SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan? (2024)

When traveling abroad, what you must have is access to the internet. Even if you have a phone, it won’t be much use as most apps on your phone won’t be able to function without it. Especially if you don’t speak the language, an internet connection is essential when you want to know information about good restaurants and scenic spots close by and, most importantly, communicate with the locals. But a common question that most people would have is, “Should I Use a SIM Card, eSIM Card, or Pocket WiFi in Japan?” If you also have the same question in mind, read on!

Obviously,you can use international roaming, but that is usually the most expensive option. This is why most people either rent a Pocket WiFi or purchase a Japan SIM or eSIM.

Table of Contents

Is There Free WiFi in Japan?

Obviously, if there is free WiFi to use, it would be the best. But just like any country in the world, the free service is mostly only available at your accommodation, restaurants and cafes, and shopping malls. Once you leave these facilities, you will likely have no other free internet connection to rely on.

But if you are comfortable without access to the internet when you are away from a hot spot, a convenient app to download is Japan WiFi Auto-Connect. The phone application automatically connects your devices to secure, trustworthy free WiFi networks nationwide.

SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan? (1)

Tip: If you want to know where to enjoy free WiFi access in Japan, refer to Japan WiFi Auto-Connect’s WiFi Spot Map.

Important: Refrain from inputting sensitive personal information, including credit card details, while connected to free WiFi.

SIM Card, eSIM Card, or Pocket WiFi in Japan

As much as we want access to free internet access while traveling in Japan, the free network doesn’t cover the entire country, especially in rural towns, over the mountains, and on small islands. Some might consider international roaming, but the fee for this service can be rather expensive, and the reception might not be good, depending on the service provider.

Therefore, most people would purchase a SIM card or an eSIM card or rent a Pocket WiFi.

But is a SIM Card better than a Pocket WiFi or vice versa? The answer depends on how you travel, as each option has pros and cons. Refer to the below Pocket Wifi, SIM Card, and eSIM Card comparison table. It should give you a clear idea of which option is best for your next Japan trip!

Pocket WiFiSIM CardeSIM Card
Pros☛ More data and faster connectivity speed in general
☛ Can connect to multiple devices
☛ Minimal need for advanced configuration
☛ Cheaper
☛ Can provide you with a Japanese phone number
☛ May include phone credits to make phone calls and send text messages
☛ Fast internet speed

☛ It is the cheapest option
☛ No initial APN setup required
☛ It is possible to still receive phone calls and text messages on your usual phone number
Cons☛ More expensive
☛ If the Pocket WiFi gets lost or damaged, you have to pay a large compensation fee
☛ Pocket WiFi needs to be charged before use
☛ You need to remember to carry it and return it.
☛ Can only connect one device to the internet
☛ Some people find the initial configuration complicated.
☛ An unlocked phone is required
☛ Can only connect one device to the internet
☛ An unlocked phone is required
☛ May not be compatible with your cell phone
Suitable for☛ If you travel with a group of people or need an internet connection for more than one device
☛ You need to work remotely
☛ Backpackers and those who might not always travel in a group
☛ Who has an unlocked cell phone
☛ Backpackers and those who might not always travel in a group
☛ Who has an unlocked and compatible cell phone

Should I Get a Pocket WiFi, a Japan SIM Card, or an eSIM

Whether a Pocket WiFi, a Japan SIM card, or an eSIM best suits your next Japan trip depends on a couple of factors. Here is a quick guide to help you make the decision.

  • If you will travel as a bigger group and the group members will stick together, a Pocket WiFi might be the best choice.
    • Sakura Mobile is our favorite Japan Pocket WiFi provider because it uses the best network in Japan. The company’s customer service is also the best among all the players out there.
  • If you will travel as a group but the individuals also want to wander around from time to time, consider a SIM or eSIM.
  • If you have multiple devices that need to be connected to the internet, for example, you need to work remotely, a Pocket WiFi is the best option for you.
  • If you need a Japanese phone number, a Japan SIM card is your only choice.
    • Mobal is our favorite Japan Call + Text + Data SIM card provider.
  • If you are a heavy-data user, consider a Pocket WiFi or an eSIM.
    • NINJA WiFi has the best plans for heavy-data users.
    • Ubigi is our favorite Japan eSIM provider.
  • If your flight arrives/departs early or late, get a Japan SIM card from a service provider that will mail the SIM card to your home address or a Pocket WiFi provider who’s airport counter opens in the early morning and until late at night. Obviously, if your phone is compatible withan eSIM, it might be the best option for you.

How to Get a Japan Travel SIM and/or Portable WiFi

Both Japan Travel SIM and Portable WiFi can be pre-arranged/purchased before you land in Japan. In fact, it is better if you do so because most of the time, it will be cheaper, and you won’t be wasting your valuable travel time at the airport.

