The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Japanese Sim Card

"Getting a Japanese Sim Card" is part of our Life in Tokyo series to help guide you through some of the difficult aspects of life in Japan.

By Keanu Foltz | Updated November 4, 2020

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Sim Cards in Japan

Sim cards are essential for anyone in a developed country.  Imagine that you’ve made it out to Japan and are ready to get your life set up for all that the country has to offer. All your planning for moving to Japan has culminated into this first big step… but first you need to find a way to get wifi or internet data so you can use google maps. One of the most common ways you can do this is by getting one of the many Japanese sim cards that are readily available! This guide will cover everything you need to know about Japanese sim cards and other ways to access the internet or phone plan from where to buy them, the best and cheapest options, and anything else you would need to know about sim cards in Japan. 

Guide to Japanese Sim Cards

This post will cover all you need to know about Japanese sim cards, phone services, and accessing the internet in Japan while on the go. Click any of the links in the table of contents below to go to the section that you would like to know more about. 

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    How do you get internet in Japan?

    Like most developed countries Japan has a ton of ways for you to get online while you are on the go. From Japanese sim cards and pocket wifi devices to convenience stores and net cafes, the options are endless. This section will cover the different ways you can access the internet in Japan as well as the pros and cons of each. The best plan or type of wifi will depend on what you plan to do in Japan while living here and how long you are going to be in Japan.   

    Japanese Sim card, pocket wifi, and free wifi options

    First things first, we will go over the main types of mobile wifi options that will be available to you while in Japan. The two main options for mobile wifi are Japanese pocket wifi and data sim cards. There are also some places that provide free wifi though they may not be as widespread as in other countries. 

    Pocket-wifi-japanese-Sim-card

    Pocket Wifi

    Starting off, let’s talk about pocket wifis. Pocket wifis are mobile routers and are very popular among travelers and residents alike in Japan. These mobile routers are quite small and can easily fit into your pocket as the name suggests. A big plus with using a pocket wifi is that multiple devices can connect to it, so in the case that a friend from back home comes to visit, they should be covered on wifi at least while they are with you! These pocket wifis can be very useful especially for those that would like to use their laptop computers or tablets on the go in addition to their smartphone.

     

    Who should get a Japanese pocket wifi?

    Are you someone that likes to watch Netflix while on the train? Need to send emails or do other online tasks for work on the go? If you fall under either of these categories you will definitely want to grab yourself a pocket wifi while you’re living in Japan. Pocket wifis are best for people that will be constantly using the internet. 

    Most cell phone carriers such as Softbank, Au, Docomo will offer monthly pocket wifi plans where you can choose the amount of data that you receive. Unfortunately, unlike most other countries Japan doesn’t usually have unlimited data plans. Usually the data range of the plans go up to around 50 gb. If possible it can be good to go with companies that you are already a customer of. Sometimes the cell phone carriers give discounts if you use their other services such as fixed line internet for your home or their mobile phones. 

    Now one thing to consider if you plan on going with a contract from one of the larger cell phone carriers especially, is how long you will be in Japan. Larger cell phone carrier companies will usually have contracts for mobile internet plans that last at least 2 years with cancellation fees that can be quite hefty. If you are not going to live in Japan for at least 2 years it may be better to get the slightly more expensive rental or prepaid option. 

     

    Cons of pocket wifis in Japan

    The biggest downside of a pocket wifi is the device itself. In addition to the pocket wifi device being an extra thing to lug around and keep track of, you will need to keep it charged to use the wifi. Another downside is if you are renting the pocket wifi device you also need to return it once you are done, which means either going to a store or mailing it out, adding to the work you need to do. Though you can buy the pocket wifi device this can run anywhere from 4,000 yen for a low-end model to around 30,000 yen for a high-end model, which is just more extra money you will need to spend.

    Free Wifi Hotspots

    The most budget-friendly option is to seek out places that offer free wifi. Though Japan doesn’t exactly match up to it’s western counterparts in terms of wifi hotspot availability, especially in the more rural areas, there are quite a few places that do offer free wifi in the bigger cities. These hotspots can be a lifesaver when in a bind or until you get a Japanese sim card or pocket wifi.

    Where can I get free Wifi in Japan? 

    Once you arrive in Japan you will be greeted with access to free wifi as soon as you touch the ground. The major airports in Japan such as Osaka (KIX), Haneda, Narita, Chubu international, Fukuoka, and Sapporo have hotspots for you to use off the bat. That being said if you do want to use a secured connection rather than the free unprotected wifi, it will cost a small fee. 

