Cell phones are a modern necessity wherever you are, but no more so than if you are a student looking to make the most of your stay in a foreign country like Japan. Whether you are trying to navigate through streets labeled with kanji characters, arranging to meet friends at an izakaya Japanese bar, or sending the latest Mount Fuji pics to your family, it’s nice to know that the people you love—and the places you want to go—are just a touchscreen-tap or phone call away. Fortunately, there are plenty of Japanese cell phone plans for both short and long-term students. Before going to study in the Land of the Rising Sun, take a look at some of the options and decide which one is right for you.
Here are our options for:
Japanese Cell Phone Plans: Short-term vs. Long-term
If you need a local number during your stay, then you can rent a phone from a variety of outlets, both online and in a variety of stores. While convenient, this option comes with a number of caveats. If you buy online then you will need to know your address to arrange a delivery, or know the address of the shop you will to pick it up from. If you are new to the country and moving into accommodation this will be tricky. You may also need to pay a deposit and your choice of phones will be limited to the old-style flip phones or cheap, slow-speed smartphones. You will also pay for calls on top, which adds an unseen cost to your final bill. These are just some of the things to consider when thinking about renting a cell phone in Japan.
Of course, not all Japanese cell phone plans even require an actual phone! A cheaper alternative to cell phone rental is to use your current phone as an IP phone, making and receiving calls through internet services like Skype and LINE. You can do this by renting a SIM Card from Sakura Mobile. This lets you keep your current phone while enjoying the benefits of the super-fast Japanese mobile internet. Check with your provider to see if your handset is unlocked first—before you fly, of course! The only downside if renting a prepaid SIM Card in Japan is that you will not have a local telephone number, but don’t worry: A temporary number can be bought through services like Skype and LINE and will last a year.
For those who wish to stay longer, it’s still possible in a few places to get a cell phone in Japan that is purchased along with a credit balance and can be used to make calls and send messages. These phones will have a local telephone number, but that aside, offer very few advantages over other options. The phones are usually older and tend to be aimed towards those who use their phones for calls and nothing else. Premium call pricing also means they are not the most economical option, and topping them up often requires visiting a physical store to buy credit.
Any cellphone in Japan will be domestically marketed, meaning that all the paperwork will be in Japanese, as are all bills and customer support. If you run into problems, you will more than likely end up visiting a store to resolve any issues.
Finally, due to the basic nature of these phones you might find yourself carrying around two devices in order to access the internet. With smaller screens and older technology, even if you can access the internet it may well be too cumbersome to bother with, depending on how patient you are. This is not to mention the cost of data, which combined with voice and messaging is more expensive than other options.
If you spend any amount of time on the trains in Japan you will see that almost everyone is using a modern phone to play games, read books or surf the internet. Japanese cell phone plans are usually bought through a two-year contract with one of the major phone operators and are an option for those looking to stay in Japan to study for a longer period.
These plans give access to voice calls, messages and data, ensuring you have everything at your fingertips. If you do not already have a cell phone in Japan, then this can be an attractive option especially for students staying a long time. The vast majority of these plans come with a choice of handset depending on how much you want to pay. If you already have a phone then your choices become much more limited, as most plans are only available with a phone.
Keep in mind that you are liable for the entire two-year period of your contract, which will also require that you have a two-year visa. If you are here for a shorter stay, then you will not be eligible. In one of the great ironic twists, some providers require an address and phone number before you can sign the contract, which presents obvious problems for new arrivals!
For those who like to use the internet frequently while travelling, or like to send a lot of messages, Japanese cell phone plans can usually be tailored to suit you with extra minutes or data—but be careful, as these extras tend to quickly add up.
Get a SIM Card
Because a monthly SIM Card plan allows you to buy data on a month-by-month basis and ensures you are not bound to a lengthy and unwieldy contract, it may provide a more flexible option than some other Japanese cell phone plans. You can keep using your current (unlocked) phone and choose the contract that best suits you. You can even have a local Japanese phone number for use throughout your stay with some plans. This makes small inconveniences like buying things online and signing up for services easier as your phone number will be readily accepted by Japanese retailers and utilities.
Regardless of how long you study in Japan, Sakura Mobile is a popular option among students. Not only are the SIM Card plans affordable, you can easily manage your plan from delivery to return all online, with 24-hour support available in English and Japanese should there be any need for help along the way.
And if you are a long-term student looking for a Voice + Data SIM Card plan, Sakura Mobile is the best choice for several reasons.
- Receiving your SIM card is hassle free at Narita International Airport (same-day booking) as well as Haneda and Kansai International Airports (3-day advanced booking).
- Voice + Data SIM Card plans can be booked with just your passport—no residence address is necessary! Sakura Mobile is the ONLY provider to offer this service online, at airports, and at its Shinjuku office location.
- Your Japanese phone number will be activated before you leave the airport.
- You can pay your monthly bills in cash at a variety of Japanese combini (convenience stores) in addition to paying online.
- You can receive additional savings with the 1,000 JPY Student Discount exclusive to Sakura Mobile customers.
Japanese Cell Phone Plans Don’t Have to be a Hassle
If you’re coming to Japan as a student, staying connected to your school, friends, and internship company is essential. There are many reasons to rethink waiting to get a new phone until you arrive in Japan, from the expensive and inflexible options of prepaid and rental phones, to the burdensome and lengthy contracts of the commonly available two-year plans provided by Docomo and SoftBank. The Sakura Mobile Data SIM Card for short-term students and Voice + Data SIM Card for long-term students are ideal choices for starting your education in Japan off the right way!
If for some reason you do not want to get a SIM card, Sakura Mobile offers Pocket WiFi rental services that are great if you are bringing devices that are not compatible with SIM cards, like laptops and eReaders and need a mobile hotspot without tethering your phone. In addition, long-term students are also catered to with a variety of monthly plans.
With all these choices, Sakura Mobile is sure to keep you connected the way you want.