Quick Guide to SIM Cards in Japan: Budget-Friendly Short and Long-Term Options

Carey Finn

Heading East, and wondering what your Japanese SIM card options are? There are a range of prepaid and contract SIMs to choose from, but figuring out which one(s) will work best for you can be tricky—especially since much of the information is in Japanese. To make things simpler, we’ve put together this quick read on the SIM cards that offer the best bang for your buck (or zen for your yen, rather).

japanese sim
Relying on free wifi alone for connectivity isn’t recommended in Japan. SIMs are cheap enough, and easy to find too. | Photo by Miki Yoshihito used under CC

Short-term use: Prepaid SIM cards

If you’re winging into Tokyo (or any part of Japan, really) for a spot of sightseeing or perhaps a business trip that’s under three months, you’ll want a nice and easy, cheapo-friendly prepaid SIM card. If you’ve heard of Japan’s two telco giants, SoftBank and NTT Docomo, you may be surprised to find that you won’t be buying anything SIM-like directly from them. We’re not being prescriptive—you actually can’t. Instead, you’ll be choosing from a list of MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), who piggyback on the big networks, but offer some serious savings.

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Cheapo tip: A provider called Mobal offer the best deal by far—and unlike other short-term Japan data SIM cards, they give you access to voice and SMS in addition to data (the rest are data-only). They have 15 and 30-day packages, each with 7GB of fast data (and then unlimited data at slow speeds when it runs out), and they offer full English support. Oh, and they have free worldwide shipping, so you can get your SIM sorted before you touch down.

For a comprehensive guide to short-term Japan SIM cards for travelers, see our article on Prepaid and Cheap Data SIM Card Options in Japan.

Unlimited data with 4G speed up to 7GB. Only provider that gives you a local number and ships to you free anywhere in the world. click here for details
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Japan data sim card
You can get SIM cards from vending machines at the airport (because Japan), but they aren’t always the best deal. | Photo by TAKA@P.P.R.S used under CC

Long-term use: Contract SIM cards

If you’re going to be in Japan for more than three months, it’s a good idea to take out a contract, as you’ll get a rate that allows you to save a few yen in the long run. Again, your best bet is an MVNO like Mobal (they offer an ongoing service in addition to their short-term options). With other providers, you can opt for data-only (cheaper) or data + voice plans (more expensive, but convenient—you’ll need to call someone at some point).

With most providers, there’s a lot of fine print to watch out for; you’ll need to brace yourself for activation and cancellation fees, and make sure that the payment method works for you (credit card, convenience store or other). For a full breakdown of your long-term Japan data SIM card options, see our post called Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared.

Cheapo tip: If you have an old Japanese phone that’s locked, this home unlocking hack might come in handy.

Docomo SIM
MVNOs piggyback on major providers like NTT Docomo, but offer some good deals. | Photo by 極地狐 used under CC

I’m not sure I want a Japan SIM card: Using wifi instead

If you want to go the wifi route, we recommend renting a mobile router, as much of Japan (yep, even Tokyo) is still in the Dark Ages when it comes to public connectivity. This ain’t no Porto; freely available wifi isn’t, well, freely available. Read our guide on Connecting to Wifi in Tokyo and Japan for more deets, and zoom across to our post on Renting a Wifi Router to see what your options are for short and long-term pocket connectivity.

If you’re in a rush, skip all of that and grab a router from Ninja Wifi. We like them, because they give our awesome readers a 20% discount.

This post is regularly updated. Last update: October 30, 2017.

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