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 a 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.” Alas, you can’t even express a single emoji, because you’re not connected to the interwebs. Fear not, fellow cheapo, help is at hand! Here’s the lowdown on getting a Japan SIM for your visit.
Note: The focus of this article is on short-term SIM use in Japan. For an excellent guide to Japan SIM cards for longer-term use (3 months+), see our sister article Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared.
Prepaid Japan SIM cards: Read this first
If you wander into a SoftBank or DoCoMo store (those are the two big mobile providers in Japan) with your iPhone or Android, you’ll find that they’re not willing to sell you a Japan SIM card for it. The official reason is something to do with worldwide mastermind criminal groups communicating to each other exclusively through Japanese phone networks, and not at all anything to do with wanting to lock you into a 24-month contract and charging you a trillion million yen for the privilege. Even if you were rich and stupid enough to do this on vacation, you wouldn’t be able to do, so as it requires Japanese resident status. Take that, criminals!
This is where MVNO SIMs save the day. 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 DoCoMo and au, to offer some good deals. In this article, we’ll point you towards a few MVNO providers that might be of use.
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Note: For most of these SIMs, you must have an unlocked phone. 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.
Free data SIM cards for foreign tourists
For the supremely stingy, the following might be of interest. A local start-up called WAmazing is offering foreign visitors a Japan SIM card valid for five days’ and 500MB worth of data, as part of the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
You need to download an app and input your info, including your credit card deets, while still in your home country, to score a QR code that gets you the SIM. There are no “initial fees”, but there do seem to be some that might appear after that first 500MB of data.The app includes a few extras, like a taxi-summoning service.
One small snag: Everything was—at the time of checking this (August 1, 2017)—in Chinese. If you’re fluent and or willing, however, you can collect your free SIM card from one of four WAmazing vending machines at Narita Airport (not Haneda at this stage).
Short-term data SIM options
I’m here for a week or two and just need to update my status everydayyyyy.
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. Most of them can be recharged with extra data.
|Provider||Price Plans||English Support||Link|
|7GB/15 days: ¥7,000|
7GB/30 days: ¥9,000
| 7 days: ¥2,000|
15 days: ¥3,500
30 days: ¥3,800
|Japan Travel SIM||1GB/30 days: ¥2,656|
2GB/90 days: ¥4,082
|B-Mobile||5GB/21 days: ¥3,480||✔||More info|
|Ninja SIM||3GB: ¥5,292|
|OCN||100Mbps/day x 7 days ¥3,218|
100Mbps/day x 14 days ¥3,780
|1GB/30 days: ¥3,219|
2GB/90 days: ¥4,299
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.
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. Chinese language support available. 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. Chinese and Korean language support available.
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. 30 and 50MB/day, plus 1GB/90 days options available—ask in store. Chinese and Korean language call center support available.
No one can call you on your cell phone: With the exception of Mobal, 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 does both. Society’s judgment, not ours.
Buying a SIM card in Tokyo
Oops. Just ignored everything you said and went straight into town. Sawwy.
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 aou no wa do re desu ka?
That should lead you to the area above. Oh yeah, and you can probably just say it in English.
Alternatives to SIM cards
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 in advance 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 a FON hotspot, which are practically everywhere in Tokyo. That’s not taking into account the myriad cafes and restaurants which also offer free wifi.
OK, calmed down now. Carry on.
It is worth pointing out a few other alternative solutions, too.
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 Ninja Wifi and Japan Experience. You can pick them up and drop them off at airports for convenience and they appear, from the ones I’ve seen so far, to have unlimited or very generous data allowances. For a more in-depth guide, check out our popular article on renting a wifi router.
AND FINALLY, you may be pleased to know that a lot of 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. That means you don’t have to do anything at all other than bring your phone. So what are you waiting for? Get on that plane and—
—SOFTBANK DATA ALLOWANCE EXCEEDED. Please pay 8,000,000 yen to continue.
This article was updated by Carey Finn in August 2017.
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