Whether you are a first-time traveler to Japan or planning to stick around for a while, consistent access to mobile phone service will certainly make your life a whole lot easier. While the big three mobile phone companies (docomo, au, Softbank) might seem your most obvious choices, alternative mobile phone SIM card providers are becoming increasingly popular in Japan due to cheaper rates, flexible cancellation policies, and (sometimes) English customer support. Here, we review GTN Mobile, one of the main alternative providers for those more comfortable with English than Japanese.
Who is GTN Mobile for?
GTN (Global Trust Networks) is a lifestyle support company established to assist new foreign residents with various aspects of their lives in Japan. Their focus is particularly on some of the practical problems of setting up the necessities of everyday life that tend to throw up hurdles for those unfamiliar with Japanese language and society.
GTN Mobile focuses its services on providing SIM cards for mobile phones as well as Pocket Wi-Fi and fiber-optic home internet, catering primarily to people who are moving to Japan long-term rather than travelers.
GTN: A tradition of assisting the international community in Japan GTN was initially largely focused on helping new residents find housing (a notoriously tricky prospect for new arrivals to Japan), but they have since branched out into other areas such as the communications and employment markets. All of their services operate under their main motto “Making Your Stay in Japan Great” with the central aims of helping people from other countries to enjoy their lives more fully in Japan and to contribute to making Japan a more hospitable destination to the international community.
- English customer support - GTN Mobile provides customer support in English, Japanese and 5 other languages (Chinese, Nepali, Korean, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia). Their website is also in English, though the quality of English is not entirely reliable at times, as it uses machine translation.
- Free phone calls (domestic) - the plan allows you to make unlimited domestic calls as long as you keep them to less than 10 minutes.
- Low prices (discounts) - GTN Mobile has some excellent rates on offer, but you should be aware that their lowest rates depend on discounts (which are either only last for a limited time (first 3 months) or come with conditions such as applying for additional services from GTN (i.e. fiber-optic internet) or an EPOS credit card).
- The GTN website - the GTN Mobile website is not so user-friendly. You will need to spend quite a bit of your time wading through information to get what you want amidst its clunky design and overflow of (at times confusing) information. Unlike some of the other companies that market to international travelers and residents, GTN Mobile seems to have opted to simply machine-translate their website rather than adapting it to suit the more minimalist style that customers from other countries may be used to.
- Not really suitable for travelers - if you are only going to be in Japan for a short time, GTN Mobile’s services aren’t really designed for you. The set-up costs and convoluted application procedures (and the website…) mean that it probably isn’t really worth your while.
- Only two physical store locations - for those of you who want to deal with someone in person when setting up your mobile phone and home internet contracts, GTN Mobile has only two physical store locations in Japan (Osaka and Tokyo). Reservations are no longer required...you can just show up and walk right in!
How user-friendly is GTN Mobile for English speakers in Japan?
Ideally, with any mobile phone company, you will want to be able to apply/register in English and contact customer service in English too.
Can I apply/register in English?
Yes. You can do everything in English on the GTN Mobile website. As stated above, if you don’t want to wade through unnecessary text and graphics, you might want to click the Apply Here button at the top right of the homepage to move forward. You can then select the type of service you want to apply for, agree to the terms of service, select your data plan, then move on to register your personal, shipping, and payment information. You also need to decide which promotions and discounts to apply for. Links to explanations (in English) of these various promotions and discounts are provided.
Is English customer support available?
Yes. GTN Mobile provides full customer support and technical support in English. You can contact the company via the chat function at bottom right when you visit the GTN Mobile website or messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, Kakao, WeChat). You can also reach GTN Mobile by telephone (10:00-18:30 daily, except New Year holidays) or email. Another option is to visit the FAQ page to see if there is a quick answer to your question (however, it is not very well organized).
Manage your account with the GTN Mobile App Once you are a GTN Mobile customer, you can install the GTN Mobile App to perform various actions related to your account.
Along with your SIM or internet contract, GTN Mobile also offers the opportunity to sign up for their GTN Assistant App (¥1078/month), a special service that can support you with various aspects of your life in Japan, 24 hours a day, in English, via phone or chat.
GTN Mobile does have an extremely limited number of physical stores (i.e. two in all of Japan!) both in Japan and in several Asian countries. Currently, no reservation is required to visit one of these stores. You can just show up and walk in.
Does GTN Mobile offer support in languages other than English? Yes, the GTN Mobile website is also available in Japanese, Chinese (both Simplified and Traditional characters), Korean, Vietnamese, Nepali, and Bahasa Indonesia. As with English, some of these may have been generated in part with machine translation, so there may be errors in expression. Customer support is offered in all these languages by native speakers.
What mobile phone SIM card plans does GTN Mobile offer?
