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Low-Cost Phone Plans and SIM Cards in Japan: Price Comparison and Tips

New low-cost telecom and phone services are increasingly popular in Japan. We'll take a look and compare the costs and plans of eight major carriers. This article features Rakuten Mobile, sub-brands, low-cost SIM cards, and what to look out for if you're on a budget! 
2022.04.20

Budget-Friendly Plans and Smartphone Services (SIM): Features, Cost, and What to Watch Out For

【8間電信業者比較】日本電信商哪間好?從龍頭電信業者的新方案到格安電信業者彙整

Photo by Pixta
You've probably heard that cell phone plans in Japan are expensive. It’s not surprising, considering the average monthly bill from the three major mobile carriers (*1) is 8,312 yen (*2).

When an average monthly phone bill is around 50 dollars in Europe or North America, it’s definitely on the expensive side. Recently, however, there has been a wave of changes to Japan’s cellphone industry.

An Influx of Low-Price Smartphone Plans

In the spring of 2021, exclusive online application phone plans were introduced by the three major phone carriers. These monthly plans are significantly cheaper than previous phone plans, at around 3,000 yen. This has sparked an increasing trend among those considering the switch to a new plan.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) and Y!mobile (Japanese) has risen sharply. Rakuten Mobile has the largest data network next to the major carriers, while Y!mobile provides low-cost SIM card services.

In this article, we'll take a look at low-price plans from Rakuten Mobile and major mobile carriers, sub-brands, low-cost smartphone plans (SIM), their respective features and costs, and things to look out for when signing a contract.

*1: the major three carriers in Japan are NTT docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank.
*2: Information taken from the MMD Data Labo’s “Survey on the Costs and Capacity of Telecommunication Services” (Japanese)

Table of Contents

Rakuten Mobile, Low-Price Plans, Low-Cost SIM Cards, and Sub-Brands

Budget-friendly phone plans are largely separated into four categories. The table below summarizes each.

Low-Price Plan Sub-Brand

A new brand from major carriers that offers budget services on their mobile network

Services: ahamo, povo, LINEMO

A low-cost SIM card service from major carriers

Services: Y!mobile, UQ mobile

Rakuten Mobile Low-Cost SIM Cards

Offers low-price telecom services on their own mobile network

Rakuten Mobile only

Provide telecom services by renting mobile networks from major carriers

Services: GTN MOBILE, IIJmio

Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) offers inexpensive phone services on their own mobile network. Major mobile carriers are now providing affordable phone plans, as well as SIM card services under sub-brands. MVNOs (otherwise known as low-cost SIM cards) offer telecom services by renting mobile networks from major carriers. Let's take a look at the features from each category.

*All costs mentioned in this article include tax.

Rakuten Mobile: Great Features and Low Costs

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo from Rakuten Mobile

Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) is a low-price smartphone carrier touting unlimited data for a monthly cost of 3,278 yen.

What separates it from other low-price plans and SIM card services is the Rakuten mobile network. You can use your data at unlimited high connection speeds while within the Rakuten network area. You can also use your phone for up to 5GB per month in regions not covered by the Rakuten network, via their partnership with au mobile.

Rakuten UN-LIMIT VII is their flagship plan, with a monthly cost of 3,278 yen. The fact that it's simple and easy-to-understand is another reason for its popularity. You won't be tied down by a contract period, and there aren't any penalties for contract termination. Since there are retail stores nationwide, you can feel secure with Rakuten's customer support when signing up, and for the duration of your contract.

There are several discount campaigns currently available. These include the “Sign up for a new contract and get three months free,” “Get 25,000 points when you purchase a device,” and the “Rakuten Point Up Program.”

Want to have unlimited use of your data, or save using Rakuten points? Then this is the plan for you!

Rakuten Mobile
Cost 3,278 yen/unlimited data
Extra Options None
Discounts/Campaigns Sign up for a new contract and get three months free, etc.

Click the banner below for more details on Rakuten Mobile!

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Low-Price Plans from Major Mobile Carriers: ahamo, povo, LINEMO

【8社比較】格安携帯どこがいいの?大手キャリア新プランから格安SIMまで

Photo by Pixta

The most important feature of any major carrier’s low-price phone plan is that it’s budget friendly. However, there are some differences that set them apart from standard phone plans. Let’s take a look at the features you’ll want to know before signing up for an affordable plan.

Below is a table summarizing the differences between major mobile phone carriers (a standard plan) versus their low-price plans.

