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9 Low-Cost SIM Cards in Japan for Long-Term Stays: With English Support

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Are you currently staying long-term in Japan? Learn all about budget-friendly SIM cards for your smartphone with various options, with low monthly payments, multilingual support, and great package plans.

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Japan's Low-Cost SIM Cards - Ideal for Long-Term Stays

From keeping in touch with friends back home to searching how to get to a destination, smartphones are indispensable items to have while living in Japan.

If you're coming on a short trip, you can travel with ease with a prepaid SIM card like Japan Travel SIM. On the other hand, low-cost SIM cards with monthly payments are great for stays in Japan that exceed a year.

In this article, we introduce five excellent SIM cards such as GTN MOBILE, IIJmio, Rakuten Mobile, HIS Mobile, and UQ Mobile, and compare them in terms of price and functions.

We can also recommend Sakura Mobile, which offers SIM cards for short or longer stays in Japan, as well as portable WiFi services with full support in English.

Merits of Low-Cost SIM Cards and Major Mobile Carriers in Japan

The three major mobile carriers in Japan are docomo, au, and SoftBank. Each operates their own mobile networks, providing easy access to the Internet and customer support at their store locations. At the same time, the drawback of these carriers is the expensive monthly bill of 7,000 yen or more. There are also penalties fees to pay if you cancel your two-year contract early.

Alternatively, low-cost SIM card companies offer mobile services using networks from these three major carriers. This occasionally creates a slow Internet connection. On the upside, the cost is extremely cheap with services available for as low as 1,000 yen per month.

In fact, plenty of companies offer inexpensive SIM card services. This option is the most appealing for its various plans offering different contract lengths and data limits. You also can choose whatever company and plan suit you.

This article will introduce additional information on Japan's three major mobile carriers.

Types of Low-Cost SIM Card Options in Japan

There are three types of low-cost SIM cards available. They are broadly classified as SIM cards for data transmission, SMS (short message service) capabilities, or voice call functions (with a unique phone number).

Data SIM cards make it possible to connect to the Internet and social networking services. Over the past few years, social media apps like LINE or Messenger have developed voice call functions, so having a data SIM card allows you to make calls.

In Japan, however, authentication codes for identity verification purposes are sent through SMS when you join a membership or register on an app. You may be unable to use these services without SMS capabilities on your phone.

Having a voice call function makes it possible to call 110 (police) or 119 (ambulance) in an emergency. Additionally, the audio is much clearer on a call with a SIM card than those made on social media apps.

Take these things into account and choose the service that's best for you. If it's within your budget, we suggest choosing a plan with voice call functions just in case.

Is a Japanese Phone Required for SIM Cards?

Low-Cost SIM Card

Photo by Pixta

If you bring an unlocked, SIM-free smartphone from overseas without a Technical Conformity Mark (certification of radio transmission devices used in Japan), it will not function even with a SIM card inserted. It's typically recommended to use a Japanese phone. In the latter half of this article, we'll introduce IIJmio, Rakuten Mobile, and other mobile carriers where you can purchase various phone models with a SIM card.

Low-cost SIM cards are available in three sizes: standard, micro, and nano. SIM card sizes vary depending on the smartphone model, so be sure to check the size required for your phone before purchasing.

Payments for your low-cost SIM cards can also be made at convenience stores. Use this option if you don’t have a credit card or Japanese bank account.

Low-Cost SIM Card Options

Many companies offer budget-friendly SIM cards. Here, we introduce companies offering multi-language support, highly reliable services with leading market shares, and unique service plans.

Comparison of Low-Cost SIM Cards

Mobile Service Provider Min. Data Cap. Data SIM Card SIM Card w/ SMS & Voice Calls
GTN MOBILE 3 GB x From 1,200 yen
Mobal 1 GB x From 1,650 yen
LINEMO (Japanese) 3 GB/20 G x x
ahamo (Japanese) 20 GB x x
Sakura Mobile 4 GB From 2,728 yen From 3,278 yen
IIJmio 2 GB 740 yen 850 yen
Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) 3 GB × ×
UQ Mobile (Japanese) 3 GB × ×
HIS Mobile (Japanese) From 100 MB From 198 yen From 290 yen

*The rates reflected above are current as of June 2022. Fees and services are subject to change. Check the respective company websites for details.

