The big day is coming. You’re going to travel to another country, in this case Japan, and you start thinking of all the things you need to get ready. After getting your flight tickets and all your papers ready, you start to cogitate at the devices you’ll be carrying with you, and then what happens? The one million dollar question invades your head. Well, I’m overreacting a little, but it is an important question anyway.
So, will my iPhone work when I travel to Japan? Almost every iPhone works perfectly in Japan; the only exception concerns the iPhone 5 that has some limitations in the countryside. Otherwise, either using a Japan SIM card or a pocket Wi-Fi, and even the home carrier roaming services, the iPhone will be flawlessly connected to the network.
Now allow me to explain you a little more about your options, so that you have all the information you need to make the best choice according to your needs.
Using free Wi-Fi hot spots
I guess everybody already knows what free Wi-Fi hot spots are and the name couldn’t be any clearer 😉
As in most countries, you will find free Wi-Fi in Japan in some public areas like airports, shopping areas or train stations. You can also find free Wi-Fi at the hotels. However, even if this is what happens generally, don’t think you’ll be having free Wi-Fi all the time (specially if you land late at night and you don’t get to find your hotel).
If you decide to use free Wi-Fi only while in Japan, there’s a huge advantage on doing this: it is FREE, which means it won’t cost you anything. OK, but that’s too good to be true and you’ll inevitably be stuck at some point during your visit, since there’s no such thing as free Wi-Fi everywhere. And we all know that, when visiting a foreign country with a very high probability of language barrier, Google Map and Google Translate are our friends. 🙂 So if you’re thinking about going to Japan without a backup plan, be ready to face this huge disadvantage of using free Wi-Fi only.
Even if despite this tremendous heads up, you still want to try this option exclusively, I advise you to download some apps to help you find free Wi-Fi hot spots around you. I would recommend you to use the free app from the Japan National Tourism Organization, since it is a very complete app with information about Wi-Fi, but has also a lot of helpful travel tips.
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Using a pocket Wi-Fi
Now let’s talk about the famous pocket Wi-Fi. This is simply the best option to have Wi-Fi with you all the time. So how does it work? It’s very simple. You just need a pocket Wi-Fi router and that’s it.
A pocket Wi-Fi router is a small device that fits in the palm of your hand – that’s why we call it “pocket”. If you look at the picture above, you’ll have an example of this kind of device. They don’t all look exactly the same, it depends on the provider you choose, but they’ll be small that’s for sure.
Let’s look at some advantages of this option:
- Wi-Fi available all the time (even in areas that are far away from the cities)
- Ready to use as soon as you turn it on
- Small device easy to transport everywhere
- Can be used with more than one device at the same time
In terms of disadvantages, there aren’t many. I just can think of these two:
- Needs to be charged frequently as the battery doesn’t hold for too long over an extended period of time
- Calls must be made using an app like Skype, because the pocket Wi-Fi only grants you data (if you need to make calls, you’ll have to buy or rent a Japan SIM card)
All Japanese providers have a rental pocket Wi-Fi plan. For instance, Sakura Mobile Japan has a great plan specially for travelers. You can find an unlimited data plan at less than $3 USD a day on Sakura Mobile website. There are also some options at Klook website like this 4G pocket Wi-Fi with unlimited data from the Softbank provider. We all love unlimited data and it is going to be extremely useful while visiting Japan.
All the pocket Wi-Fi work pretty much the same way and you just have to order online and pick it up once you arrive to Japan (either at the airport directly or at the hotel most of the time). At the end of your travel, you just have to return it once again.
It couldn’t be easier, right?
Using a Japanese SIM card
Another option is to buy or rent of a Japanese SIM card, but be very careful as almost every SIM are data-only. This means that you’ll have internet access, but you won’t be able to make/receive calls or send/receive SMS. Generally, you won’t need voice services as with data-only cards you can make calls using apps like Skype, for instance.
If you choose this option, your mobile phone must be unlocked to use another country’s network. In other words, if you bought your phone with a contract, it is probably blocked to your provider’s network and it won’t work with a SIM from a different provider.
You can ask your provider to unlock it if possible or you can buy a new phone for your travel. Nowadays you can find all kinds of cheap unlocked smartphones on Amazon, for instance.
Once you’re sure that you have an unlocked phone, you can either buy a SIM online or rent one.
The most important advantages of using a SIM:
- There’s no need to charge a SIM as it uses your phone or tablet battery
- There’s no need to carry an extra device with you to provide internet access (that’s what happens with pocket Wi-Fi)
SIM cards have also some disadvantages:
- Compatible with smartphones and tablets only
- Best in urban areas (you might have coverage problems in rural areas)
- Only work with one device at a time (if you travel with someone, only one of you will have the SIM)
- Requires changing APN (Access Point Name) settings of your device
If you want to buy a SIM and need lots of data, I recommend this SIM card from Docomo carrier on Klook. On the internet, there are other SIM cards with plans up to 30 days, so you’ll inevitably find one that fits your needs.
On the other hand, if you prefer to rent a Japan SIM card, you can do just like for the pocket Wi-Fi and choose one of the Japanese providers like Sakura Mobile, for example. Sakura Mobile has plans from 8 days and up to 90 days, so you will definitely find one that suits you. And the best thing is that the plans include unlimited data! Travelers usually pick the 8 days plan (around $42 USD) or the 15 days plan (around $61 USD). Renting a Japan Sim card works pretty much like renting a pocket Wi-Fi. You just choose a plan according to the number of days and data needed, pick the SIM card at the airport or at the hotel, and return it at the end of your travel.
Just be careful if you still have an iPhone 5, as I read that is the only model that won’t be able to connect to the network while in the countryside (in cities there’s no problem though). For these cases, a pocket Wi-Fi is a better choice.
As every one as a different point of view and different needs, it isn’t that simple to say which option is better. My personal recommendation is to use free Wi-Fi as much as you can and to rent a pocket Wi-Fi as a backup when you can’t find free Wi-Fi. I wouldn’t recommend the SIM card as it doesn’t have as many advantages as the pocket Wi-Fi.
Many of your phone apps need internet connection to work, and specially Google Maps, which you’ll be using all the time to find your way while exploring Japan, so I hope that this post will help you stay connected 🙂
Feel free to share your personal experience in the comments below.