Cell phones and smartphones have become an essential part of daily life, and this is especially true when living abroad. Japan's mobile phone service can be challenging to navigate, which is why this article will provide a comprehensive guide to using a cell phone or smartphone in Japan.
To get started, you will need a smartphone/cell phone and a SIM card. There are two main options for obtaining these: signing a contract with a major carrier or purchasing a cheap SIM card and/or smartphone from a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).
When considering purchasing a new smartphone and/or SIM card in Japan, there are several major carrier options available. The three largest carriers in the country are NTT docomo, au, and SoftBank. It is important to note that in Japan, many carrier SIM card plans are typically bundled with a specific device, such as a smartphone. As a result, the phone provided by the carrier upon signing a contract will typically be SIM locked, meaning it can only be used with a SIM card provided by that specific carrier. For those who only require a SIM card, it is possible to opt out of any bundle plans and purchase the SIM card alone.
It is important to keep in mind that most contracts with these carriers are automatically renewed after two years. If a contract holder wishes to terminate the contract prior to the two year period, a cancellation fee may apply. Additionally, it is important to note that in order to switch to a different carrier, the phone must be unlocked, even if the contract with the original carrier has been terminated.
On the other hand, MVNOs offer low monthly costs and cheap smartphones, customizable plans, and few contract restrictions. However, the quality of calls and internet speed are generally worse than what you would get with a major carrier, and customer support may be difficult to reach.
Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are an increasingly popular option for obtaining a SIM card in Japan. With an estimated 600 MVNOs available in the country, purchasing a SIM card from an MVNO can be done online, with the card delivered by mail the following day. However, as their popularity has grown, MVNO SIM cards are now also available at major electronic retail stores such as Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera, which often provide multilingual customer support.
When signing up for a SIM card with an MVNO, it is important to have the necessary documentation and information readily available. This includes a residence card with an up-to-date address, a form of identification such as a special permanent resident certificate, a credit card registered in your name, and a readily accessible email address. Having these documents and information on hand will ensure a smooth and efficient sign-up process.
In terms of using a foreign phone in Japan, as long as the phone is not SIM locked and is compatible with Japanese networks, it should work with a Japanese SIM card. However, it is important to check for technical standard compliance marks on the phone to ensure compatibility.