Major Carriers (Standard Plan) Low-Price Plan
Application/Support In-store and online Online only
Price Plans Several available Only one (20GB)
Transmission Speed Same Same
Smartphone Selection Wide variety 0 to 3 models
Email Service Available None

There are three low-price plans: ahamo from NTT docomo, povo from au, and LINEMO from SoftBank.

These phone plans were introduced by major mobile carriers as exclusive online-only plans. They're are designed to offer budget-friendly alternatives to expensive standard plans.

After pricing, network quality is another big concern. Thankfully, there are almost no differences in speed because low-price plans use the mobile networks of their respective providers.

Low-price plans are not available in stores, since applications must be done online.

【8間電信業者比較】日本電信商哪間好?從龍頭電信業者的新方案到格安電信業者彙整

Photo by Pixta

All three brands offer a plan priced at around 3,000 yen for 20GB of data. Calling rates are set so that you can adjust them to your lifestyle. Compare this to standard plans from major carriers, which allow customers to choose their pricing from among several options.

Major carriers support various iPhone and Android models, as well as a number of other phones. On the other hand, low-price plans may offer a limited selection.

Email services are another thing you should keep in mind. Major carriers will provide users with their own email address (ex. @docomo.ne.jp), but low-price plans will not.

Keep in mind that you must use web-based email services or communication apps like LINE with these low-price plans.

Comparing Low-Price Plans and Prices Among the 3 Major Carriers

スマートフォンは必需品!日本の通信会社や格安スマホサービスまとめ

Photo by Pixta

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the features and prices of low-cost phone plans from major carriers.

1. ahamo (docomo)

スマートフォンは必需品!日本の通信会社や格安スマホサービスまとめ

Photo from ahamo (Japanese)

Ahamo is docomo's low price plan. Customers pay 2,970 yen monthly for 20GB of data. If you surpass your allotted 20GB, you will be charged an additional 550 yen per 1GB.

A notable feature is that domestic calls are free for the first five minutes. If you call others frequently, then you should sign up for the 1,100 yen unlimited calling option.

International data-roaming is also free up to 20GB. Data connectivity is available in 82 countries and regions for no additional fee. You can use your smartphone effectively even during international travel or business trips.

As of June 2021, the smartphone models available with ahamo are the iPhone 11, Xperia 1 II SO-51A, and Galaxy S20 5G SC-51A.

If you’re purchasing a new smartphone, you will have an installment plan (starting at 1,371 yen monthly) added on top of the base price. You are also allowed to switch plans without changing your phone.

ahamo
Cost 2,970 yen/20GB
Extra Options Unlimited Calling Option (1,100 yen)
Discount/Campaigns None

2. Povo (au)

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo from povo (Japanese)

Povo is au’s low-price plan, offering customers 20GB of data for 2,728 yen a month. The rate for standard domestic calls is 22 yen per 30 seconds.

Povo offers call and data options called “toppings.” You need to download the povo topping app to check what toppings are being used, your remaining data, and contract details.

Toppings include unlimited five-minute calls (550 yen/month), unlimited data (220 yen/24-hours), unlimited calls (1,650 yen/month), and additional data (550 yen/1GB). The unlimited data option is available 24 hours after you apply via the app. Consider using it on days when you want to watch a lot of videos.

International roaming has yet to be offered as of June 2021, but is planned to be offered in the future.

Povo does not sell smartphones. Therefore, you must use your own smartphone or buy a new device at an electronics retail store. Note that some smartphones are not supported by povo. Check out povo’s official website for a list of supported devices (Japanese).

You won’t need to unlock your SIM card if you’re switching from au to povo. If you’re switching from any carrier outside of au to povo, then you must unlock your SIM card.

povo
Costs 2,728 yen/20GB
Extra Options Unlimited 5-minute calls (550 yen), unlimited data (220 yen/24-hours), etc.
Discounts/Campaigns None

3. LINEMO (softbank)

スマートフォンは必需品!日本の通信会社や格安スマホサービスまとめ

Photo from LINEMO

SoftBank’s LINEMO is 2,728 yen per month for 20GB of data.

The plan’s biggest feature is LINE GIGA FREE. With this service, all chats, voice calls, and video calls on the messenger app LINE do not use data.

You can add unlimited stickers (240 yen/month) or unlimited stickers and emojis (480 yen/month) on LINE as well. This is a great plan for those who rely on LINE.

Calling rates are 22 yen per 30 seconds. You can also sign up for unlimited five-minute calls (550 yen/month) or unlimited calls (1,650 yen/month) as extra options.

