In recent travels, David has caught on to getting local sim cards as soon as we arrive in a new country. When you don’t speak the language, the ability to use your phone freely helps so much in getting around, looking things up and staying connected (without worrying about accidental expensive roaming fees hitting you when you arrive back home).
Sim cards are linked to your local phone data plan. The first step is to make sure that the company you are signed up with “unlocks” your phone. That means you can pop out your sim card from your phone, and it will allow you to pop in a new sim card and register with a new data plan/company. In Canada, this will be free starting in December (as it should be). We had to pay $50 for this service.
Like everything, Japan seems to have really figured out how to help travellers get a local sim card in a streamlined way. There are quite a few companies and options – we chose Sakura Mobile because it had the best data plan for the price (you can choose your plan – we chose 3G for about $50 each so we never had to worry about going over). We also liked that it has english support and will send you an emergency pocket wifi if your new sim doesn’t work for some reason at no extra cost.
Sakura Mobile offers a pre-paid tourist sim. You register and pay for it online, and they ship it to the airport post office or directly to your hotel. We chose the airport, because we wanted data as soon as we hit the ground. After you register, you receive easy to understand instructions by email on how to prepare to install the new sim before you leave your home country (because you need data or wifi to install).
The sim card package was at the post office in Narita airport with no issue (and the post office has a line for things like this – very easy and quick to use). The envelope included instructions on how to install the sim cards (and a little device to pop out the sim card drawer on the side of your phone to exchange). It worked great for Dave. It was a little more complicated for me. I needed the wifi at the hotel for some reason, but once I had access to that, the sim card worked like a dream.
Having our phones was incredibly useful for blogging on the fly and for looking up addresses as we walked around Tokyo. We used our favourite Citymapper app for walking and subway directions. Citymapper is really easy to use, and we’ve used it in other big cities (like Barcelona). The best part is, the app has a directional arrow that shows if you are walking the right way to your destination. It basically allows you to stare at your app and watch your progress to your destination. The only thing to watch out for is it sometimes takes you on walks that are not the most direct route… so use your judgement when eyeballing it.
When we were back at Tokyo airport, we simply popped out the Sakura Mobile sim card and put them in the pre-addressed envelope to pop in the mail. Simple. We received an email within a day to say that the company had received the sim card back and to thank us for using their service.
We would highly recommend using a local sim card if travelling to Japan. It was the easiest sim card switcheroo we’ve experienced (very tourist-focused) and we hope other countries catch on to making this as easy!