Unlocking Your Japanese Phone

The issue with SIM-locked Japanese phones has been a pain in the neck for foreigners who are used to popping SIM cards in and out of several mobile phones as and when they wish. In order to prevent users from switching to other carriers, each carrier locks the phones they carry so that users of those phones can only use SIM cards issued by them. An easier to understand example would be when Softbank first got the rights to carry the iPhone in Japan, many users switched to Softbank in order to own an iPhone. This will not be likely if users of other carriers could simply purchase the phone from Softbank and use it with their SIM cards from other such carriers as AU or Docomo.

However, unlocking your phone is actually not that difficult and carriers do permit the unlocking of phones now. There are several ways you can go about doing it.

  1. Online (Free)
  2. via Phone (3,000 yen)
  3. at a carrier shop (3,000 yen)

* prices are for reference only

For Android users, if you are going for the free option like me, you have to get the unlocking code from your carrier by providing such information as the IMEI number of your phone (*#06#). Your carrier will then send you a mail with the unlocking number. All you have to do next is insert a third-party SIM into your phone, boot it up, and enter the unlocking number and that’s it. I believe all these can be done on your carrier website because I did mine via the Docomo website. Let me know if your other carriers have different processes for unlocking your phones.

Do note that carriers like Docomo have policies on periods when you can apply for unlocking your phone. For existing Docomo users, at least 100 days must have passed since you first bought the phone. For users who are no longer with Docomo, you must apply for it within 100 days of the termination of contract. Outside these periods, no SIM unlocking applications will be entertained. However, there are exceptions to these rules. One such exception is, existing Docomo users who have unlocked their phones before do not have to wait 100 days to unlock their new phones. Please visit the Docomo site to find out other exceptions. Do note that not all models can be unlocked.

iPhones apparently has a different way of unlocking  such that even Docomo’s site suggests contacting the manufacturer. So, can’t help you there.

More reasons to switch to Android.


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