Guide to Japanese SIM Cards for Travelers
Should you choose a SIM Card to travel in Japan?
Purchasing a prepaid SIM Card is one of many options for you to connect to the internet when traveling abroad.
Connection to the internet has become nowadays a MUST when traveling to a foreign country, and Japan is not the exception.
The question is: How useful is purchasing a SIM Card when traveling to Japan?
In this article, I will show you this guide to Japanese SIM Cards for travelers: from the variety of SIM Card services to connection speed, and even how to purchase a SIM Card.
I hope this information is useful for you when traveling to Japan.
*Please note that this article contains affiliate links.
Why choose a SIM Card
Since there are many options for you to choose from when it comes to internet connection, it is important to know the “Pros” and “Cons” of using a prepaid SIM Card.
What are the merits of buying a prepaid SIM Card (Pros)
- Relatively cheap
- Easy to use once you are connected
- After your visit, you just dispose of the SIM Card and that’s it.
What are the possible downsides of buying a prepaid SIM Card (Cons)
- Can only be used for one device
- It is not compatible with every mobile phone
- Services usually don’t do refunds if you’re mobile phone happens to not be compatible
5 Best SIM Card services in Japan
Here are 5 of the most popular SIM Card services that you will be able to find for your Japan trip.
Mobal is a MVNO(Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that offers unlimited data cards for 8 days, 16 days, and 31 days. They offer free shipping to most countries in the world as well as various pickup locations within Japan.
The biggest appealing point about mobal’s SIM Cards is that they offer both “data-only SIM” and “data+voice+sms SIM”. The latter one is more expensive, of course, but if being able to use the phone is a priority for you, this is your pick.
Official Website: https://www.mobal.com/japan-sim-card/
2. Japan Wireless
Japan Wireless offers fixed data limit cards but at a relatively cheaper price. The prepaid SIM Card that they offer is for either 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days with a data amount of 500 MB/day.
Although they don’t offer international shipping, they can send the SIM Card to the airport of your arrival, the hotel where you’re staying, or the nearest post office from you. They also provide support via phone and email, both in English.
Official Website: https://www.japan-wireless.com/en/rates
3. Simcard Geek
Simcard Geek offers both unlimited data cards and cards with a fixed data limit. Fixed data limit cards are slightly cheaper than unlimited data cards, so if you’re planning on not using the internet a lot, then this might be a good choice for you.
Simcard Geek also provides free worldwide shipping, but depending on the shipping location, it may take between 5 to 12 days in reaching you. So you will need to make the order quite in advance.
4. Japan Travel SIM (IIJmio)
Japan Travel SIM does not have an official website where you can pre-order. But instead, you will find this SIM Card in most electronic shops across Japan. So if you rather go to a shop after getting to Japan to purchase your SIM Card, then this is your choice.
You can also find this SIM Card at Amazon.com, so it is also possible to get it before your trip to Japan.
They offer fixed data limit cards (1GB/30 days, 2GB/90 days) but are rechargeable within the validity period.
Official Website: https://t.iijmio.jp/en/index.html
5. U-mobile SIM
U-mobile SIM provides data-only SIM cards with a fixed data limit. The prepaid SIM Card that they offer is for either 7 days or 15 days, with a data amount of 220MB/day. This 220MB is high-speed data and if you pass this data amount, your connection speed will fall to 200kbps.
U-mobile SIM is available at the shop counters in the major airports in Japan. You can also find them at Narita airport’s SIM vending machines. Although they don’t provide support and data amount is limited, it is by far the cheapest option.
Official Website: http://umobile.jp/lp/prepaid_eng/
How to Buy SIM Cards in Japan
There are several ways you can purchase a prepaid SIM Card.
- At the airport: There are shop counters at the major airports in Japan. But be aware that these counters are not opened 24 hours. You can also find SIM Card vending machines at Narita Airport, although they are charged with a surcharge.
- At electronic shops: SIM Cards can be purchased pretty much at any electronic shop in Japan. If you’re in Tokyo, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a shop where they have prepaid SIM Cards. The largest electronic shops are “Bic Camera”, “Yodobashi Camera”, and “Yamada Denki”.
- Online: Many MVNOs have their own website where you can preorder your SIM Card before coming to Japan. Some services have international free shipping, some have specific points of pick-up such as airports, and others will send it to the hotel where you’re staying. Other than MVNOs, you can also find online travel agencies that offer this service such as Klook. Amazon.com also has SIM Cards that you can buy before your trip.
