practical SIM card for your trip? That would be the Mobal Japan Unlimited SIM. Not the cheapest, but the only provider with voice calling—a killer feature if you arrive late and need to call your hotel or Airbnb. They have full English support—and they offer free international delivery, as well as easy pick-up in Tokyo and Osaka. Plus, the bulk of their profits go to charity.

Note: The focus of this article is on short-term SIM use in Japan. For a comprehensive guide to Japan SIM cards for longer-term use (3 months +), see Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared.

Jump to:

Prepaid Japan SIM cards and MVNOs: Read this first

It’s recently become possible to buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards directly from Japan’s major mobile providers like SoftBank and DoCoMo, but you can usually get a better deal (and experience) with an MVNO. This stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, and their SIM cards are generally the easiest path to getting online when traveling in Japan. MVNOs are not strictly their own carriers; they piggyback on existing big networks to offer some great deals. In this article, we’ll point you towards a few MVNO providers that might be of use.

tourist sim cards in Japan
Photo by Victor Gonzalez

Short-term Japan SIM options for tourists

I’m here for a week or two and just need to update my status every dayyyyy.

That’s fine; you can set yourself up the second you land at an airport (well, at least after you clear customs). This isn’t an exhaustive list; just our top picks of prepaid Japan SIM cards. Keep in mind that some of them can be recharged with extra data.

Provider Price Plans English Support Voice Calling Order Online Worldwide Shipping Airport pickup Link
Mobal Voice + 7GB data/30 days: ¥4,500 More info
Mobal Unlimited data/8 days: ¥3,990
Unlimited data/16 days: ¥5,990
Unlimited data/31 days: ¥7,490
× More info
8GB/8 days: ¥3,480
16GB/16 days: ¥5,480
31GB/31 days: ¥6,980
× More info
U-mobile 220MB/day x 7 days: ¥2,000
220MB/day x 15 days: ¥3,500
Limited × × × More info
OCN 100MB/day x 7 days: ¥3,218
100MB/day x 14 days: ¥3,780
× × ×  More info
Rakuten Mobile 1GB/30 days: ¥3,278
2GB/90 days: ¥4,378
Limited × × ×  More info

Notes on the providers:

Mobal: On the voice + data SIM, when your 7GB is up, data is still available at throttled speeds. Top-ups can be purchased. 60-, 90-day and long-term packages also possible. If you’re traveling from China, you have access to a range of other prepaid packages. Free shipping to many countries, or pick-up at Narita or Haneda Airport, as well as Fukuoka, Kansai, Nagoya, Sendai and Singapore airports and downtown Tokyo and Osaka. As with all voice-calling products, the voice + data SIM carries a ¥3,000 initial fee. On the data-only SIM, speeds may be temporarily reduced if more than 3GB is used in a day.
Sim Card Geek: Other SIM plans also available. Free shipping to many countries, or pick-up at the post office at Narita Airport or another major airport in Japan. Fair usage applies, and speeds may be temporarily reduced if more than 3GB is used in a day.
U-mobile: SIM cards can be purchased at both Narita and Haneda Airport. 220MB of high-speed data (375Mbps) per day; after that speeds are throttled to 200kbps until midnight. Cannot be recharged. Prices listed are approximate. 2GB/7-day, unlimited/7-day and 3.5GB/15-day plans are also available.
OCN: Available at airports, as well as major electronic retailers and a range of other stores. Prices are approximate. Maximum (theoretical) speed of 788Mbps; after 100MB has been used, speeds are throttled to 200kbps. Chinese and Korean language call center support available.
Rakuten Mobile: Rakuten SIM cards are available online as well as from retailers in Japan. These travel SIM cards rely on the NTT DoCoMo network. They can be recharged with extra data.

No one can call you on your cell phone: With the exception of Mobal’s voice + data SIM, Japan’s SIM cards for short-term travelers are usually data-only, meaning you can’t call or text, or even receive phone calls. Although, if you’re still doing that, you’re probably one of those people who prints out emails and puts them in a filing cabinet. Or sends faxes. Or both. Society’s judgment, not ours.

