Moving to Japan: Getting a Japan Phoneline & Phone

Hi, this is D. This time, I’m writing something relevant for those starting out in Japan, which is the process of getting a Japan phone line and phone.

Now, before you read this, you would probably have come across GJH’s post where he talked about the major mobile network providers as well as Lydia’s post about MNVO (Sim-free) phoneline recently. All about phonelines! How can I miss out on the fun and not write about it too, right? Lol.

The reason why I’m writing is because well, my focus is mainly on the considerations a newbie Singaporean in Japan will have when it comes to getting a new phone line. Nothing too in depth.

I shall do this in a ‘Road Map’ way so you know what my considerations were and what conditions need to be met for each option.

First of all, what do I need? Just data? Or data plus voice call function?
It is not uncommon for people to not need a voice call function nowadays because one can easily make calls through Line or Whatsapp etc, so I’m not surprised if some of you only require data. But for myself, I wanted all because I know that if I were to find a new job, I might need it and erm, I’m kiasu. In addition, I was told that I will require a phone number to open a bank account, so this will be an issue should a data sim plan by MNVO not come with a phone number.

So with these, I know that my options will definitely exclude prepaid-data-only-sim from combini because I refuse to live like a foreign worker (when I’m in fact one lol) who do constant top ups. This narrows down my options to:
1. Postpaid from major operator that comes with 2-yr contract

So why Postpaid with 2-yr contract?
There are a few perks to this, including the option of getting a new mobile phone at a cheaper price. Now, more on this later on, but for now, just take it that this option gives you a chance to get a new phone in Japan.

Secondly, of course major operators mean stability in network coverage. GJH feels that AU is better, Lydia mentioned that docomo has better coverage. I’m sure MNVO will be weaker and slower than both.

In addition, you *may not require a credit card in order to get this done up, unlike MNVO, which mostly require you to have a credit card (though I’m really not sure if overseas credit card can be used). This is obviously an issue because you can’t open a bank account without a phone number (catch 22 much), much less get a credit card. And let’s not get started about how tough getting a credit card is for foreigners. So, yeah, not requiring a credit card to get a line is a perk to a newbie in Japan like myself.
*Some still requires credit card

The downside to this option is that, well, it is generally more expensive. The plan easily costs 6000yen a month while MNVO can be as cheap as 2000yen. Take this sum x12 for a year and the difference is quite huge. Not to mention a termination fee if you were to leave Japan after 1 year, if you visa is up by then. Cost again.

So why MNVO?
MNVO is a really good option for the most obvious reason, which is cost saving. Will not talk in depth about this because the price difference was mentioned above.

Another perk about MNVO is that the contract is generally shorter, some without any at all. Such convenience!

Now for the downside. Unfortunately for me, before Lydia’s post, I did not know about MNVO providers that actually ‘do a proper job’ like IIJmio, as recommended by Lydia. I have known about MNVO but the ones I went to check out had terrible reviews online, like Mobal (oops). So although I explored that option, it was swiftly crossed out when I read that most either had poor support or complex billing structure. Many even charge users unfairly.

As mentioned above, one will need a credit card for monthly payment for these MNVO plans and as mentioned above, how does a newbie in Japan without a phoneline get a credit card in the first place? *frowns Of course, if they allow foreign credit cards, then great. But I’m not sure if the poor currency conversion rate will be worth it in the end.

Last but not least, MNVO will probably have poorer network coverage as compared to the lines from major operators.

So, which one should I go for?
Obviously, if MNVO does not accept foreign credit card, the only option is a postpaid line with one of the major operator.

But then again, even if MNVO accepts credit card, are you willing to suffer poorer and slower connectivity along with lousy currency exchange rate (especially when you are earning JPY and your home currency is just depleting every month)? It is quite a contention to determine if MNVO would be my choice even though it is cheaper, simply because I absolutely can’t tolerate poor connectivity. I’m the kind that wants to throw my phone at somebody when it hangs or refuses to load a page.

So I guess in conclusion, if price is the top priority, go for MNVO! If network coverage is the top priority, go for the big players!

