Which mobile phone SIM Card and Internet companies in Japan are user-friendly for English speakers?

Which mobile phone SIM Card and Internet companies in Japan are user-friendly for English speakers?

If you are moving to Japan, setting up mobile phone and internet service will be among your first priorities so that you can find your way around, organize practical necessities for daily life, and keep everyone at home updated on all your adventures in Japan! However, many Japanese companies that offer mobile phone SIM cards, Pocket Wi-Fi, or fiber-optic home internet do not allow their customers to apply for service in English and have little or no customer support in any language other than Japanese. In this article, we outline some of your best options offering English support for mobile phone SIM cards and internet service in Japan.

Is service in English really so important when choosing my mobile phone/internet provider in Japan?

It depends. Whether or not you will require a mobile phone/internet provider that offers service in English will be determined by the particulars of your own personal situation and preferences. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you decide:

  1. Can you not only speak and understand Japanese but also read Japanese to a high level (i.e. similar to your ability in English)?
  2. Do you have a friend, family member, or colleague fluent in Japanese (reading as well as speaking) who does not mind assisting you with setting up mobile phone and internet service as well as with any problems or issues that come up later?
  3. How long do you plan to be in Japan? Will you be living and working in Japan or are you just going to be traveling around the country?
  4. How much time do you have to devote to searching for a mobile phone/internet provider?
  5. Do you need internet service as well as mobile phone service?

If you have never lived in Japan before, it is easy to underestimate the considerable language barrier that most foreign residents and travelers encounter here. This can be especially true for expats who have spent time in diverse multicultural locations such as Singapore or Hong Kong where the lingua franca is generally English.

While Japanese people do study English at school, actual opportunities to speak English are quite limited for Japanese people in Japan. As a result, quite a few people in Japan can read English somewhat better than they can speak it. Even for those who do possess some level of ability in spoken English, speaking to someone from another country in English can sometimes be intimidating or confusing. If doing so involves something as complicated as a phone or internet contract, people may be (very reasonably!) concerned about their ability to communicate all the necessary details to you in English.

Another issue to consider is that some of the cheaper alternative mobile phone and internet providers require online application/registration, which will require that you can read in Japanese.

Obviously if you have a friend, family member or colleague who is fluent in Japanese, such a person could assist you, but this might be something of a hassle. Furthermore, while Japanese people are often quite happy to help visitors or foreign residents when lost or confused, many are hesitant when it comes to helping with more official business such as contracts. Culturally, as well, some Japanese people might feel pressured to help you even though they would prefer to refuse, as outright refusal is somewhat impolite in Japan. You might want to consider, therefore, when it comes to finding a mobile phone and/or internet provider, whether you want to depend so much on another person (unless it is someone very close to you personally) or handle matters yourself in English.

Take a moment to think about the time and effort spent searching for and setting up your mobile phone and internet service in Japan, especially if you will only be visiting the country or living here for a short time. If you are planning to spend many years living in Japan, investing some time into researching different providers and plans might pay off in the long run financially, but for travelers or short-term residents (or even many long-term residents), you’ve probably got better and more interesting things to be doing with your time! Applying and registering in English by yourself will definitely be simpler and faster.

The provider you choose will also depend on which services you require. For many travelers, a data-only SIM card or Pocket Wi-Fi is completely sufficient, but if you will be living in Japan longer, a phone number (and thus a voice-and-data SIM card) will be necessary and stable internet at home (requiring a fiber-optic connection) will probably be preferable. There will be more information about these various services (and which English-speaking companies offer them) further down in this article.

Advantages of mobile phone SIM card and internet providers with English support

  • Simple online application and registration (in English)
  • Full customer support in English
  • Convenient delivery and pickup options (airport, your residence, hotel, etc.)
  • Different plans available to suit foreign visitors to Japan as well as long-term residents

Disadvantages of mobile phone SIM card and internet providers with English support

  • Sometimes their rates are (slightly) higher
  • Not all have physical store locations (though this could be seen as an advantage by anyone who has spent hours in an au, Softbank or Docomo store before...)

Essentially, you need to decide whether the convenience and peace of mind that will come with having English support in Japan for your mobile phone and internet services is worth paying (slightly) higher bills. More information on rates can be found further down in this article.

Which mobile phone SIM card and internet companies in Japan are most user-friendly for English speakers?

