Are you planning your first trip to Japan and wondering how to stay connected? Then you’re in the right place!
Whenever I travel, I always get a prepaid sim card but there are times where I’ll question whether I need a pocket wifi. For me, it comes down to whether or not I bring my computer which often needs a stronger signal than my mobile hotspot to work or do trip research on the go.
In this guide, I’ll break down the pros and cons of a pocket wifi vs. sim card in Japan. I’ll share my personal experiences, highlight key differences, and help you decide which is the best option for your travel needs.
- What is a Pocket WiFi?
- What is a prepaid SIM card?
- Should I get a Pocket WiFi, SIM card, or both?
- Pocket WiFi vs. SIM Card Comparison
- A Pocket WiFi is for you if…
- A SIM Card is for you if…
- Both are for you if…
- Recommended Pocket WiFi & SIM Card Companies
🌟 Top Japan eSIM Pick: Ubigi eSIM 10GB
🌍 Favorite International eSIM Company: Airalo eSIM Card
🌟 Top Japan Pocket WiFi Pick: Pocket WiFi from Japan Wireless
🥷🏻 Highly Rated Pocket WiFi from NINJA WiFi: Ninja Pocket Wifi via Klook
This post may contain affiliate links for highly recommended products or services that I want to share with you!
What is a Pocket WiFi?
A Pocket WiFi is a portable WiFi device that allows you to connect multiple devices to the internet at once using a single data plan. It creates a personal WiFi hotspot – similar to the one provided by your home router – that you can use on-the-go. This means you can stay connected wherever you are without having to rely on public WiFi networks or use up your phone’s data.
Pocket WiFi devices are easy to carry around, making it the perfect choice if you’re someone who needs consistent internet access while on the move. I personally prefer having a pocket WiFi for the long-distance train rides where I know I’ll be using my laptop.
What is a prepaid SIM card?
A prepaid SIM card is a small, removable chip that you put into your cellphone to access cellular networks. Unlike traditional phone plans like the ones you’ll find in the US, prepaid SIM cards require you to purchase credit or data in advance. Once the balance runs out, you will need to top it up before being able to use it again.
Prepaid SIM cards are a convenient option if you don’t have or don’t want to use an international phone plan. Nowadays, you don’t even need to purchase a physical SIM card and can instead download a virtual one onto your device (also known as an e-SIM). I always purchase an e-SIM upon arrival.
💡Note: You MUST have an unlocked mobile phone in order to switch out physical SIM cards. This typically isn’t an issue outside of the U.S. but may apply if (1) you’re from the States and (2) your phone plan is with a company like Verizon where you’re paying off your phone as part of your cellular plan.
Should I get a Pocket WiFi, SIM card, or both?
Generally, if you have an unlocked phone and just need internet to translate or use Google Maps, then an e-SIM is a great option for you. A phone is all you need and you don’t have to worry about carrying around or charging an extra device.
If you’re planning to connect multiple devices, such as a laptop, phone, and tablet, then a Pocket WiFi device may be better for you as it can support multiple devices simultaneously. This is also your best choice if you have a locked phone, already have an international phone plan, or if you tend to use a lot of data.
It might make sense to get both if you want to have your bases covered. With this setup, you can have access to fast, reliable internet without worrying about unpredictable data usage or losing connectivity because your pocket WiFi battery died. I usually opt for a SIM card while my fiance prefers a pocket WiFi, which allows us to stay connected wherever we go.
Pocket WiFi vs. SIM Card Comparison
If you’re still unsure which option is right for you, here’s a detailed explanation of the key differences between a Pocket Wifi and a SIM card.
1. Cost of a Pocket WiFI vs. SIM Card
A PocketWiFi can typically range from $5-10 per day depending on your data plan. For example, the NINJA Pocket Wifi costs $5 day per day for unlimited data plans with high speeds up to 5GB of data per day.
💡 Do note that it’s fairly standard for companies to throttle high speeds after you exceed a certain data limit. I always find the low speeds are functionally too slow to be useful so I’d recommend picking a plan where the daily data usage is higher than what you’d normally use so you don’t have to wait until unlimited high speed data resets for the next day.
SIM cards are purchased for a one-time fee that ranges between $15-20 for data-only. The cost will depend on (1) the number of days you’ll need coverage, (2) the amount of data, and (3) specific regions for which you’ll need coverage. For example, I spent $17 on a 10GB e-SIM which was valid for 30 days on my last trip to Japan. I ended up using all that data in a week but I recognize that 10GB is a LOT of data for most people, especially if you’re even slightly diligent about watching your data consumption. I just am not one of those people and I didn’t need to be because I had a pocket WiFi to fall back on!
2. Connectivity Requirements & Use Cases for a Pocket WiFi vs. SIM Card
When traveling, both Pocket WiFi and SIM cards offer reliable internet connection with comparable speed options. I have personally found the pocket WiFi to have a more stable signal but my SIM card to have better coverage in remote areas.