Do you require a new phone in Japan? Does your current mobile phone work with Japan’s network?
Another major question you need to ask yourself is if you require a new phone. For me, I tried GJH’s docomo sim card in my supposedly unlocked Oneplus 3 (which is a smartphone I got online back when I was in Singapore) and it wouldn’t work. So I suspect that my Oneplus does not work with Japan’s operators. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t want to risk getting a MNVO only to have it not work in the end, though many MNVO mentioned that most smartphones are compatible with their sim cards.

It does not help that my Oneplus 3 is a super 冷门 (unpopular) phone. Not much info is around, unlike iPhone, which people can easily advise if it works with their network.

So if yours does not work like mine, then you should probably get a new phone when you sign up for a new line i.e. option 1 of getting postpaid from the major network providers. If your visa has 2 years remaining, the good news is that you can split the payment of your phone across 24 months instead of coughing up the money from the start. Likewise, if you are like me, with only a 1-yr visa, you will probably need to pay for your phone upfront.

Of course, you can always get a new mobile phone that works in Japan from AmazonJP. Or just get a 2nd hand one from the recycle shops! Cheaper.

So… What did I get in the end?
If I had known about MNVO that actually works properly, I probably would have went with it because I did not want a new phone and cost saving was my major priority. This is assuming that my phone works (I think it should, because MNVO seem to be more international-friendly compared to domestic Japanese Telcos, lol) and my Singapore’s credit card works. Otherwise, it isn’t really a choice but to just go for option 1 with the major operators.

So in the end, I went with a 2-yr contract with Y!Mobile, as mentioned  by GJH, as I didn’t know of any decent MNVO and my phone wouldn’t work with docomo. Thankfully, this option worked out well for me in the end because of the fact that GJH was switching from docomo and as a result, we got a pretty good deal with major price slash from the cost of my phone as well as monthly plan. GJH wasn’t kidding when he said Telcos in Japan does not encourage loyalty because the amount of perks and cash-back thrown in when he asked about switching to Y!Mobile was pretty crazy. With the perks given, my phone bill comes up to only around 3000JPY per mth with 6gb of data and first 10min of phone calls free. That’s definitely something I will choose over MNVO.

At the end of the day, I got away with a new Huawei P20 at a discount of 10000JPY and an affordable monthly plan thanks to GJH.

Any extra things to note?
Now, if you do not wish to make a wasted trip like we did (Japan’s public transport is expensive! A trip to Shinjuku from where GJH stays, to and fro, will cost me 1160JPY which is S$14+), definitely bring along your residence card and passport. Not all telco requires passport, but Y!Mobile did. So just in case, do bring yours.

Secondly, it may be tough for foreigners who do not understand Japanese to get a new line done up in the shop simply because trying to understand the various options (and boy, I’m telling you, the phone plans in Japan are so complicated) in Japanese is just mission-impossible. Good news is that if you go to the bigger outlets like BicCamera at Shinjuku and you understand Chinese language, there are quite a few Chinese staff who can attend to you in Mandarin.

Lastly, this whole telco industry is not easy to figure out. Different telco has different requirement, with some requiring passport in order to sign up, some that do not let you sign up unless your visa has 2 years remaining, or some that only let you pay through credit card. So I am not surprised if at the end of the day, your option is limited to just certain MNVO or a certain major telco because I’m sure many of us have no Japan credit card at the point of applying for a phone line, and our work visa might only be for 1 year.

And that’s all for today! I certainly hope that your phone line hunt will be smooth and easy! Because once you have your phone line done, you can then ‘level up’ and proceed to the next stage called ‘Opening a Bank Account’. *Vurps a little thinking about the painful process

Till then,


By the way, if you have read my previous entry about retaining Singapore phone line through Circles.Life, please note that I’ve added an update at the end (July 2018) after I started my new phone line in Japan. In addition, please don’t be stupid like me and transfer your whatsapp account from SG line to JP line (unless you are abandoning the usage of your SG line) because whatsapp will only port over the group chats and not the individual chats. And once that happens, you can’t access your old chats from your old phone on your old number unless you have roaming and you can re-activate by SMS OTP. I would very much prefer to maintain my old whatsapp history and account in my old phone while I have another Whatsapp account with my new JP number in my new phone. It was an irreversible mistake that I made and I’m still regretting till now. Don’t be like me!


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