Best 8 SIM Cards in Japan | Monthly Smartphone Plans for Long-Term Stay

Best 8 SIM Cards in Japan | Monthly Smartphone Plans for Long-Term Stay

Are you currently struggling with any of these questions?

  • I’m planning on staying in Japan long-term and want a SIM card with a monthly contract to use.
  • I need to get a SIM card that will allow me to use a Japanese phone number.
  • The monthly fees for docomo, SoftBank, and au are so expensive. Aren’t there any cheaper options?

This article will give you the answers you need and more.

Table of contents

  1. The types of SIM cards you can get in Japan
  2. Is it necessary to get a Japanese phone number?
  3. Smartphones in Japan – The difference between major carriers and MVNO
  4. A comparison of 5 companies that offer Voice + Data SIM cards
  5. So, which one is the best?
  6. A comparison of 3 companies that offer Data Only SIM cards
  7. For those not yet in Japan: How to pick up your SIM card from the airport
  8. FAQ about SIM cards

Are you planning on coming to Japan soon? Or are you already living in Japan? Either way, it goes without saying that you’re going to need a smartphone in order to go about your daily life.

However, Japanese SIM cards are complicated. You may find that different carriers offer different prices, different data plans, and different amounts of English support. If you simply enter a contract without thinking, you may run into the following problems…

  • ”My monthly fees are way higher than I expected.”
  • ”I don’t have enough data; I end up running out in the middle of the month.”
  • ”The cellphone provider’s website was all in English, but the customer support representatives can only speak Japanese so I can’t cancel my contract.”

Which might cause you to regret being too hasty.

But worry not. In this article, we’re going to be breaking down the details of different plans so you can better understand what kind of plan you should choose.

Additionally, for those who are not yet in Japan, some carriers will allow you to reserve your SIM card online and pick it up at the airport when you arrive. We will be introducing these carriers in this article as well.

  • The information included in this article is about monthly contract SIM cards and applies to individuals who are planning on staying long term (over 90 days) in Japan.
  • If you are planning on staying in Japan for 90 days or less, you will in general be unable to purchase a monthly contract SIM, so you should consider buying a prepaid travel SIM instead.

The quick answer: Which provider should I choose?

If you:

  • Are content with 25GB of data per month
  • Want to save money
  • Need reliable English support 7 days a week
  • Choose Sakura Mobile

On the other hand, if you:

  • Need unlimited data
  • Do not mind if the fees are more expensive
  • Do not have any issues communicating in Japanese
  • Choose SoftBank or au

1. The types of SIM card you can get in Japan

1. The types of SIM card you can get in Japan
There are two types of SIM cards that you can purchase: the Voice + Data SIM and the Data Only SIM.

The difference between the Voice + Data SIM and the Data Only SIM

Scroll right for more →→

Voice + Data SIMData Only SIM
Phone Number×
Data
Text (SMS)

With a Voice + Data SIM, you will be able to access the internet as well as make phone calls. This means that the SIM includes a Japanese phone number. When talking about standard cell phone plans, Voice + Data SIM cards are the most common. In your home country, you were most likely using a Voice + Data SIM.

True to its name, the Data Only SIM is a SIM card that lets you use only mobile data. This kind of SIM card is often used in devices like iPads and pocket WiFi, but they can be used in smartphones the same way. With the Data Only SIM, you will be able to use the internet, but the SIM card does not come with a phone number.

Text messaging (referred to as “SMS” in Japan) can also be used with both types of SIM cards.

Now, you may be wondering, “Which one should I choose?”

We suggest that if you don’t have a specific reason to choose a Data Only SIM, you should go with a Voice + Data SIM.

This is because you will most likely run into situations where you need a Japanese phone number while living in Japan. To give a statistic, 90% of Sakura Mobile’s customers choose a Voice + Data SIM.

