Not so long ago, the issue of prepaid SIM cards in Japan was a null-and-void one—it wasn’t possible for foreigners in Japan to purchase a SIM card outright, at least on a tourist visa or exemption. It was only for foreigners with legal residence that buying a SIM card in Japan was a possibility; others needed to rent a Japanese Wi-Fi unit in order to stay constantly connected to the internet during their Japan trips.
The good news is that you can now buy a data SIM card in Japan, regardless of the means by which you enter the country. There are some things to keep in mind, however, so make sure to read this article carefully before your plane touches down, whether for your trip to Japan buy SIM or SIM card rental Japan makes more sense.
I’ll also be speaking in detail about Okinawa SIM card options, so you won’t want to scroll away just yet if you’re bound for that particular paradise!)
Can Foreigners Buy SIM Cards in Japan?
Gone are the days when foreigners were forced to buy Japan mobile Wi-Fi unit, or deal with less-than-stellar Wi-Fi coverage at Japanese hotels and in public places, which has also thankfully increased). Buying a SIM card in Japan is notably not as easy as in other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, nor as cheap as in countries like Thailand and Singapore.
So is it now a free-for-all when it comes to foreigners purchasing SIM cards in Japan?Not exactly. There are some important restrictions of which you should be aware, which I’m going to go into below.
Restrictions on Japan SIMs for Foreigners
The many SIM card Japan visitor programs share one main feature: Japan tourist SIMs are for data only, though some allow you to receive text messages. Putting a Japan SIM in your phone won’t enable you to make phone calls, or to send messages via SMS. Presumably, this is because whatever legal hurdle that previously prevented foreigners from using a SIM prepaid card Japan for data was easier to lift than the one for voice and text.
The local SIM card Japan offers also has limited validity. While you can return with SIMs for many other countries many times and use them over the course of a few years (even if the package says otherwise), Japanese SIMs only work for as long as they indicate on the packaging. Furthermore, activating your Japan SIM entails a tedious process, one that requires you to be connected to WiFi while you do it.
Reserve Your Japan Data SIM Online
The easiest way to get a SIM card in Japan is to pre-book a Japan Docomo SIM card from Klook, a popular travel agency in Asia, online. When you choose one of these SIM card options, you can choose one of nearly a dozen pick-up points and select many daily data allowances, including unlimited Japan SIM card data for a period of up to eight days.
The price of a Japan SIM card is a bit lower online, at least in my experience. Prices for SIM cards in Japan bought through Klook start at around ¥900, while I remember paying ¥4,000 on the ground for an Okinawa SIM card (one with a very limited data allowance, no less—I’ll speak more about that aspect of the Okinawa data SIM card) last year.
Other Ways to Buy a Japan SIM
Japan SIM Card Vending Machine
I bought my aforementioned SIM at a Naha Airport SIM card prepaid vending machine at a monorail station. I’ve seen these machines all over Japan, from airports in Tokyo and train stations in the Kansai region, and while they’re uniformly convenient, they also seem (at least when it comes to the SIM Card Okinawa machines sell) to be significantly higher priced than the SIMs you book online and severely limited your data as well—I alluded to this a few paragraphs ago.
Japan Travel Agency
If you live in a city that has a JTB Travel Agency, you may be able to buy your SIM at the agency’s office. This can be a particularly convenient proposition if you also need to purchase a Japan Rail Pass, something that JTB outlets sell in addition to SIM cards for travel in Japan.
Japan SIM Card at the Airport
Buying a Japan data SIM card at an airport mobile carrier desk, be it Narita or Haneda airport or a Naha airport SIM card, is also possible, though you never know when this will cease to be the case, given the country’s proclivity for bureaucracy and complication. In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to book your SIM before you travel if you can, even if you go the old-school route and choose a Japan SIM card rental, or if you’re in the market for an Okinawa SIM card.
Other FAQ About Japan SIM Cards
Which SIM is best in Japan?
Docomo and Softbank are the most popular cellular networks in Japan, with the widest coverage, but in reality you might not be able to choose with company you use. This is especially true if you’re a foreigner, as you are limited to select from among the prepaid options available online and when you land.
How can a foreigner get a SIM card in Japan?
If you’re visiting as a tourist, you can get a SIM card upon arrival in Japan; you can also order one online and pick it up at the airport. If you’re living in Japan and wish to sign a contract, the process will likely be much more complicated.
How can I buy a Japanese SIM card?
As a tourist, you can buy a Japanese SIM card in one of two ways. One option is to order one online, either for delivery to you in your home country or for pick up at the airport where you arrive in Japan. The other way is to simply wait until you land and buy one at that time.
The Bottom Line
Looking for where to buy SIM card in Japan? Buying a SIM card in Japan for tourists is now not only possible, but relatively straightforward. Still, there are some important points to keep in mind, particularly as they relate to restrictions places on Japan prepaid SIM cards. Moreover, there are some advantages to booking your SIM card in advance of your arrival to Japan, so consider these carefully as you plan your trip.