A short-time visitor to Japan (less than 90-day stay) will be able to use your phone there legally soon.

There was a new development in Japan in May, 2015, which will soon (within a year) allow any one going to Japan to use their own non-Japanese phone in Japan if the length of the visit is for 90 days or less.

As you have read on this blog elsewhere, the use of any cellphone without a “Giteki Mark” (approval for Japan’s technical standard, like an FCC mark in USA or a CE mark in Europe) is not currently allowed legally in Japan, though I’ve never heard anyone caught and penalized by a policeman for doing it.
Japan’s government was aware that this legal policy will inconvenience visitors from around the world for 2020 Tokyo Olympic in the age of instant electronic information.
So, Japanese national assembly passed the amendment to the current Radio/Telecommunication Law on May 15, 2015, to allow

  • – anyone who brings a non-Japanese (with no Giteki mark) cellphone or tablet to use it for less than 90 days after entering to Japan, if the device is approved by a proper overseas regulatory agency.
  • – and, it looks like a Gaijin-san (who doesn’t have a permanent Japanese address) may be able to purchase a voice/data SIM, not just a data-only SIM, for his/her less-than-90-days stay there.
  • – the related government agency has one year to draw up operational details on how to implement the law.
  • – this amendment to the law must be implemented within one year of the bill’s passage (which means, by May 15 , 2016)

According to the new amendment, you must bring the phone to Japan with you. Any phone that someone sends you from outside of Japan to you already in Japan is not eligible for this amendment’s exception. And, the period of use at a time (for one trip) is restricted to 90 days or less.
And, it is expected that the phone you use in Japan under this amendment must have a seal of approval from a foreign government agency like FCC in USA or CE in Europe.

To verify that your non-Japanese phone is eligible for this exception, you may have to show the Japanese entry stamp on your passport to obtain a Japanese SIM, or your air ticket itinerary. There’s already one type of talk/data SIM from b-mobile, b-mobile PAYG SIM, for which you have to send the image of entry stamp on your passport within a few days of SIM activation to continue using the service.
See b-mobile PAYG SIM (English Page)
I’m not sure if this procedure will become the standard procedure for all Talk/Data SIM for foreign travelers who want to obtain talk/data SIM and/or data-only SIM after the next year when the new amended Radio/Telecommunication law will become effective. But, you should expect something similar will be required to obtain a Talk/Data SIM in Japan.

Unfortunately, for any foreigner who plans to stay in Japan for more than 90 days there, this amendment does not change anything.
Someone suggested that you travel out of Japan for a short period with your phone every 90 days, and come back to Japan, then you can continue to use your non-Japanese phone legally forever.
Fortunately, though, some newer iPhone models and all newer iPad models bear a Giteki Mark (Japanese agency’s approval mark). And, other cellphone manufactures such as SONY, Komai and LG also plan to sell a global unlocked model which may (or may not) have a Giteki Mark.

And, if you plan to stay in Japan for more than 90 days, you should have a VISA to stay in Japan for that period. And, if you plan to stay in Japan for more than 90 days, you’re required to register your Japanese address with a local municipal office there, which will issue you an Alien Registration Card. With the card, you can obtain a Talk/Data SIM from any carrier including Docomo, Softbank and KDDI au. You must already own a phone with a Giteki Mark, or buy a new phone from a Japanese carrier (or from a Japanese Apple Store), to use it for more than 90 days in Japan.

3 comments to A short-time visitor to Japan (less than 90-day stay) will be able to use your phone there legally soon.

  • Amos

    Hello. Thank you so much for this very thorough information! In a year, I will be moving from the US to Japan to live for two years. Getting the long-term visa and alien registration will not be a problem.

    I am now buying new cell phones for my wife and I now, and your blog has been invaluable in figuring out how to approach this. I think that the two phones I’m looking at *should* legally and technologically work in Japan, but I’d like to ask you specifically about them, if I may.

    One phone I’m looking at is an unlocked Verizon CDMA iPhone 5s. Its frequency bands overlap well with 3G and 4G bands for both Softbank and NTT DoCoMo. It has a giteki.

    The other phone is a GSM Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Its frequency bands overlap well with 3G and 4G service from Softbank, but it doesn’t have 2G CDMA service. It has a giteki. [I found the giteki and the frequency bands for Japanese carriers through your earlier posts, which were extremely helpful!]

    Do you think these will both work well in Japan? The iPhone has 2G CDMA, but the Sony does not. Will the Sony work on Softbank’s network even though it doesn’t have 2G CDMA? I have heard that phones that don’t have 2G CDMA cannot even be registered on the networks of US CDMA carriers [Verizon and Sprint], but I don’t know if that’s true in Japan [or even if it’s true in the US].

    Thanks again for the very useful information! I look forward to future postings.

    Alex Yoshida Reply:

    Thank you for your question, and support, too!

    First, you will not need to consider the CDMA portion of signal in Japan, because the only carrier in Japan which uses 2G/3G CDMA signal is KDDI au. NTT Docomo and Softbank uses 3G W-CDMA for 3G signal. There’s no 2G GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz signal serviced in Japan.
    Yes, if you have a 3G CDMA/4G LTE phone, you can try getting a contract from KDDI au. But, when you have other choices in NTT Docomo and Softbank, you don’t need to think about CDMA (CDMA2000) in Japan.

    Secondly, the best phones to bring from USA to Japan IS an iPhone, especially the newer model.
    Any carrier model of iPhone 5s/5c and 6/6 plus is compatible with most Japanese 3G and LTE bands.
    However, I believe the Verizon version of 5s/5c does not have Giteki certification. The original release model of Verizon iPhone 5c I have doesn’t. But, maybe, Apple may have consolidated to the new “SIM Free” model of iPhone 5s, as the “SIM Free” model of iPhone 6/6 plus sold in a US Apple store has a Giteki mark (as well as Sprint version of iPhone 5s/5c).
    Please check one more time if you have a Giteki mark at Settings->General->About->Legal->Regulatory page.

    The minimum requirements for a phone you want to use in Japan is 3G W-CDMA 2100MHz (Band 1) and 4G LTE 2100MHz (Band 1).

    And, there’re a few other minor details for using a non-Japanese phone in Japan ESPECIALLY FOR A LONG TERM, which I have not covered on this site.
    Point 1: NTT Docomo has blocked some proprietary features only to the phones they sell through their shops (and Japanese Apple stores) by IMEI serial numbers. This does not mean your phone does not work with NTT Docomo. But, you may have to have a special data service (MoperaU service).

    Point 2: The shutter sound of Japanese phones (and digital cameras) can not be muted even if you put the sound on mute. Funny thing is, there’is no law for this. This has been the practice of “industry-driven de facto standard” in Japan to prevent Tosatsu (unauthorized taking of pictures, especially, for sexual or voyeurism purpose). This means that, if your iPhone is broken in Japan and you need your iPhone to be exchanged at a Japanese Apple store, your new iPhone’s camera shutter sound can not be muted.

    I have a Japanese-language website, BlogFromAmerica.com, on which I extensively write these things. It has more than 1500 pages over the course of 6 years.
    If there’re more responses and specific questions, maybe I write more often in English here.

    Amos Reply:

    Hm. You’re right: The Verizon 5s I got does *not* have a Giteki mark. I may have to sell my wife’s phone and then buy a different one for Japan. Well, thanks for the information — at least I know before arriving in Japan.