There’re two laws regarding the use of cellphones and electronics in Japan which you need to be aware of as a foreign traveler to Japan.
The first one is the requirement for obtaining the local cellphone service (whether it is a prepaid contract or a postpaid one), or even a local telephone SIM, in Japan.
Since April 1st, 2006, the cellphone-related law called “the Act for Identification, etc. by Mobile Voice Communications Carriers of Their Subscribers, etc. and for Prevention of Improper Use of Mobile Voice Communications Services”, or in short, “Mobile Phone Improper Use Prevention Act (携帯電話不正利用防止法）” requires anyone who intends to have a voice-call-capable cellphone service (whether it is a prepaid contract or a postpaid one) to show a proper identification which indicates that s/he has the residential (permanent) address in Japan. A hotel address is not sufficient for this purpose.
This law became necessary because Japanese authorities, and especially the law makers, consider the fraud using the cellphones became a social problem, and the police and other law enforcement agencies want the address of all the phone owners to be registered so that, if any crime is committed using a cellphone, they can find the owner and search his residence.
The official proof of residence includes
– Certificate of Residence which must be registered, and issued as a proof, at the municipal office where you reside,
– Japanese driver’s license, governmental health insurance card, or anything that will be issued with the proof of the Certificate of Residence mentioned above,
– Japanese passport, with the Japanese address (hand-)written in the address page by you,
– Proof of an alien registration for a foreign person living in Japan, again, registered and then issued as a proof of residence at the municipal office where you reside. The alien registration is issued only if you have a valid visa which permits you to stay in Japan for more than 90 days.
So, as a traveler to Japan, who does not possesses a valid Japanese passport (due to a dual citizenship) or does not have a visa to permit you to stay there for more than 90 days, you simply can not obtain any voice-call-capable cellphone service or a local cellphone SIM with a voice-call, whether it is a prepaid contract or a postpaid one, under your name, period.
No exceptions. No elaborations, and no further questions, please, period.
No one can do anything to circumvent this law, because I know the carriers and the store sales clerks and his managers have all been penalized before without asking a proper “proof of residence” paper.
So, here’s your choices:
For a foreign student to Japan, any business people and his family members who are going to live in Japan for a while, with a proper VISA:
– First, get yourself find a place to live, then register the address with a municipal office where you live in. Without this process, you’re not going to be able to get the cellphone service under your name, period.
For a shot-time foreign visitor to Japan:
– You’re NOT going to be able to purchase a prepaid voice-call-capable cellphone service or SIM under your name anywhere in Japan, period. This is the law.
– If you have a friend or a colleague in Japan, have him obtain the prepaid SIM/phone (from Softbank) under his name. (The Japanese law permits anyone qualified to have upto 5 contract or prepaid phone lines.) You then “borrow” the SIM or cellphone from him and pay for the communications cost by yourself through a prepaid refill card.
– You can still “rent” the voice-call-capable cellphone service or SIM at the arriving airport, or in your country before you leave. You’re required to show your passport when renting.
– You may be able to obtain the special voice-call-capable SIM card outside of Japan under your name, called a Japan SIM, which you need to send your identification to the vendor when purchasing. (Limited shipping option. More detailed info in the future article.)
The law exempts the data-only SIM from requiring the proof of Japanese residency.
– So, you can still purchase the data-only SIM in Japan, or even before going to Japan. For example, a SONY subsidiary recently launched the data-only SIM at the major arriving airports in Japan, and even installed a vending machine to sell a data-only SIM at Kansai International Airport (KIX). (More about this later in this blog.)
* Even though the store clerks may not be familiar with a particular situation with foreign travelers purchasing Data-only SIMs and therefore can not help you activate the SIM you purchase, some of the data-only SIMs are sold at the electronics shops and book stores around the country.
– You can rent the data-only SIM at the arriving airports, for iPhone/Android and other smart phones and iPads.
– You can rent a Pocket WiFi (mobile WiFi router) at the arriving airports, or in your country before you leave.
Unfortunately, this option is for web-browsing, GPS locations and sending/receiving emails.
The Japanese friends or businesses will not be able to “call” you. But, if it’s OK, this is one option.
But, how about the public (free) WiFi in Japan.
Well, that’s the thing.
The government of Japan is trying to make it easy to access the public WiFi before the next Tokyo Olympic in 2020.
However, right now, it is just difficult to find the public (free) WiFi in Japan for a foreign traveler, except maybe at your hotel which you are staying. (More about this later in this blog.)
So, do not heavily count on the public, free WiFi in Japan right now.
Use your phone with your carrier’s international roaming plan.
Yes, of course, you can.
Except (for a USA traveler) AT&T’s Global Roaming Add-On, which you need to subscribe to before it becomes effective, and T-Mobile US’s slow 2G-speed free international data roaming, the data roaming cost is expensive. (If you’re a Verizon and Sprint customer, don’t even think about using the data as roaming in Japan.)
And, your phone number is still your country’s phone number, making your friend and business in Japan to make an international call to you even though you’re in Japan AND they’re in Japan. They will be hesitant to call you BECAUSE they have to make an expensive international call to reach you while you’re in Japan.
So, this is expensive for data usage, and NOT practical for a local voice call execpt in an emergency situation.
So, the conclusion:
Due to a local law, you’ll not be able to find a local SIM with the voice-call function when you arrive in Japan. No exception.
You can still find and purchase a data-only SIM locally.
Otherwise, consider renting a voice-call-capable SIM or a data-only SIM or a pocket WiFi (portable WiFi router) at the arriving airport or before you leave your country.
Public WiFi is not easy to use in Japan.
The last resort is to use your phone with an international roaming plan, especially if you’re a customer with AT&T and T-Mobile US in USA.
I hope to explain more details for each option in the coming weeks.