Data Roaming in Japan for Travelers: Rates & How to Avoid it

Japan is a popular travel destination that attracts millions of visitors annually for its rich culture, cities, natural beauty, and cuisine. However, unlike some countries, free public WiFi is limited in Japan. Most travelers rely on mobile data roaming, but charges can be expensive. This article discusses roaming rates, activating data roaming in Japan, using eSIM as an alternative, and tips to avoid high fees so your Japan trip has smooth internet access.

data roaming in Japan

I. Phone Roaming in Japan – Quick Facts for Tourists

Roaming simply refers to using your phone’s mobile data connection outside of your home country. Your home network makes agreements with foreign carriers to provide you temporary data service when traveling overseas.

  • Japan has limited free public WiFi, so travelers rely on cellular data roaming in Japan.
  • Roaming rates are typically expensive at around $10 per day. Bills can add up quickly with heavy data use.
  • To reduce costs, use WiFi when available, enable data selectively, and limit streaming.
  • Japan eSIM plans provide affordable high-speed data without roaming fees, ideal for longer trips.
  • Disable roaming entirely and rely solely on WiFi if necessary to avoid roaming charges.
  • Understand your carrier’s roaming policies and fees to minimize surprises on return home.
  • With proper planning like eSIM or WiFi-only use, stay connected in Japan without big bills.

II. Understand Roaming in Japan – How It Works

Imagine you’re in Japan and need to use your phone’s internet. Roaming lets you connect to a Japanese network instead of your home network, so you can still browse, use apps, and stay connected. Think of it like borrowing a neighbor’s Wi-Fi when yours is down.

How does it work?

  1. Your phone finds a local network: When you land in Japan, your phone automatically searches for a compatible network operator, like Docomo, SoftBank, or au.
  2. Connection and charges: Once connected, your phone use is charged according to the agreement between your home operator and the Japanese network. These charges can be much higher than your regular plan, so be careful!

III. Is Roaming Expensive in Japan?

In short – yes, roaming rates in Japan can be quite expensive compared to using mobile data locally in your home country.

Operator Calls (USD) Texts (USD) Data (USD)
au $0.40/min $0.20/text $0.01/KB
ntt docomo $0.40/min $0.20/text $0.01/KB
Rakuten Mobile $0.30/min $0.10/text $0.005/KB
softbank $0.40/min $0.20/text $0.01/KB

So all combined, expect to pay 2x to 5x times more per MB used while roaming compared to normal domestic data usage based on your plan. Watch out for any complimentary daily data limits too.

Recommendation: Consider purchasing a local prepaid SIM card/eSIM for longer stays, as it can be more cost-effective than roaming. Look for free Wi-Fi hotspots whenever possible to avoid data roaming charges.

IV. How to Activate Roaming for Japan on Your Phone

data roaming in japan

If you do want to use roaming service while visiting Japan, here are the basics to get it working on your phone:

  • Contact Your Carrier at Home. Call your mobile carrier to ensure your plan allows international roaming in Japan. Ask them to enable it on your account for the dates you’ll be traveling.
  • Enable Data Roaming Setting. On your smartphone, go into Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile Network > Enable Roaming access and data roaming options.
  • Allow Auto Network Selection. Enable your phone to automatically select a roaming partner carrier in Japan once you land and turn on your phone.
  • Use Roaming When You Arrive. After landing in Japan and turning on your phone, it will scan and connect to the Japanese carrier with best signal – usually au, Softbank or Docomo. Confirm you’re roaming by checking the carrier name displayed on your phone.

Once connected, you can use data like normal to access maps, translation apps or internet while traveling in Japan! However, excessive usage will result in roaming overage charges. So consider steps to minimize this next.

V. How to Avoid Roaming Charges in Japan

To keep your roaming charges low when traveling in Japan, here are some tips:

1. Enable Airplane Mode and Selectively Turn on Data

Keep your phone in airplane mode to avoid background data usage that racks up roaming fees. Only briefly turn on mobile data selectively when you need to look something up online.

2. Disable Mobile Data for Large Apps

In Settings, restrict data usage for apps that sync large amounts of data like social media, music streaming, video streaming. Use them only when on WiFi.

3. Use WiFi Whenever Possible

Connect to WiFi networks at your hotel, at cafes or any free public hotspot to use data instead of roaming. Offload large downloads and app usage to WiFi networks only.

