The best pre-paid SIM cards for business travellers to Japan

The best pre-paid SIM cards for business travellers to Japan

Japan remains a popular destination for business travellers – particularly those in the automotive and electronics industries – but obtaining a pre-paid mobile phone SIM card with calling and SMS capabilities is near impossible for foreigners.

That’s because Japan has very strict telecommunications laws that require Japanese citizenship or permanent residency to obtain most voice-enabled SIMs, while data-only SIMs are less difficult to come by.

But even if you get your hands on the right SIM, Japan’s mobile phone networks also use communication frequencies that some Australian-bought gadgets may not support, so you’ll find many businesses which hire out portable 3G/4G data modems for use during your visit.

We take a look at the best voice-calling SIM card and modem-inclusive data SIM packages for Japan, but also show how roaming using your Telstra, Optus or Vodafone SIM is not only more convenient but can sometimes be much more cost-effective, too.

Best Japanese SIM card for voice calls

If you absolutely need a Japanese +81 phone number during your visit, B-mobile’s PAYG SIM comes at an expensive ¥9,980 (A$128) with 60 minutes – yes, just one hour – of talk time to Japanese and international phone numbers, which you’ll need to use within seven days.

It’s compatible with iPhone 3GS and all models newer, plus many Android devices and also includes 3GB of data with to use within that seven-day window.

But when you actually use some of that allowance – in fact, just over 1GB within three consecutive days of the 3GB you’re entitled to – your data speeds may be throttled until your three-day average is 1GB or less. Talk about restrictive!

These SIMs can be bought online and at selected hotels and retail stores including the Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Yodobashi Camera, AEON and Dospara stores across Japan, including in Tokyo and Osaka.

Best Japanese data SIM + modem deal

With a good blend between cost, network coverage, speed, data allowance and ease-of-access, we’d peg Global Advanced Communication’s range of rentable pocket WiFi devices – complete with data SIM cards – as the best and most convenient option for most business travellers.

The basic ‘ECO WiFi’ device proves adequate in the major cities with unlimited data at 3G hybrid speeds – that’s a maximum of 21Mbps down and 5.8Mbps up – at a cost of ¥3480 (A$44.65) for up to four days, and just ¥300 (A$3.85) per day thereafter.

That puts your total bill for a two-week visit at ¥7,050 (A$90.40), which also includes the cost of mailing your device for collection from your hotel or airport on arrival, and a pre-paid return satchel to use when returning your modem and SIM.

Higher speeds of up to 75Mbps down and 25Mbps up can be had via the ‘Premium WiFi’ option, again with no data limits via the LTE, 4G and 3G hybrid networks at a cost of ¥1,290 (A$16.55) for the first day and ¥500 (A$6.40) per day thereafter.

You’ll also gain access to both the ‘Y Mobile’ and ‘AU’ networks on that premium option versus only the Y Mobile network on the least-expensive plan, with AU’s extra coverage particularly useful in Hokkaido and regional and mountainous areas.

Using Australian mobile phone roaming

Depending on your needs and usage habits, Japan may prove one of those countries where it’s simply more cost-effective to roam using your Australian SIM, with full voice, SMS and data privileges.

Telstra’s Zone 2 Travel Pass covers Japan with unlimited calls and SMS messages plus 225MB of data for $30 (maximum three days), 525MB of data for $70 (maximum seven days), 1.03GB of data for $140 (maximum 14 days) and 2.2GB of data for $300 (maximum 30 days).

Using Optus post-paid instead? The similar Optus Travel Packs set you back $10 per day in Japan, again with unlimited calls and SMS thrown in and also 50MB of data for each day you hold the pack, but which can be pooled and used on any day of your visit.

Over at Vodafone, the longstanding $5/day roaming deal too works in Japan, giving you access to all of your plan’s regular inclusions – including unlimited calls and text messages if you’d normally enjoy those at home, plus your data allowance and international minutes – at one simple cost.

Also read: Japan Airlines offers free WiFi access across Japan

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

13 comments

  • taipan168

    taipan168

    23 Jun, 2016 01:55 pm

    I just returned from Japan and there are also data-only SIM cards that can be used in an unlocked phone. I bought one just after exiting Haneda Airport (turn right after exiting the baggage hall) which was JPY 3,500 for 1GB over 30 days, but I did subsequently notice that b-mobile had SIMs with unlimited data over 14 days for around JPY 2,200.

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  • Michael Gibbons

    rowwdy

    5 Jul, 2016 07:49 am

    These seem to be fairly new options - I believe the Olympics is the main catalyst for the telcos making these tourist sims.

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  • Michael Gibbons

    rowwdy

    7 Jul, 2016 07:48 am

    Also - the JNTO has a list of places where these tourist sims are available on their website.

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  • John

    akronflyer

    23 Jun, 2016 03:02 pm

    We just returned from Japan and for 7 gig Pocket wi fi it was about $80 for one month. We just posted back in the pre paid envelope from Haneda

    There are cheaper unlimited plans i believe but as we were in the rural climes we were limited to two potential providors. Obviously speeds varied, one of best download speeds was 49.48 and upload 33.48.