  • Japan Travel SIM: depending on where you are flying from, there is more than one SIM card provider for you to shop around.
    • Remember to look into the details of the product. A cheaper SIM doesn’t necessarily mean it is a better deal.
    • Once purchased, the seller will normally ship out the SIM to you. So it is important that you take the required shipping time into account before you make the purchase.
  • Pocket WiFi: The rental can be done easily online. Again, shop around to get the cheapest deal that suits your needs the most. You will usually be required to select where you want to pick up the portable WiFi from.
    • Most people will choose to pick it up at the airport, but you can also arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation.
    • At the end of your trip, you will most likely return the router at the airport. But again, check the terms and conditions of the deal you signed up to
    • If you are in a situation where you run out of data, you can also get another Travel SIM from Bic Camera, which has many branches across the country.

Important: Make sure that you have an unlocked smartphone for the SIM card to work.

Pocket WiFi

Pocket WiFi or Portable WiFi is a pocket-sized mobile router you can take with you to access an internet connection. Most portable WiFi devices use 4G signals from network providers to enable the connection. The advantage of using a Pocket WiFi is that it can connect to multiple devices and usually gives you more data. So if you plan to travel in a group or have multiple devices requiring an internet connection, a Pocket WiFi may be a better option.

However, because a Pocket WiFi can only be rented instead of purchased in most cases, it needs to be picked up and returned while you are in the country. This may cause inconvenience and valuable travel time wasted on the rental process.

For more information about Japan Pocket WiFi, including the pros and cons and a detailed explanation of our recommended Japan Pocket WiFi providers, refer to our Japan Pocket WiFi article!

Recommended Japan Pocket WiFi Providers

  • Sakura Mobile: Suitable for longer travel periods or last-minute bookings.
  • Japan Wireless: Suitable for shorter travel periods.
  • NINJA WiFi: Suitable for a travel period of 1 week or less.
  • Japan Wifi Rental: Suitable for those with a strict budget.
  • Mobal: Suitable for newly arrived residents and expats.

SIM Card

SIM Cards, on the other hand, can be purchased before your arrival. It is the best option if you need a Japanese phone number while you are in Japan or if your phone isn’t compatible with an eSIM.

After the initial APN configuration, you can use your phone just like how you would use it at home. Depending on the SIM Card providers, you might be able to complete all required APN configurations before you reach Japan. And if that isn’t an option for you, you can always utilize the internet at the airport and/or on bullet trains or limited express trains to complete the setup process.

For more information about a Japan SIM card, including the pros and cons and a detailed explanation of our recommended Japan SIM card providers, refer to our Japan SIM card article!

Recommended Japan SIM Card Providers

  • Sakura Mobile
    • Provides the best customer service.
    • The company has a branch in Shinjuku.
  • Japan Wireless
    • The cheapest option.
  • Mobal
    • Reliable customer service.
    • The company has a branch in Tokyo, including Shinjuku and Shibuya.
  • SimsDirect – For Australian
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eSIM Card

An eSIM isan industry-standard digital SIM that allows you to activate a mobile data plan from your service provider without using a physical SIM. You can install eight or more eSIMs on an iPhone or other compatible devices and use two phone numbers at the same time!

The best thing about an eSIM Card is that your SIM Card won’t get lost in the mail, and you don’t need to wait for it to be delivered. If you run out of data, you can simply purchase another eSIM in Japan!

But as it is a new product, most eSIM cards currently only support newer phone models.

For more information about a Japan eSIM card, including the pros and cons and a detailed explanation of our recommended Japan eSIM card providers, refer to our Japan eSIM card article!

Recommended Japan eSIM Card Providers

  • Sakura Mobile
    • Provides the best customer service.
    • The company has a branch in Shinjuku.
  • Japan Wireless
    • Slightly more expensive than Ubiki and Airalo, but it has better customer service compared to Airalo and Ubiki.
  • Ubigi
    • Convenient for multi-country travel.
    • Uses DoCoMo’s network. The internet speed is good and consistent.
SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan? (4)

Do I Need a JR Pass & Is the JR Pass Worth It?

Once you have a rough idea of which prefectures and cities you want to visit during your next Japan trip, it is time to figure out if you need a JR Pass because not all itinerary needs one.

Our article has everything you need to know about the nationwide and regional JR Passes and what else you can consider if a JR Pass isn’t worth it for your upcoming trip!

Planning Your Next Japan Trip?

Japan, where traditions, culture, and history meet with the most advanced technology and modern conveniences, also has the most picturesque landscapes! It is no wonder why Japan has been voted one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!

So if you are planning to travel to this beautiful country, refer to our article, Plan Your Next Japan Trip – When and Where to Start, for some helpful information, advice, and tips to keep in mind when planning your visit.

SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan? (2024)


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