4. Limit Streaming Media Usage

Avoid streaming high definition video and music while roaming as this consumes huge amounts of mobile data quickly at expensive roaming rates.

5. Download Maps and Translation Apps Beforehand

Pre-download map, subway and translator apps so they are usable offline when roaming data is disabled in airplane mode. Search offline maps and translate text without needing a connection.

6. Monitor Usage in Settings

Check your data usage frequently in Settings to avoid any surprises on your phone bill when you get home. Manually disable roaming if you’re using more than expected.

7. Buy Local Japan SIM Card or ESIM

If you’ll be using a lot of data, buy a local Japan SIM or eSIM data plan. They offer much more affordable rates without expensive roaming fees. Check Japan eSIM from GIGAGO.

Following these tips diligently should help minimize roaming charges from racking up too high when traveling in Japan!

VI. Japan eSIM – Alternatives to Cell Phone Data Roaming

Japan eSIM
Japan eSIM

Another option to avoid roaming in Japan completely is using an eSIM data plan instead while visiting Japan. Here’s an overview:

What is eSIM?

eSIM allows you to digitally activate a mobile data plan without needing to insert a physical SIM card. eSIM plans are connected directly to the built-in SIM in your phone.

Advantages of eSIM for Japan:

  • Avoid roaming fees entirely
  • Local Japan data rates, not inflated roaming rates
  • Short-term data packages for your trip duration
  • High speed low latency data on local networks
  • Unlimited data options availabl

So in summary, eSIM provides fast and affordable data connectivity in Japan and avoids paying higher roaming fees. Look into this option before your trip if you’ll need consistent data access during your travels.

A provider offering Japan eSIM data packages include GIGAGO. Get fast LTE data starting from just $7.5 when you purchase a Japan eSIM package from Gigago. Purchase a Japan eSIM package from Gigago before your trip and be ready to explore on arrival!

VII. How to Turn Off Data Roaming in Japan

If you rather not pay roaming charges and want to disable data connectivity during your trip, here’s how to turn off roaming in Japan on both Android and iPhones when in Japan:

1. Turn Off International Roaming on Android Phones

On Android devices, go to Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile Network:

  • Disable Roaming access entirely
  • Disable data roaming specifically

This will prevent your phone from connecting to local carriers via roaming when in Japan. Confirm by checking the network name displayed does not change when in Japan.

2. Turn Off International Roaming on iPhones

On iPhones, go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options:

  • Disable Data Roaming option
  • Alternatively can enable Airplane Mode which disables all connections

Double check that your iPhone does not connect to au, Docomo or Softbank networks and avoids roaming fees.

If you plan to use even a moderate amount of data in Japan, it’s recommended to instead get a local SIM or eSIM plan to avoid roaming instead of disabling it entirely. But the steps above give you full control to turn it off if preferred.

VIII. FAQs about Data Roaming in Japan

Are free public WiFi networks widely available in Japan?

No, Japan lags behind other Asian countries in terms of free public WiFi access. Paid WiFi hotspots at cafes, hotels and tourist spots are available but not free municipal WiFi.

Can I use mobile hotspot while roaming in Japan?

Yes, you can enable mobile hotspot on your phone to share your roaming data connection in Japan. But extra charges may apply for this tethering usage depending on your home carrier.

Will 5G roaming be available in Japan?

5G roaming is not widely accessible for foreign travelers in Japan yet. Japan is still building out its 5G network coverage limited to major cities now. Expect 5G roaming to become available over the next 2-3 years.

Can I use roaming on prepaid SIM card from another country?

It depends. Some prepaid SIM providers block roaming capabilities. Others allow roaming in Japan but charge inflated rates. Check with your prepaid provider first regarding Japan roaming.

How can I monitor or limit my roaming usage in Japan?

Most smartphones provide data usage tools in settings to monitor usage when roaming. You can also set up roaming data limits and alerts on many carriers to control overages.

IX. Conclusion

Japan requires mobile data pre-planning as roaming provides connectivity but at inflated $10/day rates. To reduce costs, selectively enable data in airplane mode, use WiFi instead of cellular data, and limit streaming. For longer trips or heavy usage, affordable Japan eSIM plans avoid roaming fees. Disable roaming entirely and rely solely on WiFi if needed. Understanding roaming charges and taking steps to minimize bills ensures a smoothly connected Japan trip without surprises.

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