1. GTN MOBILE

9 Low-Cost SIM Cards in Japan for Long-Term Stays: With English Support

Picture courtesy of GTN MOBILE

GTN MOBILE is a mobile phone carrier that offers great services to non-Japanese residents. Support is provided in six different languages—English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese—and is recommended for those not confident in their Japanese skills.

SIM card payments can be made at convenience stores, so you don't need a credit card or Japanese bank account to apply. You can also easily reserve a SIM card with a passport. Make an advanced reservation up to 14 days before your scheduled arrival date to Japan.

2. Mobal

Mobal

Picture courtesy of Mobal

Mobal is provided by a British company and offers services for visitors to Japan and long-term residents. Their official website is available in English and Simplified Chinese.

The unique feature of Mobal is that it ships SIM cards even to other countries than Japan. You can receive your SIM card before arriving in Japan and use the internet as soon as you've landed.

Moreover, Mobal provides a pocket Wi-F router, which allows you to use 100 GB per month for just 4,980 yen. If you apply for this router and the SIM card at the same time, you get 10% off the price, making it very convenient.

3. LINEMO

5 Low-Cost SIM Cards In Japan For Long-Term Stays - With English Support

Picture courtesy of LINEMO

LINEMO is a new online-only service introduced by Softbank in conjunction with LINE Mobile in 2021.

A 20 GB data plan with this service costs 2,728 yen. It is particularly popular among younger users and foreign residents in Japan, as data used on the LINE app (such as through messaging and even LINE audio/video calls) is not counted as a part of the overall data plan.

This plan is not available in stores, and can only be availed of online.

4. ahamo

5 Low-Cost SIM Cards In Japan For Long-Term Stays - With English Support

Picture courtesy of ahamo

ahamo is the most recent SIM plan offered by Japan’s mobile communications giant, Docomo.

The service offers data plans of 20 GB, at a cost is 2,970 yen per month. Calls within Japan are free for the first 5 minutes, which adds to the service’s appeal. Due to it being operated by Docomo, ahamo also provides a very reliable connection to users.

5. Sakura Mobile

5 Low-Cost SIM Cards In Japan For Long-Term Stays - With English Support

Picture courtesy of Sakura Mobile

Sakura Mobile offers both cheap SIM and pocket WIFI options and is specifically targeted towards people visiting Japan from overseas. They offer both short-term (from 1 week onwards) and long-term (from 1 month onwards) SIM and WIFI plans. Their service utilizes major provider NTT Docomo’s connection.

Data-only plans start at 2,728 yen, and plans including both data and voice calls start at 3,278 yen.

Sakura Mobile has gained a reputation for the quality of their customer support offered in English. Here are some customer reviews: "When I lost my SIM card, they sent me a new one in just two days", "I didn't know whether to go for a SIM card or for pocket WiFi but they researched the quality of the signal in the region I was planning to visit and gave me the right advice."

As these reviews show, Sakura Mobile is a great option for those who are not fluent in Japanese.

6. IIJmio

IIJmio

Picture courtesy of IIJmio

IIJmio is a company with high reliability and a leading market share among other competitors. As of September 2018, IIJmio has the highest number of SIM card contracts in the country. If you’re looking to buy a Japanese phone, this company offers more than 40 different phone models.

You can find details and explanations in English on IIJmio's website. However, the application page is only available in Japanese (as of July 2020). If you aren't confident in reading Japanese, it would be best to apply with the help of a Japanese friend.

7. Rakuten Mobile

Rakuten Mobile

Picture courtesy of Rakuten Mobile

Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) exclusively offers SIM cards with voice call and social media functions starting at a standard fee of 3,278 yen. You’ll receive unlimited data at high-speed connectivity in Rakuten’s network areas (Japanese) in Tokyo and Osaka. You'll also get a monthly 2GB service for international usage in 69 countries and regions.