Next, we will be explaining why you might need a Japanese phone number.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

2. Is it necessary to get a Japanese phone number?

2. Is it necessary to get a Japanese phone number?
If you are living in Japan, it will almost always be necessary to have a Japanese phone number.

When you sign a contract for an apartment, start work at a company, enroll in school, or set up a bank account, you will be asked for a phone number.

You might be thinking, “Why do I need a phone number when I could just use LINE or Skype?”, but places like the ward office will not accept contact information like your LINE ID. More official situations like these will require you to have a Japanese phone number.

In order to allow these procedures to go smoothly, it is recommended that you get a Voice + Data SIM, which will include a phone number.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

3. Smartphones in Japan – The difference between major carriers and MVNO

3. Smartphones in Japan - The difference between major carriers and MVNO
The three major cell phone carriers in Japan are docomo, au, and SoftBank.

Major carriers are those with their own mobile network. In the US, for example, the major carriers include AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

The thing to note about these carriers is that while the connection quality is top-notch, the fees can also be quite expensive.

Conversely, there are carriers called MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators).

MVNOs borrow the network of major carriers and supply their own plans to customers.

The quality of internet connection for MVNOs is a bit lower than major carriers, but prices become that much cheaper.

In the next section, we will be comparing the pricing, data plans, and connection speeds of Japan’s three major carriers (docomo, au, and SoftBank) to two MVNOs suited for international residents in Japan.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

4. A comparison of 5 companies that offer Voice + Data SIM cards

4. A comparison of 5 companies that offer Voice + Data SIM cards
Next, we will be introducing 5 providers that offer Voice + Data SIM plans.

Scroll right for more →→

CarrierCarrier TypePlanAllocated DataMonthly FeeConnection Speed (Download)NetworkEnglish SupportHow to Apply
Sakura MobileMVNOLITE
PREMIUM
4GB
25GB
3,278 JPY
4,378 JPY
Few ~ 20 Mbpsdocomo 4GFull English SupportOnline
MobalMVNOVoice + Text + Data Plan7GB4,950 JPYFew ~ 20 MbpsSoftBank 4GFull English SupportOnline
docomoMajor CarrierGiga-ho Premium~ 3GB
~ 60 GB
5,555 JPY
7,205 JPY
Few ~ 30 Mbpsdocomo 4GWebsite OnlyIn-store
SoftBankMajor CarrierMerihari Unlimited~ 3GB
Unlimited
5,588 JPY
7,238 JPY
Few ~ 30 MbpsSoftBank 5G/4GWebsite OnlyIn-store
auMajor CarrierUnlimited Data MAX 5G~3GB
Unlimited
5,588 JPY
7,238 JPY
Few ~ 30 Mbpsau 5G/4GWebsite OnlyIn-store
  • *All prices listed include tax

Does this give you a better understanding of the features of each plan?

Next, we will be introducing the necessary features that you should pay attention to when choosing a Voice + Data SIM card. These include the amount of monthly data, fees, connection speeds, coverage rates, and the availability of English customer support.

Allocated Data

Firstly, you should be aware of how much data you will be able to use per month. Depending on how you use your smartphone on a daily basis, the amount of data that you will need is also going to change.

Scroll right for more →→

How you use your phoneHow much data you are going
to need (Estimate)

  • Sending messages and emails, browsing
    the internet, checking social media

Less than 10GB/month

  • Watching small amounts of YouTube or Netflix


11 ~ 25GB/month

  • Watching YouTube or Netflix in high quality
    for more than an hour per day

  • Playing online games for long amounts of time

  • Making long video calls


26GB ~ Unlimited

For those who have WiFi at home and only use mobile data when outside the house, 25GB/month should be more than enough.

Individuals who would need 26GB or more per month are those who do not have home WiFi installed or use large amounts of data while on the go.

Next, we will be introducing you to our recommended carriers based on the amount of data that you need.

For those who want big-data plans (26 GB or more per month)

The only companies that supply big-data plans (26 GB/month or more) are the major carriers. You should look into plans from docomo, au, or SoftBank.