    Outside of the airport, there are a nice handful of wifi hotspots available to you... if you can find them. To make searching for these hotspots easier, there are apps that will show you exactly where to go for wifi. One of these apps is Japan connected free wifi. Japan connected free wifi will allow you to find and connect to hotspots all over Japan in train stations, convenience stores, malls, and more! 

    That being said even without the app finding places that offer free wifi shouldn’t be too hard if you are in a larger city such as Tokyo or Osaka especially. Most convenience stores and some fast-food restaurants do offer free wifi for you to use to your hearts content. If you are someone that enjoys stopping for coffee you are in luck as well since many cafes and coffee shop chains offer wifi for their customers as well. 

     

    Cons of wifi hotspots in Japan

    The obvious drawback of sticking to wifi hotspots in Japan is how inconvenient it is. You will need to seek out these hotspots which can be an especially difficult task if you are taking a trip to the countryside. On top of that free unsecured wifi hotspots can put you at risk of getting your personal information stolen so user beware!

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    Japanese Sim cards

    The other common option for accessing the internet on the go while living in Japan is a sim card. There are two main types of sim cards in Japan that you will find, the first will only provide data and the second will provide both data and phone call capabilities. The biggest advantage of a sim card is the convenience it provides, albeit at a higher cost than most pocket wifi plans for less data.

    Who should get a Japanese sim card? 

    For those of you that only use data and wifi for the bare essentials: google maps, checking emails, sending instant messages, etc, getting a sim card is probably a great choice. Low data plans of around 1 to 3 gigabytes usually aren’t too expensive and will allow you to do all the messaging and navigation you need while living in Japan. One thing to keep in mind for these sim cards is that you will need a “sim free” smartphone or other compatible mobile device to use the sim card. Sim free simply means that the device is not attached to a specific mobile carrier and can be used with any sim card given it is compatible with the device. 

    If you need an active phone number to use as well, getting a Japanese sim card with both data and phone call capabilities will cover both bases for you.  For those that are going to be in Japan for less than two years it is recommended to go with a prepaid sim card plan. This is because most contract cell plans in Japan require that you can show you will be in Japan for the two year length of the contract and have cancellation charges in the case that you choose to terminate the contract early as well. That being said if you are going to be in Japan for 2 or more years the 2 year contract with larger phone carriers may be a better way to go since the cost performance value is usually better and there are quite a few promotions going on at any given time.

    Cons of Japanese sim cards

    With Japanese sim cards the biggest con is the price and amount of data provided. You will be paying much more per GB with sim cards than you would with a pocket wifi so if you are someone that needs to use more wifi among multiple devices on the go, a pocket wifi may be better.    

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    How much are sim cards in Japan?

    Now one of the main things you are probably asking yourself is how much does a sim card cost in Japan? The price can differ quite a bit depending on how much data you would like and whether you want to get a phone plan as well. If you want a working phone number and the ability to make phone calls you would need to get a voice and data phone plan. When choosing what Japanese sim card plan is best for you, it is important to keep in mind that many things in Japan would require a phone number. If you don’t have friends or family in Japan who do have phones it may be best to go with a Japanese sim card that allows voice calls. 

    Data only sim plans are almost exclusively prepaid plans and the nice thing about them is that they are not a commitment! If you are not going to be in Japan for over a year and have friends to lend you a number when you need it, the data only plan is a great choice since you don't need to worry about cancellation fees. On average data only sim cards in Japan will cost around 3000 to 4000 Japanese yen per month for a sim card with around 1gb to 5gb of data. If you buy a package deal of 6 months or more there are usually some nice discounts added. 

    Sim Cards vs Phone Plans

    Phone plans in Japan are pretty much the opposite of the data only plans: whereas data only sim plans are almost exclusively prepaid, phone plans are mostly contract-based plans. In Japan, prepaid phone plans are not as widely available as in most other countries and do tend to cost a bit more.

    How much are phone plans in Japan?

    Prepaid phone plans will usually run you around 4000 yen to 7000 yen on average and can cost quite a bit extra if you do call phones outside of the service provider. One major carrier that offers these prepaid services is Softbank and as you can tell the prepaid plans they offer are a bit on the expensive side. 

    For those that are looking to possibly stay in Japan for longer than 2 years, it is better to get a Japanese sim card contract with a phone carrier. The benefits of getting a phone carrier contract are that in the long run, it will most likely cost less than a prepaid plan, and also you can do payment plans on a new phone. If you don't have a smartphone or were in the market for a new one anyway this could be a good way to go. The “big 3” carriers (Docomo, Au, and Softbank) will usually do promotions where your data is boosted during the initial 2-year contract term so keep an eye out for them while you are shopping around. 

