Travel Magazine

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

By Saicho18

At this day and age, mobile Internet is pretty much a daily non-negotiable requirement, especially if you’re traveling.  Aside from the obvious social media uses (those #ootd’s have to be posted, amirite?), having mobile internet on the go is a tremendous help in terms of getting the most updated train or bus schedules or the foreign exchange rate.  Also, calls are also much cheaper if you place them through apps like Viber or Facebook Messenger, so there’s no “real” danger of you getting lost as long as you’re connected.

When I asked around about mobile Internet options for tourists in Japan last year, people usually recommended getting the WIFI stick.  It is, after all, pretty convenient:

  • You can pick one up at the airport
  • The rates offered are usually good for seven days
  • Unlimited data
  • You can return it at one of the deposit slots at the airport
  • You can share the load because as with most WIFI dongles, this can connect multiple devices at once.

However, I found that personally it did not suit my travel style because:

  • I disliked the fact that I have another item to charge at night.  I have my phone and my camera, which might not sound like a lot, but if you’re working with only one hostel socket, every gadget counts.
  • I disliked the fact that I had another gadget too carry around with me.  I only have one small day bag with me so I did not particularly relish having another thing stuffed in there.
  • I didn’t like the fact that I had to reach for it every time I had to use it.  In my head I thought that I would have to power it off every time I’m done using it to conserve the battery.  After all, you’ll never know when you run out so why waste the precious juice when it’s not being used?
  • I initially thought that the package offered was only good for seven days.  My trip was for ten so it was an immediate no for me.  It wasn’t until a few minutes ago that they offer different rates depending on how long you’re renting out the stick.
  • It’s pretty pricy.  My friends got a WIFI stick each and it turns out they paid around 3,500php for seven days’ worth of usage.

I figured that what I needed was a prepaid SIM card, just like the one C bought in Australia when we went a couple of years ago.  It was cheap and you’re saved from the hassle of lugging around another item. All you really have to do is activate your phone in order to be connected.  The obvious downside is that you don’t get unlimited Internet but if I only really ever planned on using it for Google Maps.

However, getting a prepaid SIM for data usage wasn’t as simple as it sounded – in Japan at least.  You can’t just pop into a 711 and ask for one because apparently, SIM cards that can place voice calls can’t be sold to people who can’t provide proof of residence.

The good new is that while you can’t get voice SIMs, you can get data only SIM cards.  At the time when I was planning my trip last April, these SIM cards can only be pre-ordered and delivered in Japan – either at the airport or at your hostel.   I believe they’ve updated this ruling, you can read more on that here.

I chose to get the 1GB plan for 3,480jpy (around 1,500php) because I figured that the data allowance would be more than enough. Because I traveled alone into Tokyo, I knew that I needed to be online if I wanted to reach my hostel by myself (I researched the Japanese lines beforehand and boy, were they confusing) so I chose to have the SIM card delivered to the airport. I can’t really remember but I think in the form they ask you to provide the details of your flight because they’d need to make sure that your package is delivered to the post office in the airport before you get there.

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

" data-orig-size="720,1280" sizes="(max-width: 338px) 100vw, 338px" aperture="aperture" />Delivery details – to the Narita Airport Post Office

The only real mistake I made was not ordering it early enough. My flight was on March 24th but I only placed the order on the 21st and apparently they needed at least four days to get the SIM to Narita. Thankfully, Japanese efficiency is a reliable thing and the eConnect team responded very quickly to my note on the order form. They got me to fill up an urgent order form and they processed it as a rush order at no additional charge.

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

" data-orig-size="720,1280" sizes="(max-width: 338px) 100vw, 338px" aperture="aperture" />Excellent customer service of eConnect

When I got to Narita, it took me an embarrassingly long time to find the post office. But after that pick-up was a breeze; the man just asked for my passport and gave me my box, which contained the items below.

The kit came with a micro SIM and a leaflet that details instructions on how to connect to their network. Apparently I had to download an app and activate it from there – no biggie, because there was free WIFI in the airport (even though it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to connect to that as well; I had to ask the lady at the information counter).

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

" data-orig-size="2112,2112" sizes="(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px" data-image-title="Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)" data-orig-file="" data-recalc-dims="1" data-medium-file="" data-image-meta="{" data-permalink="" p70-a="p70-a" />The data only kit

Once connected, I was able to access the app, which was pretty cool because you can monitor your real time data usage.

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

" data-orig-size="720,1280" sizes="(max-width: 338px) 100vw, 338px" aperture="aperture" />Nifty.

Apparently I severely underestimated my data usage because at around the seven-day mark, I had almost run out. Luckily, topping up was a cinch. You only need to go into the app and choose your desired data allocation (I chose 500MB because I only had three days left in Japan anyway) and you buy it using the credit card you used to purchase the SIM. Pretty nifty, right?

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

Japan Survival Guide: Mobile Internet (prepaid SIM)

" data-orig-size="720,1280" sizes="(max-width: 338px) 100vw, 338px" aperture="aperture" />I ended up topping up

If I were to go back to Japan, I’d definitely choose this service again because of the convenience.

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