What is the Best SIM Card for Traveling in Japan? (2024)

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What is the Best SIM Card for Traveling in Japan? (1)

If you are planning a trip to Japan, setting up some basic level of local service for your mobile phone will certainly make your trip more enjoyable and convenient. The streets, trains, and buses of Japan’s larger cities can be difficult to navigate, as can the language barrier, making navigation and translation apps very handy tools. In addition, some tourist sites, hotels, and restaurants in Japan have recently begun to provide services to travelers with mobile phones that can add value to your experience or even save you money. Here, we compare the various SIM Card options available to travelers in Japan and try to narrow down the field for you in terms of price, convenience, and the level of support for English speakers.

Do I really need a Japanese SIM card?

If you want to use your mobile phone in Japan to make calls, use apps (such as messaging apps or maps), or browse the internet when you are out of Wi-Fi range, you will need a Japanese SIM card. The type of SIM card you will require will depend on how long you are staying in Japan (i.e. traveler/visitor or long-term resident), whether you need a Japanese phone number, and how much data you typically use.

Finding Free Wi-Fi in Japan Free public Wi-Fi in Japan has become somewhat more widespread in recent years. The best places to find free Wi-Fi are coffee shops (especially large chains such as Starbucks or Tully’s), convenience stores (especially Family Mart and 7-Eleven), train stations and airports, museums, and some fast food restaurants (McDonald’s always has free Wi-Fi). The Shinkansen and some other train lines (and even bus lines) do have free Wi-Fi, but connections can be unreliable due to tunnels and other obstacles.

Travelers in Japan should note that it can be difficult to find free Wi-Fi (or indeed, any Wi-Fi available to foreigners) in more rural parts of Japan.

What are my options for SIM cards when traveling in Japan?

In Japan, there are essentially two types of companies that sell mobile phone SIM cards:

  1. The big three major providers (Docomo, au, SoftBank)
  2. Alternative mobile phone SIM card providers (e.g. Sakura, UQ, Mobal, Rakuten, LINEMO, Y!Mobile, GTN Mobile)

For a visitor/traveler who will only be in Japan for a short time, the big three providers are generally not a good choice.

  • Relatively high prices and low data allowances.
  • Registration requires lengthy visits to their stores after you arrive in Japan–not the best use of your vacation time!
  • Service in English is technically available, but not always easy to find..

Fortunately for travelers in Japan (i.e. those people who will be in Japan fewer than 90 days), some alternative mobile phone SIM card providers do offer options that better suit your needs.

  • Convenient registration and pick-up/shipping services
  • Cheaper rates and flexible cancellation policies
  • Good support for English speakers

Which is the best SIM card for traveling in Japan? - Support for English Speakers

If you have never traveled to Japan before, it is easy to underestimate the language barrier. While Japanese people do study English at school, many are not comfortable speaking the language and may struggle to understand your English. Several alternative mobile phone SIM card providers offer support for English speakers (see table below).

ProviderApply in English Customer Service in English
Sakura Mobile
Mobal
GTN Mobile
Rakuten Mobile
LINEMO
UQ Mobile
Y!MobileLimited

Unless you have a friend who can speak and read Japanese to help you, the best options for English speakers looking to purchase SIM cards for traveling around Japan are Sakura Mobile, Mobal, and GTN Mobile. Of these three, Sakura and Mobal offer far more user-friendly English websites than GTN (which uses machine translation and has a very clunky layout). All offer customer service in English via chat, email, and phone.

Which is the best SIM card for traveling in Japan? - Price

If you are traveling to Japan and want to get the most out of your time here, you will want to hit the ground running with a SIM card that is easy to apply for, install, and use. You won’t want to spend your time marching all over a city trying to find a store or sitting in a chair for hours waiting your turn to be seen.

ProviderApplication Procedure Pick-upData/Voice CallsShippingCancellation
Sakura MobileOnlineAirportsData-onlyWithin Japan (¥0)¥0
MobalOnlineAirportsData-only
Data + Voice Calls
Within Japan or to other countries* (¥0)¥0
GTN MobileOnlineNot AvailableData-only
Data + Voice Calls**
Within Japan (¥660)¥0

*shipping to other countries is not currently recommended due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arranging for pick-up in Japan is more reliable.
**requires Japanese ID such as a residence card, so not available for travelers

Of the three alternative SIM card providers that provide English language support, Sakura Mobile and Mobal are the most convenient options for travelers, as they offer the option to pick up your SIM card when you arrive at the airport (or have it delivered to your hotel, friend’s house, etc.). For GTN Mobile, which is geared more toward people living in Japan long-term, your only option is delivery. Sakura and Mobal also have a far simpler and quicker application process on their websites than GTN Mobile.