In Japan, there are essentially two types of companies that sell mobile phone SIM cards:

 The big three major providers (Docomo, au, SoftBank)

For visitors/travelers who will only be in Japan for a short time, the big three providers are generally not a good choice. Along with relatively high rates and low data allowances, registration for these three companies requires lengthy visits to their stores after you arrive in Japan. Not the best use of your vacation time! And while service in English is technically available, it is not always easy to find.

If you will be living in Japan long-term (i.e. a couple of years or more) and want to sign up with one of the big three providers, getting service in English requires some advance planning. All three have many store locations nationwide, but you will need to check which locations have English-speaking staff:

  • Softbank - click here for a list of Softbank’s store locations with English-speaking staff
  • Docomo - Docomo uses an interpreter system where the in-store staff will connect to an interpreter via telephone to assist you
  • au - click here to search for store locations offering multilingual services
 Alternative mobile phone SIM card and internet providers (e.g. GTN Mobile, Sakura, UQ, Mobal, Rakuten, LINEMO, Y!Mobile)

Fortunately for travelers in Japan (i.e. those people who will be in Japan fewer than 90 days), some alternative mobile phone SIM card and internet providers in Japan do provide options that better suit your needs, with more convenient registration and pick-up/shipping services and flexible cancellation policies. They also frequently offer cheaper rates than the big three and there is no need to spend hours of your precious time waiting around in a mobile phone store.

These companies also cater to long-term foreign residents of Japan with various voice-and-data SIM plans. Many also offer home internet either through fiber-optic connections or portable Pocket Wi-Fi routers, with additional discounts if you apply for both a SIM card and internet service from the same company.

Some, but not all, of these companies also provide excellent support for English speakers (or speakers of other languages) as well as the opportunity to apply and register quickly and easily online in English.

Here is a list detailing which of the most popular alternative mobile phone SIM card and internet providers in Japan offer service in English.

List of mobile phone SIM card and internet providers in Japan offer service in English

  English application? English customer service?
Sakura MobileOfficial site Yes Yes
GTN MobileOfficial site Yes Yes
Rakuten MobileOfficial site No No
LINEMOOfficial site No No
UQ MobileOfficial site No No
Y!MobileOfficial site No Limited

Of the top alternative mobile phone SIM card and internet providers in Japan, Sakura Mobile, Mobal, and GTN Mobile are the three most user-friendly options for English speakers.

What kind of mobile phone SIM card and internet plans are available from companies that offer service in English?

While Sakura Mobile, Mobal, and GTN Mobile can all help you with mobile phone SIM cards as well as your home internet needs, the actual services and plans that these three companies offer do differ slightly.

Mobile phone SIM cards

Broadly speaking, these three companies offer two types of mobile phone SIM cards:

  1. Data-only SIM cards
  2. Data + Voice Call SIM cards

The type of SIM card you should purchase will depend on the services you require while in Japan and amount of data you use, but also whether you will be just visiting Japan or living in the country (i.e. 90 or more days). For visitors, a data-only SIM card is a perfectly acceptable option for easy mobile internet access as you travel around the country, but for foreign residents of Japan, a data-only SIM card will likely not be sufficient as it will not provide you with a Japanese telephone number.

Do I actually need a Japanese telephone number? While acquiring a Japanese telephone number will allow you to make and receive calls and to send and receive text messages, these days many people in Japan use apps such as LINE, WhatsApp or FaceTime instead to send messages and make calls. A data-only SIM card might therefore seem a tempting option.

However, because a telephone number is required in Japan for such necessities as opening a bank account, renting an apartment, shipping almost anything, or signing up for many different public and commercial services, a Japanese telephone number is a must for anyone planning to live in Japan for more than just a few months. As many people moving to Japan no longer bother getting landlines at their residence, the Japanese telephone number you use for all these essentials will generally be the mobile phone number that you acquire with your new SIM card.

Available SIM card plans - Sakura, Mobal, and GTN Mobile

The three mobile phone and internet companies that are most accessible to English speakers provide different SIM card plans based on your data requirements, service needs, and the amount of time you plan to spend in Japan.

For visitors or short-term residents (90 days or fewer)

Of the three mobile phone and internet companies that are most accessible to English speakers in Japan, Sakura and Mobal cater more directly than GTN Mobile to those visiting Japan or staying for a short time (90 days or fewer). They have the most convenient pickup and delivery options for travelers (airport, hotel, etc.) as well as different plans based on how long you will be in the country.

