Welcome to this Mobal SIM card review.
So you're planning a trip to Japan and you're looking at the options for staying connected during your travels. Smart move.
You'll want to be able to share your photos on social media (and back them up), check Google maps, read TripAdvisor reviews, use messaging apps, consult official site websites, etc.
And you're wondering if a Japan SIM card is right for you?
And maybe if a Mobal SIM card in particular might be the best option?
Whether it's mobile data + voice or data only, my hands-on review of Mobal's Japan Unlimited SIM card tells you all you need to know and if this could be the best Japan SIM card for you.
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Mobal SIM Card Review
by Rob Dyer
Mobal SIM Card Review
Assuming you want to be connected to the internet during your travels in Japan (and I recommend you do), what options are open to you? The top three are portable ('pocket') WiFi, SIM card and free (public) WiFi.
Free public WiFi isn't really practical for any period of time and is at risk of hacking. Portable WiFi is very popular and can connect multiple devices at once. But some prefer the simplicity of SIM cards or only need their phone to be connected.
I will soon be publishing a general guide to getting connected to the internet in Japan, so you may want to subscribe so you don't miss that.
Is a SIM card right for you?
That's what this Mobal SIM card review will help you decide.
SIM cards are ideal for solo travellers who are using just a phone. There's nothing to carry around with you (or charge). You simply pop the SIM card into your phone and you have internet access. Nice and simple.
If your phone has a single SIM card slot then you'll need to swap out your regular SIM card (being careful not to damage it) and replace it with the one you've bought. If you're fortunate enough to have dual SIM card slots on your phone it's even easier. You just add the Japan SIM card to your second slot and switch to using that while you're in Japan, and switch back to your regular when you leave the country.
If you do only have a single SIM card slot on your device, or for anyone who doesn't want to remove their existing SIM card, you might want to consider adding an eSIM.
Drawbacks of SIM cards
SIM services like Mobal's Japan Unlimited SIM cards come with a genuine Japanese phone number (not all services do) and include free incoming calls. This can be particularly useful for business travellers who need to receive and make voice calls while travelling.
Drawbacks of SIM cards are swapping out your own card (if your phone has only one SIM card slot). You need to be really careful not to damage your personal SIM for the duration of your trip. Also, if you need to connect to the internet with other devices, such as a laptop, or multiple devices at the same time, e.g. phone and laptop, or others in your group want access at the same time, then a SIM card won't help you*.
*NOTE: Some phones do offer a tethering option, whereby you effectively use your phone as a WiFi 'hotspot' so that other devices can connect using the one SIM card. Mobal do offer tethering on their voice SIMs and offer monthly data plans up to 30GB so you can use the SIM to provide data to your laptop, etc.
Benefits of using a SIM card
Whether you're travelling for pleasure or business you're likely to need to keep in touch and that means at least having quick and easy access to the internet. A short-term Japan SIM card giving you access to Japan's extensive mobile phone network can be an ideal solution for tourists, business travellers, or short stays in Japan.
SIM cards are ideal for tourist and business travellers who need to be connected to their email and/or social media accounts but don’t want to carry around a pocket wifi router with them all the time (and that you need to keep charged).
Several companies offer SIM cards, but I especially like Mobal for several reasons...
Mobal SIM service highlights
Supporting ethical and sustainable travel
Other companies' services vary but there is always some overlap with the basic service elements. So how do you choose between them?
For me, what especially sets Mobal apart from all its competitors is that the majority of its profits go to charity. Buying your SIM from them means you are supporting ethical and sustainable travel. You can learn more about Mobal's charity work on their website.
How do SIM cards work?
Mobal's SIM cards work in any unlocked phone that supports the 3G Band 1 (2100MHz) or 4G Band 1 (2100MHz) frequency. But that's just technobabble. Far easier to use https://willmyphonework.net/ to check if your phone is compatible (choose Softbank network).
If your device is "unlocked", it means that it can work with a SIM card from any network. If your device is "locked", it is restricted to work only on your regular carrier's network. Your device must be "unlocked" to work with Mobal's Japan Unlimited SIM.
