【2023 Version】The Best MVNOs for Working Holidays

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photo by Titanas

A 12-month working holiday is something you should experience at least once before turning 30. Japan has made a working holiday agreement with many countries, accepting thousands of travelers on a working holiday visa every year. The number of visitors dropped during 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 crisis, but not it has bounced back thanks to the depreciation of the yen in recent years. So, what those working-holiday makers need during their stay in Japan is a smartphone, of course. Having a smartphone definitely makes a huge difference in holiday booking and job searching. But you want to lower your phone bills at the same time. If this is the case, a budget mobile carrier called Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) is the best option for you. It uses the same phone lines as the major phone companies but offers different services to save costs.

 

The pros and cons of Japanese carriers

Use major carrier’s SIM

Docomo, SoftBank, and au are the three major phone companies in Japan. They used to impose a 12-month contract period, or you had to purchase a device when you contract a mobile phone line, but these restrictions were lifted last year.

Pros

  • A wide range of support at their shops
  • Lower phone call rates
  • Stable signals

Cons

  • Higher rates
  • No data-only plans (Exceptional if you contract two or more lines)

Purchase MVNO SIM

Purchase only a SIM card from a low-cost mobile carrier.

Pros

  • Data charges are lower than the three major phone carriers.
  • Most carriers have no contract period.
  • You can use it on your SIM-free device brought from your country.

Cons

  • Inferior in customer support services compared to the major phone carriers.
  • No need to purchase a SIM-free device in Japan.
  • Phone calls are expensive.
  • You need to do the initial setting by yourself.

Purchase prepaid SIM

Purchase a prepaid SIM and use it on your phone. Basically, there is no additional charge other than what you initially paid.

Pros

  • No mobile contract needs to be made.
  • No need to cancel the contract, no cancellation charge.
  • No additional charges other than what you paid at the beginning.
  • You can use your SIM-free device.

Cons

  • Plans are for a short period of time, therefore not suitable for a long stay.
  • Inferior in customer support services compared to the major phone carriers.
  • Data charges are more expensive than the major carriers.
  • You need to purchase additional data if you want to have extra data.
  • You need to prepare a SIM-free device that can be used in Japan.

A working holiday visa is normally valid for up to 12 months (18 months for some countries) and allows you to stay in Japan for a rather long period of time, so using a prepaid SIM wouldn’t be a good choice. You should purchase a SIM from one of the major phone carriers or low-cost MVNOs and use it on your phone. However, mobile plans from the major phone carriers are more expensive than those of MVNOs, making a few thousand-yen difference per month. If you want to save your living expenses in Japan, a low-cost SIM from MVNO would be the best option. You need to have a SIM-free device that can be used in Japan to do so, but if your phone doesn’t meet Japanese standards, you can purchase an appropriate device in Japan. Lately, many low-cost SIM-free smartphones are available from retail shops at 10,000 – 20,000 yen. If you wish to take the phone you purchased in Japan to your country, you should ask a shop staff about the specification.

 

MVNO Plans

There are three types of MVNO plans.

Phone + SMS + Data

You can make phone calls, send SMS and use data.

SMS + Data

You can send SMS and use data. The most commonly used free-call app in Japan “LINE” requires SMS vilification. There is only a slight difference in prices between the data-only plan and SMS and data plans, normally a 100 – 150 yen difference. It is recommended to have SMS on your phone while you live in Japan.

Data only

You can use data only, thus a low price. This is the best plan if you only want to use the internet with no phone numbers and SMS.

If you are going to look for a job, you definitely need a phone number. Also, you cannot call emergencies with your free-call app in Japan. Phone + SMS + Data plan is most recommended for working holiday makers.

 

Data Usage

Monthly data size would be your prime concern when you make a contract with MVNO. While each carrier provides various plans with monthly data of such as 1GB, 10GB or even unlimited, 3GB plans are typically popular. This is because most sharehouses, backpackers or guesthouses normally have free Wi-Fi connection, then guests do not need to use data on their mobile phones unless they go out. Therefore, a majority of people tend to choose plans with rather small data to lower their communication expenses.

 

MVNO Carrier SIM 3GB Plan Comparison

Depending on the plan you choose, MVNOs offer several different choices. The following chart summarizes the information for 3GB plans of different MVNOs.

