So imagine you've just landed in Japan. You've collected your bags and got yourself through immigration into the arrivals hall. Now it's time to make that phone call so that your friend who's come to pick you up, knows where to meet you.
You pull out your cell phone. Dial the number... and then it happens. You get the dead tone. It's not a great moment. And it's definitely not a great way to start your vacation. Unfortunately, the dead tone catches a lot of people unawares when they first arrive in Japan and it's exactly why we've put together this cell phone rental in Japan page.
If you're feeling sceptical at this point about the need to rent a phone while you're in Japan, I can totally understand. Let's face it. Most places you go in the world simply involve buying a region specific SIM card and slotting it into your existing phone. And that's it. Job done.
But Japan is still a little bit different. Why? The telephone system in Japan is different to all other regions of the world. Things are slowly starting to standardise, but for many travellers your phone simply won't work after you land in Japan.
3G phones are the exception to the rule about cell phone rental in Japan. But even here you have to be careful. Not all 3G phones will work.
Your 3G phone needs to be a particular kind of 3G, either W-CDMA or CDMA 1X, if it's going to be able to connect with the telecom networks in Japan. Honestly we have no idea what these terms mean (we're not phone techies) but apparently these are the requirements if you want to be able to hear the sweet sound of a dialling tone.
The bottom line is this: Whatever phone you have, always check whether it's going to work in Japan before you set off on your jollies rather than leaving it to chance.
This should be a relatively easy process and, depending on the knowledge of the employees at your local store, a quick one too.
Pop into your nearest provider shop and ask the staff there whether your phone will work in Japan. If you get a flippant, "Yeah, it should be fine," ask them to confirm the facts for you. I hate to be a cynic but if you catch someone on a bad day when they can't be bothered to check the facts, you may end up getting the dead tone when you arrive in Japan.
Most stores carry a special catalogue that allows them to check if a particular phone will work in a specific country. If they don't have it, they should be able to call their customer service team and get an answer from them. Asking them to check, however, means you get a definitive yes or no answer so you can plan your next steps. And if they say no, your phone won't work in Japan, you're going to need to know the various options for cell phone rental in Japan.
There are three possible ways we'd recommend to you for organising your cell phone rental in Japan. They are:
1. Use your own phone in Japan (remember to check it will work in advance)
So you've been to ask your phone provider if your cell phone will work in Japan. They said yes. Woot! So what's next? You have two options available to you:
Once you know the lay of the land, choose whichever option works best for you. It's your call... pun intended ; )
2. Organise your cell phone rental in Japan before you arrive
You've decided to go with the cell phone rental in Japan option and you want to set it up before you leave for your vacation. But what are your options? Three very good ones actually:
3. Get your cell phone rental after you arrive in Japan
You've decided to leave this one until after you arrive in Japan. You've got enough on your pre-vacation to do list without adding cell phone rental as well. If you really don't want to deal with this one until after you arrive, it's perfectly possible. The downside? Because you haven't organised this in advance you will need to hang around at the airport while all the paperwork is filled in. Sometimes this can be the straw the breaks the camels' back after a long haul flight, so be sure you really are ok with this before you choose this option.
If you're still saying yes, when you get to the arrivals hall at your airport, you need to look for the signs (they will be in English) that show the different companies offering cell phone rental in Japan. The two biggest companies are Softbank and Docomo although you will see other options as well. Which one you choose will likely depend on the size of the queue at the desk.
The most important thing for you, as a visitor to Japan, is to make sure you don't get that dreaded dead tone. And if you do need to organise your cell phone rental in Japan, our personal recommendation is to do it in advance.
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