Cell phone for Japan/HK?
March 4, 2008 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I need a cell phone for travel in Japan and Hong Kong. Any advice on where I can get one as inexpensively as possible?

I am traveling to Japan and Hong Kong for two weeks in late March/early April. Because of some ongoing family issues in the US, I need a number where I can be reached as well as the ability to call freely back to the US. I don't expect to make a huge number of calls...I just want the option.

Anyone have any advice on where I can get a phone that will be reliable but relatively inexpensive for these two countries? I realize that this probably won't be cheap, but anyway I can save would be nice.
posted by j1950 to Travel & Transportation around Japan (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I used to travel to Japan quite often before my daughter was born and always used these guys: rentafonejapan. The fee was reasonable, the phone was delivered to my hotel, and all incoming calls -- domestic or international -- are free.
posted by chihiro at 7:19 AM on March 4, 2008

Seconding the rental suggestion. It may seem silly/decadent to rent a mobile phone, but it actually works well and is cost-effective.

I cannot remember the name of the place I have used three or four times, but it's a desk in Narita airport, and the sign is.... bright blue with a happy face on it. :)

Yes I realize that describes one in four logos in Tokyo, but it's all I can remember.
posted by rokusan at 7:37 AM on March 4, 2008

And that solves the Japan cell phone problem... now you have to get a phone for HK. If you have an unlocked GSM phone with an 1800 or 900 MHz antennae, you're good to go with a SIM card that can be bought for $100 HKD at any convenience store. Failing that, you can buy an insanely cheap, old phone for less than $300 HKD in areas that aren't near the airport or in Central -- look around in places that have a lot of foot traffic and someone will have a shop. If you're looking for a nice phone that you want to take home, it's not a bad idea. There's some great phones here that can be bought for much less than back in the States. Buy quad band and the phone will work on AT&T (I think?) IF you can convince someone to sell you a SIM card in the states. Renting a phone in HK is probably easy at the airport, but I haven't done that.

You can't use the same solution for both countries; Japan uses a completely different cell phone system than the rest of the world.
posted by sleslie at 8:39 AM on March 4, 2008

Never used one, don't know anyone that has, but you may want to consider Iridium satellite phone since it covers both needs. They too can be rented - although I have heard once you buy one, "upkeep" costs are low. Perhaps a used one?
posted by thilmony at 9:16 AM on March 4, 2008

You need two phones; the two countries use different networks.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:01 AM on March 4, 2008

When I went to Japan I found it was cheaper to purchase a prepaid phone in Japan. Softbank sells a good prepaid phone for 4500 yen (about $43 USD), and prepaid phone time can be purchased in 3000 or 5000 yen blocks. Outgoing calls are 90 yen per minute inside Japan, and overseas calls are about twice as much, but all incoming calls (international or not) are free. More information can be found on Softbank's English site.
posted by Vorteks at 12:55 PM on March 4, 2008

Note that if you are on a temporary visitor visa, you cannot buy a prepaid phone. Japanese law requires that foreigners have an official document from the Japanese government (alien registration card, Japanese passport, insurance card, etc.) in order to buy a phone.

If you have a friend in Japan, he can purchase the phone on your behalf. But if you're only going to be in the country for less than two weeks, a rental phone is the better option.
posted by armage at 6:08 PM on March 4, 2008

Armage - I was on a temporary visa and had no difficulty purchasing a prepaid phone in October 2007. However, I did have to have a Japanese friend let me use their permanent address. The retailer copied my passport, faxed it to their headquarters and had us come back in 1 hour while they waited for approval (I imagine they did some kind of background check). Other than the wait and needing a friend's address, I have no difficulty buying a prepaid on a 90-day visitor visa.
posted by Vorteks at 8:28 AM on March 7, 2008

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