You’ve arrived in Japan and want to upload all the snaps you’ve taken of the place you are about to call home. However, without language skills it can be a bit confusing and daunting to figure out how to get yourself connected in the land known far and wide to be technologically advanced. So, how hard can it be?

FIrst, without a residence card with a visa for longer than two years and a credit card for payment, you will need a very good friend (with a two-year or more visa or a Japanese person) to make a contract for you. However, don’t despair, there are options.

Prepaid Data SIM Cards

Most tourists can buy a prepaid data SIM card. These will allow you to access social media like Line, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, etc. However, you will not have a phone number nor be able to make mobile or land calls. With most people making calls through these social media programs, this can be enough.

You can purchase these prepaid data SIM cards at large electronic stores like Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera starting around 2,000yen for 1GB of data valid for 30 days. The more gig or valid days you need, the more you’ll need to spend. The data usually is good a bit longer than the 30 days and can be recharged within the month.

The best thing to do is to go to one of the electronic stores in the main part of Tokyo, like Shinjuku, Shibuya or Yurakucho. You’re most likely to find English speaking staff at these locations and you can simply ask them for a tourist SIM card.

The only catch is that you may need to have an unlocked device to be able to access the local networks with these cards.

Other options for the non-contract phone users are available.

Pocket or Portable WiFi

These are devices that use a local SIM card, but send out WiFi so that your own device does not need to be unlocked. These are very convenient, as despite the rumors that there is free WiFi everywhere, the reality is that it may not always be easy to connect or your connection time will be limited. Also, you can reserve a device online and pick it up at the airport upon arrival or some services will send it to a hotel or local address as long as you have paid via credit card online. Here are some popular options:

Sakura Mobile
Japan Wireless
Ninja WaiFi
Asahi Net

Just remember to thoroughly read the contract details if you should go for a longer than month-to-month plan. Also, unlimited is not always as it says. However, it still may be the best deal available if you cannot or do not want to get a contract.

Free Wifi

There are free WiFi options at cafes like Starbucks or some of the busier train stations. You will see signs around restaurants, cafes or some shops where you might be able to freely access WiFi. You may be asked to login with an email address or Facebook to access the WiFi. In many cases you will be limited with time, but most services will let you login again.

Contracted SIM Cards

Once you have a visa and residence card that is good for two years or more, you can see about getting a local SIM card. These cards will give you a Japanese phone number so you can make and receive calls.

There are three major mobile service providers in Japan. Most of the data sim cards will be connected to one of these three:

NTT Docomo
Softbank
AU

Like with the electronic stores, branches of these providers in central Tokyo will often have English speaking staff who can help you set up your contracts. You will have to buy a Japanese device that is paid on a monthly ‘rental’ basis (rent to buy scheme) as they will not guarantee SIM maintenance if you put the SIM card into a non-Japanese/provider device.

Prices will range with the lowest around 4,000yen per month and adjusts based on the device, data and calling plans. Unlike contracts in the US, there are rarely plans with rollover minutes or data. Therefore, if you do not use all of your data, it is gone. So, it might be good to get a larger plan to start off to see how much you might use and downgrade once you know what your needs are. It is generally easier to downgrade than upgrade.

Keep in mind that to set up an account, you’ll need your passport, residence card and credit card at the time of making the account. You may even want to visit the branch beforehand to get an idea of what plans and device you want to get before signing up for a two-year contract. If you decide to break the contract before the two years, there are significant cancellation fees. Also, all payments for the previous month are taken at the end of the month. So, for example, you will be charged for January’s usage on your February bill. Therefore, when you end your contract, you will need to pay the usage for the month of the cancellation, which could be a surprise if you are not prepared.

Network Free Plans

There are also what one might call network-free plans such as:
Rakuten Mobile*This site is only in Japanese

These contracts can be much cheaper if you are mostly in need of data and have no plans to make many mobile phone calls. For example, a cheap 5GB data plan with 50% off domestic calls via an app with Rakuten. However, in most cases, you need to be able to speak and read Japanese and have a Japanese credit card.

No matter what mobile choice you make, your life will definitely be more convenient once you are fully connected!

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