LINEMO is currently offering a fixed amount of free calls as an incentive (end date TBD). First, you'll need to switch carriers (MNP), or change your number to a SoftBank or Y!mobile number. Then sign up for unlimited calls to get a great deal at 550 yen for 13 months free from the first month of your contract.

LINEMO
Costs 2,728 yen/20GB
Extra Options Unlimited 5-minute calls (550 yen), unlimited LINE stickers (240 yen), etc.
Discounts/Campaigns Fixed amount of calls for free when you switch plans

Disadvantages and Things to Look Out For With Low-Price Phone Plans

You may need to go through the MNP (mobile number portability) process when switching to a major carrier’s low-cost plan.

MNP is a system that allows customers to keep the same phone number after switching telecom carriers. This is a mandatory process before signing up for a low-price plan.

Major mobile phone carriers like au or SoftBank also offer discounts. Examples include a set discount, which can be redeemed when signing up for both internet and phone services as a set. There's also a family discount when signing up for the entire family.

Please note that you may not be able to receive these discounts when signing up for a low-price plan.

Features of Low-Cost SIM Cards

【8間電信業者比較】日本電信商哪間好?從龍頭電信業者的新方案到格安電信業者彙整

Photo by Pixta

Some people may ask, “I know that a low-price plan is cheap, but what sets it apart from a low-cost SIM card service?” In this section, we’ll take a look at the differences between low-price phone plans and low-cost SIM cards.

Simply put, a low-cost SIM card is a phone service that is cheaper than signing a contract with a major carrier. It provides a SIM card—a critical component for phone calls and transmission—and offers services to customers at a low cost.

Low-cost SIM cards average 2,000 to 3,000 yen per month. Companies offering low-cost SIM cards (MVNO: Mobile Virtual Network Operator) do not have their own mobile network. Instead, they offer telecom services using networks from major carriers.

These companies can curb expenses on network equipment and maintenance by not hosting their own mobile network. This is how they manage to offer services at cheaper prices.

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo by Pixta

Transmission speeds will be slower than major carriers due to their mobile network rental. Low-cost SIM cards give customers the option of choosing their call and internet communication service from among several plans.

On the other hand, low-price plans from major carriers have base prices marked down to 3,000 yen. This is thanks to utilizing their own mobile network. The connection speeds may be stable, but you are limited to one basic plan.

Y!mobile and UQ Mobile: Low-Cost SIM Card Sub-Brands

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo by Pixta

Are you worried about not having in-store support with a low-price plan? Then we recommend low-cost SIM card services—a sub-brand of these major carriers. Y!mobile (Japanese), a sub-brand of SoftBank, and the au-affiliated UQ Mobile fall under this category.

Sub-brands have the advantage of making it easy to receive support nationwide. In addition to physical stores, sub-brands can serve customers at their parent company stores. There are also kiosks available in the phone section of major electronics shops.

If you prefer to sign up or receive customer support in-person, then consider these sub-brands.

Sub-brands fall under the low-cost SIM card category: a phone service that borrows mobile networks from major carriers. However, a sub-brand will have better network quality than other low-cost SIM card services, since they can utilize their parent company’s mobile network.

Low-price phone plans such as ahamo, povo, and LINEMO have a limited selection of smartphone models, but sub-brands will offer smartphones at reasonable prices. In some situations, only Android devices are available on a low-price plan or low-cost SIM card service. Some sub-brands, however, will give customers the option to purchase an iPhone.

The cost of MATCHA’s sub-brand is around 2,000 to 3,000 yen monthly. This is significantly cheaper than a major carrier, but more expensive than a low-cost SIM card service.

Y!mobile

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

photo by PRTIMES (Japanese)

Y!mobile (Japanese) has three phone plans: S (2,178 yen/3GB monthly), M (3,278 yen/15GB monthly), and L (4,158 yen/25GB monthly). Calls cost 30 yen per 22 seconds regardless of your plan. Unlimited calls can be added as an extra option.

There are two unlimited call options available. Daretodemo Teigaku (770 yen/month) offers unlimited 10-minute domestic calls, and the Super Daretodemo Teigaku (1,870 yen/month) adds unlimited 24-hour domestic calls to your plan.

The family discount is another welcome feature of Y!mobile. Sign up and add two or more phone lines to your contract to receive a 1,188 yen monthly discount to your phone bill.