For those who are looking at plans 25GB or less

If you want 25GB or less per month, we recommend that you choose a plan from an MVNO (such as Sakura Mobile, Mobal). The monthly fees will be considerably less than major carriers.

For your reference

If you would like to calculate how much data you are going to need, please refer to the following table.

Scroll right for more →→

ActionEstimated Quantity with 1GB
Sending Emails~ 2,000 Emails
LINE Calling~ 50 Hours
Twitter (Tweeting 140 characters)~ 3,100 Tweets
YouTube (1080p)~ 1 Hour
Online Games (Switch, PS4, etc.)~ 6 Hours
Updating Online Games (Switch, PS4, etc.)Less than once (1.5GB - over 10GB)
Hulu (High Definition)~ 1 Hour
Video Calling on Zoom~ 1.5 Hours

Fees

When you enter a cellphone contract, you should expect to be paying two types of fees.

  • Initial fees
  • Monthly fees

Initial fees range from around 3,000 to 5,000 JPY. Depending on the carrier, it might be called the registration fee, administrative fee, or activation fee. This is a one-time-fee that you pay at the time of application.

As for the monthly fee, there are three main points that you should be aware of:

  • Base fee
  • Calling fee
  • SMS (texting) fee

The base fee is the amount that was listed on the earlier table. If you choose a different plan, the base fee that you are charged per month will be different.

Calling fees and SMS fees will change depending on how much you use. If you call and text more, your monthly fee will be more expensive and vise versa. The rates per minute and per text rarely change between carriers. Domestic calls, for example, are 22 JPY per 30 seconds.

Additionally, apps like LINE, Skype, and WhatsApp that include calling and messaging functions will not add to your calling and SMS fees. This is because the communication that occurs within these apps count as mobile data instead.

If you factor LINE and Skype usage in as mobile data, it would be reasonable to assume that over 90% of your phone bill will be the base fee. Taking this into account, you can generally treat the prices listed in the table as what you will be paying each month.

Connection speed

Compared to MVNOs, major carriers have faster and more stable connection speeds.

This is because MVNOs borrow the network of major carriers and supply it to their customers.

The connection speeds of both are as follows.

  • Major carriers: Few ~ 30 Mbps
  • MVNO: Few ~ 20 Mbps
  • *These numbers are only estimates. Connection speeds will vary depending on various different factors, meaning that they will in some cases be faster.

You might be thinking, “How different is 20 Mbps compared to 30 Mbps?”

Below are the ideal internet speeds for various activities.

Scroll right for more →→

ActivityNecessary Internet Speed
4K Videos/Online Games25 Mbps
Online Meetings10 Mbps
Video Streaming (1080p)5 Mbps
Video Streaming (720p)3 Mbps
Web Browsing/Emails/LINE1 Mbps

If you are planning on just watching videos (1080p), an MVNO SIM card should not have any problems. However, if you want to participate in online meetings or play online games, it would be a safe bet to go with the SIM card of a major carrier.

Isn’t the connection speed supposed to be 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps)?

If you’ve been looking for SIM cards, you might have noticed that many companies list their connection speeds anywhere between 988 and 1,237 Mbps. However, this is only the expected speed in theory, and does not reflect the actual speed when using the internet. As explained earlier, your internet speed should be between a few to 30 Mbps.

Coverage

Coverage for docomo, au, and SoftBank includes 99% of the populated area of Japan.

So no matter which carrier you choose, you will be able to use the internet all over the country with no problem.

MVNOs also use the same network as the major carriers, so you will not have any problems when it comes to coverage.

However, when going through mountains and traveling underground, there are many instances in which it may be more difficult to connect to the internet. Because you are on a mobile network, there is no good way around this.

English Support

Out of the carriers included in the above table, Sakura Mobile is one of the few companies that provides full English support.

To compare this to other carriers, docomo, au, and SoftBank have English websites but customer support is only available in Japanese. There are also companies that do not provide customer support at all.

