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Question: Sim-free phone


I am currently in Japan on a work visa, which is valid until February and will most likely be renewed. However, my phone contract is expiring this month, and I was told that I cannot renew my contract unless I have 1 or 2 years left on my visa.
I heard that the best option in this situation is to buy a sim free phone and get a sim card somewhere. Does anyone have experience with this? Where does one buy sim free smartphones, and where can I get a sim card with data and a phone number?

Thank you in advance for sharing your advice!


@CheapoGreg wrote an article all about getting sim cards in Japan - that should answer one part of your question.

In terms of getting a sim-free phone, I know Amazon Japan has a few options, but there’s probably better places to try. I’ll let someone else chime in and help with that :slight_smile:


Unfortunately, the big cellular providers have exclusive contracts for a lot of phones (like Samsung, Sony etc.) so the only option is to get it from overseas. Expansys is where I got my SIM-free Motorola Moto-G phone. Be careful of the radio bands though - they may not be compatible with the 4G frequency bands in Japan.

According to Wikipedia, the LTE categories available from NTT Docomo are 1,3,9,19 and 21 - none of which are offered by any North American carriers.



Worth pointing out that the iPhone is SimFree if purchased through Apple directly in Japan.

Also, if you don’t mind second hand, SOFMAP and the excellent JanPaRa in Shibuya stock Sim free models in their stores. (they don’t seem to promote them on their websites sadly). has many sim free phones available, but you should check them personally in a face to face meeting in a public place rather than order directly obviously.

I’m also intrigued as to who your contract is with. If it is the highly evil Softbank, they should just renew your contract anyway without asking you, as they’re the kind of people who eat their own children for fun.

Anyway, short term SIMs; if you have a JP credit card, your best bet is BIC SIM and IIJMio. Pay month by month - you get a number and more data than any other major carrier. B-Mobile is also worth looking at, although they are slightly pricier. You can even port your existing number across.

Also - check your existing phone! If your current phone was purchased after May 2015, it can be legally unlocked by your existing carrier. This is actually law now, so if the idiot in the store gives you any crap about it, pull that one on them. If you are with Docomo and you go with B-mobile or IIJMio/Bic SIM , then you don’t even need to change your phone (free is so much better than cheap, right?)

Hope that helps.



Thanks for your comments! This is very helpful.

My contract is with Y-mobile. I think they will definitely try to renew my contract if they get the chance, but my smartphone is starting to break down, so I definitely need a new one… I wanted to cancel my current contract and get a new phone + contract deal, but the guy at the store told me I need 1 or 2 years left on my visa to do that. He was kind enough to advise me to find a sim-free phone and get a sim card online, so I think that’s what I’ll do.


Good to hear.

For some online SIM companies, they’ll only accept Japanese credit cards (for some bizarre reason). So, make sure you have that. I have heard of some success stories with MUFJ Debit cards in case you don’t have one.

Those VISA pre-pay cards that you can get in Lawson etc, sadly won’t work.


Hi Ryo,

You say “Anyway, short term SIMs; if you have a JP credit card, your best bet is BIC SIM and IIJMio. Pay month by month - you get a number and more data than any other major carrier.” Is that correct? I just checked the IIJMio website and they say quite clearly that you don’t get a phone number. This is not for voice calls, only for data. Of course you can get a Skype number, but it looks like you don’t get a normal Japanese mobile phone number. Unless I am very much mistaken . . . .



Hi Tony


I wrote a reply originally, but something in your message didn’t sit right with me, so I took the liberty of checking with IIJMIO directly.

My initial post is still correct - you can get both voice, SMS and dats with iijmio. You can port an existing number over as shown here:

And if you don’t want to do that you can have a new number setup as confirmed here新規にmio高速モバイル%2Fdを契約すると電話番号がもらえるのですか

I’m not sure where you got your information from, but can you let us know just so that others don’t fall into the same trap?




I’m surprised you have anything positive to say about Y-mobile. Watch out for their huge cancellation fees and auto-renewals. You should take their refusal to renew your contract as a blessing - they have terrible terms if you ever want to get out of your contract - although no different to the other big mobile providers. The beauty of the MVNOs is that there is so much choice that you can shop around for terms - like Mineo - which has no fixed contract length and no cancellation fees.


