June 21, 2024

Can you believe there used to be a time when we would land in a foreign country and have to rely on maps and printouts to find our way around? It’s a lot easier these days now that we all carry a computer in our pockets. However, that computer isn’t very useful without an active data plan. If you’re going to Japan, here’s why an eSIM for Japan travel is a smart choice – and how to buy and install one ASAP.

What’s an eSIM?

SIM card - eSim for Japan travel

An eSIM, or electronic SIM, is a virtual version of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card everyone has in their smartphones. The SIM card identifies you to your mobile carrier of choice and is how your carrier associates you with your cell phone plan and telephone number. No SIM? No service!

A physical SIM resides in the little slot in the side of your phone. Thanks to the design of cell phones and the laws of physics, your cell phone can have at most one physical SIM at a time. However, most phones these days enable you to install one or more eSIMs on top of it. This allows you to have multiple data plans and even multiple phone numbers.

An eSIM is great when you’re living abroad. I use an eSIM through au living in Japan, which enables me to have a Japanese phone number and data plan while I retain my US phone number through T-Mobile.

The benefits of an eSIM for Japan travel

eSIMs are also great when you’re traveling abroad. They enable you to obtain a data plan locally and always have reliable wireless access. This is especially important in Japan, where public wifi hotspots aren’t yet plentiful or reliable. Indeed, despite progress in recent years, a lack of reliable wifi repeatedly tops the list of tourists’ top complaints in Japan.

An eSIM is also convenient. Since it’s virtual, it installs directly into your phone as software. There’s no need to remove your current SIM card and risk losing it somewhere during the course of your travels.

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Finally, an eSIM usually provides both faster and cheaper access to data than your cell phone provider’s roaming data plan. For example, on T-Mobile, I get “free” international data but it’s painfully slow (usually 3G rates). To get faster data, I could purchase a 10-day pass for up to 5GB of data for USD $35. By contrast, I could get an eSIM for 15 days and 20GB of local data for only USD $25.90 through Inbound Platform (note: affiliate link – we earn a commission if you make a purchase).

There’s a lot of competition for eSIMs for Japan travel. That means you can more easily find a plan that’s probably not only faster but that costs less than whatever your home provider offers.

Alternatives to an eSIM

Picture: JulsIst / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

An eSIM is the way to go if you’re a single traveler (or two travelers) and only need data on one or two devices. In these cases, it’s economical to purchase an eSIM or two so everyone can have their own dedicated bandwidth. (That especially helps if you’re embarking on a long Shinkansen ride and need to stream some ASMR or white noise to keep your brain occupied.)

However, there are cases in which you may want to connect multiple devices:

  • You have a large party/family traveling with you
  • You want to connect tablets or laptops on the go
  • You’re staying in a location with no or poor wifi.

In that case, you’re better off renting a pocket wifi device. Our friends at Inbound Platform provide a great deal on pocket wifi devices they can deliver directly to your accommodations. You can also arrange to pick it up at the airport.

You can also attempt to rely on public wifi hotspots. The good news is that there are more of those in Japan than ever. The bad news is that they don’t always work well. Additionally, there’s a security risk in using an unknown wifi hotspot to transmit sensitive data such as credit card information (e.g., if you’re making a reservation somewhere that requires a credit card to book or buying tickets online). Getting an eSIM from a reputable company with a good track record provides peace of mind that connecting to “RanDUM_FREE_WIFI_REALLY_01192_NO_SCAM” doesn’t.

How to get an eSIM for Japan travel

Some countries enable you to get an eSIM that gives you both data plus a local number even if you’re a visitor. That’s not possible in Japan – your eSIM will only cover data. (Getting a number requires being a resident.)

There are any number of services that will sell you an eSIM for Japan travel. As I wrote above, we recommend our friends at Inbound Platform. They offer a wide range of time windows and data ranges starting at just $1.20/day. You can get a 5GB, 5-day plan that covers a short trip for just USD $9.00. Or, you can go for a 30-day, 50GB plan for just USD $55.90. (If you don’t know how much you need, you can always purchase a new eSIM when the current one expires.)

Inbound Platform’s eSIMs use Docomo, one of Japan’s largest cell phone networks, so your eSIM will work anywhere in the country you travel. If you have any issues on your trip, you can contact their customer service department, where English-fluent operators are waiting to help you.

How to install your eSIM

After purchasing your eSIM, Inbound Platform will send you a QR code you can scan on your phone. You can purchase your eSIM up to 180 days before activating it in Japan. After scanning the code, simply follow the instructions. Your eSIM will be ready to use within five minutes!

It can be hard enough to navigate your way around Japan your first time here. Doing so without a reliable Internet connection can get downright frightening. With an eSIM, you’re guaranteed you’ll always be able to find your way to your destination – and, just as importantly, your way back home.

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