Differences Between Prepaid SIM Card and Rental SIM Card in Japan

SIM Cards for Visitors from Outside of Japan

All the SIM cards for visitors from outside of Japan can be categorized in two types:
Prepaid SIM or Rental SIM.

Most of them use the same network from NTT Docomo, one of the largest mobile phone operators in Japan. Their network is also the largest, which has nearly 100 percent population coverage. This means that you can be get connected with the internet almost anywhere in Japan, except for mountain areas or the sea.
[Note] Almost all of the SIM cards for visitors from outside of Japan are available only for data communications. They cannot available for voice call.

In this blog post, I will write about differences between Prepaid SIM or Rental SIM other than the network.
Although I cannot confirm the whole as service plans offered by providers are different respectively, yet, you can summarize major differences between Prepaid SIM or Rental SIM as the followings.


Prepaid SIM Card

  • Mainly sold at airports.
  • Also, they are sold at large home electronics retail stores. MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) issue the cards and retailers sell them.
  • As the fixed bandwidth is shared by users, its data speed tends to be decreased when a large numbers of travelers use prepaid SIM cards simultaneously during peak seasons in Japan such as March, April, September, and December.
  • There is no need to return.
  • Although it may be possible to add data capacity and add period, it is not suitable for long-term use exceeding 90 days.
  • It is suitable for a short stay.
  • Because prepaid SIM cards can not be refunded once they are used, before ordering it, you need to make sure that your device can be compatible with a SIM card size (regular, micro, nano) and frequencies available in Japan.


Rental Data SIM Card

  • You can pre-order it and pick it up at airports or accommodations you will stay.
  • Data speed is more stable than that of prepaid SIM type as providers ask to add bandwidth to major carriers when needed.
  • Return required.
  • It is suitable for both a short and long stay.
  • Customer Support is available during the rental period
  • Some providers give you a refund when you couldn’t use the card


Differences between Prepaid SIM Card and Rental SIM Card

Prepaid SIM CardRental SIM Card
ActivationRequiredNot Required
Length of StayShortShort to Long
Data SpeedLow when crowdedStable
ReturnNot requiredRequired
GuaranteeNoSome has


Who is recommended to use a Prepaid SIM card in Japan?

A prepaid SIM card is recommended for those staying in Japan for 30 days or less. You can purchase one at the airport, and there is no need to return the SIM card.
As of September 2022, eSIM type prepaid SIM cards are also available.
The eSIM type is for users of newer smartphones, as there are still only a few models that are compatible with it, but it is convenient because it can be completed online.


It cannot be used with smartphones that do not match Japanese frequencies.
Once purchased, they are not refundable.
There is no support for settings.

Who is recommended to use a Data SIM card in Japan?

Rental SIM is recommended for those staying in Japan for more than 30 days.

This service is also used by Japanese, so support is available.
If you order a rental SIM and the smartphone is not compatible with Japanese frequencies, there are services that offer refunds.

The following service offer refunds if the SIM does not work. They will also refund your money if you cannot use Pocket WIFI as well.
LightPocket Data SIM Rental