Prepaid SIM vs. Pocket WiFi: Japan Rental Options

*Updated on March 21st, 2024.

So you’re coming to Japan and you want to be sure that you’ll always have internet access when you need it. Free WiFi can be surprisingly difficult to find in Japan, even in big cities like Tokyo. So before your trip, it’s a good idea to make arrangements so you’ll be able to stay connected wherever you go. The two main options for short-term visitors are renting a prepaid SIM card or pocket WiFi in Japan, but which one is right for you? If you’re confused about the differences between the two, we’ve broken down the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Photo courtesy of pixabay(DariuszSankowski)

A pocket WiFi router is essentially a mobile WiFi hotspot that you can connect multiple devices to. It’s similar to a WiFi router that you would have at home, but it’s lightweight and battery powered so you can easily take it with you. A SIM card is a tiny card that plugs directly into your smartphone or tablet. It identifies your device to cellular data carriers so that you can connect to their network. When you insert a new SIM card into your phone, the phone number and data plan are automatically updated with your new information. This is extremely useful when traveling to other countries, as you can buy a prepaid SIM card to get service from a local carrier and avoid expensive international roaming fees.

Should I get a Pocket WiFi or SIM Card/eSIM?

There are a variety a places in Japan that offer free and paid WiFi hotspots. From convenience stores and coffee shops, to your hotel room and even train stations. But there is also the real concerns of using free WiFi, such as data and privacy theft, followed by slow speeds, and unreliable connections. Ask a seasoned traveler if it’s worth paying a little bit for a secure Pocket WiFi or SIM Card, and they’ll likely say it’s well worth the cost, especially in a country where you can’t speak or read the language.

Nowadays, many providers have started to sell eSIM, which are embedded SIMs that save you the hassle of changing the SIM card in your phone. Some new phone models like the iPhone 14 and 15 only support eSIM, so they come in handy if you use these phones!

Pros & Cons of Pocket WiFi and SIM Card/eSIM in Japan

Pros & Cons of Pocket WiFi

One of the biggest benefits of a pocket WiFi in Japan is that it’s simple and easy to use. You simply turn the router on and your device(that are WiFi-capable) can connect to it.

Mobile routers in Japan are also very fast. They connect to Japan’s LTE network and can access speeds up to 150 MBPS, and they have a wide coverage area so you can be sure that you’ll have internet access all across Japan. However, you’ll need to watch the battery life and keep your pocket WiFi charged, so that it doesn’t shut off unexpectedly. You may want to carry a portable power supply so you can recharge your pocket WiFi while on the go.

Something else to consider is where you will be traveling to while in Japan. Pocket WiFi can sometimes offer a stronger signal, which makes it a better option if you will be outside of the city. This includes visiting temples in the mountains, staying in a remote ski cottage, visiting onsen in mountain areas, or traveling to rural villages for NPO activities.

You should also think about how many devices you want to connect. If you’re traveling with a laptop or in a group, with a pocket WiFi everyone will be able to tether to the same device and enjoy fast internet speeds with a Pocket WiFi; the caveat to multiple users or devices on one portable WiFi is that if you rent a small data plan (3–5GB) you will most likely have to top up multiple times, which means you might save more by renting a larger data plan than you might normally consider. This can make pocket WiFi more cost-effective than purchasing multiple prepaid SIM cards for everyone in your group. And you don’t need to worry about device settings or hardware compatibility like you do with SIM cards.

Is Pocket WiFi Worth It in Japan?

If you plan to travel in a group or want the simplest option for data in Japan, Pocket WiFi is better than SIM Cards because you can use it with any phone or tablet and you don’t need to deal with installing the SIM Card and changing your phone settings. If this sounds like you, Pocket WiFi is definitely worth getting while in Japan!

Pros & Cons of SIM cards/eSIM

The most important thing you need to know about prepaid SIM cards in Japan is that they only work with compatible devices, which means your phone must be SIM-free or “unlocked.” Many mobile companies lock their smartphones so that they only work with their network, and they won’t unlock them for you unless you finish your contract and/or pay an extra fee. In addition, to using a prepaid SIM in Japan, your phone must be compatible with local network(3G/4G/5G). Older or certain phones may not be compatible so you’ll need to verify that your device will work.

If after checking compatibility you find that it can work with a SIM card, you’ll be able to use your phone or tablet just like you would back home without any roaming charges. Like pocket WiFi, a prepaid SIM card provides fast LTE data access and a wide coverage area.

Moreover, with an eSIM, it is unnecessary to replace or install a SIM card physically, and the entire process from purchase to usage can be done online! It also saves you the hassle of changing and managing other SIM cards you have, which can come in handy when traveling.

You will also need to adjust the Access Point Name (APN) settings on your phone before you can access a network. If your APN settings aren’t correct, you risk losing phone functionality or receiving additional charges. If you’re not comfortable changing phone settings, it’s best to go with a pocket WiFi.

Are SIM Cards/eSIM Worth It in Japan?

A prepaid SIM card can be more convenient than a pocket WiFi because you don’t need to turn it on and off each time you use it to save battery life. You also don’t need to worry about juggling multiple devices — smartphone, router, and a portable battery — while you travel, since a SIM card is inserted directly into your device.

In addition, an eSIM is innovative in its beneficial aspects such as the importing of the SIM with the QR code and the easy switching between networks. If you want to save the hassle of changing your SIMs or recharging your portable Wi-Fi, we recommend getting an eSIM!

Prepaid SIM vs. Pocket WiFi: Japan rental options

Whether you decide to get a prepaid SIM card or rent a pocket WiFi in Japan, you should make sure to reserve it in advance because supply can be limited during peak-tourist season when many people visit Japan from overseas. You can arrange to pick up your SIM card or pocket WiFi at the airport or have it sent to the address you’ll be staying at. And don’t worry you can always update the delivery address later if you need to.

Do you know which device fits your needs? If so, head over to our short-term plans to see why Sakura Mobile is the best when it comes to data plan rentals in Japan!


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