After signing up, be sure to install the Rakuten Link app. It allows customers to make free calls and messages to other Rakuten Link users from anywhere in the world. This service is recommended for those living in big urban areas with large numbers of Rakuten Mobile users.

8. UQ Mobile

UQmobile

Picture courtesy of UQ Mobile

UQ Mobile (Japanese) has the leading market share in low-cost SIM cards alongside IIJmio and Rakuten Mobile. The company is known for its fast transmission speeds, ranking number one among inexpensive SIM card and smartphone transmission speeds survey in March 2020. This service is recommended for those who want to access the Internet smoothly.

9. HIS Mobile

HISmobile

Picture courtesy of HIS Mobile

HIS Mobile (Japanese) is a mobile phone carrier service provided by HIS, a major travel company in Japan. If you only require data, it offers a plan starting from 290 yen per month. Consider this service if you're satisfied with having a minimum amount of data.

FAQ

Can a foreigner buy a SIM card in Japan?

Visitors and foreign residents in Japan can buy SIM cards in Japan through various channels, such as airports, electronics stores like Yodobashi Camera, convenience stores, and online platforms. These SIM cards cater to different data needs and durations of stay, providing visitors with convenient access to mobile services during their time in Japan. It's important to check for compatibility, coverage, data limits, and validity periods when selecting a SIM card to suit your specific requirements while traveling in the country.

Is it better to get pocket wifi or SIM card in Japan?

When deciding between a pocket WiFi or a SIM card in Japan, consider your priorities and travel preferences. Pocket WiFi devices offer multiple device connectivity, stable connections, extended battery life, and easy setup, making them ideal for groups, families, and areas with weak signals.
 
On the other hand, SIM cards provide portability, convenience of direct phone use, cost-effectiveness for solo travelers, and flexibility in calls, texts, and data usage. Your choice depends on factors like device flexibility, portability, cost-effectiveness, and the need for multiple connections, catering to individual preferences and travel requirements during your stay in Japan.

What do I need to buy a SIM card in Japan?

When buying a SIM card in Japan, ensure you have your passport for identity verification, especially as a non-resident tourist. It's important to have a phone that is unlocked and compatible with Japanese network frequencies. Prepare a payment method, as SIM cards can usually be purchased with cash or credit card. Additionally, having proof of your temporary stay in Japan, such as a tourist visa or entry stamp, may be required. Some providers might ask for your local address, so having your accommodation details on hand can be useful. Research different providers and their plans beforehand to ensure you choose the best option for your data needs, coverage, and additional services with the SIM card.

Is it difficult to get a SIM card in Japan?

Getting a SIM card in Japan is usually straightforward. They are widely available at airports, stores, and online. With English support and prepaid options, the process is convenient for short-term visitors. While having your passport is necessary for identification, the overall process is quick and easy, especially with phone compatibility ensured. Overall, obtaining a SIM card in Japan is considered accessible and hassle-free for travelers looking to stay connected during their trip.

How to get unlimited data in Japan?

In Japan, truly unlimited data plans are uncommon, but options with high data allowances exist. Look for plans offering substantial data caps like 10GB or 20GB per month as alternatives. Renting a pocket WiFi device with a high data limit can provide extensive data access for multiple devices during your stay. Consider long-term plans for extended visits for significant data allowances. Be mindful of fair usage policies, as even plans labeled as "unlimited" may throttle speeds after a certain threshold. Careful comparison of providers for data plans, pricing, and coverage can help you find the most suitable option to meet your data needs while in Japan.

 

Stay Connected Online in Japan!

When selecting the most suitable SIM card, please refer to this article to ensure you are online in Japan!

Main image by Pixta

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Mizzochi

Mitoyo, Kagawa, Japan

I worked in a PR agency for corporate IR/CSR and a publisher which publishes a magazine focused on international cooperation before joining MATCHA in October 2017. 
In April 2019, I moved to Mitoyo City in Kagawa Prefecture. I write articles for tourists visiting Japan, and also contribute to regional revitalization.
My main focus is on writing about internet services, rental cars, hotels, and tourist attractions in western Japan.
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. Some of our articles contain affiliate links. We kindly ask our readers to exercise careful judgement when making a purchase or booking a service online.

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