Translated by Sandy Lau
5 Low-Cost SIM Cards In Japan For Long-Term Stays - With English Support
Written by Mizzochi
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.
Japan's Low-Cost SIM Cards - Ideal for Long-Term Stays
Smartphones are useful tools. From keeping in touch with friends back home to searching how to get to a destination, it's an indispensable item 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.
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 operate 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?
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||3GB||980 yen||1,680 yen|
|IIJmio||3GB||900 yen||1,600 yen|
|Rakuten Mobile||Unlimited data,* international data plan w/ 2GB||×||2,980 yen|
|UQ Mobile (Japanese)||3GB||980 yen||1,980 yen|
|HIS Mobile (Japanese)||100MB||180 yen||900 yen|
*Rakuten Mobile's unlimited data plan is available for some regions of Japan. The rates reflected above are current as of July 2020. Fees and services are subject to change. Check the respective company websites for details.
1. 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.
If you apply through MATCHA now, you'll receive an Amazon gift card worth 1,000 yen. Check the article below for more details.
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.
IIJmio's blog posts are written in English, simplified Chinese, and Korean on its website. These blogs are where you can learn about the application process and additional details. 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.
3. Rakuten Mobile
Rakuten Mobile (Japanese) exclusively offers SIM cards with voice call and social media functions starting at a standard fee of 2,980 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 66 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 180 yen per month. Consider this service if you're satisfied with having a minimum amount of data.
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