So I am back with some more information for people thinking of moving to Japan. I didn’t write about this in my last entry because there is just so much to know and watch out for when signing a phone contract in Japan that I felt like it needed it’s own entry.
Getting your hands on a phone number could turn out to be one of the biggest headaches for an expat. I went through a lot of stress, mainly due to my visa type (which I explained in my last blog entry, and I will explain again later in this entry). One of my suggestions is to bring a Japanese friend/colleague with you and treat them after as thanks since you will be holding them hostage for a few hours.
Let’s talk about phone contracts.
Almost all phone contracts (digital communications contracts in general) in Japan are about 2 years. Signing up to a phone company also costs you money. Yes, you have to pay the company to start using their service - As if paying them monthly wasn’t enough. When I started my contract with Softbank, I had to pay a fee of about ¥3,000 to begin the contract. Make sure you keep a reminder somewhere in your phone, laptop, anywhere! of the month that your contract ends. If you wish to switch providers, you must do so in this month. Why? The company assumes you will just keep using their service, and automatically renews your contract for another two years. So if you try to cancel 2 years and 1 month later, you will be charged a hefty cancellation fee. Another thing I would like to seriously warn to my future expat friends is get a contract with a free-sim phone. Why you ask?
Your phone is not yours, actually.
I heard this from a friend of mine before I started living in Japan. She has a perfectly good iPhone5 that she cannot use with another provider because Softbank has locked the phone. What’s that you say? Just ask the provider to unlock it because you paid it off and it’s rightfully yours? Guess what? It cannot be unlocked. Make sure you get something like an iPhone6, Samsung or any other Android released after May 2015 because they are unlockable. Do not get one of the provider phones (you can tell if it is a provider owned phone by the logo being imprinted on the phone), it will just be an expensive paperweight unless you stay with the company or pass it to someone who is also using that same provider. If you’re not sure, always ask!
You can always use your old phone as a doorstop so it's not completely useless?
By the way, there are phone unlocking companies in the UK and US I've heard about (to accommodate those who have been stationed in Japan, mainly), but the price tag wasn't pretty. Let's just avoid this locked phone business completely, okay?
Prepaid plans do not exist.
You cannot buy a sim card to pop into your phone and top up whenever is convenient. They just don’t exist. Whoever told you that ongoing prepaid plans exist they’re wrong. Oh and please, please correct me if I am wrong because this would be a miracle.
In Japan, you have maybe the tourist-aimed prepaid sim cards available. However these last about 3 months at best and only with a very measly amount of data. Also, if you're hoping that a temporary phone number will be included, you're sadly mistaken. These sim cards are only for data. In other words, you cannot make phone calls and you will not have a phone number. Sorry.
The Japan Travel sim for example has a maximum 3 months of usage and is rechargeable. However, it’s not cheap. ¥3000 for every additional 2GB, or ¥1,500 for 500MB. Let me remind you again, this sim card’s service period cannot be extended. Voice calls can also be added, but you have to recharge through a service called ‘Brastel’. It’s kind of like skype, and the ratings in the App Store are not so kind.
Information here: https://t.iijmio.jp/en/
Bmobile, available at any Bic Camera/Yodobashi Camera/Aeon, also has a 5GB sim card available with 1GB recharge packs. The service period is only 21 days, and is extendable for another ten days. However, you will need to recharge everyday for ¥500 for 5GB (Not bad, actually.) You can also purchase the sim online, more information here:
Some providers do have pre-paid mobile plans available, but you are not free to use your own. One example is Softbank, you are provided with a mobile which you must pay for upfront. With the HONEY BEE model plan, you are offered a variety of three data plans, the highest being 3GB for 5,378円 after tax. You also have to pay for the phone recharger separately, so if you think of all the upfront fees starting a contract could cost you ¥25,000+. But like I have warned before please do not get a provider owned phone if you can help it. Please.
Free wifi exists, but...
You need to have internet access to access the internet.
Most free wifi services available require that you create an account or confirm via email. Which is done through the internet. That you probably don’t have.
For those signed up to a Japanese contract, sometimes when you walk by certain areas that provide free wi-fi exclusive to contracted users, your phone switches to the network. However, 12 times out of 10 the wi-fi is unstable.
