Smartphones and tablets are now a big part of our everyday lives. We use them to keep in contact with family and friends, do our banking, and play the occasional game of Angry Birds. (Although, I’d argue the Line/Disney game “Tsum Tsum” is way more addictive!)
However, when you’re traveling beyond your home country, roaming charges can become a liability and a drain on the bank account. Many mobile phone providers have expensive roaming policies – especially when it comes to traveling to countries like Japan. As an example, my home mobile provider (Bell Canada) charges C$2.00 per minute of talk time and C$8.00 per megabyte of data while in Japan. That’s a lot of money for not much service.
Many people opt to turn off the cellular data on their smartphones, relying solely onWi-Fi networks at coffee shops and fast food restaurants. But life in Japan (even as a visitor) is a whole lot easier when you have access to a mobile phone network. Train schedules, weather, wait times for attractions at Tokyo Disney Resort – these are all things you really want to pull up while you’re on the go. So how do you get access to a mobile network without breaking the bank? Luckily, there are solutions.
Getting a SIM card from bMobile
The Japanese mobile carrier I’ve used on both my visits to Japan is bMobile. They offer visitors to Japan a pay-as-you-go data-only service. This includes 1GB of data transfer, but no local phone minutes or text messages.
The price of the service is just under ¥4,000 as of this writing, and if you use up your 1GB of data before leaving Japan (and I have), you can easily restart with a new 1GB bucket of data for another ¥4,000.
The quality of bMobile’s service is fantastic. It uses the same cellular network as NTT DoCoMo, and as a result gives users access almost everywhere in Japan. The service is good enough to run programs like Skype, so if you want to make calls home, you can with ease.
Ordering from bMobile
When you purchase service from bMobile, what you are physically purchasing is a SIM card which goes inside the phone or tablet you plan to use with their service.
bMobile does not have a physical storefront in Tokyo, but when you order your SIM card from them, it will be shipped to the hotel or home you are staying at and be ready to use from the date of your arrival. If you prefer to have the SIM card delivered to the post office at the Narita or Haneda airports, there is a small upcharge (but is well worth it!)
Unlocking your phone to use with bMobile
In order to use bMobile’s service, you will need to have an unlocked smartphone. This is where things are tricky, since many of us buy our phones on contracts to save from having to pay large amounts of money for those shiny new smartphones! In exchange for the reduced up-front cost, the mobile provider will lock your phone to their network so you can’t up and leave without completing or buying out your contract.
If you live in North America, it’s very likely your phone is locked to the specific carrier you signed up with. In Canada and the US, most mobile companies are willing to unlock your phone after certain conditions of your contract are met and after you have paid a fee to unlock the device. Check with your carrier for specific information.
In the UK, check with your mobile provider to see if your device is locked. It may not be (as an example, Three says all phones purchased after January 1, 2014 are unlocked on their service.) The Telegraph recently published a great article on getting your device unlocked.
In other countries, the likelihood of owning an unlocked device can vary. The best advice is to call your mobile provider and see if they have a policy on unlocking your phone.
If you can’t unlock your phone…
If unlocking your phone isn’t affordable or available from your mobile provider, there are other options in Japan for staying connected on the go.
Softbank – which is a major Japanese mobile carrier – offers a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot rental service for roughly ¥1,600 per day. This is a great solution if you are traveling with a larger group or family since this single hotspot can be shared by up to fiveWi-Fi devices. The rental includes “unlimited” data (you are capped at 1GB of data every three days, which is more than enough!), and the device can easily be picked up from the airport before departing for the parks or the city.
If you’re looking to just have a phone on you in case of emergency, SoftBank offers a flip phone rental service as well which will give you a local phone number. However, it is a pure pay-as-you-use service, and you’ll be charged for everything you do with the phone. It’s only ideal if you are looking for a device to carry in case of emergency.
Unlike visiting Disneyland Park or Walt Disney World, free public Wi-Fi is not available in the parks or in the official hotels. Although some of the resort hotels will have it, please check their website for details.
Public Wi-Fi in Japan often requires some sort of sign-up for a service. For example, Starbucks (which has a location in Ikspiari) has a service called at_STARBUCKS_Wi2 at coffee shops across the country. In order to use that service, you need to sign up for an account in advance, and then use your username and password to log on when you arrive at the coffee shop.
NTT East also offers a free public Wi-Fi service for tourists, but requires you to pick up a card with login information on it either at the airport, or at major tourist sites like Tokyo Skytree. However, access to this service is limited to a number of areas throughout Tokyo.
Ultimately, having access to the mobile web will allow you to be adventurous in your travels through Japan – but it does come at a cost. Hopefully these options give you some ideas on how you may be able to stay connected while visiting Tokyo Disney Resort!