Let’s say a husband is the first to sign a contract for the M Plan (3,278 yen/15GB). His wife then signs up for the M Plan on the same group plan, bringing her bill to 2,090 yen after a 1,188 yen discount. It’s a great deal!

We recommend Y!mobile if you're looking for a budget-friendly discount for you and your family's phone bill!

Y!mobile
Costs 2,178 yen/Starting from 3GB
Extra Options Unlimited 10-minute calls (770 yen), etc.
Discount/Campaigns Get three months free on a new contract, etc.

Click the banner below for more details on Y!mobile! You can conveniently submit an online application, too (Japanese)!

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

UQ mobile

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo from UQ mobile (Japanese)

UQ mobile also has three phone plans: S (1,628 yen/3GB monthly), M (2,728 yen/15GB monthly), and L (3,828 yen/25GB monthly). The plans are slightly cheaper than Y!mobile.

Domestic calls are 22 yen per 30 seconds. You can also add an unlimited calling plan as an option. Extra options include monthly 60-minute calls (550 yen/month), unlimited 10-minute calls (770 yen/month), and unlimited 24-hour calls (1,870 yen/month).

UQ mobile’s unique feature is the ability to rollover remaining data to the following month. This way, you can use all of your data without any waste.

Switch your electric company to UQ Denki or au Denki, and UQ mobile will apply a Denki Set Discount to your phone bill. The discount ranges from 638 to 858 yen. Therefore, your monthly bill after the discount will be S (990 yen/3GB monthly), M (2,090 yen/15GB monthly), and L (2,970 yen/25GB monthly) for a steal!

UQ mobile
Costs 1,628 yen/Starting from 3GB
Extra Options Monthly 60-minute calls (550 yen), etc.
Discounts/Campaigns Denki Set Discount

Disadvantages and Precautions With Sub-Brands

Sub-brands are reliable, with relatively stable connection speeds and in-store applications. However, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Sub-brands have a wide selection of phone models but will rarely have the newest iPhone or smartphone available.

Additionally, they do not offer any high-volume data plans. If you watch a lot of videos on your smartphone, then you’re better off with a standard plan with a major carrier.

Other Popular Low-Cost SIM Card Options

In recent years, additional low-cost SIM card providers have joined the market alongside Y!mobile and UQ mobile.

GTN MOBILE (For Foreign Residents)

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo from GTN MOBILE

GTN MOBILE is a phone service provider for foreign residents with SIM cards in Japan. GTN MOBILE makes it easy to communicate and enjoy Internet access in Japan on your mobile phone.

They have a selection of inexpensive plans with fees starting at 2,178 yen for 3GB of data.

GTN MOBILE’s website is available in seven languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Nepali, and Indonesian. You can sign up for a phone contract even if you don’t speak or read Japanese. Customers can also make inquiries in-store, via phone, or email in any of the languages above.

Moreover, GTN MOBILE users can apply for the exclusive GTN EPOS card: a credit card designed for foreigners living in Japan!

GTN MOBILE
Costs 2,178 yen/Starting from 3GB
Extra Options Qualify to apply for a GTN EPOS card

Click the banner below for more details on GTN MOBILE!

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

IIJmio (miofone)

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Photo from IIJmio

IIJmio (miofone) is known for letting customers bundle their desired SIM card features and data amount.

Customize a plan by choosing your features (data only, call and data, SMS, etc.) and data amount (2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 15GB, 20GB).

The cheapest plan has SMS capabilities and 2GB of data for 825 yen. The most expensive has call and data capabilities at 2,068 yen for 20GB of data. The cheapest plan for both call and data features is 858 yen at 2GB.

Sign up for a home fiber network with your phone plan to get the mio discount for 660 yen off your monthly phone bill. This discount is recommended for those who want to sign up for both a phone and internet plan!

IIJmio (miofone)
Costs 825 yen/Starting from 2GB
Extra Options None
Discounts/Campaigns mio discount

Click the banner below for more details on IIJmio (Japanese)!

8 New Phone Plans and Low-Cost SIM Cards: Comparison And Prices

Disadvantages and Precautions With Low-Cost SIM Cards

Low-cost SIM cards are great for their relatively cheaper prices. However, some services have transmission speeds that are less stable than major carriers, or don’t have tethering available.

It’s always a good idea to check the company’s official website and online reviews before signing up.

Getting a Phone Plan in Japan

Japan is introducing a wide variety of inexpensive telecom and phone services.

Find the best phone plan for you by referring to this article, official websites, and online reviews!

Main image by Pixta

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.