Good news is recently 7/11 have began providing free wi-fi at their convenience stores throughout the country via the ‘Japan Wi-Fi’ app! Japan Wi-Fi is also accessible at 145,000 different locations all over Japan which is pretty sweet.
Yes, you need internet to register, do this before you arrive.
A similar app is available called ‘Travel Japan Wi-Fi’
This one is handy as not only does it provide you with internet, it also recommends sightseeing spots, provides coupons and information about local transport. However, from obtaining your specialised code, it is valid for only 2 weeks.
My suggestion is to download both, then stick to the one that's more stable at your current location.
If you are on a working holiday, prepare to pay lots of ¥¥¥¥ for a contract
If your working holiday is 1 year off the bat on your Alien Registration/Foreign ID card, you won’t have to worry too much… Except for the cancellation fee.
However, as I mentioned in the last entry I came to Japan on an Australian working holiday visa. If Australians wish to stay in Japan for the full 18 months, they must renew every 6 months. In saying this, our visas are separated into 6 month intervals. When I tried to apply for a phone contract because I needed a phone number for my new job, I was denied. The length of time on my visa was too short.
The only way I could get my hands on a phone number was if I paid the standard monthly rate for the whole two years upfront. My monthly bill would be just the service fee plus extra charges, for example if I went over my call limit. I had to pay almost ¥70,000, which is about $825AUD on the spot.
You need a bank account, but you also need a phone number for a bank account.
You will need a bank account to sign up for a phone contract. However, when you apply for your bank account, you will need a phone number… So annoying, right? It’s like the Chicken and the Egg dilemma.
The way around this is to use a friend’s number, or perhaps a colleague just so you have time to use your own number when you get your hands on one. Then it can be easily changed if you talk to the staff at your chosen bank. The reason why you need a bank account is because most providers automatically take the money from your savings. It’s great for people who are forgetful, but for those who prefer to pay after receiving a bill in the mail will be out of luck.
You need a stamp to create the bank account and sign the phone contract.
What more ridiculously trivial things could you possibly need after dealing with all of the above? A little round stamp that’s got yo’ name on it - literally. You will need an Inkan 印鑑・いんかん / Hanko 判子・はんこ to sign your bank contract, your phone contract, your work contract… Basically, you will need a hanko to do everything contract based in Japan. I suggest getting yours made and deliviered by an online seller before you arrive like I did - it saved a lot of hassle.
And FYI: Join your local ‘Sayonara Sales’ and City group for expats.
I cannot recommend this enough!! I am currently the member of a group called ‘Osaka Sayonara Sales’ and ‘Mottainai Osaka’ on Facebook. (Wikipedia can explain what Mottainai・ もったいない means better than I, so it explains: ‘a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilised". The expression "Mottainai!" can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted, meaning roughly "Oh, what a waste!"’)
These groups are full of expats selling their old furniture, appliances, gaming consoles, even cars for ridiculously low prices, sometimes even giving them away for FREE. Moving to another country with crazy moving expenses is painful enough, and we expats understand this completely. I bought a Super Nintendo with 10 games for ¥3000 and Nintendo 64 with 30 games for ¥10,000 from Osaka Sayonara Sales. I also got some furniture of 80%~100% off retail price.
Another great thing is whenever you’re unsure of something in your city, you can always consult other expats in the area. I’ve been able to find from trusted specialist doctors down to where to get my TDAP vaccination thanks to a group called ‘The Best in Osaka’. Sometimes there are meet ups held to meet other expats, and if you're missing some food from home there surely will be someone to guide you in the right direction. (I miss meat pies, kebabs and sausage rolls so much...)
I must admit, the feeling when I finally got my hands on a phone with a contract was great. It can be a huge hassle, but it's worth it. Now I can finally play Pokemon GO whenever and wherever I want.
Well, that's all I've got to say for now. As always, let me know if there is any updates I should make or something you'd like to hear about at firstname.lastname@example.org !
P.S. Picture at the top of entry: "Walking while using your phone is dangerous (I guess the people who do it won't see this ad tho)" Irony at it's finest.