You might run into problems when using your smartphone. For example, it might stop working or the connection might be unusually slow. During these times, it would be helpful to have English support to rely on.

If you are not confident in your Japanese, we recommend choosing Sakura Mobile.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

5. So which one is the best?

5. So which one is the best?
If you:

  • Are content with 25GB of data per month
  • Want to save money
  • Need reliable English support 7 days a week
  • Choose Sakura Mobile

On the other hand, if you:

  • Need unlimited data
  • Do not mind if the fees are more expensive
  • Do not have any issues communicating in Japanese
  • Choose SoftBank or au

Let’s go into a little more detail.

Sakura Mobile is the recommended mobile carrier for English speakers

There are 5 reasons we can recommend Sakura Mobile.

  • You can use the largest amount of data possible for an MVNO (25 GB/month) for only 4,378 JPY/month
  • For those who want to lower their cellphone costs, there is also a light-usage 4GB/month plan for 3,278 JPY/month
  • Full English Support 7 days a week. The homepage and the “My Page” (where you can check your remaining data, change your plan, terminate your contract, etc.) for users are all in English
  • Complete your order online and have it delivered the next day at the earliest
  • For those who are not yet in Japan, you can arrange to pick up your SIM card from the airport

Allocated data and fees

At Sakura Mobile, there are two plans to choose from: 4GB and 25GB per month.

There are not many carriers that have English customer support available, and those that do generally have more expensive monthly fees.

In comparison, as per the earlier table, Sakura Mobile’s monthly fees are quite affordable.

English support

Sakura Mobile provides customer service fully in English.

Year-round English customer support is available to help customers from the day they apply to the day they cancel their contracts.

Where other companies require you to read and sign documents completely in Japanese, Sakura Mobile lets you complete the whole process in English.

If you are interested in Sakura Mobile, click here to see more information on our products and services.

For individuals who use lots of data

If you are in need of large amounts of data, we suggest that you enter a contract with au or SoftBank.

This is because the only companies that provide unlimited data plans are au and SoftBank.

docomo offers a 60GB plan, but because the price does not vary too much from au and SoftBank’s unlimited plans, it would be wise to just choose the unlimited plans so you do not have to worry about data.

Also note that au and SoftBank do not have English support, so you should make sure to bring someone with you who can speak Japanese when applying.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

6. A comparison of 3 companies that offer Data Only SIM cards

6. A comparison of 3 companies that offer Data Only SIM cards
Earlier in this article, we explained the details of two types of SIM cards. One of these was the Data Only SIM, a SIM card that does not contain a phone number.

Below is a comparison of three carriers suited for international residents that offer Data Only SIM cards.

Scroll right for more →→

CarrierCarrier TypePlanAllocated DataMonthly FeeConnection SpeedNetworkEnglish Support
Sakura MobileMVNOLITE DATA
PREMIUM DATA
4GB
25GB
2,728 JPY
3,828 JPY
Few ~ 20 Mbpsdocomo 4G LTEFull English English Support
SoftBankMajor carrier50 GB Plan50 GB5,200 JPYFew ~ 30 MbpsSoftBank 5G/4G LTEWebsite Only
BIGLOBE MobileMVNOData SIM3GB
20GB
30GB
1,122 JPY
5,082 JPY
7,557 JPY
Few ~ 20 Mbpsdocomo 4G LTEJapanese Only
  • *All prices listed include tax

5 features of Sakura Mobile

  • You can use the largest amount of data possible for an MVNO (25 GB/month) for only 3,828 JPY/month
  • For those who want to lower their cellphone costs, there is also a light-usage 4GB/month plan for 2,728 JPY/month
  • Full English Support 7 days a week. The homepage and the “My Page” (where you can check your remaining data, change your plan, terminate your contract, etc.) for users are all in English
  • Complete your order online and have it delivered the next day at the earliest
  • For those who are not yet in Japan, you can arrange to pick up your SIM card from the airport

Like the Voice + Data SIM, Sakura Mobile offers high-quality Data Only SIM cards marketed specifically toward international residents.