    7 Eleven have free wi fi at the vast majority of their stores as did Tokyu Hands dept store.

    On another note travellers in Japan  can get their luggage sent ahead by Courier for a reasonable price

    We were a few hours from Haneda and the courier came and for $30 took our luggage to the Airport [ about 40kg]

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  • John

    akronflyer

    23 Jun, 2016 10:13 pm

    Just to add to my earlier post if you look  google iijmio travel sim you will find all the info you need in English re their travel sim

    The cheapest way to buy a sim is from a convienence store . eg Lawson have a branch at Haneda Airport which  is open 24 hours in the international terminal

     

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  • Michael Gibbons

    rowwdy

    23 Jun, 2016 09:54 pm

    The pick-up modem options are great. Also whilst probably not a consideration for most business trips, pretty much every Airbnb in Tokyo gives you a mifi for your stay for free. 

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  • moa999

    moa999

    24 Jun, 2016 01:17 am

    I would say a better choice are the Data only plans -- eg. b-mobile Visitor SIM - 14 days, Unlimited 4G for Y2380 (A$30) and extendable for another 14 days slightly cheaper

    And then use Skype (US 2.5c-12c/min) or other VOIP services for any local calls

    --

    Agree that the Japanese luggage transfer services (Takuhaibin/ Ta-Q-Bin) are awesome

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  • SPGPLAT

    SPGPLAT

    24 Jun, 2016 06:47 am

    I used Advanced Global for a number of years and were good until they signed new data agreements that meant unlimited now means you have to request more data every 500mb. I needed to ask about 3 to 4 times a day which was very annoying throughout a journey. Check out other cheaper providers that only slow your data between 9pm-6am if you go over the 500mb limited but reset you everyay. This is is much better method. This convenient, battery life is much, much better and best of all about 20-30% cheaper than Advanced Global. Advanced Global definitely do not lead the pack anymore.

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  • Graeme Bray

    Livewireshock

    24 Jun, 2016 02:33 pm

    For anyone who wants a data SIM before you arrive in Japan, then the oddball choice is from Hong Kong. China Unicom HK sells a Japanese Data Sim Card, a big 5Gb card for 7 days for HKD$118 (about AUD$20), that can be topped up again for longer stays or repeat visits. It is then couriered to your home anywhere in the world for HKD$50 (about AUD$8).

    This works on the Softbank phone network through Japan. I find this better than trying to work out the better deal with local providers on arrival and wasting time, as I head straight to the train and head into Tokyo. Then I use Skype for making phone calls over the data connection.

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  • AL0126

    AL0126

    24 Jun, 2016 03:30 pm

    "That’s because Japan has very strict telecommunications laws that require Japanese citizenship or permanent residency to obtain most voice-enabled SIMs, while data-only SIMs are less difficult to come by."

    This is a common misconception that I keep seeing, but you don't need to be a citizen or permanent resident to get a mobile phone voice line in Japan. As long as you have a residency card with a validity of more than three months, you can get a monthly-billed voice service with any of the major carriers. Anyone here on a work or student visa can easily get one as a result, but it doesn't change the fact that travellers will have to stick with prepaid SMS/data SIMs or the bmobile voice PAYG SIM outlined above.

    Otherwise an accurate report; I've lived here for five years on working visas and have tried out a lot of options over that time. I think if I were coming for a short trip from Australia I'd probably just use Vodafone's $5/day roaming; while it's limited to docomo and SoftBank's 3G networks, they're both still adequately fast and for a 1-2 week stay it's less hassle and around the same amount of money as buying a local SIM.

    A note that virtually any 3G device and most 4G devices sold in Australia will work in Japan nowadays; it's not as bad as the dark days of no GSM support and weird CDMA proprietary configurations anymore...

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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    24 Jun, 2016 04:10 pm

    Hi AL0126, welcome to AusBT and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    We write for Australian-based travellers rather than Japanese residents, so the use of the phrase 'permanent residents' here is more to denote that an Australian would need to be living in Japan on an extended basis to qualify for a truly local connection, rather than 'permanent residents' as the legal or government term.

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  • kenguyen

    kenguyen

    5 Nov, 2016 12:52 am

    Is the Data SIM and Modem deal available in Okinawa?
    Thanks.
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  • JakeDrake

    JakeDrake

    27 Oct, 2017 10:33 am

    Have been to Japan on two trips over the past 12 months for a total of five weeks and used pre-paid data-only SIMs purchased in Australia from a prominent Japanese travel agent.

    These SIMs are supposed to be 4G/LTE on the NTT Docomo network but I only had 4G for about four hours once in Osaka and the rest of the time I never, literally, got 3G anywhere - it was always a lower standard. Was travelling in major cities with a Samsung S3 which has full 4G functionality in Australia.

    When I queried the support people, their response seemed to suggest that NTT allocate capacity to users differently so I wonder if foreign-purchased SIMs are treated differently. Plus, whenever I turned the phone on in Japan, 3G was obtained for a millisecond but coverage immediately was downgraded making me think the network recognised a foreign SIM
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20 Jul, 2019 03:01 am

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