For foreigners moving to Japan or staying long term, getting portable data service through a smartphone is crucial to daily life yet signing up for a cell phone contract can be one of the biggest hurdles when you first arrive in the country. To help you choose the best Japan phone rental option to fit your needs, we broke down the most common methods foreigners use to stay connected during their long-term stay.
Long-Term Japan Phone Rental Options
When shopping around for long-term, foreign-friendly Japan phone rental options, you may find yourself at a dead end. The most straight-forward options are often highly regulated making it almost impossible to even sign up for a contract, and bringing your own phone with you creates other hurdles due to restrictions imposed by Japanese data carriers. Luckily, over the past couple years some Japanese companies have begun to fill the need for this market. If you’re in need of getting access to data while staying in Japan (and in this day and age, who isn’t?) then there are five options to choose from depending on how much you’re willing to spend and how long you can stay until your resident Visa expires. They are:
2-Year phone contract
For those staying in Japan at least 2 years, a two-year contract is a fairly straightforward option for phone and data service. The monthly cost varies from carrier to carrier and by plan but typically runs around \6500+ a month. This includes voice, high-speed data, text messaging, and the fee for the phone unit itself. By going the 2-year contract route, you’ll get a Japanese phone number and internet access, and you won’t need to worry about whether or not your foreign device is compatible with local networks because you’ll have a Japanese phone to use. However, being approved for a 2-year contract can be difficult if your Japanese visa is not valid for at least the next 2 years. This means if you only have a 1-year visa, your application will likely be denied even if you’re planning on renewing your visa within the next year. If you do meet the contract eligibility requirements, you may need a Japanese bank account or credit card so make sure to have your payment information ready when you go to the store. Good for a long-term stay? Yes, if you have a 2-year visa status and a Japanese bank account.
Japanese prepaid SIM
A prepaid SIM card that provides data service is an option many foreigners use if they’re unable to sign a two-year contract with a local provider. Prepaid data starts at around \2,000 per month for 3GB of data, though you may need to top up your balance sooner if you use up the data before the month ends. A prepaid SIM card can be a relatively affordable option for most people because it allows you to use the smartphone you brought from your home country—as long as it’s compatible with Japanese networks. If your smartphone isn’t compatible, another data rental option that let’s you keep it is by considering a portable WiFi router plan. It’s important to note that not all prepaid data plans include voice service, so you may need to look into alternatives if you want or need a local Japanese phone number. Good for a long-term stay? Yes, if you want to use your own smartphone or don’t qualify for a two-year contract.
Japan Cell Phone Rental
Prepaid local flip phone
If you need a Japanese phone number but can’t get approved for a 2-year contract, a prepaid local phone may be a good option for you. You’ll have to pay the cost of the phone unit itself up front, but this usually isn’t too expensive. That’s because the only phones that Japanese carriers are willing to sell prepaid are old school flip-phones (called gara-kei, or “Galapagos phones” because they can only be used in Japan). Once you have a prepaid phone, you’ll need to purchase credits for it, which usually runs about \3000 every 60–90 days. Many foreigners living in Japan use smartphones from their home country with a prepaid data plan and pair it with a prepaid flip-phone for local calls. While this method can be inconvenient because it requires carrying at least two devices at all times, it’s a cost-effective option for voice and data service over the long term. Good for a long-term stay? Yes, but you’ll need to pair it with another smartphone or portable WiFi for easy data access.
There are companies that rent out smartphones with voice and data service. Prices vary widely from company to company but typically include a daily rental fee (around \200—800 per day), plus voice service (around \50—100 per minute) and data charges. Data may either be charged by the day (up to around \1500 per day) or by a flat monthly rate. This Japan phone rental option provides the convenience of having a smartphone for calls and internet access, but cost-wise it’s really only feasible for short-term visitors. Also, there may be limited availability of rental units during peak tourism seasons. Good for a long-term stay? No, too expensive.
Some mobile carriers provide international roaming that can be accessed in Japan if your device is compatible. This option can provide a lot of convenience as you don’t need to go through a Japanese provider, and you can have the cost billed to your monthly phone bill back home. The details and pricing depend on your specific carrier, but the rates tend to be prohibitively expensive. If you’re going to be in Japan for more than a short-term stay, international roaming isn’t recommended unless your employer is willing to cover the cost. Good for a long-term stay? No, way too expensive.
So what’s the best Japan phone rental option for a long-term stay?
For anyone staying in Japan for more than a few weeks or a month, the two most effective Japan phone rental options are either renting a SIM card or signing up for a 2-year contract. If SIM sounds right for you, Sakura Mobile offers affordable monthly SIM card plans (3—7 GB) to help keep you connected. Also, if you’re unsure about which direction you want to go in getting data and want to wait until you arrive in Japan before making a decision, a renting a short-term data SIM rental is a cheep and effective way for staying until you get on your feet.