Getting a Phone in Japan-The Solution
A Japanese Phone Number- How Hard Can That Be!
Complicated, Tricky, Downright Unfair.
As a resident of Japan I am thankful to my host country for accommodating me. I don’t intend to live here forever but I do wish to lead a relatively normal life. For that my needs are simple; food, accommodation and a phone that allows me to make and receive calls & a data plan to browse the internet as I see please.
You might think I’m not asking for a lot. I arrived back in Japan in late 2016 after a gap of 14 years on a 90-day tourist visa. I knew it would be a challenge to rent an apartment while my residential status was unclear so I made do with a “weekly mansion” – an expensive, short-term accommodation solution available to Japanese and non-residents alike.
Lucky Me- Bled Dry!
However I was one of the lucky ones. I attained a working visa and promptly set off in search of something more long-term (a 2 year contract in my case!). Not a problem- but please provide a guarantor. If not please provide an income statement, proof of residence, etc. Lucky me- my company acted as guarantor.
Not out of the woods yet I was informed by my friendly real estate agent that not everyone would rent to a non-Japanese so my choices would be limited.
Spartan Life- Not For Everyone
I got to choose from a select few and though I was asked point-blank by my future landlord if I would leave Japan in the event of an earthquake (I was damn sure my family would be on the first plane but I would stay- a reasonable reply considering the unknown element) the contract was signed and sealed and all the costs associated paid including a deposit, key money (a non-returnable fee), agent fee and some other miscellaneous fees that had the combined effect of bleeding me and my company dry. And of course furniture was eventually needed though for a while I quite enjoyed the Spartan life living and eating at floor level.
A Housing Solution
In Ireland we have a saying that “hindsight is the foresight of Gobshites” so while I now know what I didn’t know then allow me to share my newly acquired wisdom. The solution is UR Housing or Urban Renaissance: an independent corporation founded by the Japanese government.
No key money, no agent’s fee, no guarantor required. Is there a down-side? Not much. Once you meet the eligibility criteria of having a long-term visa and meet a minimum income level you’re in. This is hands down the easiest solution for anyone starting off as a long-term resident.
Your Point Is?
What’s this got to do with getting a phone?
As the title suggests I have deviated. But not too much as getting a phone in Japan until recently was a similar process to finding accommodation. In other words, stacked way in favour of the seller!
Before giving you the solution let’s look at what loops you were until recent (and without the solution still are!) required to jump through.
Japanese law dictates that you need to prove you are a resident of Japan to sign up for a Japanese phone plan. To be a resident for this purpose you need a residency card for which much form-filling is required at your local city hall or local ward office. If you’re lucky and have an official long-term visa you might even get the card on arrival at the airport but no matter what the case you have to be a holder of a long-term visa and a registered resident to sign a phone contract for voice & data.
If, like me, you have arrived on a tourist visa or something similar then until Mobal arrived on the scene there was simply no real solution.
A Dreaded Contract
The basic Japanese mobile phone contract is based on a 2-year contract with expensive termination fees. While shorter contracts are available with correspondingly more expensive early termination fees you won’t even be considered if your visa duration is less than the contract period.
The Phone Shop!
Phone shops are everywhere in Japan. However don’t expect your visit to go swimmingly without the Japanese language. A colleague who works at a Japanese language school maintains students take 2-3 hours to sign up and inevitably are unaware of the contract conditions. But hey it used to be the only way!
Do You Take Plastic?
Japan is the 3rd largest economy in the world. True. However Japan is simply not geared for non-Japanese. Don’t be at all surprised if you can’t pay for your expensive shiny new phone on a long-term contract using your non-Japanese issued credit or debit card.
Help is Here
Until 2017 there was no option for foreigners living in Japan to have a post-paid phone & unlimited data service without having to resort to signing a lop-sided contract or renting at ridiculous expense from a Japanese airport. You simply had to meet the criteria- of being a resident with that card. Then came the Mobal Japan Unlimited SIM.
The Solution- Phew!
It is now possible to get a Japanese phone number with data unlimited. You don’t need to be a resident. You don’t need to sign a contract. There are no early termination fees- no termination fees at all. You can pay with your non-Japanese debit or credit card. In fact you don’t even need to be in Japan to get it!
The Japan Unlimited SIM
So what else does this marvellous piece of plastic do?
Let me tell you..
- Free Incoming Calls & Texts
- English Language Customer Support
- Free Worldwide Delivery
- Flexible Service Duration- anything from 15 days to forever.
It’s that simple.
Let’s complicate things.
I started this article by claiming how downright unfair and tricky it can be to find accommodation and a phone plan in Japan I want to end on a different note.
The Japan Unlimited SIM Story
Somewhere not too obtrusive on the Mobal site is the “Our Story” section. It quietly explains how Mobal are committed to providing the majority of their profits to charity. You could read that and think that’s nice or you could dwell on it and think that every SIM sold and every customer gained is actually contributing to providing hot school meals for hungry children in need. Now there is nothing complicated or unfair about that. So thank you Mobal and thank you –the reader- for when you become a Mobal customer or for simply reading this article. A share would be lovely 😉
Author: Declan Somers
Thanks to the people of Japan and the efforts of a UK-based telecoms company Mobell/Mobal am happy to assist in providing a hot school meal daily for kids in Malawi, Africa through a Japanese registered NGO- Seibo.
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