Japan SIM
If you have a dedicated SIM wallet, we salute you. | Photo by Karl Baron used under CC

Buying a SIM card in Tokyo (or elsewhere in Japan)

Oops. Just ignored everything you said and went straight into town. Sorry.

No worries. Just look for a BIC Camera store (Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro have quite a few) or Yodobashi Camera (e.g. in Akihabara) and grab yourself whatever Japan SIM card seems like the best deal. Bic SIM cards are fairly popular, we hear. For more information, see our tips for buying a SIM card in Tokyo.

Electronics shop selling SIM cards in Japan
You can just breeze into an electronics retailer and pick up a SIM card. But buying online is easier. | Photo by Greg Lane

Once you’re in the shop, you can say to the staff: シムカードを探しています。私に合うのはどれですか?Shimu ka-do wo sagishiteimasu. Watashi ni au no wa dore desu ka? That translates to “I’m looking for a SIM card. Which one would be best for me?” Many stores will have English-speaking staff, to make things easier.

Note: If you’re wondering 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. If you’ve bought your phone in the last four years, it’s likely to use a Nano SIM. In any case, most prepaid travel SIM cards in Japan can be adjusted to the right size.

SIM cards
Travel SIMs generally support all sizes, but to be safe, check in advance. | Photo by Pascal Kurschildgen used under CC

Japan SIM cards for tourists: Frequently asked questions

Got questions about Japan travel SIM cards? We got answers.

Which SIM cards can I buy in Japan?

Prepaid U-mobile, OCN and Rakuten SIMs are among those you can buy on the ground in Japan. Other options include BIC Camera SIMs and IIjmio’s Japan travel SIMs. See our guide to buying a SIM card after arrival—while the focus is on Tokyo, it applies to all of Japan.

Where can I buy a Japan SIM card in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong or The Philippines?

If you are traveling from one of the above areas, you can order a SIM card online and have it delivered before you leave for Japan, or—depending on the provider—pick it up at your local airport or landmark. For example, Mobal SIM cards can be collected at Singapore’s Changi Airport or the Nikkei Education Center in Hong Kong. There may be other options for your region.

How do I activate a Japan SIM card?

The exact steps depend on the provider, but generally it’s a matter of inserting the SIM into your phone and following the instructions provided. It doesn’t take long, and you should be able to start using it straight away.

Alternatives to SIM cards for tourists in Japan

Wait a minute, this is TokyoCHEAPo, not TokyoEXPENSIVEo, you want me to pay actual money for a service? 

Not at all! You can be super cheap about data and use free wifi from teH eVil Corporations. First up Starbucks, a coffee chain which I understand is quite popular with the kids, has free wifi, providing you register at the link above. Then, just pop into a store and away you go!

Sign up? That’s WAY too much work. 

OK, well, Apple happens to give out free wifi at various store locations with no login needed. And if there’s not one of those near you, the good ol’ Tokyo Metro provides free wifi too. AND if your home internet provider is part of the Fon network, you can use your own home internet login and passcode on Fon hotspots, which are practically everywhere in Tokyo. That’s not taking into account the myriad cafes and restaurants which also offer free wifi.

Speaking of Fon, they also offer travel wifi in the form of portable hotspots, which you can rent for your stay in Japan.

OK, calmed down now. Carry on.

It is worth pointing out a few other alternative solutions, too.

rental wifi router japan
Renting a portable wifi hotspot is a good idea if you have more than one device. | Photo by Victor Gonzalez

First up, if you have more than one device that requires the net, or a few of you are traveling together, you may want to consider a portable wifi device from a rental provider like the aforementioned Fon, or Ninja Wifi, who will give you a 30% discount. You can pick these routers up and drop them off at airports for convenience and they appear, from the ones we’ve seen so far, to have unlimited or very generous data allowances. For a more in-depth guide, see our popular article on renting a wifi router.