Plan

Initial

Cost

Monthly

Fee

Contract Period

Phone Call Option*1

(Using App)

Domestic Call

(Using App)

Cancellation

Fee

 

Rakuten UN-LIMIT VI

¥1078

(3GB)

Free domestic calls

by using app

¥0/sec

DMM mobile 3GB

Single Course

¥3733

¥1650

(3GB)

12 months from the first full-use month

10 min free call

¥935 /mth

¥11/30sec

¥9900

UQmobile Kurikoshi Plan+5G S

¥3850

¥1628

(3GB)

Phone call pack (60min/ mth)

¥550/ mth

¥11/30sec

Biglobe Mobile

Plan R

¥3733

¥1320

10 min free call

¥913 / mth

¥11/30sec

IIJmio

Minimum Start

¥3300

¥990

(5GB)

Until the end of the following month of the start day

10 min free call ¥700 / mth

¥11/30sec

No cancellation during the contract period

OCN Mobile

3GB Course

¥3734

¥990

(3GB)

10min free call

¥935 / mth

¥11/30sec

LINEMO

¥990

(3GB)

x

5 min free call

for the first 12 months

¥11/30sec

NifMo

SIM 3GB

¥3300

¥1760

(3GB)

x

10 min free call

¥913 / mth

¥11/30sec

y.u mobile

Single 5GB

¥3740

¥1070

(5GB)

10 min free call

¥550 /mth

¥11/30sec

b-mobile Just Fit SIM 3GB

¥3300

¥1529

(3GB)

5 min free call

¥550/ mth

¥11/30sec

LIBMO

Nattoku Plan 3GB

¥3733

¥980

(3GB)

12 months

5 min free call

¥550 /mth

¥11/30sec

¥10450

mineo

D Plan 5GB

¥3740

¥1518

(5GB)

x

10 min free call

¥550 / mth

¥11/30sec

x

AEON Mobile

\3300

¥1078

(3GB)

x

5 min free call

¥550 / mth

¥11/30sec

x

BIC SIM

Giga Plan

¥3300

¥990

(3GB)

Until the end of the following month of the start day

5 min free call

¥550 / mth

¥11/30sec

No cancellation during the contract period

Yamada New Mobile 3.3GB Plan

¥3733

¥1760

(3.3GB)

12 months

10 min free call

¥880/ mth

¥11/30sec

x

QT Mobile

Standard 4GB

\3675

¥1540

(4GB)

x

10 min free call

¥880/ mth

¥11/30sec*2

x

*1 Free call service is only available for domestic calls.
*2Cancellation fee will be charged for cancellation within contract period.
*3 No app for QT Mobile. Their standard phone call rate is ¥11/30sec.

SMS and call fees are often overlooked when using a MVNO SIM. Receiving calls is free of charge, but calling to other phones is charged. Also, while receiving SMS is free, sending domestic SMS message costs 3-30yen per message and international messages cost 50 – 500yen per message. In addition, there is monthly fees of 2-3yen called “Universal service fee” which is to maintain the service system.

 

Summary

Best customer support

MVNO contracts are mainly made online. However, most of those websites are written only in Japanese. If you are not confident in your Japanese language skill and have no one to help you, it is recommended to choose a carrier that has branch shops. AEON Mobile provides face-to-face customer support at 200 shops across Japan. Their rates, ¥1078 for a 3GB plan and ¥550 for a 5-minute free call are also reasonable.
In addition, some of the major low-cost carriers, Rakuten, UQ Mobile, IIJMioc, LINEMO, and b-mobile have English websites for those who don’t use Japanese.

Best phone call deal

One downside of MVNO SIMs is the expensive phone call rates. Almost all carriers set their phone call rates at ¥22/sec and offer 5 to 10-minute free call options by using their original phone apps. You can also choose an unlimited call but the price ranges between ¥1500 and ¥2000. If you want to talk on the phone a lot, Rakuten UN-LIMIT VI is the best for you. By using an app, you can make unlimited domestic calls even to other company’s lines.

Best value deals

If you simply want to cut down your phone costs, choose Rakuten UN-LIMIT VI or LINEMO. Rakuten offers monthly rates as low as ¥1078 for 3GB and zero initial cost, surpassing all others in low-price competition. Also, LINEMO which is run by LINE, the largest free chat service in Japan, offers low-price monthly rates such as ¥990 for a 3GB plan and a 5-minute free call for the first 12 months.


Related Article:
【2023 Version】Comparison of Short-term Prepaid SIM
【2023 Version】Stay Connected! A Guide to Japan’s Free Wi-Fi Spots


 

 

あきらことほ

Writer

あきらことほ Kotoho Akira

Living outside Japan for a good many years, I often rediscover nice little things about this country every time I return here. I would be more than happy if this column may help you find your "nice little things about Japan"!

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