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Getting a phone - How hard could it be?

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Getting a phone - How hard could it be?

A guide for you to get the best plans when you decide to buy a phone or get a sim.

Rasheeq Islam

Rasheeq Islam

Published on 26 Mar 2020, 12:00

Coming down from the plane and going on to the bus the first thing I missed were those 4 beautiful bars. No, they are not some bars of any window, they are the bars of the network that my phone lives on. That's when I realized this was not my home, I miss my network.

That was how I felt when I first landed in Japan. If you are a millennial, being disconnected is apocalyptic. In order to save you from the apocalypse I am providing you with a guide to get connected in Japan.

This guide is for people who are planning to study or work in Japan. If you are here for a short visit these are not the options for you.

Japan, the country of technology, getting a phone must be the easiest thing ever. Right? Wrong. Totally wrong.

I was surprised myself with how complex it is to get a smartphone and a sim. Below are the tried and tested 3 methods through which you can get yourself connected with the best plans.

1/ Getting a contract

The first method applies to people who want to get both a phone and a sim together. This method is the most expensive out of the three, so you have been warned.

Through this method you basically need to get into a year long contract with a service provider. The contract can be 1 or 2 years long. The 3 most popular providers are Au, Docomo and Softbank.

During my 2nd year in Japan I decided to get into a contract with Docomo. I bought a the Sony Xperia Z5 phone. It was the latest phone at that time and I had to pay ¥8,000 (~$73) every month for the phone and the sim. Looking back at that time I realize that it wasn't the best decision to go for this expensive plan as a student.

Get it from a Store Like Best Denki or Yamada Denki
Get it from a Store Like Best Denki or Yamada Denki

Although I went for Sony, Iphone is the most popular followed by Samsung. I suggest getting an iPhone because they have more plans and support available. This will cost you ¥8,000 - ¥12,000 (~$73 - $108) per month depending on the phone you choose and the plan. But keep in mind that this is the amount you have to pay throughout the contract period every single month.

AU is popular among students.
AU is popular among students.

2/ Getting only a Sim

This method applies to people who have brought a phone with them from their home country and just need a sim.

This is cheaper than method 1 but make sure your phone is unlocked. You can check it at the store you bought the phone from or just by looking for details online.

Check your IMEI online or ask the store you bought the phone from
Check your IMEI online or ask the store you bought the phone from

After you confirm that, you can look for companies that provide sim independently. Most of these sim providers are affiliated with the companies I mentioned above but they are far cheaper and have better plans. If you have a credit card I would recommend going for UQ mobile or Rakuten.

After having a bad experience with the high charges of Docomo I cancelled my contract with them but I did have to pay a high cancellation charge of ¥10,000 (~$90). But after that I got Rakuten Sim. It was much cheaper and flexible with ¥3,200 (~$29) every month.

You can register for the sim online and get it delivered. (Need credit card)
You can register for the sim online and get it delivered. (Need credit card)

If you don’t have a credit card, the most convenient one at the moment is JP Smart Sim. I currently use this after switching from Rakuten. I believe this is the best option for foreigners. They have flexible plans and you can get support in English.

Whichever provider you choose the monthly cost is around ¥2,500 - ¥5,000 (~$23 - $45) depending on your plan.

JP Smart Sim is easy to apply with English Support.
JP Smart Sim is easy to apply with English Support.

3/ Get Phone without contract

The third method applies to people who want to get a phone but also want to get a cheaper plan like method 2.

In this case it’s better to get a 2nd hand used phone. The phones are in good condition and come at a cheaper price. You can get them online at websites like iosys.

I bought a second hand OnePlus One phone from this website. They have a lot of options and the phones are ranked based on their condition. They also ship all over Japan.

This is the website of iosys. There website is in Japanese but you can use Google Translate. The text here says that the phone are sim free that means unlocked.
This is the website of iosys. There website is in Japanese but you can use Google Translate. The text here says that the phone are sim free that means unlocked.

You can get them offline at a store like GEO. The best part about GEO is that you can also get the sim at the spot.

I recently bought iPhone 6 from this store. Although the model is old, it was in really good condition. They also help you get the sim if you want to. They have wide range of options in case of iPhone.

GEO is a popular store for getting a sim, phone or rental DVD.
GEO is a popular store for getting a sim, phone or rental DVD.

When you get the 2nd hand phone keep in mind these two points:

  • If they are unlocked you can use any of the sims from method 2.
  • If it’s not unlocked you need to get the sim from the company that it is locked to.

Either way, it’s not as expensive as method 1. Second hand phone prices start from ¥5,000 (~$45) and it increases depending on the model.

Follow the method that fits your need and get yourself connected. If you are a student you can save up a lot if you get the cheaper plans. I tried all the methods. Here is a video of the phones I used in the past.

If you want to know how to get the cheapest laptops, free to comment below. I will write an article about that!

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Rasheeq Islam

Rasheeq Islam

Hi my name's Rasheeq. I am an independent filmmaker currently living in Japan. I love making videos to create meaning, connection, and possibility. I am currently trying to go Zero Waste with the help of my minimalistic lifestyle! My videos are for people who believe in change.

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