  Sakura MobileOfficial site GTN MobileOfficial site
Application Procedure Online Online (or In-Store)
Pick-up Airports Not Available
Data/Voice Calls Data-only Data+Voice Calls**
Shipping Within Japan (¥0) Within Japan (¥660)
Cancellation ¥0 ¥0

*Shipping to other countries is not currently recommended due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arranging for pick-up in Japan is more reliable.
**For both Mobal and GTN Mobile, domestic calls under 10 minutes will incur no additional charges, but calls over 10 minutes will be charged separately, so try to keep phone calls short to avoid unnecessary excess charges!

In terms of price, you need to factor in whether there is an activation fee or SIM purchase fee as well as the actual cost of your data plan.

  Sakura MobileOfficial site GTN MobileOfficial site
Initial activation fee* ¥5,500 (discounted) ¥0
SIM purchase fee ¥0 ¥0
Sample rates* 8 days: ¥4,950
15 days: ¥7,150
130 days: ¥9,900
145 days: ¥15,950
160 days: ¥17,600
190 days: ¥26,400
15 days (2GB): ¥5,500
15 days (6GB): ¥7,700
30 days (2GB): ¥7,150
30 days (6GB): ¥9,350

Extensions (up to 180 days) are available!***
2GB: ¥3,850
6GB: ¥4,400
Data Unlimited 2GB or 6GB

*Only for reference purposes (rates subject to change). There are many different family plans, etc. available, so we have only listed the most common plans here. Check individual company websites for current promotions and other plans.
**The 30-, 60-, 90-day options for Mobal include voice calls + data while the 8-, 16- and 31-day options are data-only.
***If you want to use your SIM card for longer than 30 days (up to 180 days!) let GTN know in the Other Inquiry section of your application and they will get back to you. Service extensions are available. You must notify GTN that you want to extend your service at least 7 days in advance and pay or your service will be terminated at the end of the original service period.

For long-term residents (Over 90 days)

The options for mobile phone SIM cards offered by these three companies are different if you will be staying in Japan long-term.

  Sakura MobileOfficial site GTN MobileOfficial site
Initial activation fee* ¥5,500 (discounted) ¥3,840
Cancellation fee ¥0 ¥0
Application procedure? Online Online (or In-Store)
Sample Monthly Plans 4GB: ¥3,278
25GB: ¥4,378
3GB: ¥2,178
10GB: ¥3,278
17GB: ¥4,378

*Only for reference purposes (rates subject to change). There are many different family plans, etc. available, so we have only listed the most common plans here. Check individual company websites for current promotions and other plans.
**There is no activation fee for Mobal but you do need to purchase your SIM card (¥3000).

It is definitely worth checking the websites of all three companies as they frequently offer discounts (Sakura currently has a Halloween promotion, for example).

GTN Mobile, in particular, offers extremely substantial discounts to its users.

Discounts, discounts...and more discounts... GTN Mobile offers a bewildering array of discounts, including those for customers who also apply for Pocket Wi-Fi or fiber-optic internet from GTN along with mobile phone service.

Their Data + Voice Call Plan SIM cards come with three possible discounts:

1. EPOS discount - ¥220 off your monthly bill if you get an EPOS credit card via GTN Mobile.
2. Youtube discount - ¥550 off your monthly bill (first 3 months only) if you watch the promotional Youtube videos on their site and fill out a quiz.
3. GTN discount - ¥330 off your monthly bill if you use other GTN services (only available for GTN Mobile Advance 5G).

  Plan/Discount Applicable Period
EPOS GTN Mobile Lite: -¥220
GTN Mobile Advance 5G: -¥220
Youtube GTN Mobile Lite: -¥550
GTN Mobile Advance 5G: -¥550
Monthly (first 3 months)
GTN GTN Mobile Advance 5G: -¥330 Monthly
Total Possible Savings GTN Mobile Lite: -¥770
GTN Mobile Advance 5G: -¥1,100

GTN Mobile Lite: -¥220
GTN Mobile Advance 5G: -¥550
Monthly (first 3 months)

Monthly (after first 3 months)

Internet - Pocket Wi-Fi (Portable Wi-Fi Router)

A Pocket Wi-Fi is a portable WiFi router that functions using a mobile network. All you need to do is turn it on and then connect to the Wi-Fi (just as with any Wi-Fi signal anywhere). You can also connect multiple devices at the same time. It possesses a rechargeable battery (a charge lasts around 20 hours). The device weighs roughly as much as a typical smartphone.

