If you are going overseas, especially a foreign country like Japan, having access to your mobile phone is often vital. Many people will be relying on Google Maps or similar services to navigate around the country, and being able to share pictures and messages with your loved ones is equally important. Here’s what you need to know.
Some providers might have roaming agreements with a Japanese provider, but usually, that means you will have to pay a very expensive roaming charge. In general, it is no problem to get a Japanese SIM card into your phone, but you should check whether or not your phone supports the frequencies that are used in Japan (there are many websites available that allow checking available frequencies, simply cross-reference those with the frequencies provided by the manufacturer for your phone). In almost all cases, you should be able to use your phone in Japan, however.
Another thing that might be different from other countries, is that prepaid sim cards generally do not exist in Japan. You will almost always have to enter into some form of contract with a company and pay them a monthly charge. The option of simply buying a prepaid card and charging it as you need is unfortunately not widely available. If you only need data, then there are many different options, mostly aimed at tourists, where you simply pay a set price upfront and then use the data that is available on the sim card. Another option, if you also want to surf with your PC, is to buy or rent a portable WIFI device.
Phone number often a requirement
But for many things in Japan, you will be asked to provide a phone number. When you want to open a bank account or rent an apartment you will be asked to provide one when you are job-hunting companies will want to call you to set updates for an interview and so on. And if you want to get a phone number, you will have to enter into a contract of some sort. You can go to one of the major carriers (docomo, Softbank and au), which are also the main internet providers, so there are often discounts on getting a mobile and home internet plan at the same time, but it will be difficult to set up your account if you do not have a good grasp of the Japanese language. There are smaller companies available as well, that focus entirely on the mobile phone market such as UQ Mobile or Rakuten Mobile. And finally, some providers specifically target foreigners (Mobal is one example). These usually have an agreement with one of the bigger carriers for access to their network, but they offer customer support in English so it might be easier to set up.
If you are one of the rare people who do not need mobile data, there are a growing number of public places that provide free Wifi. Starbucks may have started the trend but in recent years other coffee chains have started to follow suit (though often requiring some kind of registration), as well as malls, train stations and convenience stores in the larger city providing Wifi.