Types of SIM card
SIM cards are available in two versions: Data+Voice+Text SIM cards and Data only SIM cards. Mobal sells both options.
As their names imply, if you need to make or receive regular phone calls while you're travelling then you'll need the data+voice option. If you use apps or other messaging services to make your calls you may not need the +voice option.
In which case, just a data only SIM will keep you connected to the internet so you can do all the essentials like share your journey on social media, check your emails, etc.
Mobile Data + Voice + Text SIM card
If you want the complete 'mobile experience' throughout Japan, then the combined mobile data + voice SIM cards are what you need. Mobal's plans include calling, texting and internet data for 30, 60 or 90 days duration. Calls are charged for by the minute. Both domestic and international texts can be sent, both are charged for.
Data Only SIM card
No calls, no text, just data. Suitable for your devices that are not compatible with the Data+Voice SIM card plans.
How good is the coverage?
Mobal's SIM cards work by connecting you to the Softbank mobile network. Softbank is one the world's largest companies with over 47 million mobile subscribers in Japan alone. Their network covers over 99% of Japan’s population, so you can be confident that they'll be both reliable, deliver good call quality, fast data speeds and excellent coverage.
In all the major cities and towns you'll be connected just like the locals are. But what about if you're travelling off-the-beaten-path?
A real-world test on the remote Yaeyama Islands
My wife and I put this to the test by using our Mobal SIMs in Japan's remote Yaeyama Islands.
Even on the tiny island of Ishigaki we could get a signal.
Ishigaki is almost 2,000km (1,000mi) southwest from Tokyo, and only 333km (207mi) from Taiwan. That's how remote it is. And the network worked just fine. As far as coverage goes, Mobal's service using the Softbank network is as good as it gets.
How to buy your SIM card through Mobal
The first thing to do is decide which service plan best meets your needs. Mobal offers a few different plans, can send your SIM worldwide, or you can pick it up when you arrive in Japan.
1.) Decide your data needs
Mobal splits its SIMs into two types:
If you don't need to make or receive voice calls (or texting) using the phone network, then a data only Japan Tourist SIM will be the one you should go with. (It's also the cheaper option.) Durations available are 8, 16 or 31 days.
If you want to have the option to make/receive calls/texts as well as internet data access, then Mobal's Unlimited SIM is the one you need. There are 3 versions, each exactly the same, but just last for different durations: 30, 60 or 90 days.
All plans include unlimited data (see: What does unlimited data actually mean), minimum 4G LTE connection.
To help you select the best plan for you, they have an easy to follow guide to the options available:
Mobal Voice + Text + Data SIMs Pricing
Mobal Voice + Text + Data SIMs Pricing
2.) Choose your duration
Once you know your data needs and have selected your SIM type (data only, or data + voice + text), you then just need to decide how long you want the service to last. To keep things straightforward and to ensure you're always connected, choose the duration that provides cover for the amount of days you will be in Japan.
For their data only (Japan Tourist) SIM, Mobal has plans for 8, 16 and 31 days. If you need more than 31 days, you'll need to buy additional SIMs.
For their data + voice + text (Unlimited) SIM, 30, 60 and 90 day options are available. So even if you're here for the maximum length of time on a tourist visa (90 days) you can remain connected throughout.
3.) Collect on arrival, or get sent to your home in advance?
Mobal offers free worldwide postage/shipping on its Data SIMs. Voice SIMs can be sent to a list of approved countries. If you order for delivery to your home in advance, make sure you allow plenty of time for your SIM to reach you.
Alternatively, you can simply order in advance and collect your SIM and one of Mobals convenient pick-up points at airports and cities around Japan. This is my preference. I like to arrange pick-up at the airport on arrival in Japan. I can then begin using the SIM straightaway if I need to.
When ordering your SIM on the Mobal website, just choose your preferred collection point and pick-up date at the checkout. Your SIM will be available for instant pick-up after placing your order, meaning you can place your order shortly before you fly. You'll need to show your order confirmation email and your passport to the agent when you collect your SIM.
