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.
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