    What are the cheapest Japanese sim cards?

    The burning question on your mind is probably “what are the cheapest Japanese sim cards available to me?”  Well not to worry we’ve got you covered. Below is a list that we compiled of some of the best in cost performance/cheapest Japanese sim cards and phone plans on the market.

    Top 3 Cheapest Prepaid Japanese Data Sim Cards

    These are our recommendations on the top 3 cheapest Japanese data sim cards on the market as of 2020. 

    Maxsim

    MAXSIM (Softbank network)

    The MAXSIM sim card provides some of the best cost performance of any prepaid data sim available on the Japanese market right now. You will receive a data amount of 10GB and this can be used until the card expires or you run out of data on that card. You can buy this sim on amazon for the low price of 2,380 yen! The only drawback is that this sim card cannot be recharged and you would need to buy another sim card once you have used all the data. 

    Cost Chart

    Data Amount

    10GB

    Price

    2,380 yen

    Usage period

    Until set expiration date (April 6th, 2021 as of November 2020)

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    Mineo

    If you are someone that only uses your internet for the bare essentials: navigation, messaging, and possibly short voice calls the Mineo puchi plan could be the plan for you. You can buy the Mineo Data sim with 200MB for only 220 yen. You heard that right, 220 yen, an amount easily spent on a snack at 7/11. The main drawback besides the low data amount is that once the sim is used it is not rechargeable.  

    Cost Chart

    Data Amount

    200MB

    Price

    220 yen

    Usage period

    2-months 

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    B-mobile (7GB prepaid sim)

    This B-mobile sim card offers 7GB of data with some nice discounts provided for longer lengths of time. This sim card comes in packages of 1 month, 6 months, and a year. With these discounts, B-mobile’s prepaid sim is a good Japanese sim card for 6-months to a year. Another great advantage to this Sim card is that it is rechargeable and recharging the sim is actually cheaper than the initial cost of the sim card. 

    B-mobile offers two types of prepaid sim cards, the first would use the Docomo network while the second uses the Softbank network. The Docomo network sim card is significantly cheaper than the one that uses the Softbank so our cost chart below will only include the former.  

    Cost Chart 

    Sim Plan

    1 month 

    6 months

    12 months

    Cost

    3,850 yen

    19,046 yen

    (3,175 yen/month)

    30,352 yen

    (2,530 yen/month)

    Data amount

    7GB per month

    Usage period

    20 days

    180 days

    360 days 

    Recharge cost

    3,158 yen

    16,195 yen

    27,500 yen

    3 Best Japanese phone plans with Data (Contract)

    These are some of our recommendations for the best Japanese phone contracts with data. These ones have been chosen based on their low price point as well as their cost performance and perks. Check out our top 5 Japanese contract phone plans with data!

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    Y! Mobile

    Y! Mobile is Yahoo’s mobile carrier and so far they are one of the cheapest and fastest in the market right now. Using Softbank’s network they are able to provide great internet speeds relative to even major carriers and even during peak times.

    Cost Chart

    Smartphone plan

    S Plan

    M plan

    R Plan

    Data limit

    3gb (4GB with data increase option)

    10gb (13 gb with data increase option)

    14gb (17gb with data increase option)

    Base fee

    2,680 yen

    3,680 yen

    4,680 yen

    Data overage fee

    1000 yen per GB

    Domestic calls

    free for the first 10 min

    Perks and Campaigns

     

    • Short calls are free: One great thing about Y!mobile in addition to the lower price point is that for domestic calls, the first 10 minutes are free! This can be especially helpful while getting set up in Japan, during which you can expect to receive or need to make many calls. If your japanese isn’t the best this may save you quite a bit since phone calls may take a little longer due to the language barrier.
    • Increased data: As of 2020 Y!mobile is doing a free data increase campaign if you are changing carriers to Y!mobile and select the data increase option of 500 yen per month (1gb to 3gb extra based on the plan selected) it will be free for the first year of the contract. Even if you are not changing contracts the first month of extra data will be free! 
    • Family plan: Have a family Japan? If you add lines on to your plan every line added would be given a discount of 500 yen.
    • Home internet: For those that need fixed line internet, if you choose one of Softbank’s internet options you will receive a 500 yen discount.   
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    Y.U Mobile

    Y.U mobile uses the Docomo network and is the phone carrier of U-NEXT (an online video site). On a monthly basis, Y.U mobile is actually one of the cheapest options available with plans starting at 900 yen per month for data only and extra data only costs 300 yen per GB. That being said there is an annual fee of 22,308 yen however this will be returned to you through their cashback promotion for the first year in addition to including other perks provided.  

