If you travel to Japan, you will probably bring your smartphone with you. Whether you are finding train schedules on the go, figuring out how to get somewhere in Tokyo’s sometimes confusing streets using your favorite map app, or just trying to reach someone through Skype, having a smartphone in Japan just makes things easier. And, since Japan has a very modern and widespread network of cellular towers that conform to global technical standards, your phone shouldn’t have any problem getting cellular service when you’re traveling around Japan—that’s if you have a Japanese SIM card. When shopping around for a temporary data plan, you will find two main options to choose from: renting or buying. In this article we compare the two options to help you decide whether renting or buying a SIM card in Japan is best.
Renting vs. Buying a SIM Card in Japan
If you don’t have a Japanese SIM card, you face the prospect of paying very high roaming charges to your phone service provider back home for any data you use or any phone calls you make, or else being stuck with your phone in airplane mode, leaving you no choice but to use the hard-to-find open WiFi networks dotted around the countries metropolitan areas. So if you think that getting a SIM card before your trip is a good option, is it better to buy or rent one? Let’s break it down:
Buying a SIM Card in Japan
One option for getting local cellular service is buying a SIM card in Japan that connects to a local cellular network. When you buy a SIM card for local use, generally speaking, you will also need to activate the SIM card on the local cellular network that the card is made for. Please be sure to follow the instructions provided with the SIM card or else contact the company to confirm what to do.
Renting a SIM Card in Japan
Another option is renting a SIM card in Japan, which is especially convenient for those visiting for a short time. With rental SIM cards, you avoid all the hassles associated with having to activate a SIM card with a local cellular provider because the rental company takes care of this for you. You simply pick up the card, pop it in your phone, adjust a few settings following the instructions provided with your SIM, and you’re on your way. Also, in terms of price, renting just might be better value for money:
- A typical company selling a pre-paid SIM card charges a price of around 4,000 yen for a 1GB card, and that data will expire in 2-3 weeks depending on the company you buy from.
- Sakura Mobile offers a 3GB rental SIM card for just under 4,500 yen (tax and shipping included) and a 50 yen/day rental fee; the data doesn’t expire for 45 days (if you need it that long). If you were to use the card for 2 weeks (the same length of time in which the pre-paid SIM’s data expires), your cost per GB of data comes to around 1,733 yen when renting as opposed to the 4,000 when you buy the SIM card.
If renting sounds better than buying a SIM card in Japan, we invite you learn more about our rental SIM card plans.
Japan Prepaid SIM Card Basics
- If you are planning on either buying or renting a local SIM card, make sure that your phone is SIM-card unlocked. Some carriers lock their phones so that only their SIM cards work. Check with your carrier before you leave your country and confirm that your phone is unlocked or else request that the carrier unlock the phone so that you can use one of the below services.
- If you are not a resident of Japan, it is very difficult to get a SIM card that allows voice calls using the traditional voice network in Japan. There are such strict technical, as well as legal, requirements for getting access to a voice-capable SIM card that most short-term visitors (and the companies that provide cellular services aimed at those visitors) do not usually highlight such services. As such, with one exception, the services described above are for data-only SIM cards. Depending on the service you have, you should be able to use VoIP apps like Skype or WhatsApp for all of your voice calls.
Why Rent a Docomo SIM Card? It’s All about Coverage
Of course, getting a great deal on a SIM card doesn’t matter if you can’t get the coverage you need while you’re traveling! When shopping around for data plans, don’t forget to also consider the network carrier that provides the data. In Japan the big three are NTT Docomo, Softbank Mobile, and au by KDDI. If you plan to travel outside of Tokyo or Osaka, you need to pay special attention to which of these carriers you will be connected to because not all can provide consistent coverage in remote areas. If you’re worried about whether or not you can still call your friends while visiting Mount Fuji, or find your way back after wandering among Nikko’s beautiful temples and forests, then be sure to read our Japanese data carrier comparison. Whatever you decide to do, we hope you have a fun-filled and not to mention trouble-free?mobile experience in Japan!