If you are interested in Sakura Mobile’s Data Only SIM, please click here for more details.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

7. For those not yet in Japan: How to pick up your SIM card from the airport

7. For those not yet in Japan: How to pick up your SIM card from the airport
SIM card pickup from the airport is very popular among Sakura Mobile’s customers.

This is because when you first arrive in Japan, one of your first priorities is usually to get internet.

For example, looking up the train schedule with Google Maps or searching for good places to eat at the airport all require internet connection.

So how exactly do you go about picking up your SIM card once you arrive at the airport?

Because other companies are geared toward Japanese people, you will not be able to find this service with other carriers.

With Sakura Mobile, which caters specifically to internationals in Japan, you can pick up your SIM card at one of our partner counters at the arrivals terminal for international flights.

In the following video, the staff of the YouTube channel, “MisoDog TV” explain how to pick up a Sakura Mobile SIM card from the airport.

The pick-up process starts from 0:49.

In the video, the SIM card that is being picked up is a prepaid SIM card for travelers, but the process is the same for a Voice + Data SIM.

↑ Click to play YouTube video

You can pick up a Sakura Mobile SIM card from any of the following airports:

  • Narita Airport
  • Haneda Airport
  • Kansai Int. Airport

When coming to Japan from overseas, you should be coming in through one of these three airports.

If you are looking to pick up your SIM card at the airport, you should make sure to reserve it on Sakura Mobile’s website at least a week in advance.

↑ Go back to the table of contents

8. FAQ about SIM cards

8. FAQ about SIM cards

What is a SIM card?

A SIM card is a small chip that makes data communications possible when it is put into a phone. In order to use your phone while visiting places without WiFi connection, you are going to need a SIM card.

Can I use a Japanese SIM card with my phone that I bought overseas?

To be able to use Japanese SIM card, your device must meet the following conditions:

  • It is a SIM-free device (i.e. unlocked device)
  • It can receive the signals of Japanese carriers

To find out whether or not your device is unlocked, you will need to contact the shop or phone carrier from which you bought the phone.

Additionally, by looking up the frequency bands that your phone can receive, you can check to see if your phone accepts Japanese carriers’ signals.

If you are not knowledgeable about telecommunications, you might not know how to figure this out on your own. You should contact the carrier that you are planning to apply for beforehand if you are unsure about frequency bands.

If you want to know whether your device is compatible with Sakura Mobile’s SIM cards, please check out this page.

Additionally, if you know your device name and model number, the staff at Sakura Mobile can help you look up the necessary information.

How to set up your SIM card

The setup process for SIM cards may differ depending on the type of device you own. It is easy to do, and with a manual you should be able to finish it in about 10 to 15 minutes.

For those who want to know the setup process for Sakura Mobile’s SIM cards, refer to the video below.

↑ Click to play YouTube video

↑ Go back to the table of contents

Final thoughts

Do you feel more prepared to choose a SIM card that fits your lifestyle? We introduced the two types of SIM cards as well as many different options for SIM card providers, so you hopefully feel a little less loss. We hope that this article helped you figure out the specifics of getting your phone working in Japan.

Sakura Mobile provides not only SIM cards, but fiber internet as well.

If you are looking to install unlimited, high-speed home internet, consider applying for Sakura Fiber Internet and a Voice + Data SIM at the same time to receive up to a 18,700 JPY discount on your initial fees.

Thank you for reading and good luck!

Conclusion: Which provider should I choose?

If you:

  • Are content with 25GB of data per month
  • Want to save money
  • Need reliable English support 7 days a week
  • Choose Sakura Mobile

On the other hand, if you:

  • Need unlimited data
  • Do not mind if the fees are more expensive
  • Do not have any issues communicating in Japanese
  • Choose SoftBank or au

返信を行う