Buy a cell phone with a monthly plan in Japan

tunimaal 6 April 2013 12
Buy a cell phone with a monthly plan in Japan

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Here is a guide to explain how to buy a mobile phone with a monthly plan in Japan.

When I came to the land of the rising sun for the first time, with my Japan’s Working Holiday Visa, I bought a prepaid phone from Softbank. The reason for this choice was that my visa was valid for one year and subscriptions are for a minimum of 2 years. Today, I am in Japan with a student visa for up to two years, so a subscription was much more accessible to me. Note that I’m not saying that if you have a one-year visa you can not take a phone with a monthly, it’s just there are termination fees that are about 10,000 yen if you want to terminate the contract prematurely.

In this article, I will explain the steps necessary to buy a mobile phone with a monthly plan in Japan.

Buy a mobile phone: the necessary documents

As in all countries of the world, when you want to buy a mobile phone on a monthly plan, you must bring certain documents with you to prove your identity, but also to pay your monthly consumption. Here are the mandatory documents without which you will not have the right to buy your cell phone:

- Your passport with your  visa for Japan stamped

- Your Resident Card – Zairyu

- A bank or credit card linked to your bank account in Japan

With these three documents, you can open a telephone line from any operator. Moreover, it should be noted that since the establishment of the Resident Card (instead of the Alien Card), acquisition costs for a phone are amortized monthly and not paid at once at the store. Therefore, you do not have to pay in store when you buy your mobile phone. You pay for it by monthly debit on your bank account.

Choosing a telephone operator and your phone:

That is the big question. Offers among operators are the same at a few hundred yen close. May this applies to the off promotion period. This is why when you want to buy your phone, consult the various operators and their promotions to see if you can get the same service at a better price. The three major operators are Softbank, AU and Docomo. Many say that the network Softbank does not cover very well, and I confess with my prepaid Softbank cell phone I sometimes had connection problems. Here are the elements that I invite you to consider when selecting your operator:

- Plan prices

- The quality of the network

- Eventual promotions

- The free calls you can get to people using the same operator (Softbank to Softbank for example) and if people around you use this operator

- The phones offered, for example Docomo does not offer I-phone

Other information that may be useful and save you money, is that if you already have a mobile phone, unlocked, you can buy a SIM card from the operator Willcom that offers subscriptions at low rates. It will take about 3,000 yen per month for a subscription, you will be entitled to 500 calls of 10 minutes each, but this does not include the Internet. If you want internet, in this case, you will have to acquire a portable wireless device at a cost of about 3000 Yen per month. Note that you need to have your phone and portable device with you to use the Internet.

Once this information are collected and that you know in which provider you want to buy your phone, you’ll just have select the device and go into a store to make your purchase.

Buy a phone with a monthly plan: what to check

I’ll tell you right now, the calling plans in Japan are very expensive, much more expensive than in many countries in the world. That is why, I suggest you to check what you get with your plan, what is included in it, so you can avoid any bad surprises.

First, note that in general, the prices for monthly plans are only for the payment of the cell phone, and Internet. Clearly, when you buy a phone with a plan, you pay a certain amount every month which will include the cost of your phone and unlimited internet access (with a fixed broadband downloaded of 7GB). The internet being included in, of course you have the e-mails included in the package for an unlimited use too. But in your subscription will not be included SMS and phone calls. This is where the bill can take a big hit. So pay attention to this when you go shopping and make your budget.

You should also pay attention to the options, additions and reductions. The system is very complex sometimes. There a displayed price that will include options, more or less obligatory, and discounts. To be sure, do as I did and ask the seller for every detail.

Finally, note that after the opening of the telephone line, usually a month later, an amount of about 3,500 Yen (depending on the operator) will be deducted from your account as processing fees.

Facture I phone 5 japon 200x300 Buy a cell phone with a monthly plan in Japan

I bought a cell phone with a monthly: here’s how I did

To give you a concrete example, so that you can get a better idea, I’ll tell you how I bought my mobile phone with a monthly plan. I had wanted a smartphone and I hesitated between an I-phone 5, a Samsung Galaxy 4 and HTC One. I consulted all the offers available. I must say that I still had my prepaid phone from Softbank at that time. This is important. In fact, all operators proposed the I-phone 5 for 7200 yen per month and the Samsung Galaxy at 7800 yen per month. All except AU, which had a promotional offer with a discount of 1,000 yen per month if an operator change was made. As I was a Softabnk user I could legitimately apply for this and get my phone at 6200 yen per month.

For the price of 6200 Yen a month, I had an I-phone5 16 GB with unlimited Internet (7 GB limit for broadband) and unlimited emails. To do so, I just had to go to Softbank and pay 2100 yen and get a portability code number (MNP). With this code, valid for 15 days, I could take advantage of the offer  from AU.

Here are the details of the cost of my phone, monthly:

- LTE Plan: + 980 Yen

- I-Phone 5 16 GB: + 2570 Yen

- 2-year contract reward: – 3550 yen

- LTE NET – Internet: + 315 Yen

- LTE Flat 2 years contract: + 5460 Yen

- Apple ‘s Insurance: + 366 Yen

Total monthly cost: 6141 yen for an I-Phone 5 16GB with 2 year subscriptions, unlimited Internet and unlimited emails. For phone calls and SMS, I pay supplements at the following cost:

- Calls to AU’s mobile from 1:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.: Free

- Call to AU’s mobile from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00: 21 yen per 30 seconds

- Calls to other operators: 21 yen per 30 seconds

- SMS to AU’s Mobile: Free

- SMS to other operators: 3.15 yen per SMS

In the end, every month, I pay about 6500 yen, because I do not call much, I communicate a lot by email. In this offer, I get the phone for free, this is why 3550 Yen will be deducted monthly on my bill.

