Prepaid and Cheap Data SIM Card Options in Japan

Ryo Seven
japan sim
A number of prepaid data SIM cards are available for short-term visitors to Japan.

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.” 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.

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. And they do free international delivery.

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 silly enough to try sign a contract on vacation, you wouldn’t be able to, as it requires Japanese resident status. Take that, criminals!

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

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 SoftBank, 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.

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.

SIM cards
Even these chaps can’t help you if you get the wrong-sized SIM card. Check in advance. | Photo by Pascal Kurschildgen used under CC

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 Voice Calling Worldwide Shipping Link
Mobal 7GB/15 days: ¥7,000
7GB/30 days: ¥9,000
More info
U-mobile  7 days: ¥2,000
15 days: ¥3,500
Limited × × More info
Japan Travel SIM 1GB/30 days: ¥2,656
2GB/90 days: ¥4,082
× ×  More info
B-Mobile 5GB/21 days: ¥3,480 × ×  More info
Ninja SIM 3GB: ¥5,292
7GB: ¥8,316
× ×  More info
OCN 100MB/day x 7 days ¥3,218
100MB/day x 14 days ¥3,780
× ×  More info
Rakuten Mobile 1GB/30 days: ¥3,219
2GB/90 days: ¥4,299
Limited × ×  More info

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. 50MB/day and 1GB/90 days SIM card options may be availableask 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.

No worries. 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.

Electronics shop selling SIM cards in Japan
You can just breeze into an electronics retailer and pick up a SIM card. | 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 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 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.

OK, calmed down now. Carry on.

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

pocket-wifi
Photo by Greg Lane

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. You can pick these routers 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. Read the fine print carefully though as your data speeds may be heavily throttled. 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 last updated by Carey Finn in October 2017.

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40 Responses to “Prepaid and Cheap Data SIM Card Options in Japan”

  1. Tariq Sheikh

    “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.

    • InvestBitcoinGuide.com

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

  2. So useful! Thanks!

  3. 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. 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. Virginia Sorrells

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

  6. REAL Cheap

    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

    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 http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/kd/plan.html 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. 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.

    • CheapoGreg

      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. https://tokyocheapo.com/business/japan-sim-card-options-data-voice/

      • 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.

        • CheapoGreg

          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.

          • 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.

    • Wally Wang

      Omg I agree so much tho, when I first got in Tokyo I got a contract immediately with SoftBank to get an iPhone and regretted it pretty much the whole time after that lol

  9. 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…

    • CheapoGreg

      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. 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

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

    • Wally Wang

      You actually won’t have any problems as you can just recharge at the actual stores or convience stores etc. but honestly you should get a credit card on the go asap lol. Once you have your resident card you can legally obtain a local SIM card with a number, and voice functions. Otherwise if a non resident wants a voice sim then SoftBank and B mobile are now offering voice sims.

  11. 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

      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. Victor Laszlo

    “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.

    • Jonathan Brooks

      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

      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,

      Ryo

    • Wally Wang

      Do you live in Asia? Man I can’t remember the last time I made a phone call. Not a phone call in the sense of talking to someone but LINE is actually so integrated with every aspect of life even where I’m Living in Taiwan now, speak to my classmates, my boss my parents , landlord everyone has LINE. So I’m not really sure what your getting at but he’s suggesting sims for tourists in Japan. Having data does not at all limit YOUR ability to make phone calls, you can actually make more now as well as with video. Welcome to 2017 bud

  13. Razuwa Hanim

    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

      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. 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. Hey Ryo,

    Awesome article, just a few follow up questions.

    I will be moving to Japan soon for work for an extended period. This requires me to open a Bank account. To open a Bank account I need a phone number, but to get one of these sims I need a bank account. How should I proceed? And do the Data only sims cards come with a phone number attached to them (required for Bank account)?

    Thanks

    • Wally Wang

      Omg, it’s Japan. Your not going to find a spot where you wouldn’t be able to find a SIM card. Even in 7/11 you can find them. And to open a bank account your going to need more then a phone number your going to need visas paperwork etc etc. I moved to JP at 18 and literally had this stuff planned out so long before I arrived, get to work.

    • 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.

  16. – 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.

  17. Nicole Sa

    I recommend GTN mobile. they are cheap, have several language support and a small shop in Shin-Okubo. I made sure their SIM works with my phone before I signed the contract in their office in Shin-Okubo. you don’t need a credit card or bank account because they also offer a conbini-payment option.

  18. I am also a GTN mobile user. They are very friendly for foreigners (good english and met in person to install my sim card and make sure it works), although they are lil bit more expensive than some of the other sim card services or data only.
    Speaking of which I just had a very frustrating day in Osaka, trying to switch to another sim card service for the better prices. I went to two BIC locations and a yamata denki to get a sim card and no one would sell me a sim card, instead trying to convince me that I had to buy a new Japanese phone or mobile hotspot or prepaid sim. Talked to 5 different sales people. They were all convinced that there was no way my phone could work with a Japanese SIM. So I ended up calling up GTN and continuing their service..
    I showed sales people the frequencies (bands) my phone could receive and the bands of the major Japanese cellphone services (they are the same) and they didn’t know anything about it and continued to be unhelpful. I felt that this was mostly because I was a foreigner (cellphone sale commission?). So just a warning to those…maybe ordering a sim on amazon would be better. I do have a friend who did get a very cheap sim contract from Bic for his Canadian phone tho.

    • budbudbadaf

      I had a similar experience to you as well. I was on b-mobile last year and decided i wanted to change to iijmio as it was cheaper so I went to BIC Camera so I could also get the free wifi membership. Once I got there they kept insisting that I needed to buy a “japanese phone” and that the sim wouldn’t work on my current “overseas” phone even though I had been using b-mobile sim for the past year!! After I got really angry, they conceded and finally sold the sim to me though.

      • Sad to hear. I also have a friend who got a sim from them by getting angry. Seems to be the only way :/ This is clearly discrimination. What can you do?

        • CheapoGreg

          I don’t think it’s discrimination. I think they’ve been instructed that overseas phones don’t have the right radio bands and they don’t want to have to deal with the returns. Many years ago I had the same problem trying to buy generic RAM chips from BIC. When I told them It was for a Toshiba laptop, they told me I couldn’t buy generic and refused to sell It to me! I’d suggest just buying the SIM without showing them your handset.

          • Haha maybe they have been yelled at by too many foreigners for selling them sim cards that don’t work. So now they won’t sell us sim card until we yell at them more than the previous customer who yelled at them for selling them a sim..
            Joking aside, why don’t they just ask me about what cell phone bands my phone can receive. Why don’t they advertise the cell bands that their sims do work on? They are supposed to be the experts. Why did they only try and push more expensive options on me?
            I have felt coerced by all the Japanese mobile sales people, besides GTN, to buy more expensive and unnecessary options and people should be aware that they are very cheap sim options available and that they work with pretty much all phones made within the last couple years.


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