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Mobal SIM collection points
Collection points can be found in:
There is no charge for collection.
Data only (Japan Tourist) SIMs - good to know
Japan Tourist SIMs do not require activation, they work as soon as you insert them into your phone (just follow the simple instructions provided). SIMs provided are multi-size (Nano / Micro / Standard), so will fit any device. So don't worry about which SIM size you need.
Data + voice + text (Unlimited) SIMs - good to know
Activating your Service
When you receive your Unlimited SIM, you'll need to activate it. Simply log-in to your online account to activate your service. It's quick and easy to follow. Here's the emails I received to login and activate my SIM and the confirmation message*:
*NOTE: the actual process for you may differ
Line rental charges and call/text/data charges are billed to your debit/card card or PayPal account once Mobal receives the usage information from the network. You can view all of your charges in your online account.
English language customer support - but email only
Although we encountered no problems at all when using our SIM cards, if you should run into any issues, Mobal has online support pages (including easy to follow instructions and more detailed downloadable guides), plus an English-speaking customer service team. All support staff are native English speakers, and real humans, not AI chatbots.
The big drawback though is that customer support is currently only available via email. As I said in my review of Mobal WiFi, I'm not a fan of email only support. It's never as good as being able to call someone or at least have a live chat option.
SIM cards automatically disconnect from the service at the end of their duration period, so there's nothing you need to do once you've finished using the service, except to thoughtfully dispose of your SIM card, as (unfortunately) they cannot be reused.
A note on Mobal's customer support
At the start of this year (2023) I heard from Mobal SIM customers who, for whatever reason, ran into issues with the service while in Japan, and who were not happy with the response time of the Mobal's email customer support. I couldn't see a target response time on the Mobal website, but some said it was taking more than 5 days. I contacted Mobal about this and they are aware of the issue and acknowledged there have been slower than intended response times. To combat this, they have told me they are employing more support staff to speed up turnaround times. I'll continue to monitor this, and will update this post accordingly.
What does 'Unlimited Data' actually mean?
This applies to Mobal's 30, 60 or 90-day plan users.
Essentially, you can use as much as you like. You'll get 7GB of data at very fast 4G LTE speeds. After you’ve used 7GB, speeds are limited to 200kbps (but you can still use an unlimited amount).
Mobal resets the 7GB data restriction on the 1st day of each month. So, if for example you are travelling from October 20th until November 19th, you will actually get 14GB of data (7GB in both calendar months).
Looking to spend more time in Japan?
If you're planning to spend more than 90 days in Japan, then Mobal also offer Long Term SIM services. The long-term plans are different as users have a choice of 1GB/5GB/10GB or 30GBs per month.
These cards are perfect for you if you are living, working or studying in Japan. Like the tourist SIMs, you can have your SIM sent to you before you travel, or you can pick it up once you arrive in Japan.
To use the service, you buy one of their SIM cards (currently just ¥2,970), and then choose from one of their monthly plans. Plans range from 1GB to 30GB data per month. You can read more about Mobals Long Term SIM plans here.
Pocket WiFi or SIM card - which is best for you?
This is very subjective, and very dependent on your use needs, but here's a quick comparison of both to guide you:
Can I recommend Mobal Unlimited SIM cards? Absolutely. My experience of their service was faultless and straightforward.
I liked instantly receiving the service confirmation messages by email, which also included all the 'getting started' and support links one might need.
One thing I do not like about using SIM cards is their throwaway nature. They cannot be reused. Whereas pocket WiFi you rent and return after use, so can be used countless times. If you're concerned about sustainability then pocket WiFi is definitely the more sustainable option.
Having said that, what uniquely sets Mobal apart from its competitors is how it donates profits to charity. If you want to travel ethically, responsibly and sustainably (and you should!), then this is a BIG reason to choose Mobal.
I hope you found my Mobal SIM card review helpful. If you have any unanswered questions, or would like to share your own experiences of using SIM cards in Japan, please leave a comment below. I read and reply to every one.
About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
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Book your Mobal SIMs via their website
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