Get a budget data sim card when you visit Japan
If you’re looking for cheap internet in Japan, a budget travel sim card might be just right. I got one during my Japan trip last November 2016.
I went on a solo trip to Japan as a tourist, so a pocket WiFi would have been too much for my use. A good internet data access was a necessity since I didn’t speak their language and its easy to get lost in Japan.
Internet access for tourists
When I visited Japan, getting a pocket WiFi as a solo traveler would take a huge chunk on my budget. With research, I came to know how Japan has many internet service providers, so, apart from renting a pocket WiFi, and using your hotel’s WiFi, you can get internet access by either:
Renting a pocket WiFi
Although convenient, this option can be a little pricey. Kiosks can easily be found in airports, but I wouldn’t recommend this, especially when you’re on a budget trip or there’s only one or two of you.
If you’re traveling alone, it’s better to get a data sim card with your own open-line smartphone.
An open-line smartphone, for those who need to know, is a phone that will accept any carrier sim card. They are not locked to one network and can work with a Japanese telco sim. A closed phone line will be of no use in Japan unless it was set to roaming before the trip.
Go on roaming
When you do not have an open-line smartphone, you’ll need to ask your telephone service provider’s help before you travel. I’m biased against getting roaming services. I think of them as overly expensive. Telco fees vary, plus you’ll need to seek approval from your Internet Service Providers. I can’t vouch for roaming, really, as I’ve never tried it before.
Which brings us to a third option.
Buy a data SIM card
This is the cheapest option for getting internet when visiting Japan. A data sim card is available for tourists who are staying in Japan for a limited time. You will need to bring your open-line smartphone for this during your travel.
My data sim card only costed around 1700¥ + 10% tax during my week-long stay. That’s around ₱822 during my visit. Again, you have to be a tourist to get this sim. The cashier will ask for your passport upon payment.
Free FB, Viber, WhatsApp, etc.
Some data SIM cards offer free messaging apps, which is a must if you get lost and need to chat a friend or Clueless Commuter while in Japan. Others offer free text messages for local mobile numbers, while others, additional data.
Nonetheless, if you decide that the data SIM card is what’s right for you, read on for a few more tips.
Bring these when you buy your data SIM card
If you’re not getting a pocket WiFi in Japan, I strongly recommend that you get yourself a data SIM card when you visit as a tourist. Make sure you bring the following during your purchase:
Your money in Yen.
Your Passport and Japanese Visa (if applicable)
Travel SIM cards, as far as I know, are only for tourists. You have to be identified as a temporary visitor in Japan to be able to buy them. You will also need to prove you are eligible to do transactions.
NOTE: The tax free policy only applies to (A) Single receipt consumable items (make-up, food, etc.) worth ¥5000 or (B) Single receipt non-consumable items (clothes, gadgets, toys, etc.) worth ¥5000. Only tourists are eligible for this so they ask for your passport when you avail of tax free shopping. NOT all shops exercise this just like the one in this post.
Your open-line, data-capable smartphone
The store will need to configure it for you, so it’s better to bring the device when you buy. You can configure it by yourself when you go back to your hotel but I don’t recommend you do this. Even if the SIM pack comes with a manual in English, it’s better to have your internet working ASAP before you go.
Determination, patience and understanding
Japan is a non-English-speaking country. They understand key English words but locals will have to use sign language to get a message across. There will be English speaking staff, but, most likely, the one who approaches you first will be a local speaking staff. Just remember to respectfully and nicely ask, especially as you are the tourist here.
Most importantly, you will need patience. You will have to wait for your turn since there are fewer English-speaking staff and a number who might be tourists. They are doing you a favor by helping you with your internet needs.
How and where to buy your internet data sim card
In Japan, the electronic stores such as Yodobashi and BIC / BIG Camera will be located around the city or train central stations. So, what you’ll need to do is:
Go to city centers or central train stations
Electronic shops can be found there.
They’re just lying around there, waiting to be discovered. You will find them by walking around. If they have appliances, cellphones or electronic devices displayed by the entrance, it’s most likely going to be an electronic store. You won’t be able to read much since the characters will be in Japanese too.
Ask where the internet SIM Cards are. Say keywords such as, “English” to let them know you do not speak Japanese. They will find an English-speaking sales person for you. Or you can directly say “Internet Data Sim Card.” As I have mentioned, staff can understand basic English words. They just won’t be able to reply back. By saying this, they can lead you to the isle full of internet sim cards!
Choose your sim card
Take your pick from the wide variety of telco sim cards. Read the packaging, since they’re mainly written for tourists. Meanwhile, consider your:
- Length of stay
Some sim cards are meant for 7 days, 14 days, while some are good for up to 30-90 days. Just check the package details.
- SIM Card size
Make sure it will fit your smart phone or the device you will use it with. That’s why it’s important to bring the device you will be using with you during your purchase.
Make sure it will work if you plan to go to Neko Island or other far-flung destinations in Japan. Ask your English-speaking crew about the internet company handling your chosen sim card for coverage.
The sim card I got had free Facebook, Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, etc. with it. It meant more data for searching in Google.
- Length of stay
Have it installed
The sim card still need to be configured so it’s better to have it installed before you leave the shop. There’s a few cheaper brands that seem to charge additional fees for installation. I did not pay extra since my manual had an English translation in it.
In case you need to pay the minimal installation fee, I recommend you do so, instead of risking the chance of going home and not having a functional sim card.
Bring your own device during your trip
You will need to bring a separate open line smart phone if you plan to do this. I assure you– as a budget traveller, this will cover your basic internet use. It might be slower (than a WiFi) but it will cover basic GPS, maps, Google search queries and sometimes, free messaging Apps. There will be a lot of carriers to choose from. Others have better Sim Card networks which may be a bit more expensive with 4G or LTE capabilities. Just ask your English-speaking sales person.
Also, since the Sim Cards are for tourists, you may also read the packaging since they are usually in English.
Just the right internet for the basics
During your Japan trip, your internet data sim card will meet your basic internet needs. It will have a decent GPS for maps. It will have a decent internet coverage for doing quick searches. And for starters, you will most likely just roam around known tourist places where there’s always going to be internet coverage.
Better brands will have better GPS accuracy and internet speed. Just ask the English-speaking sales person on this. At the end, I just bought this since I will only stay there for 9 more days.
It’s the internet for tourists
Internet data sim cards are really for Japan tourists to discover. For me, finding myself a cheap internet sim card was an experience on its own.
I also found it fascinating how my friends from Japan did not know of this. They also do not frequent the shops I have mentioned here since their telco providers usually offer and deliver electronic services in package deals.
After all, it has to be for tourists.