Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Getting a SIM card in Japan

After upgrading to the iPhone 4 last year, I had the option of trading my old iPhone 3G for cash. Instead, I decided to keep it so I could jailbreak it and unlock it from Softbank for use abroad. Unlocking the phone means that I can pick up a local SIM card, put it in the phone, and avoid roaming charges that would be incurred if I used my Japanese SIM abroad.

Of course, I would like to take my iPhone 4 abroad but I didn't feel that the upsides of the latest model were worth the risks. If it were possible to unlock my phone without jailbreaking, as it is in several countries, I would have done this. Unfortunately, Softbank does not allow this in Japan...

My family came to visit a few weeks ago and I decided to lend them my old iPhone 3G for their stay. After unlocking it, all I needed to do was find a SIM card for their short stay.

No easy task. I don't think there are any pay-as-you-go SIM cards available for purchase in Japan, especially not with data included. With the help of some friends, I did find a SIM card available for a 1 month contract at b-mobile.

b-mobile use NTT Docomo's network, which has the best coverage of any carrier in Japan. They have lots of different SIM cards available for various time periods and with various levels of service.

I chose this SIM card, which costs JPY 2,980 for 30 days use of data only. No voice or SMS.

Ordering the SIM card was quite easy - I just applied online and put in my credit card details. No English support that I could find but not too hard if you know a bit of Japanese.

The SIM card arrived at my house a few days later. Activating can be tricky though. They give you a number to call which directs you to an automatic touch dial response system with both English and Japanese support. You then have to enter a code found in the package the SIM card came in.

This is all fine but you have to call from the phone that you wish to use with the SIM card you ordered. My iPhone 3G had no SIM card and the SIM card I purchased was data only. How was I going to make a call? I called the help desk (with a different phone) who told me that they would send me an application form IN THE POST! that I would have to fill out and send back to them. I didn't have that kind of time so I told them how inconvenient that was and then hung up.

Instead, I took the SIM card from my wife's iPhone 3GS and put it in my iPhone 3G to call the activation number. I would have used my iPhone 4's SIM card but the iPhone 4 has a micro-sim which doesn't fit in the iPhone 3G.

Everything worked very well after that. In general use, I found that it took a long time to determine your location using GPS. Having GPS and google maps in your pocket is very handy in Tokyo where there are no street names and this was one reason I wanted to sort this out for my family. I suspect the delay is due to the SIM card being data only, meaning that you don't get assisted GPS, which uses nearby mobile phone towers to accelerate the process. Data speeds seemed pretty good - I guess I should have done a speed test, but it didn't cross my mind at the time.

3000 yen for unlimited 3G data use for a month is pretty good in my opinion. Recommended.


  1. I hope you are okay over there! God bless you...

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  5. Wow I know this article is old but that will really help my trip to Japan later this month. Thank you so much!


  6. hey nice post