So here are my advice to buy your mobile phone with a monthly plan in Japan. I hope this article will help you. If you have any questions or comments let me know.


  1. charliebrownau 15 April 2013 at 9 h 15 min - Reply

    Do you know if an Australian 3G/GSM unlocked mobile phone works in Japan. It can recharge its battery via USB so I wouldnt have to worry about a new ac adapter. The Phone I currently have is:- Asus Garmin A10

    • tunimaal 15 April 2013 at 12 h 04 min - Reply

      Hi Charliebrownau,

      That’s a good question. I don’t really know for Australian cellphone. I would say no, but not 100% sure.

      If you get the answer, please let me know.

  2. charliebrownau 15 April 2013 at 12 h 08 min - Reply

    I just checked an Australian website:

    Australian 2G Mobile network , other wise known as GSM, is standard on almost all phones (except CDMA phones in the USA). Most new phones come with quad band GSM support. A quad band GSM phone supports 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz.

    2G is old technology and provides a fall back position when 3G coverage is unavailable.

    Australian 2G bands:

    900Mhz (Telstra, Optus & Vodafone)
    1800Mhz (Telstra, Optus & Vodafone)

    There are several 3G networks operating in Australia. 3G frequencies are usually specified as UMTS/HSDPA or WCDMA frequencies on the mobile phone specifications.

    Australian 3G bands:

    850MHz (Telstra, Vodafone) – Exclusive 3G band
    900MHz (Optus, Vodafone) – available in most metro areas on Optus, with both Optus and Vodafone re-farming the 2G 900 spectrum in regional and rural areas
    2100MHz (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone) – Exclusive 3G band

    • tunimaal 18 April 2013 at 15 h 16 min - Reply

      Here is what I’ve got:

      “Due to different technologies, mobile phones from your home country may not work in Japan. Most importantly, there is no GSM network in Japan, so GSM-only phones do not work. The following are needed for a handset to work in Japan:

      - For Voice – The handset must be compatible with a Japanese mobile phone network (typically 3G UMTS 2100 MHz or 3G CDMA2000 800 MHz). Compatible handsets may be used via international roaming (check with your home provider for details) or a rental or prepaid SIM card from a Japanese carrier (unlocked handsets only). Alternatively, phones with wireless network (WIFI) connectivity can use internet based telephone services (voip), such as Skype, when connected to a WIFI network.

      - For Data – Phones that work in Japan for voice (see above) can also receive and send data (such as e-mails and web content) via international roaming or a rental/prepaid SIM card, but note that the cost for data transfer can easily skyrocket without an appropriate data plan. Alternatively, phones with wireless network (WIFI) connectivity can take advantage of the numerous paid and free wifi hotspots found around the country.”

      Hope it will help you ;-)

  3. Vladimir 26 August 2013 at 1 h 26 min - Reply

    Actually your articles have helped me a lot, because very soon I will go to Japan to study for 4 years and it is a information what I need too.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • tunimaal 29 October 2013 at 15 h 11 min - Reply

      Glad it helped then ;-)

  4. john 28 August 2013 at 3 h 34 min - Reply

    what do you suggest me to do? I have a Nokia unlocked phone and I just need a sim-card for it I just need need a cheap carrier because I just want to keep in touch with my friends here (not too much texting, not too much talking).

    • tunimaal 29 October 2013 at 15 h 12 min - Reply

      Then I recommend yout to choose Willcom so you can get only the sim card at a good rate ;-)

  5. Melody 4 January 2014 at 4 h 56 min - Reply

    Hi there,

    This article was very helpful, I was getting so confused from all the other articles that i decided to give up reading, then i found yours.

    So anyway, this year in March, I’ll be going to Japan for 1 year (WHV). I have my own mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 and its not tied in to a monthly plan or contract, only prepaid) My screen is cracked too so i was thinking whether i should just buy a phone in Japan or buy my own sim. i’m not sure what my best option is. If i bought a phone in Japan, will I be able to use it back in my own country or internationally? (Im from New Zealand- telecom/ vodafone).

    • tunimaal 7 January 2014 at 15 h 22 min - Reply

      Hi Melody,

      yeah this question is usually no treated on blogs about Japan. If your cellphone is cracked it should be ok to use a Japanese sim card here, so you won’t have to buy a new cellphone. In this case I recommend you to buy a Willcom sim card (monthly plan are pretty “cheap” compare to others).

      If you buy a cellphone here it’s not sure at 100% that it will work back in NZ. You will have to check it first, depending on the cellphone.

  6. Sandy 15 March 2014 at 23 h 48 min - Reply

    Thanks for your info.
    Our family have been with Softbank for about 9 years. We are thinking of swopping to another mobile phone carrier.

    We have 3 iPhones. We will be leaving for overseas in about a year’s time. We do not want to enter another 2-year contract so would it be better to finish off the current contracts and change over to a monthly plan with another carrier.

    Is there any point in getting iPhone 5 (japan) when it will probably be not compatible with the telecom services overseas?

    Thanks for your advice.

    • tunimaal 16 March 2014 at 15 h 32 min - Reply

      Hi Sandy,

      I heard that Docomo is now offering a one year contract, but I’m not sure about it, maybe you should have a look at it. About the I-phone 5, I don’t think that’s a great idea because the I-phone 6 seems to be coming out soon, and I’m not sure if it works overseas. You should check that at the apple store, they will let you know.

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