As soon as you access GTN Mobile’s main homepage, you will see a red button marked Apply Here at top right. Clicking this button takes you straight to a page explaining the various services that GTN Mobile offers, including data-only SIM cards or Voice Call Plan SIM cards for mobile phones.
If you scroll further down the page, you will find information on the other services that GTN Mobile provides.
GTN Mobile plans: Lite or Advance 5G?
Essentially, there are two tiers available: GTN Mobile Lite (advertised in silver blocks on the website) and GTN Mobile Advance 5G (advertised in gold blocks on the website). GTN Mobile Advance 5G offers much higher speeds and free voice calls, while GTN Mobile Lite allows you to keep the same phone number if you are transferring to GTN from another provider.
For visitors to Japan or short-term residents
While visitors to Japan could probably use GTN Mobile for data-only SIM cards or Pocket Wi-Fi rentals, the complex nature of the terms and conditions involved with application (and cancellation) along with relatively convoluted application process makes GTN Mobile a less appealing option for those who will only be in Japan a short time.
Instead, GTN Mobile seems set up more for people from other countries who are moving to Japan to work or study. Unlike Sakura Mobile or Mobal, there is no simple option on the GTN Mobile website to choose whether you are a Long-Term or Short-Term visitor, meaning that if you want to pursue service from GTN as a visitor, you will need to wade through quite a bit of information to decide whether it will be worthwhile.
Worth the price if you are only in Japan a short time? Be aware as well that all GTN Mobile SIM cards carry an initial administrative fee (¥3850) and a shipping fee (¥660). Unless you are staying in Japan for more than a few months (i.e. 3 months), this might not be the best deal for you.
Pocket Wi-Fi rentals
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) and you can leave the device plugged in and charging at home while using it for Wi-Fi. The device weighs roughly as much as a typical smartphone.
GTN Mobile offers Pocket Wi-Fi portable routers for monthly rental at ¥4,378 per month (including tax). The data amount is simply described as “large capacity” without specific numbers provided. A ¥10,000 deposit is required (in advance) and you must pay the initial administrative fee (¥3850) and a shipping fee (¥660).
What if I exceed my data allowance? Even if you exceed this allowance, your Wi-Fi will still work (only the connection speed will slow down).
For long-term residents in Japan
Even if you are not planning to make a lot of phone calls, most long-term residents in Japan will require a Japanese phone number and will therefore need a long-term mobile phone contract.
However, one of GTN Mobile’s key selling points for customers who do need to make lots of (short) phone calls is that its GTN Mobile Advance 5G Voice Call plan SIM card allows you to make unlimited domestic phone calls under 10 minutes for free. You will not be charged for incoming calls or texts.
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 home, 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.
Your monthly data allowance (amount varies based on the plan you choose) will give you the ability to browse the internet, use apps, and access maps on your phone anywhere there is mobile network coverage available. If you exceed your data allowance in any given month, you will still be able to access the internet on your phone (the connection speed will just slow down).
GTN Mobile charges an initial administrative fee (¥3840) and a shipping fee (¥660) for all its products, so you should factor these in as well when comparing prices.
GTN Mobile offers two plans with various monthly data allowances: GTN Mobile Lite (3GB, 10GB) and GTN Mobile Advance 5G (3GB, 10GB, 17GB).
|Plan||Monthly Data Allowance||Initial Acivation Fee*||Shipping Fee||Monthly Rate* (tax included)|
|GTN Mobile Lite||3GB||¥3,840||¥660||¥1,628|
|GTN Mobile Lite||10GB||¥3,840||¥660||¥2,728|
|GTN Mobile Advance 5G||3GB||¥3,840||¥660||¥2,178|
|GTN Mobile Advance 5G||10GB||¥3,840||¥660||¥3,278|
|GTN Mobile Advance 5G||17GB||¥3,840||¥660||¥4,378|
*prices for reference only; please refer to the company’s website
Faster even if your monthly data runs out... If your data allowance runs out, your connections speeds will remain (relatively) faster for the GTN Mobile Advance 5G plan in comparison to the GTN Mobile Lite plan.
The 3GB plans are perfectly sufficient for those on a tight budget or those who have frequent access to Wi-Fi or only need mobile data occasionally (checking maps or messaging apps, for example). If you require more data per month to watch videos, use apps, or use your phone as a Hot Spot for other devices, the 10GB or 17GB plans might suit your needs better.
Discounts, discounts…and more discounts…(but are they worth it?)
GTN Mobile offers various discounts, including those for customers who also apply for Pocket Wi-Fi or fiber-optic internet from the company along with mobile phone service.