AND FINALLY, you may be pleased to know that some mobile networks outside Japan offer cheap roaming packages. For example, data is free in Japan for T-Mobile USA customers on one of their plans. Read the fine print carefully though, as your data speeds may be heavily throttled. 

Information is subject to change. Article regularly updated. Last update: October 4, 2019.

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Filed under: Internet
Tags: Cell Phone, Data, Internet, Mobile, Mobile Phones, Mvno, Prepaid, Sim Cards, Tourists, Wifi
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28 Responses to “Your Prepaid SIM Card Options for Travel in Japan”

  1. Avatar
    Tariq Sheikh October 1, 2015

    “Although, if you’re still doing that you’re probably one of those people who prints out emails and puts them in a filing cabinet.”

    Well slightly long term visitors might need a traditional phone number for education/business/restaurant reservation etc. I am happily using OCN Mobile One with calling and sms service, for only 1600 yen per month.

    • Avatar October 2, 2015

      You can circumvent it by taking an ip number in 050. It works pretty well and is accepted almost everywhere.

  2. Avatar

    So useful! Thanks!

  3. Avatar

    Thanks a lot for this amazing article! I wish I had read it before going to Softbank last year. I went there wanting to buy one of those cheap prepaid phones they used to sell, but got told that they were “out of stock”. Then I was tricked into applying for a 2-year, 7000yen/month contract just to get a smartphone that I could use in Japan (mine was locked). I was told that it was their cheapest contract….
    Anyway, my previous stupidity aside, I would like to point out one tiny thing.
    To have access to the sim cards in this article, you need an unlocked phone. In some countries (ie France), almost nobody has a unlocked phone because we get them through phone network companies and they only sell you locked phones.
    So if you’re a French person in Japan and you want to follow this article advice, you need to order a new, unlocked phone on Amazon. These are quite expensive… the lowest price for a new smartphone is 70 euros..

  4. Avatar

    What about renting a mi-fi unit? That’s what we did on our last trip to Tokyo. Rented 2 mi-fi’s and figured each person would pair up with another. Was able to upload to social media. Used Google Hangouts for calls and messages. Worked great.

  5. Avatar
    Virginia Sorrells December 5, 2015

    Thanks for this. Has anyone found an appreciable difference in speed or other features between these options?

  6. Avatar
    REAL Cheap March 2, 2016

    Hi Ryo!
    Thanks for the informative article. I just have one question: What about us REAL Cheapos with nothing but rarely used flip phones (a few phone calls and texts a week). Is there a SIM card you can recommend for such nonsense!
    Thanks for your time.

  7. Ryo Seven
    Ryo Seven March 22, 2016

    Howdy RealCheap! Sorry for the delay in responding!

    It all depends. If you’re living here, I strongly recommend a Docomo FOMA contract, which will set you back around 2000 yen a month but is generous with it’s voice offerings if your family is also on docomo (i.e. free unlimited calls to other docomos). I haven’t used this personally, so you may need to purchase a phone with the contract.

    I can’t quite tell if you’re a tourist or not, but if not, you may want to consider b-mobiles lineup. They have cheap monthly plans for about ¥1290 a month. They don’t usually set these up for travellers, but a friend here might be able to sort out a month or two for you and cancel at the end. You can just order the SIM in this case.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Avatar

    I’m moving back to Japan in a couple of months. To anyone stubborn enough to ignore the great advice of this article, do not, I repeat, do not get Softbank or Docomo (although Docomo is the superior option between the two). If you really have to get yourself into an unnecessary phone plan because you really want that new Xperia or iPhone 17S+ Rose Gold SE, go to AU. And if you’re less inclined to participate in the phone wars, Y! Mobile and Willcomm aren’t terrible options either.