Cancellation is free for Sakura Mobile and Mobal (rather, there is no need to cancel…once you have paid for your SIM, you are essentially done) but GTN Mobile charges a cancellation fee during the contract period (which is generally too long for travelers).

Mobal is essentially the only short-term provider that allows you to make/receive voice calls and send/receive text messages. While this might seem unnecessary in this day and age (as most people use messaging apps for texting, calling, video calls, etc.), it can be handy as a backup in case of emergency or if you are traveling in more rural areas where you might need to phone your accommodation, for example.

An Alternative to SIM Cards: Pocket Wi-Fi A Pocket Wi-Fi is a portable WiFi router that functions using a mobile network. All you need to do is turn it on and then connect to the Wi-Fi (just as with any Wi-Fi signal anywhere). You can also connect multiple devices at the same time. It possesses a rechargeable battery (a charge lasts around 20 hours). The device weighs roughly as much as a typical smartphone.

For those who are traveling in a group or who want to use multiple devices, Pocket Wi-Fi can be a good alternative to a SIM card for your mobile phone.

Many of the companies listed above, including Mobal and Sakura, offer Pocket Wi-Fi units either for rental or purchase. Ninja Wi-Fi is also becoming a popular choice among travelers. Data plans differ based on the company, but many offer unlimited data or very high amounts of data at reasonable rates.

Pocket Wi-Fi units can usually be picked up at the airport or shipped to your hotel. Activation usually involves no more than turning the device on and connecting to its Wi-Fi signal.

Which is the best SIM card for traveling in Japan? - Convenience

While convenience and English language support are obviously important factors when choosing a SIM card for your travels around Japan, you will also want to shop around for the best price. Excess money spent on a SIM card is money that could be spent on meals or drinks or that strange store in Shibuya that only sells socks.

The best SIM card plans for travelers to Japan are generally priced according to the length of time that you will spend in the country (i.e. your usage period). Data allowances are generally unlimited for these short-term plans (unlike long-term plans for residents of Japan).

ProviderInitial Activation Fee SIM Purchase FeeSample Rates*Cancellation Fee
Sakura Mobile¥5,500¥08 days: ¥4,950
15 days: ¥7,150
30 days: ¥9,900
45 days: ¥15,950
60 days: ¥17,600
90 days: ¥26,400
¥0
Mobal¥0¥3,0008 days: ¥3,990
16 days: ¥5,990
31 days: ¥7,490
30 days: ¥7,500
60 days: ¥12,000
90 days: ¥16,500
¥0

For a clearer comparison between the two companies, let’s take a look at three of their offers that have the same usage periods.

8-day
Sakura MobileActivation fee: ¥5,500 (discounted) + Plan price: ¥4,950 = ¥10,450
Mobal*SIM card price: ¥3,000 + Plan price: ¥3,990 = ¥6,990
30-day
Sakura MobileActivation fee: ¥5,500 (discounted) + SIM price: ¥9,900 = ¥15,400
Mobal*SIM card price: ¥3,000 + Plan price: ¥7,500 = ¥10,500
90-day
Sakura MobileActivation fee: ¥5,500 (discounted) + SIM price: ¥26,400 = ¥31,900
Mobal*SIM card price: ¥3,000 + Plan price: ¥16,500 = ¥19,500

*also includes voice calls

Conclusion - the best SIM card for traveling in Japan

New alternative providers of Japanese mobile phone SIM cards are always appearing and some of these may appeal to travelers, especially with cheaper rates. Just be careful and do your research, as cheaper plan rates are not always the bargain that they seem. You want to make sure there won’t be hidden costs, conditions, or hassles that lie beneath those attractive-seeming rates.

After considering various alternative short-term SIM providers in terms of English language support, convenience, and price, our recommended SIM card when traveling in Japan is Mobal.

Despite the fact that Mobal charges a ¥3,000 fee for their SIM cards, this is cheaper than the activation fees charged by Sakura. Their plan rates are not only cheaper but also include voice calls (for the 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans). And there are no cancellation fees to worry about (also true for Sakura).

Mobal’s registration process is a breeze and they provide convenient pick-up or delivery options so that you can focus instead on enjoying your trip.

The company has a long history of providing SIM cards to visitors to Japan and their English customer service is excellent. They also donate a substantial amount of their profits to charity, so you can use their services knowing that you are helping to make the world a better place.

What is the Best SIM Card for Traveling in Japan? (2)

By Trevor Kew

Trevor Kew is a novelist, writer, and Japanese-to-English translator who has spent many years living in Japan and traveling around the country. He joined the Selectra team in July 2022 to write articles that help members of the international community navigate the practical challenges of life in Japan (he wishes such articles had been more available when he first arrived in the country!).

What is the Best SIM Card for Traveling in Japan? (2024)
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