For visitors or short-term residents (90 days or fewer)

For those who are traveling in a group or who want to use multiple devices, Pocket Wi-Fi can be a good alternative to a SIM card for your mobile phone. Both Mobal and Sakura offer separate Pocket Wi-Fi plans catering to visitors or long-term residents. GTN Mobile also offers Pocket Wi-Fi but has no separate plan for visitors.

  Sakura MobileOfficial site GTN MobileOfficial site
Initial activation fee (+other fees)

¥0 (rental, visitors)
¥5,500 (activation fee, long-term plan)

(+¥660 shipping; also requires ¥10,000 deposit)
Sample Monthly Plans Visitors: ¥329/day
Long-term plan:
¥3,828/month (10GB)
¥5,478/month (30GB)
3GB: ¥2,178
10GB: ¥3,278
17GB: ¥4,378
Data Unlimited "High Capacity"

Pocket Wi-Fi units can usually be picked up at the airport or shipped to your hotel or residence. Activation usually involves no more than turning the device on and connecting to its Wi-Fi signal.

Finding Free Wi-Fi in Japan Free public Wi-Fi in Japan has become somewhat more widespread in recent years. The best places to find free Wi-Fi are coffee shops (especially large chains such as Starbucks or Tully’s), convenience stores (especially Family Mart and 7-Eleven), train stations and airports, museums, and some fast food restaurants (McDonald’s always has free Wi-Fi). The Shinkansen and some other train lines (and even bus lines) do have free Wi-Fi, but connections can be unreliable due to tunnels and other obstacles.

Travelers in Japan should note that it can be difficult to find free Wi-Fi (or indeed, any Wi-Fi available to foreigners) in more rural parts of Japan.

Some long-term residents use Pocket Wi-Fi routers for their home internet as well as a source of internet when they are out and about. This works especially well for single people or people who do not use large amounts of data.

Internet - Fiber-Optic Home Internet

In terms of speed, nothing can beat a fiber-optic connection if you will be living in Japan long-term and make frequent use of the internet at your house or apartment.

Of the three companies listed above, only Sakura and GTN Mobile offer fiber-optic connections to long-term residents (although Mobal’s 100GB Pocket Wi-Fi is also a viable alternative option for home internet, see above).

Be conscious of the fact that setting up a fiber-optic connection can take some time as a technician may need to visit your home depending on the age of the building and its existing communications infrastructure. This is also the reason that installation costs vary widely.

  Sakura MobileOfficial site GTN MobileOfficial site
Initial activation fees (admin+installation) ¥5,500 or ¥110 (activation) + ¥2,200-¥24,200 (installation) ¥3,000 (activation) + installation costs
Monthly rates ¥7,128/month from ¥3,800/month
Data Unlimited Unlimited

Remember that both companies offer discounts if you apply to them for both mobile phone service and internet service. GTN offers a monthly discount of -¥330 while Sakura slashes its activation fee to just ¥110 if you receive mobile phone service from them as well.

Be aware that while you may cancel your Sakura home internet contract at any time, GTN requires a 2-year contract. If you plan to relocate within Japan, GTN also offers a simpler User-Friendly Wi-Fi that you simply plug in and use without any complex installation procedures or costs (the monthly rates for this, however, are higher, and the speed obviously cannot compete with that of a fiber-optic connection).

Conclusion - deciding whether to sign up for a mobile phone SIM card/internet provider that offers service in English

While many of you who are moving to Japan may no doubt be pursuing the laudable goal of studying and becoming proficient in the Japanese language, in reality this can take many years to accomplish.

Talking with as many people as possible in Japanese in as many different situations as possible is the key to improving your speaking and listening in the language. So be brave, get out there, and try!

However, when it comes to the practical necessities of life in Japan, the simple reality is that access to service in English will save you time that you would probably rather spend actually speaking Japanese with friends, studying new kanji characters, or watching people eat many different things on Japanese television.

For this reason, we suggest that you consider one of the three mobile phone and internet companies that are most accessible to English speakers (Sakura, Mobal, GTN Mobile) for your communications needs in Japan for a simpler, faster, and more hassle-free experience.