    • Avatar
      CheapoGreg June 5, 2016

      Hi Brandon, Thanks for the comment – although I must heartily disagree! AU is as bad as Softbank and Docomo. They use exactly the same anti-competitive practices. Also, Y!Mobile is a subsidiary of Softbank – so the same goes for them. Your mileage may vary, but just about every MVNO in our article on the subject has better contract terms than the big carriers.

      • Avatar

        Thanks for clearing that up, Greg. I’ve been duped for years then. I’ll know better when I return in a couple of months. Thank goodness I have an unlocked phone these days.

        • Avatar
          CheapoGreg June 6, 2016

          No worries! You caught me when I was feeling particularly sore about AU because I had to cancel a “kodomo keitai” contract with AU last week because said phone went through the washing machine. They charged me 10,250yen to cancel the contract – more than 2 years were up but it had automatically renewed so they charged me the full cancellation fee.

          • Avatar

            I always believed AU was the “lesser of all evils” when it came to the big contracts. That’s awful that they put you through the ringer like that! Big phone companies always seem to take advantage of their most loyal customers. It never made sense to me. We don’t ask for much; reasonable amounts of data at reasonable prices without hidden fees and ghost charges. I’m so glad I stumbled upon TC. I’m not new to living in Japan but I’ll certainly be a deer-in-headlights because I’m new to living in Tokyo.

  9. Avatar

    Are there any of these MVNO SIM cards that don’t require a Japanese credit card? I tried to get one at BIC that was month to month but you needed a Japanese credit card which is a whole other issue…

    • Avatar
      CheapoGreg June 16, 2016

      Are you sure? i got a SIM at Bic Camera just last week with a Hong Kong issued Mastercard. No problem at all. They might tell you that you need a Japan issued credit card, but just ask them to see if they can process the transaction. For the record, I got a Freetel SIM.

  10. Avatar

    Provided that I am resident of Japan is it possible to buy a voice SIM card without any credit card? I don’t want any contract, I’d prefer pay-as-you-go solution where I could just top up in a store or online.

    • Ryo Seven
      Ryo Seven September 14, 2016

      Hmmm bit of a tough one. Some packages DO allow direct bank transfers online. Is that what you meant by topping up online?

  11. Avatar

    Hi Ryo, thanks for the information. Do you know if you can get a MVNO sim card on a tourists visa? I will be looking for work and have a bank account from when I was in Japan last(never closed it). I was reading the information on the BIC site and it says you will need proof of identification. In my case I would only have my passport

    • Ryo Seven
      Ryo Seven September 14, 2016

      Howdy Bryan!

      I believe you can get one from B-Mobile without a long term visa. Yodobashi camera should be able to help you with that one 🙂

      Thanks for writing!

  12. Avatar
    Victor Laszlo September 10, 2016

    “These are usually data-only sims, meaning you can’t call or text or even receive phone calls. Although, if you’re still doing that you’re probably one of those people who prints out emails and puts them in a filing cabinet.”

    What an imbecilic thing to say. Negates anything useful in the article. So, we are to assume that the author no longer calls anyone or receives any calls? How lovely. I suppose in emergencies, you also rely on email or Skype to get help, to call an ambulance or the police or the fire department? Great tip, champ. Rely 100% on the internet for all of your needs. Brilliant.

    Fact: People do use phones for making telephone calls. What a surprise! Especially people who have real real jobs.

    In addition to that foolish assertion, there are lots of other bits of misguided information in this so-called guide. I’ll be sure to warn others away from tokyocheapo from now on.

    • Avatar
      Jonathan Brooks September 13, 2016

      Wow – Victor, I haven’t seen your article on this topic, but it must be really incredible as only someone with such insight into the Japanese telecoms market could ever justify being so snide. You should have the good grace to accept that the author was focussing on people that use data for *all* forms of communication, and base your opinion on that. The author was *helpfully* pointing out that these sims are for data only, and suggesting there are plenty of VOIP services out there that allow you to make calls.

