Buying a SIM card in Tokyo can seem like a daunting process—but going in with a little knowledge will save you a lot of time and effort in the long-run.
tl;dr: Don’t speak much Japanese? Short-term stay? Buy online. Fluent? Longer stay? Make your way to a big-box retailer.
Option one: Sort your SIM out online
Depending on how long you’ll be here for (and how good your Japanese is), you’ll save a lot of time and effort just ordering your SIM online in advance, especially if you’re a tourist.
For short-term visits, Mobal is usually our top pick, but another provider might suit you better if you have specific needs. Our list of the best prepaid short-term SIM providers in Japan includes a handy pricing and features guide, with information on whether you can order the SIM online.
There can be a lot more to think about if you’re looking for a long-term SIM contract. The main factors you’ll want to focus on are price, data allowances, English support and contract termination fees. Our guide to long-term SIM cards in Japan includes a simple price comparison chart, and is recommended reading before you make a decision.
Option two: Buy your SIM card in Tokyo
So you’re already doing the tourist thing in Tokyo and you didn’t organize your SIM online. We’re not here to judge—you were probably busy daydreaming about all the amazing things you’re going to eat here (time well spent, we believe). If you need data and pocket wifi isn’t right for you, you might be left with the task of getting your SIM in person. But where?
Buying SIM cards at Tokyo’s airports
If you’ve missed the boat with ordering online in advance, the airport might be your next most convenient option. Both Narita and Haneda airports have sales points from which travelers can buy a SIM card. This is especially helpful for tourists with limited Japanese—Tokyo airport SIM stalls deal routinely with foreigners, so there’s a good chance they’ll have a fluent English speaker on hand.
However, there are a couple of potential downsides to buying your SIM at Haneda or Narita. Your choice is going to be limited—and, as with everything in airports, there’s a good chance you’ll be paying more than you would elsewhere for the sake of convenience. Presumably you’ll also be fresh off a flight—groggy and worse for wear from hours in what effectively amounts to a noisy, airtight petri-dish.
Buying SIM cards at Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo
Don’t let the “camera” part fool you. If it vaguely involves electricity, these stores stock it—and SIM cards are no exception. As Japan’s biggest electronics titans, they have two major advantages over ordering online: the range of options, and some price cuts.
In theory, you should be able to wander into a store, pick a SIM, sign up and snapchat your buddies about Japan’s famously fancy toilets in record time. With prepaid travel SIMs, that’s likely to be the case. But if you try to get something else, you could spend a few hours dealing with Japan’s equally famous bureaucracy. If you’re after a contract, you might also need to bring evidence that you’re sticking around in Japan. There’s a good chance you’ll be asked for a permanent address or Japanese bank account details—and your options may be limited if you can’t provide them.
Critically, you can expect very little foreign language support while you’re choosing and setting up a contract. Depending on the store, there may be a spare English speaker on hand to talk you through your options and help you get set up, but in my experience, you’ll be paying fees and signing contracts you don’t necessarily fully understand. That could mean some hefty release fees if you end up terminating your contract early.
Once you’re set up, you’re pretty much on your own as far as dedicated English support goes for many of the popular service carriers in Japan—if you have any issues and you don’t speak (or read) Japanese, there’s a good chance you’ll have to navigate a language barrier while sorting it out. The same goes for canceling your contract, so it’s worth having a think about your exit strategy before you sign up for a lengthy, low-price contract.
Put simply, when it comes to buying SIM cards in-store, if you speak fluent Japanese or have a friend that’s willing to help, the world is your oyster. Otherwise, consider sacrificing these options and going online to keep your sanity intact.
Finding a SIM card store
If you’re staying in inner-city Tokyo, there’s a good chance you’ll be close to a Bic Camera, branches of which are tactically placed near many Yamanote Line stations, including Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara and Yurakucho. If you’ve got time to kill around the airport, there are also small Bic Camera branches in Narita Airport Terminal 2 and Haneda Airport International Terminal—which are likely to be cheaper than any of the dedicated independent travel SIM retailers, and should have prepaid SIMs on display.
Yodobashi Camera’s giant flagship store is located in the heart of geek-mecca Akihabara, with other stores in Shinjuku, Ueno and Kichijoji.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.
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