Where to Buy a SIM Card for Your Next Trip to Japan
SIM Card: A Must-have for Travellers Visiting Japan
Japan is getting a more and more popular destination for tourists from all over the world. Its nature, culture, technology, food (sushi, tempura, ramen, takoyaki…yum!), and hospitality have kept attracting people and make them returning visitors.
These days, Japan has been even further improving public amenities so that its visitors could enjoy more confortable experience during their stays. If you walk around major cities in Japan, you will see signs and hear train announcements in multiple languages (including English, Chinese, and Korean).
Major retail chains have started to hire multilingual assistants and salesclerks to support international customers. Even without being able to speak your native language, many local Japanese would be willing to help you with simple English words or body languages.
But there could be one major thing that travellers to Japan might complain about: access to the Internet. Free public Wi-Fi still is not common in the country (especially outside of big cities), and even if you come across one, there would be a big chance to be asked to register your detailed information (name, email address, phone number, etc.) before getting connected.
So what should we do? Securing your own connection, of course. Here, I?a Japanese living in the U.S. (who has made numerous homecoming trips to Japan)?would like to give you some tips on where and how to buy a SIM card for your next trip to Japan.
Option 1: Buying Online from Your Home
In these years, my trip to Japan almost always starts from ordering a SIM card online (I usually use Amazon.com). If you can find and buy one from the comfort of your home, it definitely will be a great option to prepare your connection in Japan. My recent standard is “ZEN SIM for Japan” from eConnect Japan, which is available from Amazon.com and ready to be set a plan and an activation date before your trip.
One thing you need to consider is delivery time. Plan ahead! When you order one online, allow enough time before leaving your home for a trip. If you are going to stay at a hotel or a place of your friend/family in Japan, it could be also a good idea to order one ahead and have it delivered to your lodging in Japan. For example, “Japan Unlimited SIM” from Mobal (https://www.mobal.com/japan-sim-card/) is eligible for free global shipping, allowing you to receive the card either ahead of or during your stay in Japan.
Tip: Mobal has a discount for “Ongoing Voice + Text + Data Plan” for students, English language teachers, and interns visiting/staying in Japan (as of March 2018). Visit their website for details.
Option 2: Buying at Airport
Even if you are a last-minute packer, don’t worry about your Internet connection in Japan. You can find SIM vending machines and electronics shops at airports in Japan, with a quite good range of selection. For example, Tokyo Narita International Airport has SIM vending machines and staffed electronics/mobile stores in each terminal.
“Air BIC CAMERA” on the 4th floor of the Terminal 2 is run by a major appliance chain with a wide selection of SIM cards along with the latest electronics, with the same reasonable pricing as their off-airport stores! Vending machines generally set higher prices, but could be useful especially when you need to get a SIM on the way jumping onto a bus or train.
Option 3: Buying at Appliance Store
If you are staying only in big cities (e.g. Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohama, Osaka,Kobe, Fukuoka) in Japan, buying a SIM during your stay could be an option to consider. Major appliance chains, including BIC CAMERA, Kojima Denki, Yamada Denki, Yodobashi Camera, EDION, K’s Denki, have a SIM section in their stores. You can see a chart at a store (often written in multiple languages) or ask a clerk for assistance.
Which One to Choose? Check Period, Data Plan, and Card Size
Whether buying one in Japan or from the comfort of your home, you will be given multiple options to choose from. So how could we choose a best one? I recommend you to check these three points: period, plan, and card size. Let us look into each point.
Point 1: Available period from activation date
Most SIM cards have their own valid periods from an activation date (e.g. 7 days, 15 days), which are shown on a package and/or a product page. When you buy a SIM card, make sure its period covers your stay.
Let me show an example. If you are going to have a 10-day trip in Japan, it may be safer to buy a card valid for 15 days, rather than to risk buying a 7-day one. The card activation process usually requires an Internet access (e.g. public Wi-Fi), so your activation date is likely to be the day of your arrival in Japan (to be precise, at the airport of your destination, where you can definitely find a connection).
Tip: Although not many, there are some SIM cards that allow you to top up and extend the period for multiple times. For example, “ZEN SIM for Japan” from eConnect Japan (introduced above) offers rechargeable top-up plans with reasonable prices and a user-friendly app/website interface.
Point 2: Plan
Some SIM cards have a daily usage limit of data. Those cards offer relatively less expensive plans than others, but would slow down the Internet connection speed for the rest of the day once you exceed the limit. If you consider yourself to be in need of data-consuming activities such as Skype/FaceTime chats, or simply to be an avid user of SNS, choose a rechargeable card without a daily usage cap.
While most SIM cards for travelers are data only, some do offer you text (SMS) and phone call features. “Japan SIM Card” by OneSimCard and “Japan Unlimited SIM” from Mobal (introduced above) are representatives of the few cards with a phone call feature along with text and data services.
Note: There used to be a SIM brand with a free access to major SNS (“Prepaid Data SIM for Japan” by FREETEL), but its sales seem to have been stopped from December 2017.
Point 3: Size of the card
Last but not least, do not forget about the physical size of the card. Check the SIM card slot of your phone and see which size (nano, micro, or mini) fits it. Some SIM cards are compatible with multiple sizes (with cutting lines or adaptors), but some are for a single particular size. Make sure to get one with a right size for your phone.
Be a Smart Traveler with a SIM Card!
With an Internet connection, a trip to Japan becomes even more fun and confortable. You can navigate yourself with a map app, take advantage of online translation engines to communicate with local people, and share pictures of beautiful nature or unique products with your family, friends, and colleagues. Get a SIM card for your phone from an online store, at an airport, or an appliance store and fully enjoy your next stay in Japan!