Phones in Japan

using phones
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Updated 2020-04-10 11:41

In Japan, as everywhere else, the smartphone is a must-have that no one can do without: at once a camera, calendar, bank account, and more, it accompanies us every step of our daily lives. So what are the mobile plans in Japan? Is there a budget option? Expat.com investigates.

Should I bring my own smartphone to Japan?

There is a persistent idea that most mobile phones from abroad will not work in Japan because they’re incompatible with the local telecommunication system. Don’t panic! It’s likely that your smartphone will work in Japan. At Expat.com, we took up the challenge by bringing an old iPhone 4 from France, and the phone worked perfectly with a Japanese SIM card. Huawei, Samsung, Sony, and other brands also pass the test brilliantly. Even Fairphone, the ethical smartphone, is 100% compatible with a Japanese SIM card. 

Of course, you may have to unlock your phone in order to successfully insert a Japanese SIM.

In short, there are two possibilities: come to Japan with your smartphone, or buy one on arrival.

Mobile phones and SIM cards in Japan

In Japan, plans are usually for a minimum of 1 to 2 years. It’s worth knowing that there aren’t many budget options. For expatriates staying less than 1 year, or around 18 months, this can be a puzzle - should you break your contract before the renewal date and risk penalties?

As with everywhere else, packages are divided into two parts: calls and data.

Regarding the part dedicated to voice calls, you can choose between two formulas: a flat rate for unlimited national calls, or a cheaper rate only for domestic calls. Calls of fewer than 5 minutes are usually free, but the deal varies depending on the operator. Check the conditions of your contract.

On the data side, everything depends on your consumption habits. If you only connect to the Internet to look at your emails or find your location on a map (which you can also do offline), a 110mo / month formula will suit you perfectly. Conversely larger consumers should turn to the formula at 1, 3, 5 or 10 or 30Gb / month. If you exceed your consumption, the transfer speed is reduced, but you will not pay additional fees.

Should you buy or rent a phone in Japan?

If you will only be spending a short time in Japan (a few weeks to a few months), there’s no need to invest in a phone and accompanying package. You have the choice between:

  • No package at all: arrive with your phone, and count on Japanese Wi-fi. Wi-fi is available in almost all stations, konbini (supermarkets open 24/24) and Starbucks to name just two options. This is the most economical solution. 
  • A prepaid SIM with data only: brands like Bic Camera offer 100% data SIM, valid from 15 days to 3 months (depending on the formula you choose). This presents a practical and inexpensive solution. Expect to pay an average of 3,000 yen (about 25 euros) for 2GB, valid for 3 months, for a SIM Bic Camera.
  • Rent a cell phone, or take a prepaid phone.
  • Buy pocket Wi-fi.

Practical information about telecommunications in Japan

To call Japan, you must dial "0081" followed by the phone number.

To make international calls from Japan, enter the code "010", followed by the country code, area code and telephone number you want to reach.

Here are some international codes:

  • United States: 1, area code and phone number without the initial zero
  • United Kingdom: 44, area code and phone number without the initial zero
  • Canada: 1, area code and toll-free number
  • Australia: 61, area code and telephone number without the initial zero
  • New Zealand: 64, area code and toll-free number
  • France: 33, area code and phone number without the initial zero

International calls can be very expensive in Japan. Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp or Line are particularly economical alternatives and can be used from anywhere with Wi-Fi connection points.

Popular mobile phone providers in Japan

Japan has three leading mobile phone service providers: Softbank, Docomo (or NTT Docomo) and AU. Each offers the same options globally. Softbank and Docomo are also known for providing services in English.

Faced with these communication giants, other operators are outsiders but do offer budget offers. Line Mobile, Mobal or Sakura have become essential in the world of mobile phones. Line has created a special student offer. Mobal and Sakura Line offer a formula without a contract and are therefore free of charge in case of "cancellation". Both operators also offer services in English. U mobile also offers a discount option, with mini-packages of 6 months. The drawback? Their website is only in Japanese.

How to subscribe?

To sign a contract with a telephone company in Japan, you must provide your residence (cardzairyu card), proof of address (your address, written on the back of your zairyu card, is sufficient in most cases) and your booklet or bank card.

As mentioned above, contracts are valid for two years and are subject to a cancellation fee in the event of cancellation before the scheduled date.

Contracts are also renewed automatically. If, after two years, you wish to terminate your contract, you must contact your service provider before the automatic renewal.

 Useful links:

Mobal 
Sakura Mobile
Line Mobile
U Mobile SIM Prepaid (English)
U Mobile Packages (Japanese)
Bic Camera Sim (Japanese)
JRPass SIM Card
NTT Do Co Mo
AU
Soft Bank

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.