Japan Survival Guide 3: Staying Connected, by Hector Santiago

In this 4-part series, KCP Fall 2012 student Hector Santiago shares budget tips learned during his time at KCP. In this third installment, Hector offers suggestions on socializing and staying connected.

Tip 6—Get Involved in School Activities

Over my KCP semester, I attended a few cooking classes. They are a way to  (1) help students meet and socialize with Japanese students from local universities, and (2) teach students (specifically the long-term students) how to cook so they can save money on food. It’s a fine opportunity to learn how to make great-tasting food and save money at the same time. The classes usually cost a few hundred Yen to attend, for the ingredients you’ll be using. And it’s a small price to pay. After all, you’re learning something invaluable. You’re learning to live on your own. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.


Okonomiyaki. | KCP Flickr

Tip 7—Try Data Only

Everyone has and/or needs a cell phone nowadays, myself included. But what price are you willing to pay? In Japan, the prepaid cell phones available to foreigners who will be in the country for a while are not really that expensive. However, you can’t make calls to the U.S. without a hefty fee, and how many people do you really know in Japan just yet? I’m not saying a cell phone is a bad option; it’s just not the only option.

However, you cannot just buy a prepaid sim card from a Japanese carrier and stick it in your phone. These do exist in Japan, but not many people know about them. If you have a smart phone and can get it unlocked by your service provider before you come to Japan, that may be your best option. The service provider is called B-Mobile. They offer sim cards that give access to Japanese mobile networks, but you can access data only. This is not a major issue if you are handy with finding cool apps for your phone. Using WiFi or data, you can make calls to the U.S. for free using apps like Talkatone, which sends calls through Google Voice.

There are texting apps too. I use Heywire, Line, and Skype, all free. Within Japan, you can make cheap calls through Skype. If you have friends who have some of the same apps as you (Heywire or Line, for instance), you can call and  text for free. I highly recommend this. Of course, many of these apps require registration on the phone, so install them before you leave the States; you won’t be able to install them when you’re here. Using the B-Mobile sim card, you will be given a Japanese phone number for the purpose of identifying and connecting your phone to the data network, but it cannot make or receive calls or texts. The card costs about 9,500 Yen (about $115) and is initially valid for up to 4 months. They start you with 1GB of data. Use this data sparingly and it will last you the entire term.

Use WiFi whenever possible. I advise against streaming videos while using data as they will eat your data alive. If you run out within the 4 months, you can recharge for about $40, which also extends the validity term of the sim itself. If you have questions about this seemingly complex process, feel free to email me.

Stay tuned for more invaluable tips from Hector!

Related posts: Part 1, Part 2

You can also visit his online travel journal to read about his other study abroad experiences. If you have a question for Hector about his saving suggestions, please ask him.