Using a pocket WiFi is as simple as connecting to any other WiFi network. It’s great if you need reliable internet connectivity throughout the day across multiple devices like if you’re planning to work remotely or if you’re someone who generally uses a lot of data.
However, if you’re just using your phone to navigate, translate, check social media, and send text messages to your friends, then a SIM card provides all the access you need without any extra bulk or mental overhead.
3. Portability & Convenience of a Pocket WiFi vs. SIM Card
A pocket WiFi is more convenient to setup but requires you to carry it around with you at all times and have it charged. Though the devices are small, I’m always trying to minimize the amount of extra stuff I need to carry when I’m sightseeing and I don’t personally love having to bring another device and charging cable just to get data. You will also need to plan for pick-up and drop-off at the airport.
A physical SIM card requires you to swap out your own SIM card for an international one and requires you to know if your phone is unlocked or not. Once you set it up, you can use your phone the same way you do at home but you’ll need to make sure to keep your home SIM in a safe place.
My preferred option is an e-SIM. While an e-SIM will require you to have internet access to complete the initial setup, you have all the convenience of your phone without having to worry about losing your home SIM.
A Pocket WiFi is for you if…
- you value consistent, high-speed internet access across multiple devices. A pocket WiFi can connect multiple gadgets simultaneously – phones, tablets, laptops – providing you with a stable connection even when on the move.
- you plan to work remotely or use data-intensive applications. A pocket WiFi can handle larger data loads, ideal for video conferencing, streaming, or large file transfers.
- you have an international home phone plan.
- you want to avoid roaming charges from accidentally using services provided by your home phone plan.
- you prefer not to change your home SIM card. A pocket WiFi eliminates the need to swap out SIM cards or ensure your phone is unlocked.
- you are traveling with a group of people and intend to stick together. With a pocket WiFi, everyone in your travel group can use the same network, making it a cost-effective choice for families or groups.
A SIM Card is for you if…
- you want direct access to mobile data without the need for an additional device.
- you like keeping it simple. Without the need for charging, a SIM card provides constant connectivity regardless of your battery life.
- you don’t mind changing your home SIM card or intend to bypass this process by purchasing an e-SIM.
- you are visiting remote areas. SIM cards tend to have a wider coverage area compared to pocket WiFi devices.
- you are a solo traveler. If you’re by yourself, a local SIM card is cheaper than a pocket WiFI.
Both are for you if…
- you want the best of both worlds.
- you want a backup plan.
- you plan on heavy data usage and want to distribute it. Streaming videos, downloading large files, or attending virtual meetings can quickly deplete your data. With both options at your disposal, you can switch between them to manage your data usage.
- you’re traveling in a group but also anticipate needing personal data. The pocket WiFi can provide a shared network for the group, while your SIM card serves your individual needs.
Recommended Pocket WiFi & SIM Card Companies
Here’s a list of companies I’ve used and/or are highly recommended for purchasing a pocket WiFi & SIM card:
- Ubigi eSIM 10GB – I went with Ubigi during my last visit to Japan and had a great experience! The 10GB for $17 was exactly what I needed during my week-long trip and I had reliable 5G service the whole time. Setup is relatively straightforward though it does require you to have (1) internet and (2) another device from which you can scan the QR code that’s provided in the email instructions.
- Airalo eSIM Card – I’ve never used Airalo in Japan but it’s my go-to company of choice when in Europe. Their 10GB plan is similarly priced as Ubigi but I have seen it go on sale for 50% off ($9). The setup process is similar to Ubigi but doesn’t seem to have as reliable of 5G service as Ubigi.
- Pocket WiFi from Japan Wireless – My past experiences with Japan Wireless have all been extremely positive. Prices were fair and, while sometimes the connection wasn’t as reliable as my SIM, I appreciated that I didn’t notice any speed throttling.
- Ninja Pocket Wifi via Klook – NINJA WiFi is one of the most popular pocket WiFi providers in Japan and you can easily purchase it via Klook, which typically has the best deal. You can pick up from Narita or Haneda airport, allowing you to stay connected as soon as you land.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Between a Pocket WiFi vs. SIM Card
Ultimately, deciding between a pocket WiFi or SIM card depends on your personal habits and travel needs.
A pocket WiFi offers consistent, high-speed internet access across multiple devices, making it ideal for remote work, data-intensive applications, and group travel. With multi-device connectivity and a stable connection on the go, a pocket WiFi can be the more cost-effective option if you’re a heavy data user.
If you value convenience and simplicity, a SIM card is the perfect solution for direct mobile data access without the need for an extra device. With constant connectivity and wider network coverage in remote areas, you can enjoy the benefits of a reliable connection while saying goodbye to yetanother battery life concern.
Depending on the option you choose, make sure your mobile device is compatible with a non-home SIM card or safeguarding the return envelope so you can easily return your pocket WiFi.
You might consider having both a pocket WiFi and a local SIM card to enjoy the best of both worlds. The pocket WiFi is great for multiple-device connectivity while the SIM card ensures individual data requirements are met. It’s also a smart strategy for heavy data usage distribution.