Their Voice Call Plan SIM cards come with three possible discounts: the EPOS discount, the Youtube discount , and the GTN discount .
|Discount Name||Discount Amount||How Often?||Description/Conditions||Available for...|
|EPOS Discount||-¥220||Monthly||You can get this discount if you apply for and receive an EPOS credit card via GTN Mobile||GTN Mobile Lite
GTN Mobile Advance 5G
|Youtube Discount||-¥550||Monthly (First 3 months)||You can get this discount if you watch the promotional Youtube videos on the GTN website and fill out a quiz||GTN Mobile Lite
GTN Mobile Advance 5G
|GTN Discount||-¥330||Monthly||You can get this discount if you use other GTN services||
GTN Mobile Advance 5G
Among the main alternative mobile SIM card providers marketed to foreign residents in Japan, GTN Mobile’s 3GB plan is one of the cheapest monthly data plans available. It even comes close to rivalling some of the SIM card companies that focus more on the Japanese market (especially if the discounts apply to you!).
Want a Japanese credit card? It can be quite difficult (nearly impossible…) to get a Japanese credit card even if you have been living in Japan a long time and most banks still do not issue debit cards. Through GTN Mobile, however, you can apply for an EPOS credit card specifically designed for foreign residents in Japan. This will also net you a monthly discount (-¥220) on your mobile phone bill. You will need a Japanese bank account as well as Japanese ID (residence card) to apply.
GTN Mobile SIM cards can only be shipped to the address in Japan registered on your residence card (¥660 shipping charge).
Pocket Wi-Fi rentals
As mentioned above, GTN Mobile offers Pocket Wi-Fi portable routers for monthly rental at ¥4,378 per month (including tax). The data amount is simply described as “large capacity” without specific numbers provided. A ¥10,000 deposit is required (in advance) and you must pay the initial administrative fee (¥3840) and a shipping fee (¥660).
If the data provided is sufficient for you at home as well as when you are out and about, a GTN Mobile Pocket Wi-Fi unit could be a decent solution to your overall internet data needs. Keep in mind, however, that you will still need to order a Japanese SIM card (either from GTN or another company) to provide you with a Japanese phone number.
Does GTN Mobile offer fiber-optic home internet as well?
Yes. GTN Mobile now offers home internet with high connection speeds of up to 1Gbps using a fiber-optic network (they throw in a free Wi-Fi router as well that you can plug in at home). Data is unlimited.
Free Wi-Fi Router! GTN Mobile fiber-optic internet comes with a free Wi-Fi router that you can use in your home.
|Plan||Monthly Fee||Minimum Contract Period||Cancellation Fee|
|With 2-year Contract||5,720 Yen||2 Years||5,720 Yen|
|Without 2-year Contract||6,930 Yen||-||-|
|Plan||Monthly Fee||Minimum Contract Period||Cancellation Fee|
|With 2-year Contract||4,180 Yen||2 Years||4,180 Yen|
|Without 2-year Contract||5,390 Yen||-||-|
The website details a 6-step application process that takes about 2-3 weeks to complete. It is also difficult to find any information about cancellation fees should you choose to terminate your contract.
What is the sign-up procedure for GTN Mobile?
The easiest way to sign up for any of GTN Mobile’s services is visiting their website online. If you experience any difficulties, you can contact their customer service department (in English, Japanese, or 5 other languages).
Applying for Mobile SIM cards
From the GTN Mobile homepage, you can either click the red button Apply Here (recommended), or scroll down through the tangle of information and graphics to try to find the right place to click!
You will then be asked to enter your email address. Follow the instructions on the confirmation email you receive and enter your personal information, pickup (or shipping) information, and billing information before being asked to review and confirm your order.
Applying for Home Internet
Scroll even further down the page to the black box with yellow text that reads Home Wifi Internet Service. Choose either FIBER-OPTIC INTERNET or Simple Setting Wifi (this is essentially Pocket Wi-Fi with unlimited data) and click Apply Here, then follow the instructions.
Should you run into any problems, you can always contact GTN Mobile for support in English.
How can I pay my GTN Mobile bill?
You can pay using your credit or debit card.
You can also pay in cash at most major convenience stores (Family Mart, LAWSON, 7-Eleven, etc.) in Japan, using GTN Mobile App.
You can also arrange to pay by direct debit from your bank account (銀行自動引き落とし). The company’s bank account transfer information is listed on the website.
Just be sure not to miss your payment date!
Make sure to pay on time! If you don't, your connection to GTN Mobile's network will be suspended and you will also be charged late fees!
Review: Is GTN Mobile the right choice for you?
Overall, GTN mobile is a good choice for long-term residents of Japan who do not speak Japanese.
Although GTN Mobile does not seem a very convenient option for travelers to Japan, long-term residents can be benefited from its fairly low monthly rates and provision of multiple services for foreigners, along with its many discounts that tend to benefit longer-term customers.
If you do speak Japanese, however, or have a Japanese friend who can assist you, other alternative providers may be able to provide similar or cheaper rates.
Whether or not you choose GTN Mobile will depend on whether you need service in English, whether you require clear and flexible cancellation policies, and whether you are willing to put up with some of the hassles involved with visiting the stores of the big three providers.