Using a Cell Phone in Japan

Cellular phones are considered a must-have when traveling to any part of the world. They keep us connected to friends, loved ones, and colleagues. It is one of the modern day marvels that we simply cannot do without.

Here are some basic facts about cell phone use in Japan:

phone1• A “data SIM card” enables students to use Internet with their own phones as long as the phone is not locked to a carrier.

• Data SIM cards provide internet access but do not support not regular calls.

• If a cell phone is locked to a carrier, you can make use of prepaid/monthly payment SIM card services but these require a credit card and an online registration process for the service to start.

Photo by Toshihiro Gamo

• There are SIM cards available for about 3,000 yen/month that allow internet access and voice calls provided the cell phone is not locked to a carrier.

• Cell phone rental services are available but are usually expensive for students staying for 3 months or longer. Prices range from $200 to $300 a month to rent a phone.

Most U.S. phone companies provide plans that allow you to make international calls either as an ongoing or temporary service. Companies offer various plans with price plans that vary by phone model and travel destination.

Your local carrier network has to also be compatible with the country you are traveling to. Roaming maps and prices are available from most major providers in their respective websites. Check out the following links for reference:

Verizon’s International Service Options

AT&T’s International Travel Packages

Sprint’s International Services

T-Mobile’s International Services

GSM vs. CDMA Network

In a nutshell, mobile phones have two basic technologies: CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobiles). It can be considered the thin white line that cannot be crossed. In the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, while U.S. Cellular, Sprint, and Verizon use CDMA. There is no GSM network in Japan. It is the primary reason why, for example, AT&T mobile subscribers cannot use their phones with Verizon’s network.

Locked vs. Unlocked cell phones

Unlocked cell phones—cell phones that can be used with other cellular service providers.
Locked cell phones—cell phones sold by wireless carriers to be used with only their network.

*You can check with your mobile service provider for more information on using your cell phone in Japan.