Some WiFi rental services will also have the option to provide a prepaid SIM Card if that’s the option you want to go with. At Japan Wireless, you can purchase a SIM Card from their website.
Which is Better in Japan, SIM Card or Pocket WiFi
Another thing I would like to suggest is to rent a pocket WiFi. You can rent a Pocket WiFi online just the same as you would a SIM Card, and pick it up at the airport of your arrival or the hotel you’re staying at.
Here is a chart comparing SIM Card purchasing vs Pocket WiFi rental.
- Speed: Both, SIM Card and Pocket WiFi have a high-speed internet connection, even though when it comes to the SIM Card there is usually a daily limit of high-speed connection.
- Coverage: Again, both options have a wide coverage when it comes to internet connection.
- Cost: Although the pocket WiFi rental isn’t that expensive to begin with, it is usually cheaper to buy a SIM Card.
- Practicality: The SIM Card is more practical in the sense that you don’t need to carry around an extra device and worry about the remaining battery amount. Also, in the case of the pocket WiFi rental, it is necessary to return the device (even though not complicated), which is something you don’t need to worry about in the case of a SIM Card.
- Multi-device: The biggest weakness of the SIM Card is the fact that you can use the internet connection only for one device. On the other hand, the pocket WiFi is able to connect multiple devices at once.
- Heavy using: Prepaid SIM Cards tend to have a daily limit amount of high-speed data, and afterwords the connection slows down. Some pocket WiFi also have this problem, but there are also some pocket WiFi rental services that provide unlimited high-speed internet connection.
- Compatibility: If you’ve never used a SIM Card before, then this might be your biggest concern. First, you need to make sure that the mobile phone you’re taking to Japan is unlocked. After that, you need to make sure the SIM Card you’re purchasing is compatible with your mobile phone. This is a concern you won’t have in the case of a pocket WiFi device.
FAQ about SIM Cards in Japan
Q1. How can I install and activate the prepaid SIM card?
This actually depends on the service you’re using. Most SIM Cards are as simple as inserting it into your mobile phone and following the instructions. Sometimes a brief registration process is required in order to proceed, but most times you don’t have to do that.
Q2. How can I know if my mobile phone is compatible with a SIM card?
First, you have to make sure that your mobile phone is unlocked or is a SIMfree mobile phone. If your mobile phone is locked, that means you can’t use the network of carriers other than yours.
Another thing that you need to know is the size of your SIM card. Most SIM card services provide all sizes, but sometimes that is not the case. So be sure to ask before purchasing.
If your mobile phone is relatively new, you have a good chance that you won’t have compatibility problems. But just to make sure, you can search the compatibility of your mobile phone by visiting the “willmyphonework” website.
Willmyphonework Website: https://willmyphonework.net/
Another thing you can do is just ask your mobile phone provider if it’ll be compatible.
Q3. What other alternatives are there to connect to the internet in Japan?
Other than purchasing a prepaid SIM Card and renting a pocket WiFi, there are many other ways you can get access to the internet.
First, there is the Free WiFi That many companies provide. You can find it in airports, train stations, hotels, and some cafes. There are also services where you can rent an entire phone with data included. There is also the option of international roaming which you would have to discuss with your phone provider.
An unconventional way would also be to go to an Internet Cafe. But that would be inconvenient unless you are interested in the experience itself.
As you can see from the previous comparison chart, both the SIM Card and the pocket WiFi have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Prepaid SIM Cards are practical in the sense that you don’t need to carry an extra device, you don’t need to return anything at the end of your journey, and the setting is fairly easy as long as it is compatible.
On the other hand, the pocket WiFi is good for multiple device connectivity and heavy internet usage. You also don’t need to worry about device compatibility.
Personally, I would recommend renting a pocket WiFi. If you’re traveling in a group, it would be cheaper to rent a pocket WiFi as opposed to buying several SIM Cards. Even if you’re traveling alone, it is most possible you’ll have more than one device you’d like to connect to the internet. Plus, the pocket WiFi device is not bulky so it won’t be much of a bother, and returning the device is as easy as putting the set in any postbox in the country.
Now that I have recommended you to rent a pocket WiFi, the next question would be: where can you get a pocket WiFi device?
Usually, you can order one online and the device will be sent to either the airport of your arrival or the hotel you’re staying at for you to pick up.
There are many companies that offer pocket WiFi rental services. Here is an article where I compared some of the most popular pocket WiFi rental companies. I also provide discount coupons at the moment, so don’t miss this chance.
To get more useful information for traveling in Japan, check out these articles below too!