      Victor, I suggest that when you visit Japan you turn on data roaming, and spend 4 hours on the phone wishing old Granny Laszlo (yes I know that’s not your real name) a happy Birthday, because, you know, telephone calls in Japan are *really* cheap, especially when calling overseas. I look forward to seeing your reaction when you get home and open the bill.

    • Ryo Seven
      Ryo Seven September 14, 2016

      Hi Vic! (Hope you don’t mind me calling you Vic!),

      I’m sorry the article didn’t reach your standards. We always strive to inform our users based on our experience, so we realise everyone has different needs!

      Just to clear up a few points of yours, all Japanese data SIMs have emergency calling on them in case you need the ambulance, police and fire services. The police can be called on 110 and the other two services can be reached on 119. (Luckily, I haven’t had to use them yet, touch wood!) Also, just in case you didn’t know, Skype can be used for emergency calling in Australia, Denmark, Finland and the U.K., if you ever visit any of those wonderful countries!

      If you were to use an overseas phone in Japan, you’d be able to do emergency calling on that for free!

      Regarding the other “bits of misguided information” you refer to, can you let me know which parts these are? We do always strive to keep our information accurate on the site, so if anything else needs explaining, let me know!

      I’m also incredibly sorry to inform you that on this occasion, your assumption mentioned in your comment was, sadly, incorrect. My workplace uses iPhones, so we’ve been using FaceTime audio for all calls and WebEx for group calls since 2009, in order to save a large amount of money (which goes towards our bonuses!) For my family, I personally use FaceTime and LINE to communicate with the ones that don’t live with me. For my wife, I tend to use the “real FaceTime”, aka talking! (Haha)!

      However, now I think about it, all of those are VoIP services, so you were right! I don’t “use the phone” and no one “calls” me (Haha)!

      Do write back and let me know about your job. It sounds fascinating! It sounds like you use the phone a lot. Are you in the call centre industry or finance, maybe? This isn’t my full time job (someday, I hope, haha!) but at the moment I work in the field of industrial design engineering for radiology equipment, mainly focusing on thin slice reconstruction for CT and MRI machines and implementation new imaging technology in order to speed up volumetric reconstructions for radiologists to perform diagnoses on (sounds boring, I know!) This job requires three telephone conferences between three countries a week! (phew!) We use WebEx for this and not only can we hear our co-workers, we can see them too using video calling!

      So, thanks for taking the time to write and hope to hear from you soon!

      All the best,


  13. Avatar
    Razuwa Hanim September 19, 2016

    Hi Ryo. Good info. I’m planning to get a data sim card during my short trip to Japan this Dec. But I’m not sure my iPhone6 is unlock or not

    • Ryo Seven
      Ryo Seven October 10, 2016

      Howdy Razuwa!
      The easiest way is to get a friend who is on a different network to give you their SIM card for a bit. Eject the one from the tray using a paper clip and try theirs. If it connects without any fuss, you’re good to go! If you’re struggling to find anyone on a different network, go to your nearest phone store and ask for the cheapest pay as you go sim for a different network to the one you are on. If it doesn’t work then you won’t have wasted too much cash.

  14. Avatar

    hello…i came to japan last week and i need to get a sim which has both data and voice call function. I have a bank account .But i do not have credit card and it will take 3 three weeks for the card to get issued.
    Is ther any MNVO which gives connection with bank account and with no credit card.??? AU and softbank gives connection but i don`t want to pay so much money for that.

    please help.
    Thanks in advance

  15. Avatar

    – for crying out loud, how stinking complicated can they make it to obtain simple cell service ?? japan is light years ahead on the technology side but primitive on the service infrastructure; data plan with ABC, cell service with XYZ, limits on minutes used, contracts, gaijin cards, etc.. the company that first adopts the simple all inclusive pre-paid plan will clean house in japan. register your sim, enter your visa number and your off to the races. ..jeeeez.

  16. mrkirkland

    It’s a while since I opened a bank account but if that’s an issue, one work around would be getting VOIP number or “Skype in” number for Japan. You can use that as a (perhaps temporary) phone number for opening a bank account.

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