Cell Phone Plans, Options and Uses for a Foreigner in Japan

SoftBank is one of the leading cell phone providers in Japan and it is relatively easy for a foreigner to get setup with an account. All the foreigner needs is proof that they applied for the ARC and a Japanese bank account (MUFG is who I use but there are others available) as well as a credit card. I was able to get my cell phone (AKA: LIFELINE TO THE WORLD) my first full weekend in Nishi-Akashi so I went ahead and went with SoftBank since its what my manager suggested. I had all of the requirements and set up my account immediately and walked out with the Japanese IPhone 4S.

My Cell Phone Plan: A couple of American teachers gave me some pointers prior to setting up my account, so when I was asked a couple of basic questions I had answers ready. For everything else my manager had to translate and that was incredibly difficult. The basics of what I got:

  • Unlimited Data
  • Close to Unlimited Texting (I don’t remember what exactly I got)
  • Unlimited Phone Calls from 9:00AM – 1:00AM (I am not exactly sure what the hours are, but I think these are right)

Now, onto why I chose these options:

  • Cost – I pay around 6,800 yen each month for this plan – it has to be charged to my American credit card so there are some additional fees for this international charge
  • In Japan many people don’t text message (although I didn’t learn this until I set up this plan), unless they have the same cell phone provider. For example: I can text message any SoftBank user for free, but if I text an AU user, it may cost me, or them. For this reason, many people use alternative messaging such as Lineand Facebook Messenger.
  • Unlimited calling seems like a must, right? Well not in Japan… I have probably made 10 phone calls in the almost 6 months I’ve been here. Since not a lot of people speak English, it doesn’t make any sense for me to make phone calls…  I knew that phone calls being free was not high up on my list so I didn’t pay much attention to that part of the plan.
  • Unlimited Data, Why this is a MUST: Being a foreigner in Japan can be much like walking around in a cave, by yourself with no light. You have no idea what’s going on and there is no way to ask for help. You can go into any convenience store and attempt to ask for directions or  for help buying a train ticket but chances are they won’t know what you are saying. This is where unlimited data becomes extremely handy. You can always ask the Internet for help and most of the time it will understand what you are asking and provide you with an answer. Whenever I am lost, or need directions, or want to know when the next train is coming, or how to say “Thank You” in Japanese I can just use my phone. Super easy, right?! If I had to worry about how much data I had left on my plan this would never be an option. ***Bonus*** On top of the confusion of living in another country it can get quite lonely and boring if you are not out exploring. Until I got internet set up in my apartment, I would watch TV on my phone. I couldn’t have done this without unlimited data!!

Why I love my IPhone and why its so handy in Japan:

Maps: When you look at a map of a city on vacation in the US it can be a little bit confusing but at least you can read what the words say – this is not the case in Japan. Maps here are entirely confusing and sometimes nothing is in English. Unless you can read Japanese characters this can be a completely daunting task! I rely heavily on the Maps App on my phone. Prior to the latest update, the Map was provided by Google and while not everything was in English, much of it was. It will tell you step-by-step directions on how to get anywhere. The latest IOS update changed the Google Maps App to an Apple Maps App which stinks and isn’t helpful to those of us in Japan, but it is better than nothing!

Text+: Text+ allows  me to text message anyone in the US for free just so long as I have internet service (or available 3G). I am assigned an American phone number and my friends/family in the states and I can text message each other back and forth whenever we want. Really handy! It makes it easy to keep in touch with loved ones in the States.

Clock/World Clock App: The clock app on my Iphone is helpful in a whole new way while I’m here in Japan. Not only does it function as an alarm clock and watch, but I also use it to keep track of what time it is the states prior to calling or text messaging someone there. I can program in cities in various places around the world and instantly know what time it is in those locations.

Talk Free App: The Talk Free App is very similar to Skype in that it allows you to have voice phone calls over the internet. The difference is that it’s free! Skype will allow you to make free face-to-face calls but if you want to just call someone’s phone you must pay a fee. This is not the case for Talk Free. Talk Free will always allow you to make phone calls for free, but sometimes the quality is shoddy due to the time of day you call and how strong your internet signal is. Either way, it’s FREE!

Trip Advisor Mobile App: The Trip Advisor App will tell you what sights are around you no matter where you are in the country. This way you can go out an explore without having to plan everything in advance!

Hyperdia: Hyperdia is the greatest web site/app ever made. It is completely in English and will tell you the exact time the next train will arrive at  your station and how much it will cost. It provides at least 5 different travel options so you can choose which one you’d like to take. It has made navigating the trains extremely easy, which I didn’t think was possible when first saw the train signs.

            Train signs in Japan (don’t worry, they flash to English eventually)

Bottom Line: If you are a foreigner in Japan get an Iphone and unlimited data. The rest will work itself out 🙂


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