There are two options for mobile phone plans in Japan. You can go with the “big three” – SoftBank, NTT Docomo and au, or you can go with a cheaper MVNO provider. You can sign up with many companies online if you have a credit card, or you can go to their dedicated stores. Another option that is growing in popularity is BIC Camera as they offer deals from many carriers, including MVNOs, in store.
The big three:
These are reputable companies with a long history. They have reliable speeds and can provide English support in some offices. The downside is that they are significantly more expensive than the MVNOs.
NTT Docomo: https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/
Cost – 5G Data/Calling plan: ¥7,650 per month + ¥20 per 30 seconds call
Cost – 5G Data/Calling plan: ¥5,460 per month (¥6,960 after 6 months) + ¥20 per 30 seconds call
Cost – Merihari Data/Calling plan: ¥7,480 per month (discount if you use under 2GB data)
MVNO stands for “mobile virtual network operator”. They use the network of the bigger carriers and offer contracts at much cheaper rates than the big three. The downside however is that the quality of calls and internet speed may not be as good, and it can be harder to receive support as they generally have no physical store. Expats recommend the following MVNO companies:
AEON Mobile: https://aeonmobile.jp/
Their prices are cheap and they have many options depending on how much data you want. They don’t have an English website so if you want to sign up it’s best to go into a store like BIC Camera where they can help you.
Cost – 4GB voice/calling plan – ¥1,580 per month + ¥20 per 30 seconds call
Y! Mobile: https://www.ymobile.jp/english/
This is one of the most popular MVNO carriers. They are actually owned by Softbank and use the Softbank network. They have good reach throughout Japan, even in the countryside.
Cost – 4GB voice/calling plan – ¥1,480 per month (¥2,180 after 6 months)
GTN Mobile: https://gtn-mobile.com/en
They allow payment in the convenience store so credit cards are not required. They use the Softbank network and users report reasonable speeds. They offer online support in English. They also have no minimum contract period, great if you may stay less than a year.
Cost – 3GB data/calling plan – ¥2,280 per month
Rakuten Mobile: https://network.mobile.rakuten.co.jp/
Rakuten is unique in that they use their own Rakuten network. Funnily enough their website is only offered in Japanese so it might be best to sign up in-store. They have become quite popular lately and there have been delays of several months when signing up for their new mini-smartphone. Their 5G network is so far limited to major areas but is expected to expand.
Cost – 5G unlimited data/calling plan: ¥2,980
Sakura Mobile: https://www.sakuramobile.jp/
They cater very well to foreigners, with English support and a full English website. You can even use international cards to pay. Also their SIM cards do not have any minimum contract length which is good as many carriers try and lock you in for 1-2 years.
Cost – 3GB data/calling plan: ¥2,980 per month + ￥20 per 30 seconds call
This is one of the most popular MVNO providers. Their internet speed is said to be quite good, as is their usage throughout the countryside. They also offer family plans with cheaper SIM cards for the whole family.
Cost – 3GB data/calling plan: ¥1,600 per month
LINE Mobile: https://mobile.line.me/
The good thing about LINE Mobile is that LINE, along with several other social media apps, does not count towards your monthly data cap. For people that use LINE a lot, this is a good option. You can also pay by buying a prepaid LINE card at a convenience store if you do not have a credit card.
Cost – 3GB data/calling plan: ¥1,628 per month
What type of SIM is right for you?
1) Data-only SIM cards
These are the cheapest options, they give you data only, no calling/SMS or phone number. You can use online services like Skype or LINE to make up for this.
2) Data and SMS SIM cards
These plans also provide SMS messages. This comes in handy when various apps require a text message confirmation, which is often used in Japan.
3) Data, SMS and Calling SIM cards
This is the most expensive option, but provides all the services you may need. If you have a pre-existing number you can use a Mobile Number Portability (MNP) to transfer the old number.
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