Personally my experience with Y-mobile wasn’t too bad. It was a bit of a hassle to cancel because I had to sign a contract with both E-mobile and Wilcom, and then there were some options that were free at first but would be charged after a certain amount of time. I feel like they try to earn money by making their contracts so complicated that customers don’t know when to cancel what part of the service, but when signing the contract I made the staff write down for me by which date to cancel which service, so I was able to get out of the contract without paying any additional fees :wink:

But yeah, MVNOs sound like a much better deal! Haven’t been able to make up my mind which one to use yet…


I can report success paying with a UK VISA card using B-mobile and BIC SIM / IIJMio


EDIT: Thanks man, that should help others out in similar situations.


Just an update!

If you’re in Japan and happen to speak Japanese (or your Google-Fu is decent), I’d recommend this site

And, even though I big them up so much that you might think I work for them (I genuinely don’t), BICSIM has access to Wi2 WiFi points around the country, as well as a good family plan that allows voice and up to 10GB of data, as well as multiple sim cards attached to the same account, so you can have one in your tablet for data, one in your phone etc. They’re killin it right now!


I can concur the Wi2 Wifi points are handy - there’s quite a lot of them around, good when the cafe wifi router is playing up :slight_smile:


I have just been through all this poop. I had an iphone with Hong Kong sim, tried everything to get a Japanese one with voice. Ended up at BIC-Camera and only 2gb data, which only lasted 1 month. My HK sim contract has ceased. Luckily I got a voice sim from a friend who was leaving Japan. I do have a near new Lumia 640 XL Dual Windows 10 phone I can sell you if you wish. I bought this soI could have dual sims, one of which was going to be for Japan; but do not need now. I have multiply sims as I worked in HK, live in Ho Chi Minh and work in Tokyo and am Australian. My next step is to go for a WORLD SIM for permanent use as I am Asia centric. You get a US and UK number and can global roam for about 75% off the usual charges. Anyway if you are interested in my simless phone give me a call (Wayne +81 70 4200 1665)


Thank you for all the tips!

I asked a Japanese friend for help, and tried to register with U-mobile. My friend was able to sign up with his debit card, but for some reason my MUFJ debit card was declined.
Has anyone had any luck using a Japanese debit card at any MVNO?

I prefer not to use my foreign credit card because my salary is paid to my Japanese bank account.
For the moment I tried applying for a Japanese credit card, but I heard applications by foreigners often get declined.


Hi Wayne,

Not sure why you ended up with only 2GB data. Did you not apply for the monthly recurring or did you buy the pre-paid?

For all the monthly contracts, there’s not one that offers 2GB. The lowest is 3GB and thats ¥900?


Hi Lieke,

For a list of MVNOs that have no issues with debit cards, please check here

Secondly, the “I can’t get a credit card as I am a foreigner” is for bitter people who have just arrived and have applied for some ridiculous AMEX centurion card expecting to be treated like the Emperor. If you have a salary that is regularly paid into a bank account, your first port of call will be your banks credit card. If you have zero credit rating in Japan, then the VISA card and the Rakuten card are very hard to be refused from. The Amazon one can be received in one week!

Hope that helps,



We came here with a yearlong visa and before coming we suspended our AT&T contract iphones (have to either pass the two-year mark or pay off the phone before leaving). (Just set it up with phone carrier before you leave.) We had AT&T suspend our numbers so we can reclaim them when we’re back in the US. That costs us about $30/month to save two phone numbers saved. Then when we got to Japan, we went to a BIC store and bought their SIM (which they installed into our US phone) and signed up for a month-by-month contract with them. It only costs about $20US a month to have a Japanese number and then we are using our US phone over here. They have different plans. Just show up in Japan with a phone that is suspended and then go to BIC for a month-by-month plan. Your US phone then becomes a Japanese phone for as long as you need it.


That doesn’t sound too bad, but I’m guessing that the cost of the calls is pretty high? You don’t usually get something for nothing (or nearly nothing) when it comes to phones in Japan!