    Cost Chart

    Smartphone Plan

    Regular plan (One line)

    Shared plan (One line or more)

    Data limit

    3GB

    20GB

    Base Fee

    1,690 yen

    900 yen

    5,990 yen

    5,500 yen

    Sim Fee

    N/A

    N/A

    790 per sim

    300 per sim

    Data overage fee

    300 yen per GB

    Domestic calls

    10 yen/30 seconds

    Perks and campaigns

    • Smartphone Insurance: For those that have opted for the plan that includes voice call, you will be provided insurance coverage of up to 30,000 yen for your smartphone for repairs. This can be used up to two times a year and is provided regardless of whether your phone is old or new (given that the phone model is within 5 years of it’s release date). In the case that your smartphone cannot be repaired you will still receive compensation of up to 7,500 yen.
    • Cashback promotion: If you subscribe to a Japanese voice call sim card plan, you will receive 22,500 cash back which would cover your first year’s annual fee.
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    B-Mobile   

    B-mobile is another cheap sim card option for you to check out in Japan with quite a few different options available to you. Bmobile actually has three types of plans that you can choose from: Data + voice call sims, data sims, and data + SMS sims. With B-mobile data is charged at a pay as you go rate and is a very cheap option especially if you don't use more than 3GB per month. Since you only pay for the data that you use, you don't need to worry about having left over data wasted at the end of the month.  

    Cost chart

    Smartphone plan

    Data+Voice call

    Data only 

    Data + SMS

    Data

    1GB to 20GB

    100MB to 15GB

    100MB to 15GB

    Base fee

    990 yen to 4790 yen based on data usage

    190 yen to 3280 yen based on data usage

    190 yen to 3280 yen based on data usage

    • SMS fee of 320 to 3410 based on data usage amount

    Domestic calls 

    10 yen/30 seconds

    (There are also other voice call plans for those that make more calls)

    N/A

    N/A

    Perks/Campaigns

    • If you are a docomo user looking to change carriers, you can do a trial plan that has no minimum usage period and would allow you to cancel the contract at any time for no extra fee. 
    • Any softbank or docomo network locked phones may be used without needing to unlock them (unlocking a sim locked phone will usually cost around 3000 yen).
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    Special mention: Sakura Mobile

    One more mobile company that you should check out is Sakura Mobile. The service is probably one of the most foreigner friendly options on the market and even if you don't speak Japanese, the site has almost all necessary information provided in English. One of the main benefits of Sakura mobile is that it is not a 2 year commitment so it works great for people that are studying in Japan or those on working holidays.

    Where to buy a sim card in Japan

    Now that you know all about Japanese sim cards you are probably wondering where to buy one. It might please you to know that Japanese sim cards are widely available both online and offline. Whether you plan on getting a data only sim or a phone plan, there are many places you can go and sites you can visit to get your Japanese sim card. 

    Buying a Sim Card in Person

    There are many places you can go to buy sim cards in Japan so even if you have just arrived and are still getting set up, it shouldn’t be too hard! 

    For those that are interested in simple prepaid data plans, you can buy these Japanese sim cards at any convenience store though your options may be limited. One nice sim that is widely available in many convenience stores is the Japan Travel Sim.

    If you want a longer 2 year contract or a prepaid sim card with one of the larger phone carriers you will need to visit one of the shops. Even if your Japanese is not perfect, or you can’t speak at all please don't worry! Pretty much all major phone companies will also have maps on their websites that you can use to find which stores have english speaking staff. Any other necessary information or documents that are needed to sign up for the phone contract will usually be listed on the site for reference.   

    Buying a Sim Card Online

    If you are too busy to go to the cellphone shops or convenience stores there are plenty of sites online that sell sim cards and prepaid phone plans.

    Many prepaid sim cards are available on most large scale ecommerce sites such as:

    That being said, always look at the reviews of each product and read the description well! There are sim cards on sale that don’t come with any plan but these can usually be recognized by a cheap price point of around 400 yen at most. Prepaid options will usually be separated by data capacity and months so make sure that you choose the option that works best for you. Keep in mind that some plans separate the data in monthly increments (ie. 5gb every 30 days for 6 months) while others are a set amount of data over a set period of times ie. (100gb for 180 days).

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    Now you’re ready to get connected!

    With this information, you should be able to get on the internet or get a phone line to do all that needs doing while you’re living in Japan. We hope that this guide to Japanese sim cards could help and you’re staying connected!

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